This week I dealt with two insurance companies which I will call Chalk and Cheese. We had an existing policy with Chalk that we needed to change to another name since the original holder of the policy had died, so I called to find out how we could do that. I was told that I would need to bring in a number of documents and also take out a new policy.
I asked whether the application could be done online and I was told “No” and I would have to come in and deal with it. I really had no desire to make a trip into Bridgetown to deal with anything so I politely thanked the lady, hung up and called Cheese where we have a number of other policies.
I gave the same information to a lady over the phone and got a quotation for the new policy within minutes. I was pleased to find out that the premium would be just $75 more than what we were paying before. So I moved on to the next stage and asked what I would have to do to take out the policy and I was told that the lady could e-mail me the proposal documents which I could complete and then come in and pay the premium. She also gave me, unsolicited, a number of payment options.
Within minutes of hanging up the phone from Cheese, the e-mail was in my box with the proposal document and furthermore I was advised that I could complete it, scan it and e-mail it back to her so that when I came in to pay the premium, the information would already be set up in the system.
Talk about chalk and cheese! That made me wonder what caused the difference between the two responses that I got. From the tone and lack of initiative or desire to help of the first lady, I could tell that she was disengaged. Why should I be surprised when the NISE survey found that 70 per cent of staff in the private sector are disengaged.
This lady did not offer any suggestions to make doing business with the company easier and she didn’t seem particularly interested in whether or not they got my business. I can just picture her hanging up the phone, stupsing (as we would say in the Bajan vernacular) and saying: “That’s her business if she doesn’t want the policy.” Actually no, it’s Chalk’s business or loss of business.
The lady from Cheese was obviously engaged. She heard my reluctance at having to come in and complete a form and she offered a suggestion to accommodate me and meet my need. Not only that but she acted on it right away. I may have literally put down the phone looked around for my iPad, picked it up and checked my mail and there it was. I remember going “Wow!” I had to e-mail her and let her know how she had impressed me with her response.
So what is responsible for the difference in attitudes and engagement levels?
Well, it could be any number of things ranging from personality, attitude to work, feelings about the company or even the company culture. Based on my knowledge of the two companies, one being very old and established and the other being relatively new and vibrant, I would lean towards culture as the reason for the difference although of course the other factors could also be at work.
One of the definitions of culture that I find most explicit is “the integrated system of socially acquired values, beliefs, and rules of conduct which delimit the range of accepted behaviours in any given society”. In other words the values that we live by that determine the way we behave, not just in the wider society but, in this context, within a company.
I’m willing to bet that the culture of the Chalk company has evolved into one in which the prevailing attitude is: “We are well established, this is the way we do things and it’s our way or the highway.” I bet that staff are therefore not encouraged to be innovative and to try different ways to help the customer and I’m not even a betting person. I wonder how much business Chalk has lost to Cheese over the years.
As I said, culture not only exists in companies but in nations. What is the prevailing culture in Barbados? Is it solution oriented and action oriented or has it become, “This is the way we do things, take it or leave it”?
Perhaps that’s part of the reason for the state of the economy. Has Barbados become a Chalk nation? I don’t know about you, but I find cheese a lot more palatable than chalk and I’m sure potential customers and investors are of the same opinion.
* Donna Every is the CEO of Arise Consulting Inc. which provides business and motivational training and advice to help individuals and organisations fulfill their purpose. She has written five books and has just released her second novel, The High Road.