Archive for January, 2013

One bank with good service.

Posted January 25, 2013 By tjflynn

When my daughter and her family lived in Clearwater and I lived in Kentucky (but did most of my work in Florida), I opened banking accounts with let’s call them Bank X. I had accounts with a Kentucky bank, but spending over half of my time in Florida made it necessary to bank in both places. That was around 8 years ago.

Since I opened that account, I’ve not heard from Bank X except to get normal statements and notified when my checking account balance was low and money was transferred from savings to cover a debit card purchase or a check that I’d written. For all of these years, I’ve been charged $14 per month for the privilege of using Bank X, and being subjected to their other fees…debit card fees, overdraft fees, paying for checks, low-low savings account interest, mysterious and inappropriate charges by international businesses on my debit card(s), etc. AND, when I married Angie, it almost took 3 pounds of paperwork to add her to my accounts. Seriously, copies of marriage license, drivers’ licenses, social security card, applications, background check and a personal appearance just to add her to my existing accounts?

A couple of months ago, she hit a wall with them and told me to find another bank or wash dry and fold my own clothes. I did a ton of online research which boiled down to three banks. Then, I called each bank on the phone to get a feel for them and decided to give Wells Fargo a try. I would have preferred that they were a Florida bank, but I didn’t get everything that I wanted and the tradeoffs are worth it so far.

One of my telephone interview questions was, “Why should we choose your bank over another.” Without taking a breath, Dawn Reprogel answered, “Me. As your personal banker, I make the difference.” That kind of self-confidence is comforting. It shows that personal responsibility that I mentioned a few posts ago. And, it says to me that she is my kind of service provider.

We spent several hours opening accounts primarily because Dawn tried so hard to identify our needs and tailor her products to meet them. During that visit, Dean Friedman gave us a run-down of merchant services. We were put in contact with Wells Fargo’s insurance services, and met the branch manager and other branch personnel. We opened business, personal and merchant services accounts, have automatic payroll deposits and are happy with the new relationship that we have with our few sheckels (dollars) and Wells Fargo’s care of them. After a month, my only negative is that they try so hard to provide stellar service that it borders on being too much.

I forgot the password that I set on my debit card and needed help resetting it. The branch manager immediately sat down and fixed it for me,
Dawn has called me twice following up to make sure that we’re happy.
I’ve spoken to Dean and their insurance guy a few times.
I’ve been to the teller window a couple of times and they always make friendly conversation, look customers in the eye, and seem to genuinely want to be of service WITH A SMILE.

Friends and neighbors, Wells Fargo in Indian Harbour Beach Florida knows a thing or two about providing good service. Their great customer service ratings are well deserved from our perspective.

Common sense whispers, “they jumped out of the starting gate to a commanding lead-lets hope that they have the wind to stay out front and keep their competitors looking at their braided tails.”

Don’t work for every person that asks you to.

Posted January 23, 2013 By tjflynn

When is the last time that you met someone who immediately rubbed you the wrong way? Somebody that you wanted to immobilize with a korean throat pinch, bare your teeth to and tell them to be nicer while glaring into their face from an inch away? But you couldn’t do that because it is not socially acceptable and illegal? Those are the people that you should NOT work for.

Yes, I’m the same person that advocates adopting the posture of a servant and loving your neighbors as yourself. But I also strongly believe that I should love butthead neighbors from afar and not involve them in my business. This way, my spiritual growth is not in danger of de-evolving into the guy from the second sentence of the first paragraph.

I read, yesterday, in an InterNACHI online course that not working for difficult people is a risk reduction technique. That’s what got me thinking about the subject of “difficult people” or buttheads as I call them. My dad had a graduated technique for dealing with them. I’ve developed my own technique. Everyone that stays in business does.

In my book Putting Up Restaurants, I list three options for dealing with a risk: Risks My preference is number 3. I can see how others would fare better by using number 1. I’m thinking about companies that depend on a lot of little jobs and have a lot of workers. They just spread the cost of dollars lost to buttheads in their normal fee. Obviously managing a risk (number 2) is the worst case, the one that takes the most work.

My dad’s technique included all three options. When he met with potential customers, he would nicely walk away from easily identifiable buttheads to avoid risks. If the customer would not let him walk away, he’d double or triple the price to manage the risks. If he was fooled during the initial contact and the customer turned out to be a butthead, he would do his best to manage it. One of his more effective techniques was to hide a water shutoff that could be turned off and used to “motivate” butthead customers to be reasonable. Few people wanted a home addition with a new bathroom that could not be used.

How does all of this relate to a blog on Service? Well, it takes a ton of effort to provide stellar service to a butthead, doesn’t it?

Common sense seems to indicate that you should leave difficult people to your competitors.

Service Is Spiritual?

Posted January 21, 2013 By tjflynn

One must have a spiritual perspective of service. Knowing what to do and being able to do it are only 2/3rds of the equation. We are motivated to do, or not to do, based on whether or not we think it is right or wrong.

We are more than what we know, or what we feel, or what we think. Defining who you are (and the levels of service that you are willing to provide) includes the sum of at least three interactive components:
mind body spirit T.J. the person, therefore, is the sum of his learning, how functional his body is and how advanced his spirit is. And, T.J. ‘s offerings of service are the sum of his intellectual perspective on service (mind), his spriritual perspective of service (spirit), and his ability to physically perform services (body). Obviously environmental factors affect and shape each of these components as well.

For the purposes of this blog, we’re going to assume that one is physically capable of performing good service and has a firm intellectual grasp of what good service is and question spiritual influences.

Pastor Jason Byars at the Coastline Community Church has a way of involving everyone in the sanctuary in his sermons, which are based on biblical scriptures and generously spiked with references to them. On a recent Sunday morning he ran off a string of things that fit Galatians 5:14. Quoted from my Living Bible, “For the whole Law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love others as you love yourself’. “ The one that hit me like a George Foreman body punch was, “…it’s the best business model…”

So what motivated a preacher to advocate adopting the posture of a servant and loving others as you love yourself as a business model? Is it that he knows that’s what Jesus did and what we should aspire to? Is it that he does the same thing in his ministry? Is it because he understands this as an immutable law of the universe? I think yes.

Read Chapter 67 in the Tao Teh Ching. Lao Tsu advocates the same thing for Taoists. He holds and protects three treasures: Benevolence, frugality and never trying to be number 1. The idea of not trying to be #1 is anathema to “successful” people today. The value of the Tao’s treasures is that you can have them now and keep them forever.

Hindus have a similar perspective. “At death, those who have developed the mode of goodness, will go to the higher planets where the saintly persons live. Those who have developed the mode of passion will take birth among those engaged in materialistic activities. Those who have developed the mode of ignorance, will take birth in the animal kingdom.”(Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-Gita 14.14-15). Those who are intelligent will work hard to make a living but they will also gain some spiritual knowledge so eventually they gain enough to go back to the spiritual abode where we live in the same beautiful body. That is eternal, full of bliss, and full of knowledge.

Paul from the Christians’ Bible, Lao Tsu from the Taoists’ Tao Teh Ching, and Lord Krishna from the Hindu’s Bhagavad-Gita advocated assuming the posture of a servant as a way of life. For what reason? It was the same for all of them, to fare better in this life and future ones.

I aspire to following Pastor Byar’s advice, though I don’t always reach the mark.

Common sense (from the spiritual component of Christians, Hindus and Taoist at least) seems to dictate that we adopt the posture of a servant in service to our clients to fare better in the present and hereafter, and to stay out of hell or coming back as a jackal or javelina.

It Don’t Have To Make Sense

Posted January 19, 2013 By tjflynn

When I wake up in the morning with something on my mind, it either needs to be resolved or written down. This morning it was a job that I performed last year, doing an ASTM E2018-01 compliant property condition assessment as an associate for a consulting firm. I’ve done many of these before and never had a reviewer question my report product with the force, adamancy and exclusionism that he did. He was right. He didn’t have the inclination to discuss it. I was an absolute idiot for including the costs that I did. I needed to revise the Reserves for Replacement form and resubmit it before the end of the day.

Gentlefolk, there is no way to describe how that type of interaction affects me. Astrologically, I’m a Leo. I grew up remodeling houses as the bosses son. I’ve floated to the top, or left every job that I’ve ever had. Throughout my career, I’ve been self employed more often than not. And I’ve been self employed for the last 15 years. To say that I’m independent would be an understatement akin to describing a nuclear explosion blast as something similar to a cherry bomb’s.

So you’d be safe to assume that I did not decide to keep my mouth shut and do what he wanted without some doses of reality administered by my spouse. In my foggy memory of those moments, these doses were forced down my throat, in a calm and loving manner of course, while she was sitting on my chest. What I do remember clearly was her saying that I’d get paid quicker and probably do more work in the future for them if I followed directions, which, with her help, I did.

For those of you familiar with the ASTM PCA requirements, field observers (which I was) are not required to include Reserves for Replacement estimates unless requested by the client. Although it is normal to provide estimates for immediate costs or costs to fix noted deficiencies. However, (1) reserves estimates were always part of the consultant’s directions to me, (2) reserves estimate forms were provided with the project template, and (3) the reviewer’s directions to me were to remove all but one of the estimated costs.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of reserves for replacement, it simply refers to the fact that some major systems require replacement every so often and as a prudent property owner, one should be saving up for those expenses. Heat Vent and Air conditioners last 7 to 15 years depending on what part of the country they are in. Roofs last 10 years or more depending on materials. Asphalt parking lots need to be sealed and restriped every 5 years and capped with new wear surfaces around every 12 years. For most retail buildings, these are the three major items in the reserves for replacement list. And replacing smaller systems (really meaning smaller in costs like repainting) are considered more like operating costs and are anticipated elsewhere in property budgets.

Now that you all understand what reserves are and the three major systems, you’ll be as confused as I was to hear that costs for HVAC replacement were the only ones that I should have included. The roofing was an inexpensive metal panel that would likely be replaced before the HVACS. The asphalt parking lot only had 6inches of base. It was in a hole where water would seep under the pavement profile. And the asphalt thickness was substandard. All of this added up to replacing the parking lot before the roof and hvac.

I would have been happy to debate my estimates of cost and useful lives of the two excluded systems. Those could have been conservative. That was not the issue, and it makes no sense to me today why they were not included.

Should observers then, blindly and subserviently do what reviewers dictate even when it seems wrong?

Common sense says to me that:
A. The client told the reviewer to only include HVAC costs in reserves because they consider replacing roofs and parking lots elsewhere, and that information did not trickle down to the lowly field observers, or
B. The reviewer was not only wrong but he was an ass about it.

Home Inspectors and Poor Service

Posted January 18, 2013 By tjflynn

Living in a new area is exciting!

Inspecting homes and commercial buildings accounts for a growing portion of my marketing and business. When I’m going through my checklist, looking for safety or systems issues, I feel like Sherlock Holmes and might even like it if someone nicknamed me “The House / Commercial Building Whisperer.” I’m not as good looking as Robert Redford who played the Horse Whisperer. And, I’m not as exotic as Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer. But, I would match knowledge of my unique whisper subject versus theirs with either of them.

I met a nice lady this week who told me a horror story related to the Home Inspection business. She’s very visible and extremely active in my community-associated with a business meant to connect, promote and enable the growth of businesses in the area.

Her home inspector made a couple of mistakes that were costly to correct. Her lament was similar to all others related to buyer’s inspections and marginal inspectors, “I wish that I’d have known that before I bought the property. Isn’t that what I paid you for?”

The specifics of her case are a matter of indifference. Generally, home inspector or professor of string theory physics, if you make a mistake and can fix it…you should fix it. It has to do with owning your actions and taking responsibility. Both are tenets of good service.

Making mistakes is part of life and business. Fixing them is the difference between growing/learning and stagnating. It’s part of the difference between good and bad service.

I make mistakes regularly. Just ask my wife, she points out most of them and must have a list somewhere. My dad used to say that “if you ain’t makin’ mistakes, you ain’t doin’ nothin’.” In rare cases when my mistakes cause issues, I don’t hide like a sissy when a client calls to discuss them. Most of the time, I’ve taken steps to rectify the situation beforehand and when I haven’t, I promise the client that I will…and then follow through.

The home inspector in her case didn’t even have the courtesy to answer his phone when she called, and after several months hasn’t bothered to call her back. These are the competitors that give my business a bad name. The ones who are churning fees, rushing from one job to the other doing 3 or 4 inspections a day, and setting themselves up for long-term failure, not success.

There are plenty of cases where clients have unreasonable expectations of inspectors. In my experience, those can be reduced by going over the contract with them before the work to produce clear expectations. Another quantity can be handled by discussion afterward.

Recently, while completing a continuing education class, I met another nice lady. A Realtor and investor, she was there to learn what they are supposed to do because the home inspectors she had recommended and hired herself were lazy. In her words, “The fat asses would not go in crawl spaces or attics. They’d check No Access and skip over them.”

Friends and neighbors, I was taught to inspect every attic and crawlspace that I could squeeze into and inspect without harming myself or the structure.

Common sense seems to indicate that the path to inspector oblivion has a lot of runners who ignored their clients during and after the sale.

A Primer On Bad Service

Posted January 2, 2013 By tjflynn

Being born and raised in Florida and able to trace at least 4 generations of ancestors (paternal and maternal) from Florida, it pains me to say that my state is brimming over with people who provide poor service. Some of my family would say, “it’s because them damn yankees have overrun us and there are so few natives here.” Others would say, “Castro and them South American dictators have flooded Florida with their rejects”, or “them folks from south of the border will work fer nuthin.” All of that may be true, but I think the problem is bigger than that.

People just don’t know what good service is.

Go to any large town in Kentucky and you’ll get good service. People there care about service. Drive past the small towns, though, because they don’t trust or like strangers. It’s the same in all other southern states, probably because good manners breeds good service and people in the south generally have good manners. If you disagree with this statement, please don’t comment here-contact Jeff Foxworthy. I heard him say that on TV just last week

As a public service for all carpetbaggers, refugees, emigrants and young Floridians that may not know yet, the list below has examples of poor service and you should not do these things:

1. If you work at Wal-Mart and there are customers that have been standing in your line for more than ten minutes you should NOT
(a) Chat on your cell phone
(b) Compare social notes with the cashier two aisles down
(c) Turn off your light and go on break without at least apologizing for making the customer reload his/her cart with groceries already placed on the belt.
(d) Stop in the middle of ringing up a $250 grocery order to have a personal conversation with the bagger about his medical issues, most especially if those medical issues concern his excretory functions.
(e) Provide lectures on the evils of alcohol consumption while ringing up a 24-pak of Corona Light or four liters of Fat Bastard wine.
2. If you work in Sporting Goods at Wal-Mart and a person with a sweaty T-shirt on comes in with grease under his fingernails and asks for a bicycle spoke key or spoke wrench your answer should not be, “Where did you come from? I’ve never heard of such a thing.” Even an idiot could figure that on out if he listened to what his customer was asking for.
3. If you work at Papa Johns Pizza you should greet customers as they come in the door and not wait four minutes and eighteen seconds while their to-go order is getting colder. By the way, just because you don’t make eye contact doesn’t mean that the customer doesn’t see you while you are standing 26 inches away. And, the cash register does not give you the shield of invisiblity until you get around to greeting customers.
4. If you are an usher at church and someone is saving a seat for their husband, there must be a better way to let her know that the church is crowded other than saying, “He’d better hurry up and get here.”
5. While working at Walgreen as the only cashier, please don’t leave to stock shelves without acknowledging customers standing in your line waiting to check out. If at all possible, check out those customers before putting Revlon’s latest line of lip gloss up on a higher shelf.
6. If you work at Lowe’s in the electrical department, please learn what ‘madison clips’ are.
7. If you cut lumber to length at Lowe’s and the customer asks for ‘exactly 48 and three quarters of an inch”, don’t cut it 49 and say, that’s as close as I can get.
8. If you sell paint at Lowe’s and the customer asks for the cheapest flat white interior latex paint that you have in 5-gallon buckets, please don’t argue when he won’t be upsold.
9. If you work at Home Depot, ignoring customers and keeping your area clean and stocked only accomplishes 2/3rds of your job, and continues to drive people over to Lowe’s.
10. If you have a bicycle shop that takes trades, don’t call the customer’s trade-in a piece of crap in order to justify allowing a fourth of what it’s worth on a trade against an overpriced model.
11. If you work at Bonefish Willy’s, don’t start out with great service and then disappear after serving the main course. Customers may want Key Lime Pie and/or coffee…and your tip may depend on service during the entire meal.
12. If you are a server and say to one person, “that’s an excellent choice” you should say the same thing to all others at the table.