SAN DIEGO -- Plenty of conference speakers talk about changing the world, but Matt Irvine brought receipts.
Speaking at the National Association of Health Underwriters' annual convention, Irvine, a sales vice president at HealthEquity, shared stories of giving and receiving life-changing interactions.
He began with his own rock-bottom story: penniless, homeless and carless 23 years ago in Eastern Kentucky. Irvine made bad choices while in college and his family practiced tough love.
To get out of his predicament, Irvine started painting dorm rooms and saving money to buy a car. After a few weeks, he went to a car dealer and pleaded for mercy.
"I told him, 'I have 400 dollars and no ride back to campus,'" Irvine recalled, "'I will come back every two weeks and I will make payments if you put me in a car today.'"
The man sold him an Hyundai Excel. Leaving the car lot, Irvine stopped at a Domino's Pizza and asked for a delivery job. He was told he could start that night. A financial aid person later helped him get his college debts straightened out. And so on.
"The hero of that story is the number of individuals who showed me exceptional kindness," Irvine said. "They taught me that it's the individual, ordinary people who can change the world."
Irvine carried it forward in his own career as a health care benefits manager.
Change Your Business
Being nice to others is not just something to feel good about, it's also a winning business plan, said Nancy Friedman, founder and president of Telephone Doctor.
A customer service training company headquartered in St. Louis, Telephone Doctor helps companies communicate better with customers and co-workers. Friedman shared a few tips by pulling them from a hat herself.
She started with "four useless words."
"'Hi, how are you?' are four of the most useless words you can use," Friedman said.
The problem is "nothing happens," she added. "It's nothing. Other words are so much more effective."
The next slip of paper Friedman pulled led to an animated explanation on why "I don't know" is one of the worst things you can say to a customer. Right up front, you are demonstrating abject weakness and incompetance, she said.
Friedman demonstrated a better response: "Gee, that is a really good question. Let me check and find out."
But how do you know what your employees are doing when you're not around? Just call your office and ask for you, Friedman said, adding that most people give her a horrified look at the thought.
"I do it all the time," she said. "I call my own office and say 'Is Nancy there?' Even if they do recognize you, they'll never admit it."
InsuranceNewsNet Senior Editor John Hilton has covered business and other beats in more than 20 years of daily journalism. John may be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @INNJohnH.