Thursday, February 5, 2009

Victory Points

I've been having problems with my new life insurance company. Getting my account set up has been difficult because their customer service is lacking. One guy signs me up, another does the lab work and verifies paperwork, and a third, fourth and endless stream of others attempt to close the deal, often with no authority or ability to answer questions. They often ask the same questions repeatedly, which feels like I'm getting the run around. I realized today that they don't appropriately value me as a customer.

Under this new policy, I pay $15/month for my life insurance. The problem with the insurance company is that they treat me like a $15 customer. There are not a lot of $15 customers in this world. Every customer can be valued by their lifetime purchases, and it's hard to imagine examples of a one time $15 transaction. To be a $15 customer, you have to never associate with that business again, like a customer buying a couple of magazines at an airport gift shop that they'll never come to again. You can give shabby service, if that's what you want to do, because the customer will likely never come back and will just chalk up the experience to the vagaries of flying.

However, I am not a $15 customer. If they were to do the math, they would realize I am a $2,700 customer, which is how much I'll spend over the length of my 10 year policy. The insurance company doesn't understand that. Once you ascertain the true value of a customer, you're much more likely to give better service. I know the monetary value of my customers (about $500), and I'll go way out of my way to maintain that. It's also the right thing to do, but lets leave that out.

In the book Alpha Dogs I was of a bike store owner who would repair bikes he sold for free. Eventually he would repair any bike for free that you brought to him, no matter where you bought it, with the assumption that once you see the difference between his quality bikes and that $100 piece of junk you bought at Sears, you'll eventually become one of his customers and always think of him when you think of bikes. For the business owner, it was a kind of marketing expense.

It occurred to me that the goal of small business is not to make money. Yes, you need to make money, and you need to operate profitably, but small business owners could make a lot more money working for someone else. They have the skills, the drive and the work ethic. I don't know of anyone who is only qualified to run a small business. Money, it dawned on me, is not like Monopoly money, it's like money in a Euro board game. You can't win by making the most money; money buys victory points. What's a victory point? That's for the business owner to decide, but it's going to be tied to their pride and drive in running their small business. Perhaps it's to be the best game store in town, or the world, or have the best selection of indie role playing games. Money buys resources that translate to victory points. To the victor go the spoils, but in Euro style, spoils are just a perk of coming out ahead.

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