When Giving Service, Give It Cheerfully

Customer service — especially when it delivered both professionally and consistently — will beat price both as a customer retention and as a customer attraction tool just about every time.

But customer service is not always what its name would imply.

Like you, I observe many so-called service providers performing their day-to-day activities: store clerks, automobile service writers, airline ticket agents, airline gate agents, rental car agents, hotel desk clerks, all kinds of home service personnel such as plumbers and electricians, plus quite a few salespeople who claim to offer their customers outstanding customer service.

Even when I observe customer service being delivered, it’s frequently not delivered cheerfully.

“Well, yeah, we can get out there and pick it up, but we’re pretty busy right now. It’s Monday morning, you know. How big of a hurry are you in?”

“Sure, we can make the change, but it’s going to cost you an extra $100.”

After purchasing some new garage doors yesterday, I asked how soon they could be installed. The salesperson answered, “We’re in our busiest season, so we’re pretty backed up right now. If you wanted them installed fast, you should never order in the spring. I believe I can get an installer out there in a couple of weeks. Is that okay?”

#1 CUSTOMER SERVICE RULE: If you’re going to give service, give it cheerfully.

Here’s one I heard a few days ago when I called to place an online order, “All of our customer service personnel are busy right now, so please hold. If you hang up, you will lose your place in line. Please understand that your call is important to us, but we anticipate that you’ll be on hold for approximately 20 minutes.”

Returning from a mission trip to Mexico a few weeks ago, I met an elderly lady who had a four-hour layover in the Atlanta Airport. Being a seasoned traveler, I asked an airline agent if she had plenty of open seats on an earlier flight. She answered that the flight had plenty of open seats. I then asked her if she could help this lady out by booking her on that particular flight that left three hours earlier. The agent said, “Yes, I can do it, but it will cost her a $25 change fee.” To which the old lady quickly responded, “I can’t afford an extra $25, I’ll just wait the four hours for my flight.”

With a big smile on my face, I said to the agent, “I just thought you might be able to show this lady some old-fashioned Southern hospitality.”

The airline agent responded with a priceless statement that speaks volumes about some company’s attitudes toward customer service, “Mr. Lee, Delta Airlines no longer allows us to show Southern hospitality.”

Syndicated radio talk show host Clark Howard frequently refers to customer service departments as “customer NO-service.” Howard is referring, of course, to the poor service frequently offered from customer service personnel.

Almost everyone enjoys doing business with people that are cheerful, and almost no one enjoys doing business with a sourpuss. Granted, as customers, we have no choice sometimes, but as salespeople, customer NO-service is no way to grow your customer base. Customer NO-service is not an option.

Delta Airlines is hemorrhaging red ink, as are most airlines. Airlines desperately need more customers to cover their out-of-control operating expense levels. The Delta agent missed out on a golden opportunity to make a customer for life. All she would have had to do was say something like, “It would be Delta’s pleasure to help this nice lady out. Let me see your ticket and I’ll see what I can do.”

But, as the agent said, “We’re no longer allowed to give awesome service.”

MY PLEASURE is the correct response anytime customers make a reasonable request that you can accommodate.

Even if you render the service, but complain about it, you’re negating the gesture.

“We have a crew that’ll be on that job at 7 a.m. in the morning. Can you guarantee that you’ll have this material on the job so they can get started on time?”

WRONG ANSWER: “Well, I guess we can. I’ll have shift some deliveries around. Everyone seems to be looking for a ‘first out’ today, but yeah, I believe we can do it.”

RIGHT ANSWER: “It will be my pleasure to check it out for you. Let’s see here…yes, no problem, we’ll for sure have it out there no later than 7 a.m.

If you’re going to give service, give it cheerfully.

If you cannot give customers the level of service that they are asking for, try not to say NO, but rather, do your best to offer an alternative choice. Something like, “All of our trucks are committed for first thing tomorrow morning, but I could get the material out to your job late this afternoon. Would that work for you?”

CUSTOMER SERVICE RULES

1. SMILE when you are dealing with a customer. A smile indicates that you are enjoying your job as a salesperson and appreciate your customers’ business.

2. Use courteous words, such as, thank you, you’re welcome, it’s my pleasure, no problem, would you be kind enough to, yes sir, no sir, anything else we can help you with today, etc.

3. When you learn that you cannot live up to a customer service commitment, call the customer before the customer calls you.

4. Following a transaction, extend your hand and shake the customer’s hand as you say, “Thank you for your business.”

5. Occasionally, call your customer after the transaction is complete as a follow up. This is really great customer service.

6. Demonstrate humility. By showing that you’re vulnerable; that is, that you aren’t a “know it all,” you gain credibility with customers.

7. Double check facts and figures. Repeat them to the customer to make sure that you didn’t make a mistake.

8. Avoid wishful thinking. If there is something about your product or service that based on your experience the customer is likely to misunderstand, point it out even if it might cost you the order. It’s better to find out now than after the product is delivered or worse yet, installed.

Why Oh Why YSP? Why Mortgage Brokers Can Price Better

Once upon a time I was a mortgage broker. During those years we fought hard for our clients to insure we were finding the best deal for them and earning enough revenue to pay our employees and keep an office running efficiently. Along came a travel agent turned radio talk show host(1) by the name of Clark Howard who proceeded to cast stones and still does so. Continuously bombarding mortgage brokers as useless middle persons Howard continually urges his growing listening audience to bypass the smaller more local offices and go straight to the lender, where they can be screwed and never know it. The happy ending of this story is to come yet in this article.

Currently there is legislation by Senator Barney Frank (D-MA) in which he seeks to further control the already highly regulated mortgage broker industry. Comments from other leader such as Barrack Obama (D-IL) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) also mention, most specifically, mortgage brokers and how they have steered the country down a winding staircase into the deep recesses of financial failure. The happy ending to this story, likewise, is yet to come.

Please allow me to introduce your friend and mine, Yield Spread Premium; YSP for short. We are going to take a short journey to the soup aisle at your favorite grocer’s on the way to meet Mr. YSP. Go ahead and pick up that can of store-brand chicken noodle and take it with us to the check out stand. Now go ahead and pay the clerk the one dollar and thirty six cents with tax. Let us talk about that soup you just purchased on the way to meet Mr. YSP.

Hold that can in your hand and look at it closely. You can see at least two components and feel the weight of a third component. You can see the can and the label and you believe there is soup inside matching the description on the label. Since there is a can and a label you can also see did you really just buy the soup or did you also buy the can and the label? Obviously you bought it all as one unit but how much did you pay for the can? What about the label how much of the price of the purchase accounted for the label?

The secret is you don’t know and you don’t care. All you really care about is that you purchased a can of soup and got it for a fair price. The components were not separately priced. Some of the components were listed on the label but they did not include the label and the can. Somewhat of a mystery the cost of the label and the can. Look, we are getting close to Mr. YSP’s place.

What possible similarities could their be between a can of soup and a mortgage you are wondering. Only that they are both something you should shop for and understand. You don’t care about the price of the can or the label because we are talking about items which ad pennies to the overall cost, right? I mean at the most the can and the label likely didn’t add more than three or four cents to the cost. So two percent extra that you aren’t told about in the price really doesn’t make that much difference because you are talking about pennies.

Do you know the difference between the cost of obtaining a mortgage at a bank or direct lender and obtaining a mortgage through a mortgage broker? Do you know that mortgage brokers have access to something called “wholesale rates”? I bet you didn’t know that a mortgage broker, by federal law, is the only one of those three required to tell you about every penny of profit they make on every home loan. It is true. The bank and the direct lender are not subject to the federal law requiring mortgage brokers to disclose the price of the “can” and the “label”. So if mortgage brokers are required to disclose every penny they make from your transaction why aren’t the banks and direct lenders? We will get to that I assure you but here we are at YSP’s place.

Yield Spread Premium meet my pupil. Pupil, Yield Spread is the amount of income a mortgage broker earns from the lender when they find a wholesale mortgage that meets your needs and you accept that mortgage for a market competitive interest rate. Much like the way the car manufacturers pay the car dealer a portion of the retail price when they sell a car. Without YSP the front end fees would be higher and the loan would cost more. While we are on the subject let me remind you of the Columbia University Study which unequivocally demonstrates the cost of doing business with a mortgage broker is less than the cost of going directly to a bank or lender.(2) In fact, a talk show host named Clark Howard recently had to eat some words. Then he forgot again and is making a lot of unfounded accusations.

YSP works like this: If the borrower qualifies for a loan at six percent interest and the mortgage broker gets that same loan for five point seven five percent interest there is a little profit between the “wholesale” rate and the “retail” rate. The wholesale rate is call the “par” rate. Since there is a difference between the wholesale rate and the retail rate the lender will, after the closing, pay the broker a fee for the difference and that fee is called the Yield Spread Premium.

Since the cost of originating a loan has risen to about twenty-five-hundred dollars(3) the mortgage broker, just like the bank or lender, must make a minimum profit just to stay in business. Some costs are based on percentages and not fixed numbers so other loans may cost even more than that to originate. Originate means attract the client, take the application, make all of the necessary steps to get that loan to closing.

If that can of soup was like a mortgage from a mortgage broker you would individually pay for the carrots, the chicken, the salt, the pepper, the cooking time, the quality control costs, the water, the chicken, the celery, the can, and the label. You wouldn’t pay any more for the soup but you would see the cost of each little component on you receipt. Only then your receipt would be called a Housing and Urban Development Settlement Costs document, or HUD-1. However, even though the price would be the same at a bank or direct lender, you would never know the cost of the can because the law does not require the banks and lenders to disclose that cost. Only the broker is required to disclose.

YSP is part of the earnings a mortgage broker makes. The lender still makes a lot more than the broker they just don’t have to say. Lenders are paid what is called a Service Relief Premium if they sell the loan or a Servicing Premium if they keep the loan on their books. Usually SRP is anywhere from three percent to ten percent depending on the sale of the loan on the secondary market which has nothing at all to do with the borrower and happens after the closing is done.

Here is the bottom line and why you need to know about YSP but why elected officials like Dodd and Franks are way out of their league and intending to harm you more than help you by singling out mortgage brokers and eliminating this form of commission. Go to a lender directly and get a quote then go to a mortgage broker and get a quote. You will see that they are within a few dollars either way. The broker will have access to many lenders and will be able to shop several lenders and banks with one application. Yes, it has been abuse, but that was because you didn’t know the trick. Now you know.

Brokers, like lenders, banks and you at your job, must get paid. Only a small percentage of brokers are abusers of the system. Any further legislation is going to limit you on your choices and deprive you of ever knowing how much anyone makes. Why else would lenders and banks be campaigning against mortgage brokers and funding campaigns for the people who support the elimination of YSP which would effectively shut down the cheaper wholesale mortgage broker industry? Because banks and lenders do not have to disclose their profit like mortgage brokers.

Keeping Your Soul Safe: How to Prevent Identity Theft

Today, identity theft is one of the growing fears in the financial world. One day you wake up, and discover that your life is in ruins – your credit, your name, your finances. You can’t get a house loan, you can’t get a job, you can’t file your taxes. What do you do in this situation? What do you do to prevent this?

Facts and Statistics:

-Up to 700,000 people in the United States may be victimized by identity bandits each year, according to the Justice Dept (during press release 2002 FTC Study)

-Over 500,000,000 fraudulent checks are written each year

-The Secret Service estimates that in 1997, consumers lost more than $745 million due to identity theft

-A recent report on identity theft warned that there is likely to be “mass victimization” of consumers within the next several years.

-Every 79 seconds, a thief steals someone’s identity, opens accounts in the victim’s name, and goes on a buying spree. (CBSnews.com, 1/24/01)

– Florida is the number 4 top state for identity theft (CA, NY, TX, FL, IL) in number of victims.

-Types of Identity Theft:

— Financial Fraud

— Debit & ATM fraud

— Checking account fraud

— Savings account fraud

— Store credit account fraud

— Loan account fraud

— Mortgage account fraud

— Identity Cloning (uses your credit rating to live a separate life

— Other crimes

— Drug trafficking

— Smuggling

— Illegal entry into other countrie

— Terrorism

— Money laundering

— Computer crimes

— Shoplifting

— Burglary

How your ID gets stolen:

– Credit cards: Every time you use your credit card, in person, on the phone, or on the Internet, there is a risk that an unscrupulous person may make off with your card details. Locations where staff turnover is high, such as restaurants, bars, and telemarketing companies, are especially high risk. Some thieves sell servers a small ‘skimmer’ that attaches to the inside of a jacket or coat, and will read a credit card when swiped. The server can then sell this ‘skimmer’ for $2000 after he’s swiped 20 cards.

– Don’t Trash It: Unshredded bank statements, credit card solicitations, account statements and other discarded mail is a target.

– Beware of the Workplace: Many times fellow employees steal sensitive information from unsecured personnel files, desks, or trash cans.

– Help Desk Impersonators: Sometimes an innocent call from your phone company, bank, insurance company or broker can be a cover for ID theft. Beware of anyone who needs to verify your address or SSN by YOU supplying the information.

– Check alteration: A recent case involved a man going to each ‘flagged’ mailbox and taking out checks being mailed to GTE. He changed the Payee to G.T. Edwards, opened an account with a fake ID, and cashed the checks. IRS can easily be changed to ‘MRS. XXXX’

– Fraudulent Check Printing: Whether by making color copies of an existing check and altering it or printing fake checks on purchased or stolen check stock, this crime is rising rapidly. There is check-printing software available, and many businesses and individuals now print their own checks.

– Checks Stolen: There are several ways a thief can obtain what he needs to create his own checks with your information:

— Stealing bank statements with cancelled checks from your home or mailbox

The 10 Best Personal Finance Experts

Over the years, many people have positioned themselves as experts in personal finance. Some of the ones who have taught people the most about taking control of their finances:

1. JD Roth

Roth started his site Get Rich Slowly to document his journey from tens of thousands of consumer debt toward financial stability. He not only eliminated his debt, he eventually was able to retire on the income from his work as a finance writer.

2. Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey’s famous snowball method has helped millions of couples escape from crushing debt. He’s the author of several books and the host of a popular radio talk show.

3. Suze Orman

Suze Orman has built a career by addressing women, young people and groups who traditionally have lagged in the area of financial literacy.

4. Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin

You may not wish to sell off all your creature comforts so that you can retire and dedicate your life to volunteer work. But, the ideas raised in Your Money or Your Life are a good starting place for examining how much consumer spending affects your quality of life.

5. Amy Dacyczyn

Her newsletter The Tightwad Gazette made frugality hip. By pursuing a low-cost lifestyle, she and many others have gained financial freedom and achieved goals that include travel, debt-free living and home ownership.

6. Trent Hamm

Hamm is another blogger who inspired others with his personal journey to financial stability. On The Simple Dollar, he tells his story of going from a state of complete financial breakdown and severe debt to being debt-free with an emergency account and investments for his future. His site now features the work of a number of individuals who have repaired their credit, eliminated debt and accomplished goals like buying their dream homes.

7. Liz Weston

Weston excels and explaining technical financial concepts to average readers. Her first book, Your Credit Score, taught people the basics of how to manage credit. Many experts consider her 10 Commandments of Money essential reading for financial stability.

8. Clark Howard

On his nationally syndicated talk show, Clark Howard educates consumers on how to get the most for their money, how to avoid debt and, perhaps most importantly, how to spot and avoid a rip-off.

9. Mary Hunt

She started Debt-Proof Living as a print newsletter in 1992. With the rise of the internet, she brought her venture online, creating a supportive community where members can help one another overcome past debts and plan for secure futures.

10. Tom and David Gardner

Many people consider investing too complicated. The Gardner brothers disagree. On their website The Motley Fool they make the case that everyone should learn at least the basics and invest for their future prosperity.

Turning Crumbs Into Dough – 7 Easy Ways To Stretch Your Money

When I’m helping my clients restructure or create their household budget I have to become real creative with showing them ways to save money. Some of these great ideas come from my many years of hanging out with my Mom and Aunt. Some are innovative things I’ve learned over the years and from my many mentors. Nevertheless, I enjoy helping people save money, especially when gas, food, and utility prices are forever increasing and we all know we can’t do without these important necessities. Below are the seven ways to save, in no particular order.

Savings #1 – (“Shop til you drop”) Although everyone by now understands that clipping coupons is a great way to save. Did you know that shopping on a Wednesday, Thursday, and sometimes Fridays can create an even bigger savings? Talk to your favorite grocery store’s customer service desk clerk to find out when they will put out their “manager special” items. Usually these items varies, but they are some great deals! Grocery stores are required to discard excess items by the expiration dates, so just before that date arrives,you can be the lucky saver.

Savings #2 – (“You scratch their back and They’ll scratch yours”) I’m sure you have a few of those little discount club key chain cards. Most drug, department, and grocery stores offer them to their customers for free. The purpose of the card is to track your spending habits in exchange, for discounts and coupons. I especially enjoy the perks I get from my local grocery store called, Krogers. Not only do I get monthly coupons for buying items I would routinely buy anyway, but I also get 10 cents per gallon off my gas purchase after accumulating a 100 points from my purchases. Recently they added the same benefit for all Shell’s gas stations. As an extra bonus, Kroger’s credit card holders,can save 15 cents per gallon on gas when they use their credit card instead of other payment methods along with the same 100 points from purchases.

Savings #3 – (“Brand name clothing at bargain prices”) Some call these Thrift stores and swear against them. However, I can assure you that some of their items are popular brand name clothing being sold new with the tags still on them, while most are considered “lightly used”. I’ve bought everything from designer shoes, clothing, pursues, and furniture from these stores and have saved a bundle! I’d smile a big smile when someone complimented me on my cute red Timberland boots. The money I’ve saved is enormous. I would have made the guru of money saving, Clark Howard proud. Check in your local area, I’m sure you will find a great thrift store near you.

Savings #4 – (“Spring cleaning Is not just for spring anymore”) Every season requires at least a few new clothing items. Especially when it comes to kids. So my family and I make it a point to go through our closets every season. the rules are, if you haven’t worn it in a while or really don’t like it as much as you use to, then let it go. So I make a trip to my local consignment store and turn our clothes into cash. They go through the items and pick out what they can resale while the other items get donated to charity. What a great concept! Clean out your closet and make money at the same time. When the items sale I have the option of cashing out or using the money towards items in their store. Either way I win and save.

Savings #5 – (“The survey says”) This great idea is jumping like hotcakes all over the Internet, so be careful. I use a rewards company called “Inbox Dollars”. I really like the service and I’ve received a check from them in the past, so I consider them to be a reputable company. The basic concept is, they email numerous ads regarding their sponsors products or services you review the ads while accumulate money. They will also send you surveys to fill out and again you earn money. There’s no pressure to buy anything or take the surveys, it’s totally up to you whenever you have time..

Savings #6 – (“Now that’s entertainment”) I’m sure you’ve seen these thick little booklets being sold for fundraisers. They are called “Entertainment Books.” Inside of them are an array of coupons assembled for your particular city. The coupons range from food and drinks to movies and car rentals. I love this book and have used them for traveling, movies, fast food, sit down restaurants, bowling, and car rentals. The book is good for a full year, so you have plenty of time to use it and save big. But here’s the catch, you need to keep the book with you. Leaving it at home is a total loss, so try keeping it in your car. I keep my book in the car as it has proven to be a great passenger and has saved me a bundle.

Savings #7 – (“Stay hydrated and help the environment”) Carrying a 5-gallon water jug is not the easiest thing to do. But when I realized how much money I was spending on water delivery or individual water bottles, I knew there had to be a better way of keeping water available for my family. So after buying a water dispenser and two 5 gallon water jugs, I decided that while at the grocery store I would re-fill my own jugs. This cost a mere 30 cents per gallon compared to about $2.50 per gallon for delivery service and 50 cents to $1 for individual bottles. My family and I refill our own BPA-Free water bottles on a daily basis. Saving another $1.25 on each individual water purchase and helping the environment by cutting down on the level of plastic in our trash waste.