I just wrapped up a Sisyphean struggle with Anthem Dental that left me fuming and unbelievably frustrated. I also had my faith in humanity restored by a local mechanic. The contrasting experiences highlight how crucial it is to keep it local.

It started in 2018 when with earnest optimism that my request would be a piece of cake, I called Anthem’s customer service line.

We are all familiar with what happened next.

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I spent what felt like an interminable time navigating auto-attendants and conversations with representatives who often said, “Do you mind if I put you on hold for a minute?” For this request, I was bounced between Anthem Dental, the Anthem enrollment and eligibility department, and Covered California, and with each transfer there was an auto-attendant and hold time — I must have said my member ID number 10 times in one call.

By the end of the session, I was told my request had been submitted and to check back in.

I called back about a month later. Nothing had happened, so it was rinse and repeat — go through the whole rigmarole again. This happened multiple times over two years.

About a month ago, I gathered up my wits and said, “This is it, I’m getting this done.” I spent more than three hours on the phone, again bouncing between the three offices, talking to about 10 representatives over the course of the call.

Final answer?

The request was not possible.

The difficult and seemingly preposterous request at stake?

Change my mailing address.

Note this is the address I’ve had for 20 years in every system for which I sign up, and it was the mailing address I entered when I first enrolled in Covered California.

Contrast this incident with the tale of my mechanic, which starts 20 years ago, when Dave Ward was working out of his garage in Glenshire. Based on a friend’s recommendation, I took my newly purchased Toyota 4runner to him and stuck with him as he expanded his business, Ward + Sons Automotive, moving his garage into town and gaining a dedicated customer base. He and his team give me sage advice and excellent service every time.

About a month ago, I was in Florida taking a truck to a dealership to get serviced. I wanted to confirm the advice being given, so I called Ward + Sons, and from thousands of miles away, they guided me adroitly and made it possible for me to make an informed decision.

This is customer service; this is taking care of each other; this is being human.

These two experiences underscore the need to keep it local for humanity’s sake. British anthropologist Robin Dunbar backs up this idea with a number that has caught the attention of the world at large. In the 1990s, he determined that a cohesive social group can only really maintain about 150 connections at once.

“This rule of 150 remains true for early hunter-gatherer societies as well as a surprising array of modern groupings: offices, communes, factories, residential campsites, military organisations, 11th Century English villages, even Christmas card lists,” reports the BBC.

While your health insurance and your mechanic definitely have more people in their networks than 150, my argument that there is such as a thing as too big when it comes to giving great customer service. In one case, I couldn’t pierce the corporate veil and find help for a basic task. In another, I was getting help for a vehicle that wasn’t even sitting in their garage.

Great customer service requires face-to-face time, it requires a human who knows of you as more than a member ID.

By supporting local businesses, that’s what you’re supporting: Being human.

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