People may listen to what you say but they will believe what you do. Values are a matter of trust. They must be reflected in each one of your actions. —AZIM PREMJI…
Some of us have been trapped with teenagers for months now making a stint at Guantanamo Bay sound like a vacation paradise. In the midst of another teenage tirade, we received word that our esteemed educators were ready for the return of students. A collective sigh of relief whooped out of the mouths of my wife and I. This was good news to be sure. We then began to receive emails with updates as to what the return to school would look like. Messages led with thanks for our sacrifices and that together we’ve made a difference. These were welcome to our receptive ears. Emails became numerous and mind numbing. They came from the school’s Principal, from the District’s Super-Intendent, from the Minister of Education, and who knows who else. We’re then told that safety of staff and student is paramount. Sounds good, so far. Tell us more. We’re then slowly offered details of what the experience will look like. It sounds anything but educational. Barrier after barrier and burden after burden are imposed on parent, student, and staff that obliterates the objective of education. As a consumer of schools, we’re left to think what about this approach is for the benefit of the education of our children? We’re now questioning our schools with “are you here for me or for you?” Our kids can go back for one day a week for three weeks until official summer break. What? How and what will be learned during this time? Are you here for me or for you? Much of the time spent at school will be spent rigidly monitored and under restricted ways of interacting. Are you here for me or for you? Access is restricted to a single door. Entrance can only occur during a specific time window. Only six kids can enter the school at a time. Once entered, they are escorted immediately to a wash station. They are shuttled from class to wash station multiple times a day while supervised. They are spaced and have minimal contact with each other. The teaching is limited. There’s little about this that gives one comfort that their child is being educated. Are you here for me or for you?
Separately, a business advertised in our community’s weekly newspaper an ad that said “We’re Back..” In small print, they presented, “Rules and Regulations posted on the door.” Hmmm? Are you here for me or for you? As businesses open up and “welcome” customers back, there are any number of approaches. Some are influenced by government regulations, some have their own professional or industry standards, while others are subject to a combination. Whatever guidelines we’re trying to follow, what’s really driving our decisions? We may have our reasons for reopening our businesses a certain way and our customers will have their perspective on what’s important for them. Wherever a customer has choices, they are driven by a song sung in their head whether consciously or unconsciously. In this, the customer’s chorus remains today what it was yesterday and will be tomorrow. It’s:
“Give me what I want, when I want it, or I am out of here.”
“Give me what I want, when I want it, or I am out of here.”
“Give me what I want, when I want it, or I am out of here.”
It’s a way of asking “what’s in it for me?” With this mantra in mind, customers are evaluating every aspect of each encounter with a business through the lens of is this business here to help me or to protect and benefit themselves?
We’re seeing with some of the businesses and services that have opened in other jurisdictions that customers simply aren’t returning rapidly. Many interpret this reluctant return to be due to the consumer’s fear for their personal health. In Quebec and, now, BC, parents aren’t lining up to ship their students off to school. The uptake is pretty minimal. Restaurants that are now open continue to see a dramatic downturn in patronage. In Georgia where lockdowns have been lifted for several weeks, the reservation app OpenTable confirms that restaurant dining is down over 90% from a year prior. Ouch. Perhaps, it’s possible that people aren’t hiding at home in fear, but are less interested in being treated like pariah? Perhaps, patrons don’t want to be lined up like animals, served by masked marauders, and not allowed to touch their own salt or pepper shakers? Perhaps, parents don’t want their children led like dogs from station to station being told where to stand, how to sneeze, when to wash, and more. Is it possible that barriers businesses are imposing with the best of intentions are acting as a deterrent? Are people interested in parting with their precious discretionary dollars while enduring cumbersome cuisine? Customers are seeing what they would be subject to and answering with, “no thanks, I’ll just stay home.”
The barriers being imposed are creating distance between buyer and seller. It further de-personalizes any transaction. This isn’t good for sellers.
One commercial interaction I’ve had in the past two months that was close to normal was at a local insurance brokerage. They have been operating without interruption. Even with ICBC quickly accommodating arrangements to continue coverages or place new ones without needing in person attendance, this local brokerage kept its doors open. They did have signs on the door, but outside of that the inside was completely normal. It was a comforting experience to be greeted by staff. They weren’t there grudgingly. They didn’t fear or resent the customer coming. They were serving as they always have. There was only one minor difference in the purchasing experience relative to the past. I was provided with a pen to sign some paperwork. Once the documents had been completed, I was told to keep the pen. They didn’t want it anymore. That’s it. Everything else was as normal as can be. Yes, many people may be nervous with this “casual” approach. However, customer and staff were separated by counter and remained (as has always been the case) the better part of six feet apart. Staff service stations are set up far enough apart (likely done for privacy in the past) that customers are sufficiently separated. Their signage noted that if more than a certain number of customers were inside, to please wait outside. They were able to offer this customer comfort in terms of making the shopping experience as casual and standard as possible while not increasing health risks.
Is it possible that what many people crave currently is something that insurance is intended to offer at all times? Comfort, security, protection?
I try to treat people as human beings . . . . If they know you care, it brings out the best in them. —SIR RICHARD BRANSON…
When working with an insurance broker, most insureds want to feel that what matters to them matters to their broker. Insureds want to feel that the broker is a trusted advisor looking after them. We want to feel like our brokers are protecting our priorities. This is much of the value that a broker brings. Much of the relationship revolves around trust. The insured trusts the broker to act for them. If brokers are now imposing barriers between themselves and insureds, what will this do to the relationship? If, as an insured, we are told all the additional steps we need to do prior to being able to visit a broker, will this reinforce our view that our needs or our broker’s needs are prioritized? If customers aren’t allowed to visit a physical location or must schedule appointments, be pre-screened for symptoms, wear masks, sanitize before, during, and after, and more, then what does it say about whose interests are being served? What does this type of relationship do to allow an independent broker to add value. If clients aren’t welcome to attend offices, aren’t independent brokerages at risk of making online options attractive?
It doesn’t matter how often or how loudly businesses say “We’re here for you.” Customers consider these words worthless where actions aren’t consistent. Customers are constantly evaluating their interaction with a business against the question, “For who are you?” How can we try to show instead of just say that we are here for our customers? How do our customers know that we care? If we can’t yet give an entirely “normal” purchasing experience, how can we come close?
The only relationships in this world that have ever been worthwhile and enduring have been those in which one person could trust another. —SAMUEL SMILES, BRITISH AUTHOR AND BIOGRAPHER…
At the heart of successful interactions lies trust. Trust equals confidence. If I trust you, I am confident that you will behave a certain way. Trust can be thought of as grease. It is the lubricant we use to allow our social interactions to go smoothly. If we have high levels of trust, our interactions seem to work well. We know what we’re likely to get and move forward. We look forward to these encounters. We flee the flipside. With lower levels of trust, relationships are harder to build, they grind to a halt. Low trust creates friction. Barriers build distance between people where trust is low. Stephen Covey in The Speed of Trust writes, “Who do you trust? Why do you trust this person? What is it that inspires confidence in this particular relationship? Now consider an even more provocative question: who trusts you? What is it in you that inspires the trust of others?” Covey considers trust as having two components. It includes not just the character traits of honesty and integrity but also competence. We don’t want a plumber or surgeon that is honest. We want one that is both honest and equipped to manage the job. Trust is both. We need to demonstrate that we trust our clients as well as showcase ourselves as being worthy of trust. We do this by reducing barriers not building them. We complement our efforts at building trust through displaying responsiveness and offering convenience. Two aspects that demonstrate our competence as well as evidencing our commitment to serving our customers. These are how we show for who we are.
Are you available and accessible for your clients? Can they reach you easily and quickly? Are you proactively reaching out to them or are they left to figure out how to get in touch? Have you given them options and made it easy for them to figure out how to have their needs looked after? For example, I received an out of office reply to an email I sent the other day which noted that the receiver was “working reduced office hours as a result of COVID 19”. Exactly, why their hours were reduced because of the virus crisis was unclear. Nonetheless, the note went on to offer they would aim to get back in touch within three business days. Wow. Not terribly inspiring. How does a customer feel about this business when getting that response? Three business days? How reduced are your hours? Are you working an hour every three days? How seriously can I take you? More importantly, how seriously do you take your customers with that kind of response commitment? For who are you? Certainly, the quicker the better from the customer’s view. The clearer you are able to communicate estimated service response times, the more content customers will be. Though yesterday may be desired, setting timely, but reasonable customer response commitments that you are able to honor is recommended. If you say you’ll get back to them within a half business day and do it, you’ll be on your way to building credibility and helping the customer get what they want when they want it.
An extension of responsiveness that customers are after is convenience. What is something an independent broker could do that online brokerages can’t or won’t do? Proactive contact, perhaps? Better yet, contact with the legwork completed already evidencing the investment of actual effort undertaken on behalf of benefitting customer. Do the work such that you’re making it easy for the customer to say yes. Prepare a quote (or better yet, multiple quotes), include details of payment options, and ensure any open questions or conditions are clearly set out. Highlight the questions that remain open for insured to answer. Offer several times for potential calls to collect balance of desired information or to review the contents of the quote. Spoon feed the next steps for the customer. Sign here with highlight tag, just click to reply, or do this online signature for example.
Consider exploring “house calls”. Go forwards by going backwards. Even if you’re not able to open your offices fully to customers, perhaps they are willing to have you visit them. What can you do to make their life easier and provide them with comfort and reassurance that you are, indeed, for them? Ultimately, it boils down to your answer to Tom Peters’ question:
Ask yourself . . . mercilessly: Do I exude trust? E-x-u-d-e. Big word. Do I smack of “trust”? Think about it. Carefully. —TOM PETERS…