Tuesday, March 30, 2010

If It's Tuesday, This Must Be A Bank Robbery

Strange but true: according to the FBI, during the fourth quarter of 2009 more bank robberies took place on Tuesday than any other day of the week. The most popular time for robberies was between 9:00 AM and 11:00 AM, this indicating bank robbers like to get an early start to their day. Or something.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Two Kickers And Customer Service

Yesterday evening after work, your intrepid blogger went shopping. Hardly blogworthy news in and of itself. But what transpired at the end of said journey is worth noting.

I was looking for a particular make and model of guitar. Back in the dim and distant past when I started playing, this particular make and model had a grand total of two different versions which weren't in fact all that different. Today? The company's online catalog shows fifty-three different models. With multiple variations within most of the different models. My guess is making it easy to know which one you want isn't high on the manufacturer's priority list.

I first went to a mega music store (name withheld to protect the guilty). Sure enough, they had at least three dozen different models. None of which were the one I was looking for. Oh well.

Next came a mega-mega everything store with a musical instruments section buried in the corner, no doubt hoping to capitalize on the Guitar Hero video game craze and the odd chance someone might want to actually play a real guitar instead of pushing buttons. They had a couple dozen different models. Again, none of which were the one I was looking for. Strike two for the evening.

I was about to call it a night when from the recesses of my memory came recollection of a little music store on the outskirts of downtown in the city housing the aforementioned mega-mega everything store. Never had been in there. Figured why not.

Naturally, it had almost the model I wanted. I waited relatively patiently for the sole employee to finish with the only other customer in the place. He then came in my direction.

He greeted me warmly, bringing over a patch cord so I could give the guitar a once-over lightly. The employee then wandered away for a few minutes. I'd like to think it was so I could try the guitar out without him hovering over me, which is the case in pretty much every other guitar store I've ever visited. It could be because I'm that atrocious a player and he couldn't bear being within earshot of my noodlings, but I'll go with the former explanation if you don't mind.

Eventually the employee came back over and struck up a conversation. He was knowledgeable about the guitar I was playing without trying to either impress me or lording it over me. Instead, he asked questions about what I was looking for and listened to the answers. Only then did he respond.

He understood the one I was playing was almost what I was looking for, but not exactly which meant it wouldn't be coming home with me. Nevertheless, he encouraged me to come back whenever I wanted and either retry the guitar I was currently playing or one of its relatives. He also noted I'd more than likely be able to custom order the exact one I wanted if that was my final decision.

Here are the kickers. First, the price tag was quite a bit higher than for the same model at one of the mega stores. If they had one, that is. Certainly I could order the guitar from one of the mega stores and save a not unsubstantial amount of money. However, I left the store feeling good enough about the way I was treated -- namely, as a person, not a paycheck -- to give serious consideration to the notion of ordering the exact one I wanted from the store. Granted, a lot of people would take one look at the price tag and hightail it out of there. But in this case, the personal experience and human interaction was worth the extra cost. At least to me it was.

The other point worth noting?

It was already past the store's closing time when the employee started helping me.

Moral of the story?

Customer service doesn't always produce positive results. You can't control how someone else is going to react or behave. When it works, though... it is so worth it.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Nail Head, Meet Hammer

Mega kudos to Anthony O'Donnell at Insurance & Technology for his masterful stroke of sarcasm when examining the now-passed health care legislation:

As someone who reports on health insurers' use of technology to gain efficiencies, better monitor treatment and increase members' participation in their healthcare choices, I must have developed a distorted picture of what these companies are actually like. I had come to believe that rate changes, however high, were conditioned by real costs and, in any case, had to be justified to regulators. But who am I going to believe, my lying eyes or our beneficent President?

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Stepping Back To Look At Education Funding

The New York Times weighed in the other day with an opinion on President Obama's approach to the No Child Left Behind act. Long version short, it waxed enthusiastic over the notion of a carrot or the stick approach to school funding, boosting spending on schools that performed well while trimming it for underachievers.

The problem with this approach is it embodies what the Australian rock band Midnight Oil once expressed in one of its songs: "The rich get richer / The poor get the picture." While no one can make an successful argument that throwing money at anything is a genuine solution, trying to plan a curriculum with no idea what the budget will be is impossible. School budgets are already mercurial in the extreme as local and state governments, strapped for cash due to falling tax revenues brought on by the present economic woes, are cutting spending to the bone.

A brief aside: There are no magic money machines out there to tap, no matter how fervently some might believe there are pools of cash waiting to be discovered. This lesson should have been learned by the failure of financial institutions once thought incapable of so much as a stumble, let alone collapse. They were undone by the burden of unpaid debt acquired through reckless acquisition of irresponsible home loans taken on during the housing boom by people who never should have been given loans. There is no bottomless well of money for government programs. Period.

This notwithstanding, surely there is a means by which school funding, coupled with requirements for performance, can be stabilized. Our children, and the vast majority of teachers who are dedicated to their profession, deserve nothing less.

P.S. Speaking of Midnight Oil, here's the song for which the band is best known:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Yes, There Is Humor In Insurance

At least we're told these are jokes...

An actuary is a CPA who found CPA work too exciting.


A lawyer and an engineer were fishing in the Caribbean. The lawyer said, "I'm here because my house burned down, and the insurance company paid for everything."

"That's quite a coincidence," said the engineer. "I'm here because my house was destroyed by a flood, and my insurance company also paid for everything."

The puzzled lawyer asked, "How do you start a flood?"


An actuary is one who, if you're drowning in a pond 20 feet offshore, will throw you an 11-foot rope and point out that he's meeting you MORE than halfway.


Dear Sir:

I am writing in response to your request for additional information in Block #3 of the accident report form. I put "Poor Planning" as the cause of my accident. You asked for a fuller explanation and I trust the following details will be sufficient.

I am a bricklayer by trade. On the day of the accident, I was working alone on the roof of a new six story building. When I completed my work. I found I had some bricks left over which when weighed later were found to weigh 240 lbs. Rather than carry the bricks down by hand, I decided to lower them in a barrel by using a pulley which was attached to the side of the building at the sixth floor.

Securing the rope at ground level, I went up to the roof, swung the barrel out and loaded the bricks into it. Then I went down and untied the rope, holding it tightly to insure a slow descent of the 240 lbs of bricks. You will note on the accident reporting form that my weight is 135 lbs.

Due to my surprise at being jerked off the ground so suddenly, I lost my presence of mind and forgot to let go of the rope. Needless to say, I proceeded at a rapid rate up the side of the building.

In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel which was now proceeding downward at an equally impressive speed. This explains the fractured skull, minor abrasions and the broken collarbone, as listed in Section 3, accident reporting form.

Slowed only slightly, I continued my rapid ascent, not stopping until the fingers of my right hand were two knuckles deep into the pulley which I mentioned in Paragraph 2 of this correspondence. Fortunately by this time I had regained my presence of mind and was able to hold tightly to the rope, in spite of the excruciating pain I was now beginning to experience.

At approximately the same time, however, the barrel of bricks hit the ground and the bottom fell out of the barrel. Now devoid of the weight of the bricks, the barrel weighed approximately 50 lbs.

I refer you again to my weight. As you might imagine, I began a rapid descent down the side of the building.

In the vicinity of the third floor, I met the barrel coming up. This accounts for the two fractured ankles, broken foot and severe lacerations of my legs and lower body.

Here my luck began to change slightly. The encounter with the barrel seemed to slow me enough to lessen my injuries when I fell into the pile of bricks and fortunately only three vertebrae were cracked.

I am sorry to report, however, as I lay there on the pile of bricks, in pain, unable to move and watching the empty barrel six stories above me, I again lost my composure and presence of mind and let go of the rope.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Something To Share With Those Who Drive Recklessly

This coming weekend is an off one for NASCAR, which after the events this past weekend is probably a good thing.

We start with the end of a race from last year, when Brad Keselowski wrecked Carl Edwards en route to victory:

This past weekend, Edwards returned the favor:

Both drivers walked away, courtesy of the multiple layers of safety built into their cars.

Layers not present in passenger cars.

Something to remember next time someone gets stupid behind the wheel.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Welcome To The Future, Country Style

There are certain themes of commonality running through all of our lives. We all have to eat, which for the overwhelming majority of us means going grocery shopping. We all need shelter. We all need insurance.

Let's focus on the latter for a moment.

The image of one courageous individual standing alone against the soulless corporate machine makes for great entertainment fodder, with countless movies and television shows and books and plays devoted to this plot line. Certainly it happens in real life. However, far more often than not it simply isn't the case. The image has little to do with reality.

A tie-in from the music world. As mentioned earlier, I have a bit of the country hick in me. Which carries over to music. I can and do listen to most every style imaginable, but when in doubt give me that torch and twang. No yodeling, though.

One of the advantages country music has over pop is the enablement of storytelling. Most contemporary musical genres are structured so there's little room left for the lyrics to do anything other than get in and get out. This forces an endless stream of variations of "I love / don't love / used to love you." Which no matter how romantic or embittered one may be at the moment can get a bit old.

Granted, the common cliché of country lyrics is a mix of grandma, pickup trucks and/or love lives all breaking down simultaneously. However, as is usually the case the image has little to do with reality.

A theme that does occur time and again in country is the notion of people helping people, a sense of genuine community where neighbor helps neighbor and stranger helps stranger for no reason other than it being the right thing to do. Treating others as you'd like to be treated. That's the country way.

Which ties into what we do here.

One of the primary reasons CSE works with our independent agent force is the ability it gives us to, through working with our agents, communicate with our insureds on a personal level. We're not a bank of answering machines or a faceless form on a Web page. We take care of things personally. This isn't something we've recently started doing as a reaction to market surveys. It's how we've always done business.

There's more than a little amusement to be derived from watching businesses trumpet customer service as if they've invented a dynamic new way to do things. We're proud of the fact it's been CSE's standard operation procedure since we were founded more than sixty years ago. We're also happy to use tools such as Facebook, Twitter and this blog to communicate with you. We do want to hear from you. We do listen. We do respond. As do our agents.

We're glad to be a little bit country.

P.S. Speaking of country, here's some Brad Paisley for you:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Customer Service And A Cartoon Dog

This coming Sunday is the Oscars, which depending on your taste is either must-see TV or everything that's wrong with modern entertainment. Setting that argument aside, one of the movies up for a few awards warrants mention here for reasons entirely separate from artistic and/or entertainment value. Namely, the Pixar film Up.

In June of last year, the movie was in theaters only. A ten year old girl in southern California had seen the ads and wanted to see the movie. Nothing unusual there.

There was a twist, though.

A most tragic twist.

The young girl was dying of cancer. In all likelihood she wouldn't live long enough to see the movie. Even if she did, she was in no condition to go to the theater.

A family friend tried a desperation maneuver. She started calling Pixar. Nothing but automated phone systems. Despite this, she somehow got through to a person and explained the young girl's plight.

The next day, a Pixar employee who refuses to be identified came to the girl's house. He brought stuffed toys from the movie, plus a poster.

And a DVD of the movie.

The young girl was by this time too sick to open her eyes. So she listened to the movie while her mother described the action, telling her about the adventures of Carl Fredricksen, Russell and Dug.

Seven hours after the movie ended, the young girl died, her final wish fulfilled.

Customer service is seldom so dramatic or heartrending. However, it is a vital lesson for all of us in a service industry such as insurance to remember. There are people at the other end of that claim or contract. People entrusting us with their business. People counting on us to fulfill our end of the agreement.

Far, far more often that that's what we do.

P.S. Ending this on a bright note, for those of you who haven't seen the movie, meet Dug:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Always Take The Weather With You

I lived for a period of time in the Midwest. Central Indiana, to be precise. Given how I've spent most of my days in various locations scattered around the San Francisco Bay Area, this makes me one of the few people able to order a double non-fat low-whip high-cream medium-sugar easy-foam triple-shot cappulattespresso and say "ay-yup" when the beleaguered barista reads back my order. But I digress.

In Indiana, as is the case in much of the Midwest, the easiest job imaginable is that of weather forecaster. You can throw pretty much anything you want to out there and stand an excellent chance of being right at some time during the day. Rain, snow, wind, warm, still, hot, cold, humid, bone dry. And every possible variation thereof. When it's said if you don't like the weather wait five minutes it's only the slightest exaggeration. I have vivid memories of being outside on a bright sunny day without a cloud in the sky... and immediately heading home because I could feel the atmospheric pressure change indicating a thunderstorm was soon be letting loose. Fifteen minutes later it'd be storming.

On a far more serious note, last Friday, a horrific earthquake struck Chile. Centered offshore, the 8.8 magnitude quake wreaked havoc. As is gradually being revealed, not an insignificant amount of damage was due to the tsunami created by the tremblor.

The Hollywood image of a tsunami being some kind of incredibly high wave devouring ships as it crashes toward shore is inaccurate. It's entirely possible for a ship to have a tsunami pass underneath it without those on board even noticing. The danger comes when the wave, more accurately described as a surge of water, reaches shallow water. Between the speed at which the water is traveling and the sheer amount of water pushing forward, the potential for disaster is great.

The ability to accurately predict a tsunami is limited. Buoys can measure a surge, but only to a point. As one gets closer to shore it becomes easier to tell what's going on, but you're also dealing with a very short time span in which to warn people of the coming peril.

Back to the Chilean earthquake. Given that tsunami activity had already taken place, it was logical to believe more could happen. And not just in Chile. The tsunami which struck several countries in the Indian Ocean the day after Christmas 2004 produced measurable effects as far away as Vancouver. Everyone in the possible path of one resulting from the Chilean quake was immediately put on high alert.

And nothing happened.

While there was inconvenience suffered by residents of Hawaii, who after having been informed for several hours to evacuate the beach and low-lying areas were told don't sweat it, this was a very small price to pay compared to what would have been extracted had a tsunami struck. Certainly it'd be nice to have more accurate information if one was or wasn't going to strike. It'd also be nice to know when earthquakes are going to occur. But we don't.

All we can do is be prepared. Living our lives in constant terror of nature's forces coming after us is a useless waste of energy. That said, skipping through life oblivious and unprepared is stupidity on steroids. We owe it to ourselves and each other to, as best we can, prepare for what might happen.

Part of which is making sure we have the right insurance.

Which won't help you be any more accurate forecasting the weather, but at least you'll be ready.