Two Lessons I Learned Last Week

Last week I learned two lessons that I plan to apply in my practice going forward. To understand these lessons, a little back story is needed.

Part of my practice is doing mechanic’s lien work. In order to properly prepare a mechanic’s lien, I have to have a title company run a tract search for me. This search identifies, among other things, the property owner, the mortgage holder, and anyone else has a record claim on the property (such as other lien holders).

For years I have used a company that is a subsidiary of the a large title company. I have dealt with two offices in this subsidiary. The suburban office is great to deal with and I have had a good relationship with them. for property in Cook County, however, I cannot deal with the suburban office. Instead, I have to deal with the Chicago office. I have had less dealings with that office over the years, and therefore, do not have as established a relationship with them. Also, in the past, they have not been as responsive as the suburban office.

So, last week I attempt to order a tract search in the same way that I have ordered one in the last 10 years. I send an email to my contact, I give them the information that I have about the property, and I tell them what I need (a tract search). In the past, this has generated a return email telling me that my order has been received and I should have my information in 2 to 3 days.

This time, however, I get an email back with a form attached. The email tells me that I have to complete the form and that I have to pay for the tract search in advance.

In reality, I find neither one of these requirements offensive. Having customers complete a standard order form probably makes things work more smoothly. Also, it is not unreasonable to request payment up front. Given, however, I have not had to do this before, I sent an email back asking if the payment in advance was a new policy, because I had not encountered it before.

In response, I was told that they require payment in advance for anyone who does not have an account set up with them (reasonable), he had checked their records and found that my firm had not ordered from them before (not surprising, it has been in existence for less than a month). Consequently, they require payment in advance from me.

Again, all of this was reasonable. What I did not find in the email, however, was information on how to establish an account with them, or how to pay them in advance. In a return email, I asked how I could pay in advance, and I was told that I could mail a check or drop off payment at their office. This last option is particularly convenient for me given that I am sure my Naperville office is next door to their Chicago office. It would probably take only 3 hours of time and $30 in parking fees to drop the check off.

After thinking about this for a second, I realized that this was a situation in which, in the recent past, I would have used the support staff that I no longer have. When encountering a situation like this, I would push it off to my assistant and let her handle this task. Now, however, I am also my own assistant. I was trying to figure out how to get this resolved without wasting more of my time and worry about getitng the check lost on its way to the title company office.

This is particularly important in a situation such as this. I charge a flat fee to prepare a mechanic’s lien. Thus, any time I spend wasting on administrative stuff is time I could be doing something useful.

As I was thinking, I was struck by inspiration. I am in the process of signing up to be a title agent with a title company. The sales person there has been very attentive during the process. Thus, I decided to use him as my support staff. I send him an email and asked how to order a tract search. In response, he emailed me the order form, with all of my contact information filled in, no less. I completed, the few remaining fields I had to, and placed the order in just a couple of minutes.

So what did I learn last week? First, don’t be afraid to use your vendors as support staff. Don’t be unreasonable here, but there are things that they can do for you more easily than you can try to do them yourself. Second, just because your rules are reasonable, that doesn’t mean they won’t cost you a customer. I have dealt with this title company subsidiary for essentially the last decade. However, because they made it difficult for me to place my order, I placed my order with someone else. As a result, I am reviewing my policies to identify areas that make it difficult for clients to do business with me.