“Since the business with the gift voucher, I haven’t shown my face in that Coop store,” writes one of swissinfo.ch’s less youthful journalists about his experience with the retailer’s subsidiary Helsana, Switzerland’s largest health insurance company.
I admit it was very naive of me to take the bait. “We’re examining your health insurance policy,” Helsana wrote, although I am insured by KPT.
Two facts for non-Swiss or not-yet-Swiss: health insurance is compulsory for everyone here, and there is serious competition between private health insurance companies, who sniff around what they consider good risks – above all healthy young men – like dogs in the park, trying to woo them with various offers.
“We’re checking whether your insurance solution still fits your needs and will send you a comparative quote,” they said.
I was already mildly surprised – and flattered – that an insurance company appeared to be taking an interest in someone over 50. I suppose I did tick two of three important boxes: healthy and male.
So why not? I had nothing to lose. On the contrary – the first 1,000 participants were promised a present worth CHF20 ($21.50).
Helsana soon informed me that they couldn’t provide me with a better offer after all – reading between the lines they meant “you’re too old” – but at least I got the consolation prize, a Coop voucher.
A few days later, I whipped this out when paying for my shopping at a local store, but the checkout girl – after swiping it several times – said the card was empty.
“How empty?” I asked clumsily. “Empty empty,” she replied in a noticeably louder voice. “There’s nothing on it.”
When I dared point out that it was in fact a gift voucher from Helsana worth CHF20, the person right behind me in the (growing) queue butted in and declared to what felt like the entire shop: “If there’s nothing on it, there’s nothing on it – now get on and pay!”
Thoughts of gift-horses and mouths ran through my head, but I still called Helsana to tell them about my embarrassing experience.
After several minutes of “unfortunately all our operators are busy, please patiently listen to this dreadful music” or whatever those automated messages say, a friendly chap called Gianluca G. said he was going to pass me onto Daniel K., who was apparently responsible for my problem – or at least solving it.
Before he did that, however, he asked whether it was at all possible that my wife had been shopping and had already used the voucher. Now this is the kind of question that can lead to domestic trouble and was certainly not part of the problem.
Daniel K. very quickly offered an apology – especially as I was clearly not the first person to have been embarrassed by the Helsana “gift”.
A few days ago another Helsana voucher turned up. I’ve got no idea whether this is worth CHF20 or not – I haven’t dared show my face in that Coop store since.
Thank you Mr Siegenthaler for talking about our faux pas in such a charming and funny way. You could almost say that if everything had gone smoothly, there would have been nothing to write about and that would almost have been a pity.
Thank you also for accepting our apologies and giving us the opportunity to respond in writing.
First of all we would like to say you are not too old. What we wrote is exactly what we meant. We really couldn’t make a cheaper offer. The estimate of your premium has been archived by Daniel K. (who really exists). You are welcome to come and consult it personally if you need to be convinced.
Turning to the Coop gift voucher: we sent out around 900 of these cards, all pre-loaded to the best of our knowledge and worth CHF20. In your case - and in another - Daniel K. checked if the cards had been loaded properly. We were told that it was the case, but you were still left in an embarrassing situation at the register. So it seems the card was not loaded. And that is embarrassing for us too.
We hope that you have managed to use the second card we sent you in a Coop store and found something sweet. Sugar might not be healthy, but it does help us sometimes feel a little better.
If you would like to switch your insurance to Helsana (we like to be sincere and can also take a joke), you are most welcome. Just call us.
To cap it off, I am the same age as you, so not too old for Helsana yet.
Claudia Wyss, head of media relations and communication
By Peter Siegenthaler, swissinfo.ch
(Translated from German by Thomas Stephens)