Professionals who network together on a regular basis often develop a sense of entitlement.  They have a false sense of security and believe they deserve all the personal and referral business from these connections. This mentality can kill not only your business, but also your relationships and often entire formal networking groups.  You may have experienced this entitlement in one of two ways.

Networking entitlement often leads to decreased customer service.  Let me share an example of this.

I was part of the leadership team of an excellent referral organization with another service professional.  Over time I switched my family’s personal accounts to this individual’s business from another provider in the same parent organization.  I even went so far as to send a personal letter to the previous agent explaining that my colleague had not asked me to switch but I was doing so because of the strong professional relationship.  I went above and beyond to protect my colleague’s reputation in the organization and eliminate the risk he would be seen as a poacher.  After a period of time, we noticed our rates had astronomically increased without any contributing factors on our part.  My husband placed a call to the agent with whom he also had a relationship and the service deficiencies began.  He reached a member of the agent’s team and requested a personal call from the agent.  For other issues he would have dealt with another team member, but for this one, a conversation with the lead agent was a reasonable request.  We had no relationship with the other team member.   The agent was away from the office so my husband left his availability for the rest of the day and asked for a return phone call.  Shortly thereafter he received a voice mail from the support staff at a time when he had already indicated he would not be available, telling him that the agent wouldn’t be in until later that afternoon and my husband should call back then.  This is horrible customer service.  The original phone call was my husband’s attempt to reach the provider. He requested a return call and left his availability making it easy for the provider to reach him.  He should not have had to chase down the provider.

Things continued to decline when we received an email a bit later that said, ”Please refer to the email below, as I wasn’t sure if you had a chance to read it prior to today.    I wanted to provide all of the insight I had, as I know that [your husband] is planning on calling for a review.” and included a copy of a previous email.  We had received AND READ the email which said,  “Once you have a chance to read through your renewal documents, let me know if you have any questions or you would like to review other possible options.  I would also be more than happy to provide a quick coverage review.”  We followed the directions in their email and called requesting a review only to be insulted with “I wasn’t sure if you had a chance to read the email sent prior to today.”  Um, yes, we read it, that’s why we’re calling!

Things didn’t improve when he was finally able to have a conversation with the agent.  He was given the standard “party line” on why our rates were increasing.  My husband finally indicated he was going to shop other companies due to the substantial increase.  At this point and only at the threat of losing the business completely, the agent suddenly came up with another option.  This option actually provided additional benefit to our family with a SIGNIFICANT reduction in our costs.

Our takeaway from this experience:  The agent had decided he was entitled to our business.  He no longer felt the need to provide exceptional or even adequate customer service.  Looking out for our best interests was not a priority.  Looking out for his bottom line was.  As a result, he eventually lost all of our business to another provider.

It only takes a few instances of diminished customer service because of an entitlement mentality to ruin your reputation.  When customers have these experiences, they share and share everywhere.  Frustration and the feeling of being taken advantage of open mouths!

Networking entitlement creates hurt feelings.  Have your feelings been hurt because someone you thought was a great referral partner or great connection referred business to a competitor?  Have you referred business to someone and had another relationships begin to act funny or call you out for not referring it to them?  This happens all the time and results in negativity and wasted time dwelling on how the other person wronged you.  While we don’t like to admit to our feelings being hurt, that is what is happening when you find yourself angry or frustrated because business was referred somewhere else.   YOU are the key to stopping this entitlement cancer.  Instead of being hurt or angry when you hear a business associate or friend has referred one of your competitors, ask yourself two questions.

First, “Why did they refer the business to someone else?”  Be sure to tell yourself the real story, not just one that makes you feel better.  It may simply be a case of another provider being a better fit for that referral.  They may look like the ideal client from what you know, but the professional who connected them with another provider likely has information you don’t and is making that referral based on what is best for the customer (and probably you).  For example, an insurance professional I know is very clear on his target market and trains his team to be clear.  They don’t provide life insurance. They don’t work with clients who only want the minimum state required liability limits.  Their business model is based on insuring individuals at coverage levels they are confident fully protect their customers’ assets.  What if one of his networking connections knows a friend needs insurance, but can only afford the minimum insurance required by law?  That connection may choose to refer their friend to a different connection.  They know they would be wasting the first professional’s time and set him up for the awkward need to turn the prospect away.  The referral partner is making the best connection for both the prospect and the referral connections.

If you don’t know why someone referred business elsewhere, the second question to ask is, “What can I do to strengthen the relationship so next time I’m the one they think of?” or “What do I need to do to ensure my relationships are strong enough that they understand my target market and the value I provide?”  The answers to these questions should be investing in the other person, coming from a place of contribution and demonstrating your value (For more information see the previous blogs.).  The answer is not an accusatory sit-down that attempts to shame the individual for referring to someone else.  If the referral or lead didn’t come to you, it’s YOUR responsibility.  Stop being angry and resentful and do something about it.  If you’ve done everything you can to strengthen the relationship and it continues to happen, move on to others who recognize the value you provide.

Remember just knowing someone does not entitle you to their business or to their connections.  Business is earned through relationships and trust!

Which relationships do you need to strengthen so they think of you first and always when they see a need?  Have you experienced either of these business killing Networking Entitlement situations?