Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Dale Carnegie: Spinning...

This will probably be a fairly long rant, so please be patient with me.

The title of this post refers to the great motivational author and speaker, Dale Carnegie, and his classic tome "How to Win Friends and Influence People." In it, he teaches folks effective means of communication, both in business and personal relationships.

The experience I'm about to relate might be titled "How to Effectively Damage Your Business, and Squander Years of Good Will."

Although ours is an independent agency, my P&C colleagues place the bulk of their business with a specific carrier. This is neither good nor bad, it just is. For a number of reasons, I have given this carrier's life insurance subsidiary "first dibs" on the life business that I write.

Each spring, this carrier puts on a sort of traveling roadshow, called the Annual Sales Meeting. Folks from the home office travel all over the midwest, and it gives both the agents and the home office staff the opportunity to mingle, and to share experiences and ideas. It's a lot of fun, and I look forward to them.

This year's would have been my 22nd consecutive meeting.

You'll notice I said "would have been." That's because the meeting was scheduled for the first night of Passover. This is a significant and special Holy Day, and is marked on most calendars. Now, I don't think that anyone intentionally set out to offend those of us in the field who are Jewish; most likely, it just never occurred to whomever set the dates to even check.

I was, at first, annoyed at this oversight; the more I thought about, the more irritated I became. Knowing my own limitations, I knew that I needed to tell someone how I felt, so I called the home office, and asked for the office of the CEO (hey, it's not like I have any problem calling the head honcho). I didn't really expect to speak with him personally; I just wanted to make sure that he knew that I was disappointed to miss the meeting, and offended at the reason that this was so.

My colleagues were split as to whether they thought I'd get an apologetic return call or not. I predicted that I wouldn't hear anything about it.

I was wrong.

This morning, I received a call from the Regional Sales Manager for the carrier, chastising me for not "going through channels." No acknowledgement of the offense, just a "slap on the wrist" about following their protocol.

Regular readers (and those who know me personally) will be pleased, if not shocked, to learn that I did not, in fact, lose my temper. I politely, but firmly, told the gentleman that, first, I did not want to say or do anything to damage the relationship between our agency and his company. But, I explained, I did not care about his protocol, because I do not work for him or his company. He was momentarily taken aback, but pressed on, admitting that he didn't see what I was so offended about in the first place.

At that point, I told him that, contrary to his intent, he was not helping his own cause. Indeed, he was offending me even more. I explained that I was anticipating an apology (at best), and that I would have also accepted no response at all. I concluded by asking him if there was anything else I could do for him, and we concluded our conversation.

In addition to representing this carrier, I have been a customer for over 20 years, as well: my home, auto, umbrella and much of my life insurance has been with them. As soon as we hung up, I buzzed one of my colleagues and asked her to get me the numbers for moving all of my P&C cover to our other primary company. I have also determined that I no longer feel comfortable placing business with this carrier: I am currently working on 6 life cases, all of which I will now place with other carriers.

What's so disappointing about this is that the gentleman has irreconcilably destroyed over 20 years of good-will and customer satisfaction. I sure hope he's happy.

ADDENDUM: In reviewing the phone conversation, I recalled another telling piece of information. At the very beginning of the call, the gentleman mentioned that he had received an email directing him to call me. Since I had spoken only with the CEO's office, I can only conclude that this gentleman's opinions represent those of the company itself; that is, the CEO had obviously directed him to inform me of my faux pas, and to abstain from any apology. That also speaks volumes.
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