Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Caffeine Insanity?

A brief personal note with which to begin this post.

I apologize for not posting anything last week. There was a reason. Last Tuesday morning, I found myself in quite the state -- heart racing, confused, difficulty breathing. Either I had just fallen head over heels in love, or something was seriously awry. It was door number two. A battery of tests later, and the answer became clear: I had suffered an allergic reaction.

To caffeine.

While the thought of getting through the day -- every day, actually -- minus coffee isn't the most pleasant thought, going through another allergic reaction has even less appeal. I liken it to some food allergies I've known about for years, namely corn and tree nuts. I can handle foregoing visits to Starbucks forever and anon. But a life without popcorn and Cap'n Crunch? It's been brutal. Still, given the alternative, namely being sick, it's a sacrifice relatively easily made.

Moving away from personal diet issues to matters of far greater general interest, coffee is deeply embedded in the business culture. We pour ourselves a cup first thing in the morning, then have another one later. What's the first thing we do when someone comes to call? We ask them if they want a cup of coffee. It's how the business world rolls.

No, this isn't going to devolve into a sermon on healthy diet and all that. Rather, it's more of a comment on what coffee symbolizes, rather than coffee itself.

We exist in an industry that is at one static and fluid. The static nature of insurance is rooted in the immovable nature of key elements: determining appropriate premiums, maintaining sufficient reserves, the mechanics of claims handling and the like. Where the fluidity comes into play is in its customers.

We all want the most coverage at the least price. Some gamble by carrying less insurance than they ought to, while others go the opposite route and purchase far more coverage than they could possibly need. For the most part, people choose the middle path, carrying enough insurance and no more. And we'll go to whoever offers the aforementioned most coverage at the least price.

The constant barrage of advertisements for carriers who shall not be named has seen a paradigm shift the past year or so. Whereas before it was price price price and do it all yourself online, the emphasis has gone to selling service along with price. Apparently the carriers who thought their customers could do it all realized you can't expect people to take care of their insurance needs in the same manner as buying a book from Amazon.

A cup of coffee, offered to a guest at your place of business, is a symbol of the welcoming side of service. Helping someone with their insurance needs from a purely technical standpoint is good and necessary. However, it's also lacking.

Service also entails empathy, the gift of genuine concern for the person purchasing goods and services from you. We've all dealt with "those people," the kind who on the surface ooze compassion, but at their core are interested solely in your wallet. Sure, they'll offer you a cup of coffee. But they'll also do their best to charge you for it. Don't be one of "those people." Be genuine in what you do. Be generous with the coffee.

Just make mine decaf, thanks.

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