Neal Johnston is an Athens hometown boy who has made good in the insurance business. The reason, besides grace, is that he knows the power of customer service, and the benefit of giving honest answers, even when they aren’t easy. Insurance is not about cute geckos that speak with Aussie accents, as charming as they may be. In our world, it is the personal touch, and, as Neal says, “We will try to find the solution for you.” He is the owner of Athens Insurance Center, located on Hwy 31 near Wal-Mart, and I am a raving fan of AIC for reasons I’ll explain in just a bit.
Neal was born in Athens and went to college in north Alabama. He has been in the insurance business sixteen years, thirteen of which have been in Athens. He is licensed as an insurance agent in Alabama and Tennessee. I know from experience that he gives great customer service, and he and Mari Williams, who also works at Athens Insurance Center, went to bat for me when I ran into some “adventures” with the “Aussie’s” company.
I honestly did not know that I had to get commercial insurance to deliver Athens Now, and somehow, in a way that reminds me of a way too “Big-Brother-is-watching-you-creepy- Flo-Snapshot-we-are-keeping-track-of-your-every-move” scenario,(if you catch my drift,) I received a notice in the mail stating that the Gecko knew that I had been delivering a newspaper, and I was cancelled. Boom, just like that! I called their customer service department, thinking it would be no problem to remedy the situation, and was promised I could get commercial insurance. I was put on hold several times, given completely conflicting information, shuttled to “supervisors,” and at the end of several conversations and being subjected to a lot of elevator music, I was told that you couldn’t get Gecko insurance for commercial purposes in the State of Alabama. No one seemed to have a clue as to why that was the case, and I was not exactly a happy camper.
Neal and Mari to the rescue! This is just the type of thing they specialize in. “We will find something for just one truck, or a company that needs millions of dollars of coverage for their fleet,” says Neal. And they did just that, for me and my one Athens Now truck. They got me good coverage that didn’t require me to sign over my first born or sell a kidney on the black market.
They have about ten vetted carriers with whom they work, and have made a point of knowing whether or not a company would be a good fit for a prospective client because of their track record with personalized customer care. AIC covers things such as large apartment complexes, Mom and Pop operations of all kinds, electricians, framers, construction and concrete workers, oil jobbers, “specialty habitational,” rentals, and more. They are not confined to commercial coverage, it’s just their specialty.
As always, I asked them, “Why should I come to you?” Neal answered first. “We have your best interest at heart.” Mari added, “Customer service. We know our customers well, and remember their names.” “We will give you honest answers. We can’t control a company, but WE are your contact, and we will try to find you a solution.” He added that how a customer is treated in the claims process is crucial, and they will walk through that process personally with their customers.
As often happens, neither Neal nor Mari had plans to make insurance a career. They will both tell you they “kind of fell into it.” Neal first started working for an insurance agency while he was attending college, and Mari had all kinds of admin experience in related fields, applied for the position at AIC, took the training, got her license and loves it. “Mari is very good at what she does. She sees possibilities to help get coverage that I might not, and takes great care of our customers,” says Neal. Mari also happens to be fluent in Spanish. I asked her what she likes the best about her “unintended career.” “I am my own boss, love the independence, and love to get just the right policy for the customer.” I asked Neal the same question. “Writing a complicated commercial account that takes care of the customer, and getting referrals because of it. It makes you feel you’re doing a good job.”
They are indeed doing a good job, and I heartily recommend Athens Insurance Center for all your insurance needs, whether it be auto, home, business, health, or life.
Athens Insurance Center
616 Hwy 31 S, Suite C
Athens, AL 3561
Owner/Agent: Neal Johnston, Jr.
Agent/Office Manager: Mari Williams
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner