Archive | Business RSS feed for this section

Missouri allows hiring minors under age 16. Why don’t employers know?

You wouldn’t know it from asking most employers, but apparently, Missouri does allow hiring minors under age 16.  Have fun job hunting, though, if you’re under age 16.  My son has found one company in our town that will allow a 15-year-old to submit a job application.  Expanding the search to the nearby metropolitan area, we find two companies that will consider hiring a 15-year-old.

A few weeks ago, I took a wandering, sentimental journey through my high school jobs experiences.  I sorted through how I got those jobs in my small town Missouri teenage life. I work for my dad doing computer work in elementary school. Thereafter, I stepped into the local job market at age 13 and never looked back. I ended up working three different local jobs between the ages of 13 and 17.

Why are businesses in Missouri no longer hiring minors under age 16?

I now have two high schoolers of my own — age 15-year-old and a 17-year-old. Finding a job as a student is nothing like when I was a teenager in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, it seems that jobs are hardly available for high schoolers.  Student jobs outside restaurant and retail are extremely rare. On top of that, here in Missouri, almost all high school jobs are restricted to age 16 and up.

Let’s backtrack to that post about my high school jobs. When I was age 13, I was working at the local library. When I age 14 and 15, I was working at a law firm. Both positions were low skills high school jobs, but they were jobs that required an attention to detail. They taught me to show up consistently and do the work and do it correctly because the details mattered. I was a details kid who loved to read, so both of those jobs were perfect for me.

Why aren't employers hiring minors under age 16 in MIssouri?

The typical response: “We don’t hire under 16 years old.”

I recently reached out to the local library for my 15-year-old son. My son has heard my early job stories, and he is much like I was at his age. He thinks that working at the library would be a great first job outside the home. Why did I reach out to the library instead of him? Because I already knew the likely answer, and the standard answer has become frustrating for both him and me. Honestly, I was hoping my influence would help.

I reached out to the assistant director of the local library. I pitched my son’s skill set and his interest in working there and his availability to do so. What was the response? As expected, “We don’t hire under 16 years old. We would love to talk to him when he turns 16.”  My son and I have heard this line over and over from every employer we contact.

The library job I called about was the same basic job I did at my local library when I was age 13. Why would he need to be 16 years old to do the work that can be accomplished by a 13-year-old? Most people naturally think, “They don’t want to have to deal with high schoolers and immaturity, so they’ve set a higher age bar.” Maybe that’s partially the case, but you can weed out immaturity through a good application and interview process. What I’m finding to be the real issue is something more complicated: state law.

Missouri regulates (but does not prohibit) work for hiring minors under age 16

The Missouri statutes have all kinds of requirements about hiring minors under age 16 to work in the entertainment industry.  All of that makes sense based on what we’ve learned about the entertainment industry and its dealings with minors.

Hiring minors under age 16 requires a work permit from their school if they are working during the normal school year or during normal school hours.  That makes sense and is a good accountability process.  The work permit requirement is only for work hours during the school year.  Work permits are not required for a summer job.  Understandably, if the employment continued into the school year, a work permit will be required at that point.

Missouri statutes require that someone under the age of 16 can only work between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.  Seems reasonable to me.

Minors under age 16 cannot work certain jobs, like meat cutting or working in refrigerators or door to door sales or dealing with alcohol, plus several other jobs that make sense to a reasonable adult.

Those under the age of 16 can’t work more than 3 hours on a school day, more than 8 hours on a regular work day, more than 6 days a week, and more than 40 hours a week.  Does anyone have any concerns about these kinds of rules?

Yes, hiring minors under age 16 is obviously regulated by this statute.  This kind of regulation makes sense, though, when you think about hiring minors under age 16 and potential pitfalls.  These types of regulations weren’t in place when I was that age.  I can see how this type of regulation deters employers from taking advantage of minors.  I find the policy and the mechanisms of these provisions to be reasonable and valuable and not overly burdensome.

Why avoid hiring minors under age 16 when the law allows it?

What I find most intriguing is that the statute actually allows the hiring of minors under age 16. The statute regulates hiring minors under age 16 but does not prohibit such employment. It sets boundaries as to what students under 16 can do as part of their high school job.  The boundaries set by the statute don’t even apply when you start looking for an office-type summer job. The library job, the law firm job and the newspaper job I had in high school would all be allowed under this statute.  So why aren’t these type of establishments now hiring minors under age 16?

The very existence of the Missouri statute regulating hiring minors under age 16 seems to have a chilling effect on employers. Employers are looking at the general concept and policy behind the statute — “be careful with what you do with employees under the age of 16”.  Employers are the creating a hiring policy that simply says that they will not hire anyone under age 16.  If you asked why they don’t hire under 16, they would cite Missouri law as the reason.  But as we have seen above, Missouri law allows hiring minors under age 16.

This statute seems to have inadvertently created an environment where, for the most part, only those 16 and above can attain a high school job.  But why? Maybe no one is reading the full law?

Is the problem created by how we explain the statute?

We lawyers typically explain the general rule of a statute and then explain the policy behind the law.  Then we then break out the exceptions that impact the rule.  From what I can tell, the general rule of this statute is being interpreted in a negative fashion.  The interpretation of the law that I hear from employers is “Generally you should not hire minors under the age of 16.”  That’s not really what the statute says.  The statute’s bottom line is actually something more positive.  The best way to explain the statute is to say “Hiring minors under age 16 is allowed, but pay attention to their hours and the jobs they perform.”

Have employers not actually read the Missouri statute that allows hiring minors under age 16? Maybe not.  Most employers probably went to a seminar, read something online, or were otherwise advised by a human resources professional (or their liability insurance professional) that you “generally should avoid hiring minors under age 16.” They were told that the safest way to hire “in order to avoid potential liability” was to only hire age 16 and above. And the person in charge of hiring at each place of employment took a brief mental note: “Only hire age 16 and above.”

Ultimately, employers who apply the negative interpretation of this statute end up blocking out those who are otherwise qualified. I have a 15-year-old son who would love to work for a good employer. He wants to show that he is responsible and make his own money and pay his own way.  Unfortunately, few to none will give him that opportunity. It seems most employers are afraid of hiring minors under age 16 for fear of risks and process.

Are we so concerned about avoiding risk that we don’t create opportunities?

One lesson to be taken away from this situation is for state legislators, legal professionals, and insurance professionals. While I am sure that intention of the legislation was to protect teens under 16 from being taken advantage of or injured in the workplace, I am guessing no one intended to almost completely block those under 16 from getting a high school job. The Missouri statute and the way we have explained the statute (and the way we have created a culture that avoids risk, liability, and process) have created a situation where hiring minors under age 16 has simply dried up, and such jobs are almost non-existent.

Another lesson to be learned from this situation is for business owners, employers, human resources staff and business leaders. Do not be so afraid of risk that you do not offer opportunities to those who need them. The local library (and most every other company my son has inquired with) has full ability to hire my motivated 15-year-old. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, they are viewing the general rule of this statute in a negative way.  The statute has no real impact on the jobs they could offer.  Why then have they implemented a limiting broad brush hiring policy without looking deeper into the rules?  Is it fear of risk? Is it avoidance of unnecessary process?  Whatever the reason, they are missing out on him and plenty of other teens looking for a high school job.

Comments { 0 }

Part-time job throwback: what trends can I draw from the jobs I held as a teenager?

My first part-time job: the local library

My first part-time job started as a summer job helping at the local library. I lived in a small town in Missouri, and we had a historical library that was built using Carnegie dollars back in the early 20th century. It was a great small town, old feeling building. I hadn’t spent much time there, but somehow my dad had the idea that they might be willing to hire me for the summer. I honestly don’t quite know how it came about, but he helped me get an interview with the director of the library. Looking back, I was only 13 years old at the time because it seems like it was the summer after my 8th grade year.

Bolivar Carnegie Library part-time job

The local library where I worked when I was 13 year old — Source: Kaethesson

I would ride my bike to the library each day that summer in sometimes sweltering, moist heat, and I would spend my days sorting and shelving books, helping patrons find books, checking in and checking out books, and all the other things you imagine librarians doing. Through that experience, I learned how to deal with adults, both customers and employers, I gained some additional layers of responsibility, I came to understand the value of large print books and audio books, and I discovered that genealogy is a big deal for small town libraries.

My second part-time job: the local downtown law firm

I don’t remember how long I worked at the library, but it seems I may have worked there into the school year. At some point, I upgraded to working for the local downtown, small town law firm. I don’t remember if that shift was my idea or if that was also an idea hatched by my dad. One of the law firm partners was my best friend’s dad, so maybe it came about through the friendship, but there also may have been some dad initiative mixed in there as well. It seems like I started working at the law firm the summer after my freshman year, so i would have been 14 years old. I was young for my age in school, one of the youngest in my class.

At the law firm, I was responsible — along with one of the lawyers’ sons, with whom I alternated work days — for all filing and file tracking and for running all the errands to the court, the recorders office, the title company and other downtown venues with which the law firm did business. I was routinely called into attorneys’ offices and given photocopy projects or simple research projects and errands. Yes, I was a “gopher”, but I was hanging out with real lawyers in a real law firm and getting paid to do it. I had always considered being a lawyer, and from that experience, I learned many things, most of all that law firms are very quiet, sometimes serious, and professional places.

I worked at the law firm for a few years, and I had some great experiences there, including meeting then-governor John Ashcroft and wandering downtown shops with him as he shook hands on a campaign stop. I remember being aghast as he jaywalked from one corner of the downtown square to another, violating all downtown square walking traffic protocols I had learned as a young law firm employee, to get to a group of people and shake hands. I was even made an appearance in the background of a photo of him in the local newspaper the next day.

My third part-time job: the local weekly newspaper

In my junior year in high school, I took journalism class in high school and found traction for my love of photography and writing. That year, I approached the local weekly newspaper to see if they would hire me. Again, I think that whole process was actually initiated by my dad. I don’t remember making the initial contacts to get the job, which leads me to think that he did. I interviewed with the publisher of the newspaper, and he hired me to help at the newspaper to shoot, develop and print photos and to proofread and assist in the layout of the newspaper.

I ended up working at that weekly newspaper — the top weekly newspaper in the state of Missouri at the time — for the rest of high school and into college until my senior year in college. It was a great job that gave me lots of experience and connection and responsibility, and I owe much to the people who helped me along there and coached me and held me responsible and taught me the value of doing a good job, all in the context of the small town newspaper in which they (and eventually I) held much pride.

What trends can I draw from these part-time job experiences

Why do I write all of this? There are trends in these storyline that I notice:

1) My dad acted as a catalyst in contacting employers and connecting me into my part-time jobs

My dad was influential in the process of opening the doors necessary to help me get those jobs. Those employers likely did not have an opening for a high schooler. My dad talked to someone and convinced them to meet with me and consider opening up a position for me. His relational way and his initiative made all the difference in my getting those jobs.

2) The people who hired me for a part-time job were willing to train and coach me

Those employers were willing to hire me (some, at a very young age) and to find a way to use what skills I did have and to train me and coach me in the rest. I learned much through those years, and you can chalk that up to the leadership and staff at those companies who were willing to take a risk on me and deal with my failures and error and help train me into a young adult with better skills for tomorrow.

3) I was willing to hustle to get the part-time job and ultimately do the work to keep the job

I wanted work, I wanted the pay, and I was willing to work and learn and figure it out. I can tell you — I was not always a responsible young man, and I disappointed many times. But I still wanted those jobs, and I was willing to dress nice, figure out how to get there (even before I could drive), show up, and do the work day after day.

The 3 key elements involved in my early part-time job development

The trends I can quickly identify in my teenage part-time jobs are as follows:  The relationships with the employers and the job positions themselves were opened up through initiative and interaction on my behalf; employers were willing to take the time and provide the resource to hire and develop young people; and I was willing to put in the work to show dedication and desire on my part to show up and do the work.

Comments { 1 }

Sam’s Club: Unleashing my self-checkout beast

I’ve been realizing that I’m a sucker for memberships, such as Sam’s Club, AAA, Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, and more. They convince me that their low monthly membership fees are easily affordable if I just skip a cup of coffee or two and that their benefits will definitely outweigh any costs. But are they really worth it? Or are they just taking my money and running.

Last week I talked about AAA, and while I got annoyed at the second half of my recent AAA experience, overall I determined that their membership pays for itself over time. Their annoying regulations about what they can pick up where really made me question whether this was the best option over time when there are other roadside assistance services out there. The AAA name, the travel discounts, and the simplicity of their basic process (so long as you understand the ancillary rules and fine print) keeps me with them.

Sam and I, we go way back

Another long-term membership I have held is with Sam’s Club. My parents had a Sam’s Club membership when I was younger, and I took full advantage of their bulk purchasing powers during my college and graduate school years. Mom and Dad would load me up on bulk foods for my refrigerator and pantry for months. I was never really a ramen guy in college, but those little snack packets of peanut butter and crackers and frozen pasta salad and Hot Pockets in bulk kept me alive through law school.

I celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary this year, and one of my first acts as a married man was joining Sam’s Club in Kansas City. When we were young and married, we laughed because we called Sam’s the “$100 club” because as a young couple, watching our pennies, we could not seem to get out of Sam’s for less than $100. Sam’s somehow activated the impulse purchase mindset in us. We would purchase things that were beneficial but not necessary simply because Sam’s offered them. Over the years, we have learned to fight this urge, but the novelty of the selection at Sam’s Club is still pretty amazing sometimes.

Sam’s Club selection has consistently worked out for me

Over the years, I have bought anything and everything at Sam’s Club. Besides the variety of bulk foods of all kinds, we have bought a few beds, a steam cleaner, fertilizer for our yard, chlorine for our pool, office chairs, bedroom furniture, a printer, a flat-screen TV, a bread machine (back when those were all the rage), a blender, an incredible rack-based free weights set that has lasted me forever, and all kinds of other handy and helpful items. Their selection has rarely failed us. Oh! And their fuel prices are the best around!

Sam's Club checkout

The bustling checkout area at my local Sam’s Club

At Sam’s, we also buy clothes and vitamins and discount books and commercial-grade skillets and larger-than-natural rotisserie chickens. The options are never-ending. Add to all of this that Sam’s Club has an automotive department — yes, we’ve bought a few sets of tires from Sam’s — as well as an optical department and pharmacy and travel discounts and more, and it gets a little boggling how they do it all.

Self-checkout and the Sam’s app

But recently, I’ve become a bigger Sam’s Club fan thanks to their embracing technology. They started rolling out self-checkout a year or so ago, and it’s very convenient. It skips the slow “weigh your items as you go” process that I have hated at Wal-Mart’s self-checkout. Instead, the Sam’s Club self-checkout has simply been a handheld scanner checkout process followed by payment. It’s been quick and convenient. Even better, the staff members there at the self-checkout sign off on your receipt to get you out the exit door quicker.

Over time, I have found the Sam’s Club app for my iPhone a great help.  I can search my local Sam’s Club inventory and I can dig around or find items that I didn’t even know that Sam’s has available.  Over time, the Sam’s Club app (and the Wal-Mart app, for that matter) have been regularly-used apps on my phone.

I recently saw Facebook ad that encouraged me to download the new Sam’s Scan and Go app. It promised that I could scan items in the app, pay for items in the app, and leave the store without going through a checkout line. I downloaded the app and promptly forgot about it.

The moment the Sam’s Club Scan and Go app changed everything

A few weeks later, I was at Sam’s and the checkout lines were backed up. Every once in a while, it seems our Sam’s has credit/debit processing delays. (I have learned that apparently all merchant card processing runs through servers in Bentonville, not at the local store level, so if there’s a slowdown at Sam’s headquarters in Arkansas, it affects everyone.) Checkout was taking forever.

Sam's Scan and Go app

The Sam’s Scan and Go app is promoted on the front doors of my local Sam’s Club

As I started to get impatient, a friendly Sam’s employee stopped by with a handheld scanner device. She told me that she could scan all of my items in my cart, store them under my membership number, and then when I got to the checkout register, it would already be input into the system as soon as they swiped my membership card. How convenient and helpful! She scanned all my items and moved on.

In that moment, I remembered the Sam’s Scan and Go app I had downloaded to my phone. Since I was still several customers away from the actual checkout register, I decided to try out this technology. I opened the app and set up my membership ID. Then I scanned all the items in my cart with my phone’s camera. I input my credit/debit card information into the app, and paid. Done! The app displayed a scanner code to show the receipt-checking lady at the door. I literally stepped out of the backed-up shopping line and walked to the door. I felt like a total rebel who just hacked the system. At the exit door, the staff member there used a device to scan the code displayed on my phone screen, and I was out the door, leaving the lines behind.

I have used the Sam’s Club Scan and Go app many times since, and the experience has been trouble-free.  I shop, I scan each item as I put it in my shopping cart, and then I just walk toward the exit door and pay on the way there with the app’s checkout process.

Sam’s Club has the technology, but is there a downside?

That, my friends, is a membership benefit. Before that day, I thought the Sam’s self-checkout process was great. But, seriously? I can just scan my items myself, pay on the spot, and walk out without waiting to even check out? Finally someone gets it. And, yes, I will pay a membership fee to a company who makes my life that simple and hassle-free.

I will acknowledge the challenges and potential problems of this system. First, I have to store my debit/credit card in their app. I never like doing that due to security concerns. I personally prefer to enter numbers on each transaction, although I guess that’s really no more secure. But from a basic consumer comfort level, after the Target RED card hack, I’ve been very leery of storing my credit/debit information with a retailer.

Second, ultimately the advent of self-checkout lowers Sam’s labor costs, which in plain English means, they hire fewer employees to do the same work. That results in fewer available jobs for people who need them and are willing to work. I have heard from Sam’s employees over time that some customers are totally against the idea of self-checkout because it reduces the total number of people hired by Sam’s. (One Sam’s employee who works the self-checkout lane says she takes her life in her own hands every time she works that spot because people come up and accost her over how she’ s putting Americans out of jobs). I understand that concern, and I’m not sure how to solve that particular problem, but I’m not sure labor arguments will win out of technology conveniences in the long run.

Third — and I acknowledge upfront that this sounds petty — you still have to wait in the exit line at Sam’s even when you use the Scan and Go app. They have this wonderfully convenient app to skip the register lines, but then you still have to wait in this very manually-processed line to exit the building. Staff members are counting the number of goods in your cart to confirm it matches your receipts as you exit the building, and Sam’s has not yet figured out a way to get over that process and keep things moving. It’s odd, though, to use this wonderfully convenient app process and then go stand in a line to exit.

What we can learn from this Sam’s Club experience?

What from a business perspective can we learn from all this? Customers love convenience. Convenience does not always come in the form of advanced electronic technologies. I understand that the older generation is probably not using this app, and they would probably prefer other conveniences. But the general rule is that customers love convenience. We all like it when things move along a little faster, when finding what you want is simpler, when making your purchase is one step easier, when making your way through a store is unobstructed and a quick in and out. If we can streamline processes and keep things simple for the customer, the customer will be happy and will want to use our store/site/product more.

All in all, I am very satisfied with my Sam’s Club membership. Their bulk pricing, their breadth of products and services, their discounted goods, the ability to get in and out pretty easily, and now the convenience of not only being able to self checkout but to actually app checkout — I’m sold. And the membership price is not too high and is easy to pay year over year for the benefits I get in return.

What about Costco?

By the way, some of you may be wondering why I’m not comparing Sam’s Club to Costco. The reason is that I have no Costco experience because we don’t have one in our area. I know that the Sam’s vs. Costco question is something people have, but I can’t help in that area. I can only speak to Sam’s Club, and my experience with Sam’s Club has been very positive over the years. It counts as a win in my book and is a membership that I will keep.

Comments { 0 }

AAA: I pay you membership dues. Now please send out your minions.

When I say “roadside assistance,” what company comes to mind? AAA Auto Club! They have branded themselves as the group that will help you out of a broken-down car bind and help save the day you run out of gas or have a flat tire or have any kind of car trouble. Whenever I’m looking and planning toward a road trip, I make sure my AAA membership is up to date.  In the same way, it seems that everyone around me also asks if my AAA membership is up to date.

I recently had a co-worker tell me that someone else in the building called him a “bad dad” because he didn’t have a AAA membership for his family. He has kids in college, and the name caller felt my co-worker was doing his traveling children a disservice in not making sure the AAA minions were standing ready to charge out and save his children from roadside problems. That obligatory feeling is good business and great branding for AAA.

I have been sorting through all of the memberships I pay for on a regular basis and evaluating whether they are actually worth my money.  My AAA membership is an old standby worth evaluating because that obligatory element really makes me start to wonder if I pay them solely for the name and emotional experience or for their actual value of service.

Is AAA Auto Club a membership worth my money?

Over the years, I have waffled over whether AAA is actually a necessary part of my life. I have not been a consistent customer. Yes, I admit it: I am AAA fickle. I have toyed with my auto insurance’s roadside assistance rider on my insurance policy. I paid my auto insurance company a small fee for “roadside assistance” but it really boiled down to just a reimbursement plan. There were no insurance company minions at the ready charging to my rescue. (Only AAA has the minions.)  I had to do all the work of finding a tow truck myself and then submit receipts for reimbursement. The AAA approach is much more service oriented.

When I started traveling more for work a few years ago, I jumped back into a AAA membership. Every time I book a hotel for work, I can get a discounted rate if I have a AAA membership number.  Those discounts made AAA worth the fee the annual fee. And, yes, by paying that simple fee, I suddenly had AAA minions at my fingertips when needed. A double benefit!

I have also discovered over time that I can get shopping discounts with AAA if I pay attention at malls or surf the AAA website or app. What used to just be an auto club now offers many other services that I probably don’t even know about. They now offer insurance and more, and they would love to replace that auto insurance company who offered me a non-AAA roadside assistance option. Overall, it seems worth the annual charge to my debit card to keep AAA around. Heck, I even became a premium member a few years back, paying a little more each year for some added benefit.

Where the rubber (or the transmission) hits the road

First AAA tow with my roadside assistance auto club membershpWe recently took a several hours trip away from home, and on the way there, the transmission on our family car started having troubles. The further we got from home, the more concerned we got as the transmission started having obvious problems shifting and accelerating. Then, very quickly, the issue because a real problem as we started losing gears and could not fully operate the car.  We found a small town convenience store to pull into and started making calls.

What was most ironic in this roadside moment was that I forgot I had the AAA minions at the ready and that the primary purpose of having a AAA membership is emergency roadside assistance. I pay for AAA membership year over year, and I use its discount benefits when traveling to get better rates at hotels, but in the moment I needed emergency roadside assistance, we called my wife’ dad first for help. Thankfully, during that phone call, before he headed our way with a trailer, he asked, “Do you have AAA?”

Oh, yeah. I guess I do pay for that every year for this exact purpose.

The first call to AAA

I called AAA. A very nice lady helped me through the process and dispatched a tow truck to my location. She even set me up for text updates of the tow truck’s status, which was very helpful. She informed me that since I’m a premium AAA member, I am entitled to one 200-mile tow each year in addition to 3 other 100-mile tows. Wonderful! Hooray for paying for upgrades!

I told the very nice lady that since home was within 200 miles, I would prefer to tow it home so I could then figure out which shop I could use to do the repairs. She set up that information in the system, and we were good to go. I was ecstatic because, honestly, I came away from that call feeling more confident and secure in my roadside situation than when I started. Isn’t that the point of paying for a AAA membership anyway?

In a short time, the tow truck arrived and loaded up my poor Suburban and hauled it away. Several hours later when my family and I arrived home with the help of extended family, my car was safely parked in my driveway, ready to go to a shop the next day. Great success! Thank you, AAA! I’m so glad I pay for this membership!

Then came the next day …

The second AAA call

Once I determined the proper transmission shop to do the repair, my wife convinced me that I shouldn’t try to drive the transmission-torn Suburban across town. She asked:  since we still have 3 available 100-miles tows this year, why not call AAA to take the Suburban to the shop?  That sounded like a very good idea compared to being stuck on the side of the road again two days in a row.

I called AAA again to set up the tow from my house to the transmission shop. Another helpful lady was on the other end of the line, but she wasn’t as helpful as the first. She gave me bad technical details of my plan.  Although my membership allowed for 3 other 100-mile tows this year, I could not tow from my house to a shop. What?!?!?

This second lady said that I should have been informed of this by the earlier very nice lady.  I was not, and I was now not very happy.  Apparently, AAA will allow you to tow from roadside to an auto shop, and then if that shop can’t do the work, you can use another tow to get it to another shop.  But once your car lands at your house, you have to break down again before they will allow you to use up another tow. What?!?!?

I asked the now not-so-helpful lady on the other end of the phone if she understood the real-life repercussions of that policy.  I explained that their policy would require me to make an attempt to drive a broken car to a shop, break down, and call them on the side of the road for a tow.  Instead, wouldn’t they rather I skip the breaking down step, call them upfront and have them tow from my driveway without my breaking down in the first place?  She said she understood the issue, but that AAA wouldn’t let me use a tow from my driveway.  She confirmed that I would need to break down again before they could tow the car.

Suddenly my membership benefits weren’t so glowing ….

Second AAA tow with my roadside assistance auto club membership

The third AAA call

I drove home over my lunch hour to start the long, slow, gearless journey across town.  I anticipated that I should probably drive with my hazard flashers on due to the missing gears.  Having no idea what to expect, I actually brought along a granola bar and a bottle of water due to the late summer heat.

Departing from my house, on the first set of hills, my transmission couldn’t keep up almost immediately. Once the car hit a certain speed going down the hill, the transmission lost all traction and couldn’t engage again until I coasted up the next hill far enough that it slowed down to catch a gear. It was disheartening. After the second hill like that, I pulled over. There was no way I could make it all the way across town missing at least two gears.

As directed, I called AAA from the side of the road, less than half a mile from my house.

The AAA app experience

This third time, I used the AAA app instead of calling.  I wasn’t in the mood to talk to another helpful lady. The app on my iPhone was a little glitchy, but it finally worked to send out the bat signal that I needed help. The GPS feature on my phone pinpointed my location, and I received notification on my phone that help was coming.  Forty-five minutes later, the tow truck arrived. All was good in the world again … Except that the entire third call to AAA was unnecessary.

I understand that AAA, at its heart, is an insurance company. But as a “member” who’s paying extra for their “premium” membership, I’m not paying to be cited insurance-like policies. I’m paying to have access to tow trucks that get my car out of a bind, no matter where the car is parked.  Skipping over the part where the first helpful lady never actually disclosed that I might run into problems if I towed to my house, I struggle to discern why someone I pay a membership fee (and never really use, year over year) actually told me to go out and break down on the side of the road before they’ll help me with a service that I pay for.

Did my AAA benefits pay off? Yes. Was it a positive membership experience? In one way, yes, but the totality of the experience left a bad taste in my mouth.

What can we learn from this AAA experience?

I don’t write all this to gripe about AAA — really. Overall, my AAA experience has been positive with that one big exception.  The whole point of this article and series is to look at what we expect when we pay for a membership.  We’re paying for memberships and monthly commitments left and right, but as members, are we getting the benefit of our membership fees?

As a business person, if I’m going to provide a service, my customers need to feel that the service benefits them. And if I’m going to provide a service under an ongoing fee membership model, I need to consistently provide the service for which they’re paying when they need it.  My minions must be ready to charge out and help no matter what without citing technicalities because I’m debiting their bank account every month.

Ongoing memberships innately create a sense of entitlement in the mind of the customer.  Those membership fees are departing their bank account monthly (or annually). When the customer shows up to get the benefits for a service they pay for monthly, they want white glove, membership-privileged service.

Bottom line:  Keep the promise

In this particular situation, he first AAA call felt white glove. The second AAA call did not. That second AAA call felt like they were taking my membership fees but holding back in the moment when I called them to utilize their services.

Sure, AAA gives me travel discounts, and that feels good.  And AAA gives me all kinds of travel discounts and will sell me insurance.  But when I pay AAA, I’m really paying for the minions who rush to my aid.  That’s the promise of the AAA Auto Club brand.

Minions are no good when they cite a provision in their contract that keeps them from helping.  When the AAA minions are not sent to my aid due to a contractual provision, I don’t feel like AAA has kept their promise.  The end result is I feel let down, not like a special “premium” member.

What can we learn about providing services to people who are paying us money? We all want to feel pampered. We all want to feel special. And we don’t want anyone making money off us to cite unnecessary rules at us in our time of need.

Stay tuned.  I’ve got more membership experiences to come.

Comments { 1 }

My mindless maze of memberships

I have recently become cognizant of how many memberships I have. Suddenly, without paying much attention, I’m paying monthly memberships for all manner of systems, products and services of all types.

The economy has shifted to a focus on memberships over one-time purchases

Quietly and slowly, the American economy has shifted.  We pay monthly or annually (if you want a discount) for the opportunity to have access to the products and services we enjoy.  I, for one, have apparently bought into this shift wholeheartedly.  While I noticed it as I was gradually buying in, I’m now in way over my head and had not realized until recently how deep into memberships I really am.

clubs memberships herd crowd

When I was younger, I would buy a software package at the store, install it on my computer, and use it until I needed something new. Now, these same software purveyors sell me a membership.  The monthly membership fee I pay gives me access to the software as well as all necessary upgrades so long as I’m paying them.  If I stop paying them, I lose access to their software.

Two software companies that come to mind quickly are Adobe and Intuit, both of which have switched their core software packages to monthly pay online services.  But even the traditional boxed-software behemoths like Microsoft have jumped on board.  Newer companies launch under fee-based monthly setup from the start and never even use the box-in-a-store model.  I use several web applications and software systems that have never been packaged in a box but have instead been served up on a monthly fee basis from day one.

Everyone wants access to my credit card for a monthly membership charge

Retailers and service providers are offering me wonderful conveniences and benefits for monthly fee.  If I just give them my credit card information, they will open up a world of wonder for me.  I have memberships to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Pandora, Spotify, Sam’s Club, Quickbooks, Consumer Reports and many, many more. The reality is that these services are all just ongoing fee-based services.  By creating a membership feeling, they are going the extra emotionally connecting step to try to make me feel special, a part of their “exclusive” customer family.

hbo-go-netflix-hulu-amazon memberships

I can remember when I thought people were crazy to pay Netflix monthly fees for DVD access.  Somehow Netflix eventually won me over when they began offering streaming media access. Now I’ve apparently drunk the Kool-Aid and bought into many more services.  When I think back, I realize the biggest shift came when I turned off my DISH Network, cut the cable and started using streaming services for my family’s television viewing.  The list of memberships and monthly services grew exponentially in that moment.

Recently I’ve been listening to Stu McLaren, who consults and trains in the arena of creating membership-based websites. Stu does a good job of explaining the shifts in the US economy away from single event purchases and more toward membership based revenue.  It’s incredible how my brain steps backs and notices how everyone out there is trying to sell me a membership to their service, product or software application.

Are the memberships and monthly fee services I use actually worth my money?

It boggles my mind when I stop and think through the number of memberships I hold right now that keep everything flowing in my personal, entertainment and business life.  Any service or product I want can be available at my fingertips if I’m just willing to commit to a monthly relationship between the provider and my bank account.

As I’ve started realizing how much money I spend towards memberships, it’s made me wonder how much practical benefit I actually get out of these memberships. They’re everywhere! I’m surrounded by them, and they’re swarming me and I realize that I’m giving into their sales pitch, but do I ever actually take a solid look at the benefits they offer?

I’d noticed this shift to monthly memberships overall, but I hadn’t stopped to really look at their impact on my own life. Which memberships are actually worth my money? In an uncertain economy that keeps me double-checking my family’s budget and bottom line, it’s worth taking a moment to decide which memberships are worth my time.

Can I learn from the memberships I enjoy to build a better business?

It’s worth slowing down and analyzing which memberships are working and which are not. As a consumer, I have all these memberships stacking up.   From a business owner’s and entrepreneur’s perspective, I can learn from this. If I switch on my analyst mind, I can sort through the incentives and emotions to see which memberships keep my consumer mind coming back and why. I can learn from these companies and build my own business models around them.

In coming posts, I’m going to start analyzing my membership experiences in detail and figure out what’s working, what’s not and share what I’m processing

Comments { 2 }
%d bloggers like this: