You're not likely to collect on Allstate's auto insurance satisfaction guarantee

Smashed up car

Have you ever thought your auto insurance company was great -- until you had to file a claim?

Perhaps the customer service rep can’t answer your questions. Maybe it just takes too long for a claims adjuster to assess the damage so the repair process can get under way.

And when your insurance company tells you how much it’s going to pay for your covered loss, the settlement might seem way too low.

Allstate has an interesting offer that addresses consumer dissatisfaction. The company says it will give you a credit on your premium if you’re not satisfied with your claims experience.

The offer is legitimate, but most people will never get a chance to test it.

Here’s how the guarantee works.

First, you must be a policyholder in one of the 40 states where the guarantee is offered. Washington, D.C., is included, but Alaska, California, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maryland, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota and Washington state are excluded.

Second, Allstate must pay your claim, but you must send the company a letter within 180 days of your accident explaining your dissatisfaction.

For you to receive the credit, Allstate doesn’t have to agree with the reason you’re dissatisfied. But if you’re dissatisfied because your claim is denied, you’re out of luck.

So how much is the credit really for?

In most cases, you’ll get a credit equal to your six-month premium, assuming you didn't cancel your policy following the accident. That makes the credit worth hundreds of dollars for the typical driver.

For Massachusetts policyholders, and for Michigan customers with 12-month policies, the credit is worth 12-months’ premium.

It might seem like it would be easy to take advantage of an offer like this to score free insurance, but the vast majority of Allstate customers will never get to test this promise because they won’t get into an accident while this offer is in effect.

In most states, the offer ends for policy periods beginning June 1, 2013, or later.

For this reason, we don't think the guarantee should be a factor in choosing an auto insurance provider.

Still, we hope Allstate will use the feedback it gets from dissatisfied customers to improve its claims process.

J.D. Power and Associates’ 2012 U.S. Auto Insurance Study found that customer satisfaction with auto insurance companies is at an all-time high. The study ranks satisfaction by U.S. region.

Allstate’s performance in the survey is middling, however.

On a 1,000-point scale, Allstate’s scores range from a low of 759 in the Northeast to a high of 806 in the Southeast.

Consumers rate Allstate average or below average in every region on all four measures of customer satisfaction: policy offerings, pricing, billing and payment, and contacting the insurer.

Allstate also received an average rating in J.D. Power's 2011 Auto Claims Satisfaction Study.

The study examined customer satisfaction with reporting the loss, service interaction, the appraisal, the repair process, the rental car experience and the settlement. The only category in which Allstate ranked "better than most" was the appraisal category.

J.D. Power data also show that satisfied customers are more likely to stick with their insurers, even when faced with rate increases.

And with premium pricing the most important factor in customer satisfaction, according to the 2012 survey, a program that promises to credit your premium if you’re dissatisfied could indeed convince drivers to choose Allstate.

Even if it shouldn't.

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