Thursday, February 24, 2005

Does Anyone Really Care?

Does Anyone Really Care?

A few weeks ago, Business Week Online ran an article about Wal-Mart getting into the banking industry. Here is a quote from the article:

"There's no question, they want to have a nationwide financial-services network. If they do, there's no doubt in my mind they'll be able to do to community banks the same thing they've done to the local grocery store and the local hardware store and the local clothing store," says the community banker group's Ence."

Is Wal-Mart going to put us out of business? I wonder. It sounds like the analyst think they can – with their size and spread.

There lingers with me one nagging question. I mean, Wal-Mart is certainly a strong company. There is no denying that. But they aren’t known for their great service. The few times I have been into a Wal-Mart, I haven’t received any Nordstrom-like attention. I have never heard of anyone who has. Folks don’t go there for the good service, after all, they go there for the price and sometimes the convenience and perhaps after awhile because it is the only game in town. I have read all sorts of articles about disgruntled Wal-Mart employees and class action suits. I read “Nickel and Dimed in America” about Barbara Ehrenreich’s experience working there, which sounded horrendous.

So that leaves me asking – does anyone care about good service? Are we spending all of this time and money here at Verity to make sure we are providing the best possible service just to have Wal-Mart Savings and Loan come in across the street and put us out of business?

Is our attention on our members all for not? I guess only time will tell. Sigh.

Friday, February 18, 2005

thanks Mom and Dad

I have always taken for granted that I am a good saver. I’ve never really thought much about it. It’s just something I do. So, when I came across an article the other day about kids and money management and how parents struggle to teach their kids about saving, it brought up some questions for me. When did I learn about saving money? How has my past helped shape my relationship with money?

I don’t remember thinking about money until I reached about the 7th grade. That’s when I first started noticing what other kids were wearing at school. The cool girls wore brand names like Esprit, Laura Ashley, Keds and Guess. They carried Liz Claiborne purses and sported Swatch watches. All of a sudden, the things I had been wearing just weren’t good enough. When I relayed my feelings to my mom, she told me that if I wanted to upgrade my closet, I would have to pay for the difference. This sounded reasonable until I realized just how expensive everything was. Since Mom had been footing all the bills, I had never noticed what things cost before. Being cool was going to be expensive.

I didn’t have a job and was earning an allowance of $20 a month for helping out around the house. I took out the trash, put dishes away, cleaned my room, fed and watered the pets, picked weeds, swept the deck, etc. I decided to supplement my income by babysitting, but even after months of saving my allowance and babysitting money, I couldn’t afford more than maybe one or two of the items I had wanted. It was also getting harder for me to part with my hard-earned money. I just couldn’t rationalize spending $40 on a Swatch. I mean, that was 2 months of allowance right there!

I started to think about money in a new way. I translated the price of each new thing I wanted to buy into the number of hours I’d have to work to be able to pay for it. I became thrifty and resourceful. I gave up the Guess jeans and settled for Palmettos; I shopped at consignment stores; I even let my mom make me some Laura Ashley-inspired jumpers. I kept saving the bulk of my money, knowing that one day I would want a bike and eventually a car.

After a while, saving just became second nature. Whenever I got cash in a birthday card or made a couple extra bucks helping my dad stain the deck or paint the garage door, I would immediately put it away into an old Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox I had. Eventually I opened a savings account.

Today I continue to save. I make sure to put away a few hundred each month from my paycheck and contribute to my 401k plan. There have been times when I’ve needed to dip into my savings to survive. I’m thankful I had a reserve of funds and didn’t have to rely on a credit card or loan to bail me out.

I hope the parents interviewed in the article I read continue to try and teach their kids about saving, despite the challenges. Their kids will thank them later in life. Like I just did.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Quality Service - Easier Said Then Done

Recently I was able to present a two hour class on quality service. My past attitude towards these types of classes has been they are nice but do they really impact performance. My opinion had been that it is mostly common sense, nothing too ground breaking. However I was surprised to see the transformation in my attitude as I prepared the outline for the class. Providing quality service is hard work.

Growing up I was constantly subjected to the old saying, “Treat others as you wish to be treated.” It makes sense but how often do you really follow it? I mean how often do we get caught up in our lives and forget to look at things from the other person’s perspective. Take the following story that Stephen Covey expressed in his book “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

One day a friend of mine was riding the subway to work. It was a typical morning on the subway, some people were reading the newspaper and some people were trying to catch that last moment of sleep. Everyone was pretty much keeping to themselves. At one stop a young women boarded the train with her two children. She immediately sat down and proceeded to quietly stare out the window. Her children were a different story. They were yelling, running up and down the car, and even bumping into sleeping passengers. You could see everyone on the train getting more and more upset. Why is this lady not controlling her kids?

Well about five minutes into the ride my friend had enough. He went up to the lady and really laid into her. She just looked at him and softly sputtered, “I’m sorry, my husband just died and I guess I wasn’t paying attention.”

How often do we really put ourselves in the other person’s shoes? Quality service involves smiling, asking for a name, and being personable. However it also involves being friendly when the person is giving you every reason not to be. It involves choosing to provide quality service even when you are in a bad mood. And above all it involves doing all these things consistently.

Providing quality service is hard work. However it is also extremely rewarding. It is nice to work for a company where the number one priority is providing a high level of service. Hey our mission statement even reads, “Enhancing members’ lives through exceptional financial services.”