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Let's say that I work for ABC Auto Insurance. Being a bit festive, I decided to ride my bike to work in observance of of Ride your Bike to Work Day, 5/15/2015. One of my coworkers pointed out that perhaps it was not wise to do so, after all we work at an auto insurance company!

All jokes aside (I did ride my bike to work, but no coworker comment), every other day of the year I drive my car to work, but I don't use my company as an insurance provider! What is the best way to avoid conflict when you use a direct competitor's service opposed to your company's service?

For example, if a manager makes a comment about how I use Gecko Car Insurance instead of ABC Auto Insurance while in the break room, what should I say?

  • "I see the flaws of our service, and that dissuades me from using it, even though I get a big discount."
  • "There is no rule saying we have to use our own service as an employee, but it is implicitly encouraged."
  • "I like my job, but I don't find the service best for me."
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    @DanielSiebert no need to apologize, and thanks for clarifying the question. Adding the insurance example helped me understand the key question. – Monica Cellio May 18 '15 at 16:27
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    The size of the field/enterprise might also affect perception. I don't think Microsoft employees are ostracized for using Linux :) But Mom & Pop Breakfast Ltd might not be so lenient if you prefer to eat at Big Food Corp. – Juha Untinen May 18 '15 at 16:27
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    @JuhaUntinen: Don't count on it. – Blrfl May 18 '15 at 17:35
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    "What is the best way to avoid conflict" -- ride your bike to work every day, that seems to have successfully avoided comment ;-) – Steve Jessop May 19 '15 at 0:27
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    I've seen this a bit in banking as well. Several people in that industry tell me that they bank with someone different than they work for due to privacy concerns. – user17163 May 19 '15 at 14:50
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What is the best way to avoid conflict when you use a direct competitor's service opposed to your company's service?

I think that you are worrying about a problem that doesn't exist in most industries. There are probably a few where it might, but by and large most people won't care.

People might give you friendly teasing, which is probably what you are experiencing.

In that situation, you can respond something like:

"I really wish we had an offering that did X, but so far my only option is [competitor]. It meets my needs better - if someday we'll make something that does better I'll gladly switch. While we provide a premium product, I don't need that and so a cheaper alternative works fine for me.

If you do this in a light tone while acknowledging your company product is really good, no one is going to care.

People who LOVE your company product will care if you make them feel "we make a crappy product and so I buy better competitor products." They won't care if, "we make a great product, I just don't need a great product - a mediocre alternative is fine for me" because you affirm your company while doing so.

But really, most people won't care unless you make it sound like your company sucks.

  • A former boss used to work at a big-name auto insurer, and he definitely felt there was a strong company loyalty bias in that industry. Perhaps it's simply that auto insurance is fairly fungible, plus it's highly sales-based? – Joe May 18 '15 at 16:43
  • @Joe "I'd love to use X for insurance, but right now we don't meet my needs the best - if in the future we do I will gladly switch. Maybe we should get a significant discount - do you know if we can make that happen somehow? I'd love to use our insurance." – enderland May 18 '15 at 16:47
  • The OP did specify that they get a significant discount. Otherwise, I agree (see: my answer). I was just noting that the auto insurance industry specifically seems to have a bias towards using own insurance (from my small sample size, at least). – Joe May 18 '15 at 16:48
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    @Joe there will always be minor things that cause people to choose differently too. Btw I upvoted your answer as I think it can be good to point out things. But in some cases people will find tat difficult to hear.. – enderland May 18 '15 at 16:56
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For the Honda/Ford case: look around the parking lot. Unless there's a large employee discount I'll bet you see plenty of competing cars. Being an employee doesn't mean giving up your right to select what's best for you. In fact a smart company will use this as an informal customer survey -- your choices and experience with the competition help the company understand where they can improve.

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    Exactly. To elaborate on @keshlam 's point, you are absolutely entitled to making the best, informed decision you can make. Let's say I was into traveling a lot to other places and worked at ABC Auto Insurance in the US. Well, what if they don't have coverage for out of state or international(Canada/Mexico) collision ? My overall rate may in fact be cheaper, but knowledgeably it's not the right choice to make for my lifestyle. If this were ever brought up you could just simply state "I think our policies are wonderful, but I needed something that fit my needs more adequately." – zfrisch May 18 '15 at 16:32
  • Thanks for the response, I am kind of worried though because some of my coworkers really love the service we provide, and wouldn't understand why I wouldn't use it (and there is a large employee discount 30-40% depending on the particular package). To avoid conflict I would prefer to not say something along the lines, "Bob look around a third of the the office doesn't use ABC Auto Insurance!" – Daniel Siebert May 18 '15 at 16:34
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    "It's a great product, or I wouldn't be here selling it. It just isn't the best possible product for everyone, and it currently isn't best for me." If they take offense anyway, frankly, that's their problem. There's a difference between being an enthusiastic salesman ("if I can legitimately sell you our product, I will") and a sleazy one ("I'm going to sell this product whether it's appropriate or not, because otherwise I don't get my commission;if the customer's making a bad choice that's their problem.") Enthusiastic salesmen tend to build long-term customer bases; sleazy ones don't. – keshlam May 18 '15 at 20:06
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    The one possible situation where I can see this becoming a problem is in a union shop, or if selling to other employees (rather than just submitting the paperwork yourself) is an established practice for generating semi-bogus commissions. In those cases, there might be more grumbling. The same answer should still work but you may need to fight harder to get them to accept the distinction. – keshlam May 18 '15 at 20:13
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This is one of those "Soft people skills" problems that can be hard to navigate. Driving a Honda to work at a Ford factory is a pretty big problem, because it's obvious to everyone that you're doing it: you don't have the ability to just not talk about it.

I would expect your actual problem (who insures your car) should not become public knowledge, though. Insurance decisions are not public information, and even if someone in the company is privy to your lack of insurance with the company, it's not acceptable for them to discuss it in a public setting or reveal that information to another person. This would be a bigger deal if it were HIPAA information (say you worked at Red Plus and Orange Stave, but used Humanoid insurance); that would be likely actionable in court. But even with auto insurance information, there is some expectation of privacy there, as long as you don't reveal it yourself.

However, now it's out, how to deal with it is tricky. You may seem disloyal to the company, after all, and that can be hard to accept for your co-workers. It sounds to me like you handled it well - explaining your reasons for why it doesn't work out for you, but that you like the insurance overall. That's not going to remove all of those feelings, though. You may simply need to accept that some people won't love your decision, and be okay with that. Or change to your company's insurance, of course, but it sounds like you don't want to do that.

I would definitely use it as an opportunity to argue for the improvements that can be made to make it more acceptable to you (unless that's impossible because you're not in the niche your company is trying to sell to). If it's a matter of not having a good pricing structure for people in your income level, for example, use it as a positive: "Right now I can't afford our insurance, even with the employee discount - how am I supposed to sell this to clients?" If it's a matter of a specific issue, such as lack of coverage for rental cars, point out that you're not the only one that isn't getting insurance for that reason - suggest vocally that it be added as an option.

And of course, if you're not in the niche you're selling to - such as you're working for a bargain-basement insurance company and you need more comprehensive coverage for your teenage daughter's escapades - point that out, also.

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First, don't overthink it. Most people do not know, and will not ask, whether you use the services of your employer or not. It's personal. Some decisions are hard to hide: people may see you driving your car or looking at your phone, but most are much less public.

That may leave a sense of discomfort in yourself nonetheless, or derail your interesting story about how you were in voice mail purgatory trying to get something fixed on your account when suddenly someone says "wait, don't you use US for that? Like the rest of us all do?" So it's wise to think about it at least a little.

Many companies that offer products or services to the public offer employee discounts. They do so because they want their employees to use their stuff - partly because it makes those employees walking ads to their families and friends, and partly because the employees will feel more connected to customers if they are customers too. You already know this want of theirs and it's why you feel a twinge over not using the service. But explore a little deeper. Why do they offer a discount? To motivate employees to switch. That tells you that most people need a little bit of a motivation.

So, when is it ok to use a direct competitor?

  • when the product has a long life and you haven't replaced yours since you started. Cars for example: if you're hired into Ford IT should you immediately sell your Honda? I don't think so.
  • when you have a special need or situation that doesn't reflect on the quality of your employer's product or service at all - a huge discount because your mother is an employee of the competitor, or special coverage for your unusual pet, or a location that's very convenient for you in particular.
  • when you can claim you're doing competitive research
  • (this one hurts but is true anyway) when your own company's product is just plain not as good as the competition, whether that is something your company can fix or not. If they can fix it, perhaps insights from people like you who chose the competition can help in the long run. Perhaps the embarrassment of "even our own people won't choose us and that's with 20% off!" will drive improvements.

I'd keep it low key, but I wouldn't lose any sleep over it. Thinking that Ford has the greatest IT team in the industry and being a proud member of that team doesn't require you to also believe that Ford makes the best cars. Enjoying the work of answering phones and signing for deliveries at Coke doesn't mean you suddenly don't prefer Pepsi (though I don't suggest drinking it at your desk.)

1

Guess what: Companies don't always use their own products.

If Department A of a company needs a tool, and possible vendors are Department B of the same company, or a competitor, then it will be in the interest of Department A to use the tool that is best suited for their purposes, has the best quality, and the best support. And if that is the tool made by the competitor, that's the tool the department will use.

The whole difference between the individual and the department is that the department is in a much stronger position. If Department B complains that Department A bought a competing product and not the one made by Department B, and calls Department A disloyal, then the answer will likely be "we will use tools made by Department B once Department B starts making tools that don't stink".

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