Consultants to our industry advise small business owners to have life insurance in the amount of company value held so surviving partners can carry on without a crushing debt load. I begin with a story of the torturous quest for more insurance.
Once insured, the seller of insurance wants customers to be healthy, do preventive maintenance, and have proactive checkups like an annual physical. Much of this is even “free.” So they like us? Not so much.
For the next policy you need, you’re better off leaving no trace. God forbid something might need to be pre-emptively treated. Once it’s treated by an insurance-connected institution, you have committed the insurance company’s edition of a felony – for doing the right thing. What’s not to love? This reminds me of High Crimes in Custom Efficiency.
Life insurance comes with the most invasive, insidious background screening of anything I’ve experienced. Physical testing and blood draws are fine, but they dig into what it’s for, how much you currently have, why so much, who’s the beneficiary, and all the dirt money can buy on the internet. (I took some liberties with the Dilbert cartoon below. Feel free to click on it to view the original.)
Put it this way – I was in the Nuclear Navy with a secret clearance. The G-man checked out my friends, family, relatives, college professors, high school teachers, plus all the physical stuff. That was easy, fair, and above board. Conversely, insurance companies are conniving masters of bait, switch, and secrecy.
As part of the physical assessment, insurers offer the “convenience” of coming to my home. Nothing could be less convenient in my experience.
Appointment one: canceled because of crazy assumptions about travel time. Appointment two: canceled due to car repair. I asked, don’t they have a loaner like my car shop has? No. “I’m taking it to my husband’s friend to save $1,000.”
Glad I could help with YOUR $1,000 savings! I don’t have a company to run or anything.
This brings me back to High Crimes in Custom Efficiency and the need for pre-approval for custom efficiency projects.
I always attempt to understand the view from the other side. This is what I did with the insurance cases described above. Utility customers are unlikely to do this for program participation. They will, in many cases, simply get frustrated with their utility. So, let’s discuss a few things to avoid an insurance-like Nightmare on 22nd Street.
Effective Account Management
Utilities are improving their J.D. Power scores with business customers as indicated by the latest report. Top reasons noted include engagement with mobile devices, fewer and shorter outages, and a sharp account manager. Those with “dedicated” account managers scored almost 100 points higher (824 v 739).
Because of the pre-approval requirement, account managers need to contact their customers at least monthly. Keep the conversation broad and sweeping, not, “Do you have any efficiency projects in the pipeline for the next few months?” Customers, especially manufacturing customers, think too narrowly in response to this question. They may only think of lighting, adding some variable frequency drives, or replacing some other energy-using doohickeys.
To advance beyond trolling for projects, one has to learn customer processes, from material entering on one end of the factory to product leaving the other end. Use conversations to draw out problems and bottlenecks, reliability and maintenance issues. At some point, take a tour. People love to talk about their stuff, give opinions, brag, and complain. This is great stuff! Diamond mines of opportunities will fall out of such conversations and tours – not to mention, the customer will appreciate the interest in their success.
Finally, explain why pre-approval is required. Feel free to throw evaluators, bureaucrats, and pencil pushers down the stairs when doing so. Nothing builds comradery like, “I hear ya; I’m with ya.” The bad guys are nameless and faceless anyway – kind of like insurance companies.
Take a Load Off
Another thing customers may not understand is why does the anal-retentive engineer need all this superfluous rigmarole? There are many ways to take a load off customers for this:
- Engineer – DO NOT load the customer with three scavenger hunts-worth of things to find. Know what matters most and just get that.
- If the initial submittal is vague and sounds huge, offer to visit the customer to get what is needed – and then, don’t blow it; get everything you need while there.
- For the utility call center, have a thinking, reasoning person pick up the phone, not a labyrinthian, circular auto-attendant. Nothing says “your time isn’t important to us” more than a run-around of computer-guided recordings.
Keep they Eyes and Brain Open
Want the customer to love you, the program, and the utility? Find more burning piles of cash while “taking a load off,” per above. Visiting customers to get information as described above is an outstanding opportunity to engage with customers once again. Ask them how that pain-in-the-kiester hassle you talked about last month is doing. Look for more opportunities! Ask. Listen. Dig.
Death to Opt-Outs
I subscribe to several things for which I’d pay far more money if I had to. In other words, the benefits to me are far higher than the price charged. Efficiency for business customers should easily fall into this bucket. No reasonable person would opt out of a useful, easy efficiency program, but they need to be shown the value.
 Death of an owner typically triggers an automatic purchase by the other shareholders in a small business.