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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Forgetting the details: the cost

This afternoon, driving at the speed limit, I noticed a police car in the next lane. I thought nothing of it, until a few blocks later I noticed the flashing lights behind me. Turns out, I had been driving the car illegally for, get this, seven months. My license tags had expired in May 2007!
There are moments when one has a truly sinking feeling, and this moment could have gone from bad to worse very quickly -- because I had left the insurance renewal papers at home. So, effectively, I was driving without proper license plates, and without proper insurance documentation.
Clearly, one of my weaknesses (see previous posting about Marcus Buckingham's argument to focus on strengths) is attention to detail. Last May, I must have 'assumed' that I had renewed my license properly and blithely just driven the car for more than a half year.
Fortunately, one of my compensating strengths is a solid crisis response attitude. I knew right away to accept responsibility for the problem; the police were doing their job, I had erred, and now the challenge would be to make things right, as quickly as possible.
The police issued $220 in fines. I asked the officer if I could safely drive the car to the motor vehicle licensing office to fix things. The officer, in a stern "police type" response, said: "You are not supposed to be driving this car until it is properly licensed, but I am 'clearing' the area and leaving the scene." I took the message clearly that he wouldn't charge me again if I drove off!
So, I drove straight to the licensing office, only to face another problem. The licensing bureau will not renew the license without insurance documentation, and that material is at home, about two miles away. Somehow, driving home to fetch the documentation did not seem to be a good idea under the circumstances. My wife was away, and I was supposed to pick up my son from winter camp in a couple of hours. So calling taxis and going back and forth to the home to get the paperwork seemed rather a bad answer. The solution: I called my insurance broker. The broker's agent said she could fax temporary insurance paperwork to me. And the licensing bureau clerk gave me the licensing office fax number!
So, as I stood in line waiting for my turn for service, I heard my name called, and received the fax with the paperwork needed to renew things. Problem fixed, in under an hour. I quickly affixed the new sticker on the car, and went off for some vigorous exercise.
These experiences reminded me of principals of attitude and responsibility.

  • As the crisis unfolded, I put things into perspective. Outside of the error in driving without proper tags, had I committed a major crime? Not really (the car had proper insurance). I would pay the fine, accept responsibility, and move on.
  • Do people have discretion and the ability to develop creative solutions in situations which are all-too-common? Certainly. Insurance brokers can issue temporary paperwork by fax, and at least some motor vehicle licensing offices are reasonable and will give out their fax numbers!
  • Should people play their 'roles' in situations? Certainly. If you expect a police traffic officer to be jocular and friendly when he is issuing a ticket, you are living in another world. The best you can do in these situations is to behave courteously and with respect. The officer could have thrown the book at me -- instead he charged me $220.
Finally, you should appreciate that the other person's crisis is your opportunity to show respect and care -- and when you do, you have a perfect 'sweet spot' for marketing. I'm not sure if the reference is correct (I think it is in a book by Jeffrey Gitomer), but the marketer recalls seeing someone at the airport struggling with an ATM. Seems the machine wouldn't accept the guy's bank card, and he desperately needed a little cash to complete his travels. The marketer preoffered $100 and invited the other person to repay when he could. Turns out the businessman at the ATM was in the market for the saviour's services -- and, with trust firmly implanted, did more than $100,000 in business with the representative who saved his skin.

P.S. A note about branding success: I am not sure 100 per cent if the positive story described above is indeed Jeffrey Gitomer's tale (I read many business books). But he gets credit and recognition here. That is the nature of great branding. If you ingrain a positive and relevant perspective in people around you, you may be able to take credit for good things that possibly have nothing to do with you!

1 comment:

Sonny Lykos said...

Mark, good for you. In fact, DOUBLE good for you. You handled it smart considering the situation and your schedule.

I raised our four kids that any time they/I get stopped for a driving infraction, admit to it, be very pleasant and polite. Not to get off receiving a ticket, but because it's the right thing to so since the cop is only dong his job. fortuantely for me, in the few instances that happened, I guess the co was so surprised as my admission and demeanor, he either let me go or just gave me a written waning.

But the above is the minor aspect of our attitude toward these situations. What's more important is the perspective aspect. First of all, in any life these things happen, should be expected when they do, and the perspective aspect is how does these incident compare to being told a child of our was just hit by a car, or our spouse was jut told she had cancer, or our house burned.

I once told a perpetually complaining daughter (it must be in her genes) who got a ticket, that instead, she should be thrilled she had the legs and sight that allows her to drive and make an occasional mistake in judgement.

People must learn not to sweat what in reality, are comparatively trivial incidents of living - period.