Tag Archives: business

Instant Karma and Workplace Ethics

This isn’t my usual post where I write about some landmark event like a holiday, a political rally, a horrendous tragedy, momentous occurrence, or an amazing movie. This is purely reactionary to something that happened in the past week or so at work, and got wrapped up today.

I am an independent insurance agent and have been for a number of years now. Love my job, all that good stuff. All (literally, all) of my business is referral based and I pride myself on having close relationships with each of my clients. Despite having over a thousand clients, I know most of them by name, and I feel like they are in a sense, extended family of me and the agency.

In the industry, it is possible for policyholders (clients) to change their agent without changing their policy or company if they are satisfied with their insurance, but not satisfied with their agent.

About a week ago I got a notice from one of my companies that one such client has requested to change from me to another agent. I was of course a little upset, but I was more surprised than anything else because I know this client pretty well and we hit it off when I started his insurance. To the best of my knowledge this client hadn’t had any bad experiences, claims, or anything else that would explain migrating the policy away from my agency. I was stumped.

Not one to over react, I really calmly phoned my client to inquire if I had done something wrong, or just generally ask why the policy was being moved. Since these types of changes can only be done with the clients signature on a very specific form, I assumed it had to be a deliberate action.

I’m glad I called my client. Turns out, the client didn’t know that he done anything to move the policy away from our agency, and he seemed as surprised as I was to find out that had happened. He then recalled having spoken to his other agent who insures some of his other properties, and that he has been given a bunch of forms to sign. Not knowing any better, and trusting his agent as one should, he signed the forms not thinking anything of it. Turns out, his agent had slipped this form in to have my policy moved to him – without telling the client.

Long story short, after a few pleasant phone calls with my client, not only is he going to keep the original policy with me, but he was very displeased with the lack of professionalism of the other agent, and has insisted that he move all of his other policies to me. Oh, and apparently he owns a boat he wants insurance for too. Woohoo!

This was a huge relief for me for a couple reasons and even though I didn’t do anything wrong, was also a very good learning experience for me as well.

First and most importantly, the experience reinforced my rule of not jumping to conclusions. At first glance I thought that despite spending quality time getting my client’s insurance in place he had decided to abandon ship on me. I am glad that I didn’t act on this suspicion and first let the client explain his side. Some times, the obvious explanation is wrong.

The instant karma of the other agent was a little bit of a consolation prize. The benefit to me wasn’t so much that I got more policies out of the ordeal, because had everyone acted appropriately I would have only had – and been content with – the one policy. In a world where it seems that being lazy and unethical often gets rewarded and rarely punished, it’s nice to get cosmic reassurance that the reverse is true, and that being honest and hardworking does have it’s benefits.

For those of you reading this who know in your heart of hearts you are a good person. An honest person. A person of integrity. A hardworking person. Keep it up! Your efforts are not in vain. Your good deeds and your solid work ethic is contagious and an inspiration to the people around to you. Your friends, your spouse, your coworkers, your kids, random onlookers will take note of your actions, and emulate them.

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Good Riddance – Firing Bad Customers

In the 80’s and 90’s some clown came up with the new slogan for corporate America that will go down in infamy, “the customer is always right”.

There is of course no shortage of incompetent labor in the American workforce, but anyone who has ever held a job also knows that more often than not, the customer is usually wrong.

I appreciate my customers immensely. But the fact remains my customers are usually wrong too. Even the ones I love. Even the ones I’m related to. Even the highly educated well-to-do beach front homeowners with degrees from prestigious schools are usually wrong when it comes to insurance.

And that’s 100% fine. It’s normal.

If they knew everything about insurance they’d be insurance agents. And if I knew everything about medicine I wouldn’t need a doctor.

Knowledgeable or not doesn’t matter, I love my clients and do everything I can to give them the best service available.

The point of the washed up corporate slogan that the customer is always right was of course not that customers are literally always correct in their assumptions or actions, but rather that you as a business person motivated by money should bite the metaphorical bullet, swallow your pride, and do whatever you can to appease and satisfy your customer. But even that notion is becoming obsolete.

I have an inside joke with a close friend of mine: Everyone’s money is green. True statement. The point of this was that green is the color that triumphs all. The color of your money matters more to business owners than the color of your skin. Money matters more than your political leanings, your culture, your religion, your sexual preference, your economic standing, your education level, your language, your nationality. And by all accounts this is true.

But in recent years I have appended that statement with another truism: …but some people’s money is greener than others.

Yes you should do what you can to make your customers happy. After all, happy customers are profitable customers.

But we’ve all heard another equally popular notion, that of the 80/20 rule. The rule goes that 20% of your customers will make up 80% of your problems. The exact figures might not be accurate but the gist of it is that some small, insignificant number of people are responsible for the vast majority of complaints, grievances, screeching voicemails, and wasted time that you experience.

If you’re a business owner, if you’re in sales, if you have ever had a job, you know this to be true. There’s that one client who always complains her food is too cold (or too hot). The habitual late payer. The guy who never checks his mail and claims he never got the bill you know sent him. The liar. The fraudster. The person who leaves a 5 minute long voice message that conveys nothing remotely important. The customer who returns half the clothes they buy with a stain on it.

Whatever your business, whatever your trade, you’ve undoubtedly had to service this person.

Customers make you money but they also cost you a little too. After all, customers are investments, and investments don’t come free. Making customers happy means investing some time, effort, and maybe some money in them.

Let us pretend you have 10 customers who all spend about the same amount at your business every year, whether it’s on pizza, clothes, insurance, or snowboarding equipment. 9 come in, say hi, smile, find what they are looking for, pay, and go on about their way with the occasional inquiry, and even rarer complaint. These are the good customers. The ones you would do anything to keep. You call them, and spend the extra time with them to make sure they are super satisfied with their experience, because you love hearing from them and want them to keep coming back. These are the customers you go to bat for, bend over backwards for, and jump in front of a train for, because they are worth it.

But then comes 10. There is always a number 10. This client walks through your door or you see their name on your call ID and suddenly it feels like the never ending Monday. You know it’s nothing good, it’s never anything good with this client. What is it they want to gripe about this time?

You have always put up with this person because you are worried about losing their business. You force a smile and want to keep them happy so they keep coming back, but you shudder with dread every time they actually do come back.

I can go on for pages about bad customers but I don’t need to. You know who your bad customers are. You know them by name. You could spot them in a police line-up. You could recant their phone numbers by heart. You can catch their scent from a mile away. Think of all the time you have spent dealing with these clients and their endless barrage of problems, usually self-inflicted. Think of all the hairs turned gray. Think of all the innocent staff under your watch who have been ripped a new orifice by these customers…

And now, think about how much more profitable it would have been to have used that time and effort acquiring new clients, or helping other clients who are wonderful to work with.

Enough with the façade. End the charade. Don’t wait for your bad customers to fire you.

Fire your bad customers.

Everyone’s money is green, but some people’s money is greener.

You don’t have to make a scene about it. Firing customers can be subtle. Be frank and open with them, and let them know that for whatever reason, your organization might not be the best fit for them, and recommend them to some other businesses that can help them.

In fact, do yourself a double favor and recommend them to the competition.

Business Communication Part 1 – Phone Communication

I can go on for days about communication, so rather than turning this into an essay, I’ve broken this into a series of blog posts.

As part of my job, I do a lot of communicating with a very wide and diverse group of people. Some are starving college students, others are multimillionaires. Men and women, young and old, tech savvy and old school, married and single, blue collar and white collar, domestic and foreign born, first time homeowners and real estate tycoons, and everything in between. Over the years and with my experiences I’ve learned quite a bit about the dos and don’ts of business communication – what works, and what doesn’t.

This advice is not your typical “their vs they’re”, “are vs our”, “to, too, and two” spiel you can find anywhere. Assuming you are already literate, here is some communication advice you can actually take advantage of. Despite my intro, not all of this is not strictly business communication advice, but advice that will prove useful in any context.

For Part 1, the you need only relearn your ABCs, and your 123’s.

Relearn your ABC’s.

“B like Boy, A as in…. Apple, N like Nancy, C like….. ummm….. Cat?” If this sounds like you spelling out “Bancroft Street” to a stranger over the phone, then you are putting yourself and others through a lot of unnecessary trouble.

Every day I hear my clients struggle with reading off VIN numbers to me over the phone.

It’s about time you learned and memorized the US Military Phonetic Alphabet, also known as the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. This handy system will save you time and embarrassment when spouting off an endless series of letters. The system was specifically designed so that when reading off letters over radio transmission, it is easy to distinguish between one letter and another.

"Oscar Mike Golf! That was hilarious Sarge!"
“Oscar Mike Golf! That was hilarious Sarge!”

Military Phonetic Alphabet

The list is as follows.

  1. Alpha
  2. Bravo
  3. Charlie
  4. Delta
  5. Echo
  6. Foxtrot
  7. Golf
  8. Hotel
  9. India
  10. Juliet
  11. Kilo
  12. Lima
  13. Mike
  14. November
  15. Oscar
  16. Papa
  17. Quebec
  18. Romeo
  19. Sierra
  20. Tango
  21. Uniform
  22. Victor
  23. Whiskey
  24. X-Ray
  25. Yankee
  26. Zulu

When it comes in handy:

  • Driver’s License Numbers
  • Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN)
  • Hard to spell names
  • Hard to spell street names
  • Policy numbers
  • Anything where you’re spelling out a word with tons of letters.
  • A surefire way to garner respect from military clients and peers.

A is not for Apple. From now on, it’s Alpha. Familiar yourself with all 26 letters and practice them regularly. Memorize it. Learn it. Love it.

Relearn your 123’s

Another task I do daily is collect phone numbers, street addresses, and credit card numbers. Believe it or not, there are right and wrong ways to do this.

I doubt you’re pronouncing the numbers wrong, but you could be reading them aloud the wrong way.

Do Re Mi... ABC... 123... Baby, you and me!
Do Re Mi… ABC… 123… Baby, you and me!

Credit Cards

Credit cards are conveniently broken down into four groups of four digits, with the exception of American Express. When reading your credit card to someone over the phone, make sure to read the numbers the way they are commonly displayed:

For example: 1234 pause 5678 pause 1234 pause 5678. American express displays their numbers in groups other than four. In this case, try to break them into groups of 4 anyways.

Phone Numbers

Another big one I noticed people botch often is reading off phone numbers. First of all, always read the area code. Never assume the other person knows the area code. More and more, even “small towns” have multiple area codes as populations swell. San Diego County for example has three area codes, 619, 858, and 760. Los Angeles probably has twice that.

Second, remember that people write slower than you can talk. So when reading off a number of any kind, make sure to sllllooooowwww down. The pauses let the person listening to you catch up, so they don’t have to ask you to repeat yourself.

Third, just like with credit cards, read phone numbers the way they are commonly displayed. For example: 619 pause 555 pause 6789.

Numbers In General

Do not use the letter “O” for the number “0” (zero). This can be especially confusing for alphanumeric chains where either a letter or number can possibly be correct, such as an account number or email address.

Read each individual digit. Do not combine digits to make larger numbers.

For example:

The chain “7-8-5-2” should be read “seven-eight-five-two”.

The chain “7-8-5-2” should NOT be read “seventy eight-fifty two” because this can then be misinterpreted as 70-8-50-2.

Regardless of what the number is, try to break down long chains of characters into groups of four, and pause between each group, just like you would with a credit card. This makes it easier for the person on the other end.

Conclusion

That’s it. Relearn your ABCs and your 123s. If you can do that, you’ll make life easier for yourself and anyone you communicate with over the phone.