Saturday, February 4, 2012

Customer Service! How to get a better job?

Who do you call when you are looking for your book order, need assistance with programming your on stream feature on your new flat screen , want to sign up for utility, get a refill on your prescription, set up an appointment to take your car in,  need to complain about your Netflix experience, need to speak with your doctor, plan your destination wedding?

You call customer service.  If you can understand them you have a pretty good chance of having a decent experience.  It is common knowledge that outsourcing to India has been a real bonanza for American companies.  I don't have a problem with the workers because I understand that most of these workers can speak English and more than one or two languages, matter of fact besides speaking their own official language Hindi, they may speak five or more recognized dialects.  There are over 28 regional dialects in India. It is rather lame for an American customer to get pissed off because the rep does not speak American.

What really gets me are the local customer service department who do not train their employees, who give them no empowerment and hire them to answer the phone and just follow company policies.  That really is a bad business model which makes customer service jobs the least desirable place to work for college graduate unless it is seen as apprenticeship to learn about the business, the service or product that is being offered.   If you stay in customer service at the same job for more than five years and are happy, I bet you are very good at your job, make decent money and feel value by your company.  They keep you in the loop, you talk to your outside sales people regularly and you are invited to participate when managers have meetings to discuss sales, new markets , new products, price changes and new policies.  At these meetings your opinion is not only requested but is appreciated since you are the voice of the customer.  I know that sounds a bit Nirvanian but in a smart business model that is where the magic starts. 

On the other hand if you hate your job but like a long relationship feel that you have invested so much of your time in it that you can't break it off maybe you can make it better.

I have made job changes because I wanted a better work environment.  However I have also made changes because I had no choice and was laid off.  In one case I took a job offer because it was offered to me when my roommate had applied for a job and the HR department heard my bilingual voice mail on the answering machine. when  calling back to set up an appointment with him.   I have accepted to move where no one would choose to go when I was 50 years old and a decade later accepted a new job in the great city of Chicago for more money and a moving assistance package. 

So can I give you advice and help you get a better job?   I think I can If you can be honest with yourself, decide what you want and go for it..  More to come.  I am looking for questions or testimonials, who has a great customer service story to share or not so great.

Friday, November 25, 2011


When I was young and looking for work, I was committed to work only for a large corporation. In my innocent eyes bigger was better. It had been preached by my dad that a big company was the way to go. He was impressed by the name, the benefits and the promise of security. I interviewed well and was bilingual so I was offered positions in many corporations, not the high level jobs that I aspired to but customer service jobs with increasing responsibilities requiring patience, sense of humor and dedication to meeting my customer’s needs.

These jobs were interesting and gave me access to other departments and the functioning of a big corporation. A big corporation is like a breathing organism with many systems and the customer service department is the heart of this body, the representatives have bonds with their customers, they empathize with their problems and mostly do their very best to satisfy the customers.

However over the years I have seen the business focus slip from encouraging the representatives to resolve customers’ issues to preserving the interest of the company at all cost. Officially in publication and training they still maintain to listen to the voice of the customers but in practice they do not offer the support that is needed to meet the customers’ requests. The heart of the organization is no longer healthy, information is limited, and communication foggy, formal training deemed too costly is now given on the job, staff reduced to the lowest possible headcount. People often say that manufacturing is a dead industry segment in America. It would be healthier if measures were taken to curb the greed of CEO’s and their fleet of overpaid VP’s and desperately eager directors. Most of them have lost touch with the demands and reality of each day working in the plant for their workers on the floor. It is ludicrous to preach safety and then make people work 12 hour shifts for weeks in a manufacturing environment. They limit their liability by having supervisors hold daily meetings with their crew and wearing bright yellow jackets proclaiming safety first while cutting heat to the plant to save money. But as long as a department is officially dedicated to Health and Safety they are innocent of any wrong doing.

Corporations accept financing from government agencies with the understanding that they will remain operational and therefore saving jobs but they do everything they can to fail and move their operations as quickly as possible out of the country. We need to also look at how corporations have been able to bribe officials in foreign countries for contracts or lobby to get cheap electricity to power their plants holding entire communities hostage to their threat of moving their operations to a more friendly locations.

In my former company each salaried employee was required to work overtime without pay. All of these hours are untaxed revenue for these companies since they benefit from the labor and production without reporting it. I wonder how that can be considered ethical or legal. It is stealing money from the workers, their families, their communities; millions of dollars that should be paid is kept inside as unaccounted assets. They get away with not paying their workers because it is a big loophole.

Our politicians are often tied to these businesses by lots of money. They won’t change the system that benefits them until the public starts to demand fair treatment. Fox news and the Tea Party have convinced millions of people that we are over regulated, I say that is false. We need more oversight not less. But we need to chase the lobbyists out of Washington. It should be considered bribery to send lobbyists to Washington to request that each corporate demand is met. The latest dubious victory is awarded to the Frozen Food Lobby who convinced the US Congress that pizza is now a vegetable because of its tomatoes sauce content. I guess that nothing is impossible in America if you have access to corporations’ deep pockets, not even reclassifying plants. Now if the question in Congress had been about coconuts there might have been some area for debate; is a coconut a fruit, a nut or a seed?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Evening at the Karamu Theater

Seated Nude by Beni E Kosh

“One of the lost cities.” That’s how many people talk about Cleveland and they may not be far off when they say “lost.’ I like it better than calling it dying although it might be irrelevant because when something is lost it often dies for lack of nurturing. But sometimes hidden under the smoking rubbles you find a live spark warming a lonely Cleveland night.

I discovered such a spark last night at a small theater on East 89th Street in one of the city’s lost neighborhoods.

The Karamu theater company is currently presenting “Waiting2 end Hell” it starts out as a feel good comedy with a nod at gender stereotyping which quickly explodes into full blown relationship drama.

The play by William a. Parker is based on Terry McMillan’s book “Waiting to Exhale.” The director, Terence Spivey, has staged the play to give the cast plenty of space to wheel you into the lives of Diane and Dante and their close and not so close friends. Someone said to me, “it’s a women bashing play.”

I did not think it was bashing women but the play described how easy it is for women to become complacent in a domestic setting. The play is sure to stir echoes of past struggles and maybe offer some belated wisdom to appreciate what you have before you loose it.

The impressive cast gave a great ensemble performance capturing the nature of each of their respective character and bringing the audience to that often elusive suspension of disbelief stage. No doubt the close proximity of the audience to the actors was the magic glue that held it all together.

“Waiting 2 End Hell” is playing at the Karamu Theater till November 23rd.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Life at a plant in Cleveland Ohio

Men at work

Monday to Friday, I work in a Cleveland manufacturing plant, it is a dirty place located in an ugly neighborhood with little amenities. We don’t have fancy restaurants within walking distances or any kind of boutiques. We can walk to the Speedway for a gas station special, a hot dog and a soda and maybe a ding dong if you feel like it.

Once you park your car in the secured parking lot and use your badge to get through the clinking steel turn stall, they own you for the day. As you wave at the guard shack and arrive at the front door, you are greeted by all the forbidden, you can’t carry a weapon, but that is a good thing considering the way that I feel some mornings. You can’t go past the yellow line without personal protective equipment; that one always makes me smile, they mean hard hats and work boots that protect your head and feet from all kinds of nasty accidents, I think prophylactics. The biggest poster is that no one is allow to smoke within 30 feet from the doors and absolutely no smoking inside presumably to protect all the non- smokers from harmful smoke, a thoughtful if ironic management position if one considers what kind of toxins the average worker breathes per hour in the plant.

In spite of a dreadful setting the men and women working in the plant are gracious to me, always greeting me and opening doors and lifting gates on my behalf. They show the kind of thoughtful behavior that makes living in society harmonious.

They are smart and but they shine the brightest when they attend the mandatory state of business meeting with our plant manager. They scheduled these informotials about twice a year. Normally, salaried employees attend during business hours. The plant employees attend according to their shifts.

Last year, I missed my time slot so I went to a second shift session. The new plant manager was excellent at pointing the improvements that were in the works for the employees. She was on a roll untill the question period, when a guy in the back raised his hand.

“I just want to point out Mam, that we used to have seventeen custodians taking care of this plant.”

“Yes?” She said with intense interest.

“We appreciate all the new flowers and fresh paint in the Human Resources area but if I go to the bathroom and there is no toilet paper in the stall and no paper towels in the dispensers, I am left in a difficult position.”

Everybody cracked up with this very polite and clever way to tell her that she was full of crap. Never underestimate the insight that comes with sitting on the toilet with time to think about what is essential.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gay and not so gay marriages

Think about it!

I switch my opinion about people almost daily, are they cruel or thoughtless. I was listening to a news show this week-end which mentioned that California had done a 360 on allowing gays to marry.

Why is marriage called a holy union? Most couples that I know are not in a state of grace except for a few unions often not sanctified by Church or Government, where partners treat each other with affection and respect.

Don’t get me wrong, I have seen exploitation in gay relationships as well but in heterosexual relationships it seems that money is the third silent partner which drives the relationship. Traditionally marriages were sealed by a contract executed by a religious organization, more a business proposition than romantic alliance. Not much has changed and even though people now will marry for love in the back of their minds they assess each other’s assets. This is not to say that it is wrong. But it is really important to value the same qualities and understand that life is fluid and the common journey littered with bumps and pot holes.

To marry for procreation may sound antiquated but most women and men want a partner who will be a good parent. You don’t hear too many people say, I want a husband who will be a scumbag and beat me and my children or I want a wife who will be more concerned with material stuff than with me and our family or goals.

No, we are looking for partnership and if we are careful about the choices that we make we can find it. Many gay couples have an advantage over “regular unions” and that is that being of the same gender, they can read their partner better. You can be married for years with a partner of the opposite sex and still be unable to understand what makes them tick.

The element of surprise can be a wonderful element in a relationship but unpredictability can make you crazy when it is practiced over years of companionship hence the importance of marrying someone who is truly compatible. Just as engineers do better when they talk among themselves, artists do better with other artists.

When two adults want to engage in a permanent legal union after much soul searching or very little, who are we to say that matrimony is only to be recognized if it is between a man and a woman? We can all be given the right to choose the method of our own destruction or elation.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Second Coming

It was a rush to finally get out of my office last night in time to get home to watch Obama’s prime time commercial. I got home in time to warm up the tube by answering the last question on “Jeopardy” and then 30 minutes of uninterrupted bliss while I watched an infinitely well crafted dream, the dream that maybe Martin Luther King was talking about so long ago…

I am cynical by nature, culturally and historically Quebecois have the highest disregards for anything that smells of political manipulation. Although supportive of Obama, I did not know if I could stand sitting for 30 minutes listening to what I thought would be more of the same.

After all I did watch all the debates and have read as much as I could find about this unusual candidate. I did not expect to be sharing a moving television experience with millions of Americans but it was.

When the clip ended, I am not ashamed to say that I had a renewed hope for my adoptive land that maybe we could saved the world as we did with our allies in WWII by saving ourselves and re-creating a great society. I know that life has been getting harder in America in the last 8 years for the middle-class and the under class. The dark days of America have stained the lives of many other countries and we can not ignore the impact that our debacle has had on other nations, we are not standing alone. On 9/11 the World stood with us and we let that opportunity to establish a new world order slip through our fingers. Instead we became obsessed with revenge and with poor leadership invaded Iraq.

We now stand at the proverbial cross-road, we can let our fears and prejudices guide us to retreat to elect another Republican President or we can give our vote and support to a man who has a vision of what we can do to improve not only American lives but the lives of so many other people.

Voting for Obama gives me hope, it makes me feel engage in the rebuilding of our inner structures, maybe we can be part of the dream team which will get our country back on track.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Mechanically Impaired

Why did you choose to fall in love with this woman who is so temperamental and not that one who adored you?

Sex is at first plentiful and over the top, she makes you feel as if you are swinging from a crystal chandelier, floating high above the ground. You are falling in love and it is so easy to explain her bad behavior as being “insecure.”

She does not like your relatives, particularly your mother; your old friends suddenly seemed to disappear to be replaced by her carefully edited entourage. She wants you to share all her interests so you become a vegan even though you love meat. She wants you to get a better job; she tells you it is so that you both can enjoy the good life…

She will insists on having a joint account where you dutifully deposit your pay check but she reserves herself the bank given right to keep all her money in a private account, “just in case”, she says. She is of course in charge of the budget because she is so much better at it but she may complain that if you brought your lunch, you could have a much healthier diet and save money.

You may end up putting her through graduate school, college or tech training so she can have a meaningful job. Your life has become perfectly predictable and you ease into a domestic routine which is harmonious and productive. Week-ends are well planned with home repairs, scheduled activities and Sunday dinners with relatives or friends of her choosing. If you want to visit your mother, she will at first make excuses why she can not come but insists that you should go without her. But when it becomes obvious that you are going, she comes along to keep you company. You may think that you are so lucky to have found the perfect mate who is always there for you…but not really.

As long as you do everything she wants, you can be in her favor zone but mild dissent escalates quickly into hysterical scenes complete with nervous twitches, tears and sometimes peaks into hyperventilation.

You sometimes feel as if you can not do anything right unless she tells you. Is this what love is all about?

If love is based on a chemical reaction between two people, why does it often end up feeling as if you are mechanically impaired? Is it that a healthy relationship should be based on kindness and mutual generosity fueled by chemistry rather than chemistry based?