Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Value Of Being Able To Take Risks

One of the advantages of money that people fail to appreciate is the value of being able to take risks.  Because risk and reward are typically intertwined, the rich do get richer.

This year's March Madness tournament provides a particularly striking example.  Quicken Loans and Yahoo Sports are running a "billion dollar bracket": Pick the correct winner of every single NCAA Division 1 Men's Basketball tournament game, and win $1,000,000,000.00.

Now the odds of anyone winning are extremely remote, but it's still hard for either Quicken Loans or Yahoo to stomach handing over $1 billion to a lucky winner.  That's why they found someone to insure the prize: Warren Buffett.

Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway has a market capitalization of $300 billion.  It has nearly $50 billion in cash.  To Buffett, paying out a $1 billion prize is the equivalent of a person with $10,000 in the bank having to cough up $500.

Brad Null of BracketVoodoo.com has calculated the odds that someone out of the 15 million people expected to enter the contest actually picks a perfect bracket:

"Let’s assume at this point that 15 million people do enter. Leveraging the historical analysis that we have done on bracket picking behavior in the past, we estimate that the average bracket picked for such a contest would be about 20x less likely than the “all-favorites bracket” described above. And while there will be some duplicate entries, our analysis indicates that this would eliminate less than 10% of all brackets. Thus, there would be at least 13.5 million unique brackets among this set. Put that all together and you get about a 1 in 500,000 chance that Warren Buffett has to shell out that billion dollars. So the EV on that insurance policy he wrote is about $2000."

While we don't know how much Berkshire Hathaway got paid to write this policy, you can bet it was a pretty penny.  Let's imagine that Berkshire Hathaway charged $1 million for a policy that has an expected value payout of $2,000.  Not bad.  But only someone with that financial strength could A) afford to take on the risk, and B) be a credible counterparty.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The $2,000 Customer Service Call

This morning, I had the misfortune of having my car's transmission conk out while I was on the freeway.  Fortunately, I was able to exit the freeway and park on the street, where I could safely call GEICO for roadside assistance.

But this post isn't about the $2,000+ I'm going to have to spend on a new transmission.  Rather, it's about how GEICO turned a pure cost center--providing roadside assistance to its customers--into $2,000 in revenue.

After providing GEICO with my location and arranging to wait for the tow truck, the GEICO dispatcher told me, "From looking at your account, it looks like you're now eligible for a big discount on our comprehensive coverage.  Since you're going to be waiting for the tow truck anyways, would you like to hear more?"

15 minutes later, I had agreed to add $1 million in additional coverage for my car and home, at a cost of right around $100 per year.

I've been a GEICO customer for 16 years already, so it's not much of a stretch to speculate that I might be a customer for another 20 years.  That means that GEICO turned a costly customer service call into an incremental $2,000 in lifetime revenue.  That's something that any company learn from, especially startups which tend to view customer service as a necessary evil.  Here's how GEICO did it:

1. Timing.
The cross-sell came at the very end of the call.  GEICO had already taken care of me ("the tow truck is on its way") and knew that a) I was feeling relieved and b) I had some time on my hands.  And what better time to sell insurance than after that insurance has just proven to be valuable?

2. Personalization.
This wasn't one of your generic credit card company pitches ("Would you be interested in hearing about our balance transfers?").  Instead, it seemed like a personalized pitch.  The salesperson I was transferred to paid off that impression by explaining the nature of the insurance and how it would interact with my home insurance policy, even though I buy that policy from another provider.  She also pointed out that I could double the amount of coverage I had on our cars for just $0.40 more per year--a bargain that reinforced her helpfulness and GEICO's overall value.

3. Seamlessness.
Once I agreed to the additional coverage, the GEICO rep didn't ask me for a credit card or turn me over to another department to complete the sale.  She simply said, "Would you like me to just bill this additional coverage to the bank account you currently use to autopay your car insurance?"  All I had to do was say yes.  That's the position in which you always want your customers to be.

Do all GEICO roadside assistance calls end with making a sale?  Probably not.  But if you have a chance to turn a simple service call into $2,000 in additional revenue, don't you have to try?