What happens when PASSION meets PEOPLE

You know these people.  Individuals whose passion for what they do simply spills over into every experience they have with their customers.

I had the privilege of being around one of these people recently as I toured Angel’s Envy, a locally owned bourbon distillery in Louisville, KY.

Meet Allie.  She was our assigned tour guide and boy, did she provide us with a great experience of the distillery she calls a blend of her favorite things.

Continue reading “What happens when PASSION meets PEOPLE”

Guest Post: Three Ways to Make Your 401(k) Plan Work Harder for You

Guest Post:  Ivie Burns

(We love it when our friends share important and helpful information!)

Schaklett-2016Life expectancy continues to expand, thanks to new advances in medical care and a focus on better health habits. A longer life often means more years in retirement, which may last 30 years or more.

How much money will you need socked away to shore up a comfortable retirement? The IRS suggests you’ll need up to 80% of your annual income today to help ensure your quality of life continues once you say goodbye to a regular paycheck. And when you consider the average benefit amount paid monthly by the Social Security Administration is $1,177, it becomes clear that many of us need to boost our nest egg.

One of the simplest and most effective ways to save for retirement is to contribute to your company’s 401(k) plan. A 401(k) plan allows you to defer a portion of your paycheck to your retirement account each pay period automatically, while potentially reducing your tax bill this year.

Here are three strategies that will help optimize your plan in the year ahead:

1.  Get the Match
Does your employer offer a matching contribution to your 401(k) plan? If so, find out how much you need to save to qualify for that match. The most common match formula is 50 cents for every dollar saved, up to 6% of your pay.

Saving 6% of your pay in a 401(k) plan and earning a 3% match means you are tucking away an amount equal to 9 percent of your salary each pay period for retirement. For a worker earning $75,000 per year, this means an annual 401(k) contribution of $4,500, plus another $2,250 in employer contributions. This match is a powerful incentive—essentially “free” money from your company—that will help you get closer to your retirement savings goal.

2.  Increase Your Deferral Rate
Taking advantage of a company match helps you capture valuable contributions from your employer, but it may not be enough. Most 401(k) providers recommend saving 12% to 15% annually over the course of your career.

If you aren’t able to save 10 to 15% of your pay at the beginning of your career, aim to gradually increase your deferral rate over time. One smart tactic is to boost your 401(k) deferral rate every time you get a raise or bonus. This enables you to save more without reducing your take-home pay.

Another easy way to enhance your savings rate is to increase your deferral rate by 1% point every year. Some companies offer an automatic escalation feature that will periodically increase your savings rate with a simple click of a box; other companies require you to manually make this change.

3.  Max Out Your Retirement Plan Contribution
In 2019, the maximum amount you can contribute to your 401(k) plan is $19,000. If you’re 50 or older, you’re eligible to make “catch-up” contributions up to an additional $6,000—for a maximum possible 401(k) contribution of $25,000.

When you max out your 401(k) plan, you not only save more for retirement, you potentially save more money since your taxable income would be lowered. That’s because all contributions to your 401(k) plan are taxed when they are withdrawn, not when they are made. (E.g., a worker in the 24% tax bracket who saves $19,000 in a 401(k) plan will reduce his tax bill by $4,560.)

Save Smart for Retirement
Whether you’re nearing retirement or just starting your career, it’s always the right time to save for the years ahead. Putting these simple strategies in place can help you accumulate more money for your retirement years, while helping to save on taxes now.

Contact Ivie for more questions about this article.

Article by Morgan Stanley and provided courtesy of Morgan Stanley Financial Advisor.

Guest Post: 4 Things to Look for in Your 401(k) Service Provider

Every business should care about ways to help employees prepare for the future.  This guest blog from our friend and colleague Ivie Burns with Morgan Stanley offers some great advice about 401k plans.

Schaklett-2016401(k) salary deferral plans are among the most popular retirement plans today.   A 401(k) plan allows employees to “defer” a part of their pay. The deferred pay is deducted from an employee’s paycheck and is placed into the employer’s tax-qualified plan. Federal (and in most cases, state) income tax is not due on the deferred pay — or on the plan’s earnings — until the employee withdraws the funds from the plan.

If your organization is considering a 401(k) plan — or if it has a 401(k) plan in place that you are currently reviewing — there are several things to consider to ensure you are providing the best offering for both your employees and the company.  Here is a quick checklist:

Does the plan you’re considering offer flexibility to it’s plan design?
Most service providers offer an IRS-approved prototype plan, which can save money over an individually designed plan. But a prototype plan can be inflex­ible. Make sure that any prototype plan you adopt is flexible enough to meet your organization’s overall needs.

Does the plan offer a broad range of investment options?
Nearly all 401(k) plans allow employees to choose their own investments — usually from among several specified alternatives. The service provider you’re considering likely offers its own investment options. But what if these investment choices regularly underperform similar investments? You might want to consider hiring a service provider that allows you to use outside investments for at least some of the plan’s assets. However, you will in any event want to make sure that you will be able to meet your disclosure obligations with respect to any offered investment options – you should consult your legal advisors as to the nature and complexity of those disclosure obligations.

Look carefully at the administrative capabilities of the service provider. 
Some providers seek to offer superior investment returns or broad investment flexibility, but are lacking in administrative ability. Remember, admin­istration is one of the most critical elements of a well-run 401(k) plan.

Check around to gauge the provider’s reputation for plan administration. Call some of the local customers of the provider. Ask, for example, if they’ve received late or incorrect statements. If so, find out how the provider handled the problem. Make sure that any problems were handled quickly and accurately.

Will your service provider help you with ongoing employee communications?
Communicating the plan’s features and benefits is essential to broad participation. And broad participation is essential to a successful 401(k) plan.

Most service providers will meet with employees when the plan is first set up to help “sell” the plan to them. Often, though, explaining the plan to new employees is left to you. A service provider should be available to come in periodically to reinforce the value of plan participation to employees.

Please contact Ivie and his team to learn more.  They are a trusted advisor to business leaders.


You Will Want to Walk a Mile in “These” Shoes

Van - REIWhat do you do when you decide to go on a hike?  You buy hiking shoes.  And where do you buy them?  From people who know hiking.

Every now you then you have a customer experience that makes you want to tell someone about because of simply how delightful it was.  And that was my encounter with Van at the Brentwood, TN REI store.

I’m truly a novice when it comes to this specific outdoor shoe.  And knowing an all-day hike mean you must take care of your feet, I wanted to talk to an expert.  That’s how we meet Van.

I know what you are thinking.  This sounds like a guy who was just a good salesman.  But that’s where you are wrong.  My interactions with Van placed a spotlight on what I believe many businesses are missing today.  Van gave me an “experience” – so much so I wanted to tell others how great it was.  Yes, that’s how sales are made but even more importantly, it’s how loyalty is built.

He didn’t just know the products, he had experienced them.
Van is an avid hiker himself which allowed him to ask me just the right questions to find a shoe perfect for my need. He efficiently explained the style of each shoe type, how each caters to different foot styles, and why that matters for hiking.  He owned several different styles himself which helped him not just know the benefits and features of the shoe but had a short story of example to share with me as well.  The conversation shifted to my needs very quickly and to be honest, price wasn’t really part of the story anymore.

He cared“beyond the sale”.
Van knew that the traditional way of trying on shoes didn’t work for my needs.  He asked me to experiment with each shoe by using a mock rock to climb and feel the shoe’s resistance to my feet.  His personal hiking knowledge helped me understand how a shoe should support me going up hills as well as coming down them, and the impact weather can have on your feet.  Why do I tell you that story? Because this approach took more time but that was okay. Van’s goal wasn’t a quick sale, it was my satisfaction.

He’s simply living out the business model.
Perhaps this was the highlight of my conversation with Van. When I asked him why he worked at REI specifically here was his response, “I like providing customer service with no ulterior motive.  We don’t get commission.  It’s about the relationship with our members.  Oh, and I get to work with my best friends and have been for 7 years.”

Hmmm…what if the same could be said of every employee who represents your company?  What experience are customers having with you or your team?  Here’s hoping it’s one they want to tell others about.  Now off to that hike…

Are Great Customer Experiences > Efficiency?

I visited my bank recently – yep, I’m one of those people who still like face to face interactions. I needed to do more than an online transition would allow and the visit inside allowed me to observe an interesting dilemma facing customer service professionals today.

I was there during the lunch hour; there was a line of customers waiting to be served; and there were only two tellers behind the counter.  To my delight, a woman from an adjacent office saw the line of waiting customers and stepped in to take any cash transactions.  Left in the line were the folks (including me) who needed to talk to the teller to complete our request. And that’s where I witnessed this interesting dilemma.

Each teller tried to create a personable experience with each customer – give them time needed to answer questions, provide some brief personal dialogue – yet also complete the transaction as quickly as possible so they could service the next waiting customer.

This creates the big question:  

Are customer experiences greater than efficiency?

Does one outweigh the other?  At times, perhaps.  But consider how both matter to your customer.

For these particular bank professionals I could see the awareness of their faces.  They tried to make a personal connection with each customer yet balance that exchange delicately against the clock.  I recognized this but I wondered if every customer in the line had the same thoughts or were they waiting impatiently to hear “Next in line please.”

It is an interesting dilemma and in an age where the customer is king, businesses must get this right to ensure those customers keep coming back.  Yes, effectiveness and efficiency must co-exist in your business; but how do you help your employees understand what this means to your brand?

Regardless of the goods or services your business provides, consider these three principles:

Define your Customer Experience – what experience do you want your customer to have with each interaction in your business?  Does the personal touch matter?  And if so, what does that mean?  Do you want to know your customers by name and with a step further know something about them?  Is quick and easy with a touch of friendly more important?  Or perhaps, your desired experience is somewhere in the middle. Whatever it is requires a specific definition from you.

Teach Awareness Skills – Because efficiency and effectiveness must co-exist, your employees must understand how to navigate that balance.  Is there a desired time limit with each customer?  And if so, how do they monitor the clock?  How do they remain engaged with the customer in front of them yet be mindful and perhaps even comment to a waiting customer?  These behaviors are business skills. And done well, they bridge the gap between the scales of great experiences and efficiency.

Coach to Excellence – These customer experience skills are not typically “natural” for most employees.  And that means to maintain these skills they must be coached.  This element of customer service skill is a critical success indicator and leads to the emotions, thoughts and perceptions customers have about your business.  And they lead to comments like, “I love banking with XYZ Community Bank. Regardless of how busy they are, I always feel like I’m their only customer.  I don’t know how they do it.” 

And now back to my banking experience.  When my turn arrived, the teller was quick to apologize for my wait and just as quickly as she began creating my unique customer experience.  Success.