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Mind of Jacka: Travel, Insurance, Bailouts, and Customers

Blogs Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU Aug 04, 2020

Don't know about you, but I am sick to death of hearing people talk about how we are living in strange times, that we are seeing unprecedented change, that we will never again see the world we once knew, and other such lamentations related to the weirdness that is our current situation.

We get it — the times they are a changin'. Well, bad news; I'm about to say it again.

The world has changed forever. (Yuck, I hit you with it right off the bat.) And things will never be quite the same. (And again! What's wrong with this guy?) However, we have lived in this new normal … (Oh my gosh; is there no end? That's it, no more clichés about change, I promise.)

To repeat, we have lived in this new normal long enough to see trends in the way people and organizations react. In particular, we are seeing organizations that recognize the opportunities that arise when things change.

My wife has said there are two trips she wants to get out of me before I fall apart — Iceland and New Zealand. We had planned our Iceland trip for June of this year. Yeah, you can imagine how that turned out.

When it comes to local travel — within the states — I handle reservations. But for international travel we have a good travel agent we use. Did I say good? Let's make that great. She is her only employee, but she has a wealth of contacts and does a fantastic job pulling together the kind of trips that bring us back to her for more. We worked with her on the Iceland trip. And as the world and our trip fell apart, she was in constant contact explaining our options and working with us on possible solutions. Eventually, all trips and tours were cancelled. And she got back every single dime we had paid.

When you think about businesses that have taken massive hits during this time, the travel industry is right up there. And travel agents were already struggling because of the ubiquity of sites that allow you to handle it all yourself. Under the current pressures, if our travel agent had reacted differently — if she had shrugged her virtual shoulders and said there was little she could do — it might have been the final nail in her coffin. But, instead, she worked her tail off providing customer service. She is not getting any more money — there's no extra commissions for getting refunds and rescheduling — but she is working for her customers.

Compare this to what happened to those people that had used the DIY trip websites. Not only did those customers have trouble getting credits, refunds, and reschedules (if they got anything at all), but they had to sit on hold for hours (and I do mean hours) waiting for the chance to talk to a real, live human being.

If you ever need help putting your travel needs together, let me know and I'll give you our travel agent's contact information.

Now, I thought twice about putting that previous sentence in this post. It is not my role here to hawk other's wares. But I decided to leave it in because that is the point I'm trying to make. Again, she could have just folded her tents and slunk into the ether-desert. But she stayed and continued to provide the customer service that has caused me to rave about her to anyone willing to listen. She is effectively making no money, yet she is still providing the customer service that makes her stand out, that brings people back, and that makes her the receiver of accolades and recommendations.

Look around. You will see a number of industries that understand the times are different and are responding to their customers in somewhat surprising (positive) ways. For example, many insurance companies have responded in a way no one ever expected — particularly from insurance companies. No, it isn't faster claims handling or more efficient bill processing or friendlier people on the phones or even happier, peppier, funnier television ads. Nope. While those may be occurring, the biggest news is that insurance companies are either refunding or reducing payments.

I worked for an insurance company. I know how cheap they are. And I am floored by this extraordinary, but correct, response.

Now, imagine you're a salesperson for an insurance company that is not providing such refunds or reductions. Don't know about you, but I wouldn't even bother going on a single sales call. The positive impact on brand by looking for the opportunities during these times will pay dividends. Not doing so will be a disaster.

Let's look at the Payment Protection Plan (PPP) loans. One of the more startling revelations was the large chains that asked for and received these loans. As the … news … hit the fan, some companies recognized the impact this could have on their brands and gave the money back. (There reasons may have been altruistic or more calculating, but, nonetheless, they did give it back.) On the other hand, some companies that seemed less-than-deserving held on to that money. They were given it, and they are going to keep it.

I won't mention names; you can look them up. But, in the future I will be more likely to patronize the ones who returned the loans and stay away from those who decided their interests were more important than the small businesses for whom the money was intended.

So, with everything that is going on around us, how has your organization reacted? In the actions taken by your organization in response to these unique conditions, is the customer, the customer's reaction, and the impact on the brand being considered?

I've probably told this before, but at Farmers Insurance we used to have a poster up in every meeting room. It had a picture of a diverse group of people with the line "'Are we in this meeting?' Signed: your customers." It was a not-so-subtle reminder that every decision should be made only after considering the impact on the customer.

In these times, there are some interesting, amazing, and impactful things internal audit can do for its organization. I've already written about some, as have others. But this may be one of the more important. Is your organization reacting in ways that also consider the impact on the customer? Is the organization keeping the customer in mind as things drastically change? And is your organization taking advantage of this situation to find new opportunities to serve those customers?

Bring that one up in your next meeting, get people to start thinking and talking about it, and watch as they realize internal audit can provide real value.

Mike Jacka, CIA, CPA, CPCU, CLU

Mike Jacka is co-founder and chief creative pilot of Flying Pig Audit, Consulting, and Training Services (FPACTS), based in Phoenix.