Another Customer Service Opportunity Gone Awry

My son and his beautiful wife got married recently. They did a destination wedding at the Sandals Resort on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia (Halcyon Beach).

I was unable to attend and wanted desperately to have a bottle of champagne and chocolate-covered fruit sent to their room on the morning of their beachfront ceremony. Much to my chagrin and frustration, I spent an hour trying to make this simple task happen and failed miserably. I marvel at how an organization like Sandals can’t seem to get it right when it comes to customer service.

Initially, I called Sandals’ corporate office and was put on hold. I decided it would be better to speak with someone at the property to expedite the process, so I called the travel agent. She provided me with the phone number and I called and asked to speak with the person who coordinates weddings. She informed me that I needed to speak to someone in the front office so she transferred me. The front office person told me I needed to speak with someone in sales and again I was transferred. After a brief hold, a guy named Charlie picked up. “Hi this is Charlie, how may I help you?” Before I could get a word out, the phone cut off. Immediately, I redialed and got the receptionist. Here’s the dialogue…

Me: Hello, may I please speak to Charlie in the sales department?

Receptionist: We don’t have a Charlie that works in the sales department?

Me: Oh yes you do, I was just on a call with him and we got cut off.

Receptionist: I’m sorry sir we don’t have anyone working at the resort named Charlie.

Me: I find that very strange since moments ago I was on the phone with him.

Receptionist: Sir, I’m so sorry, we don’t have anyone named Charlie working here.

Now I’m wondering if Charlie is an alias or if the receptionist is just too lazy to track him down.

Me: (desperately) Can you please put me through to sales?

The phone rang about 5 times and I got a pre-recorded message, “Nobody is available to take your call right now, blah, blah, blah)

I hang up and call back, explaining my situation, with the hope that someone else on the property can help me. I’m told that I really need to contact Sandals’ corporate office.

At this point, I’m about to blow my brains out!

I speak to someone in customer service at corporate. I explain, what I’ve been through, thinking it will ignite a sense of urgency. Not so much. I mentioned the wedding arrangements were booked through a travel agent and she says, “Oh if you are booked through a travel agency you must call another number. I’m so proud of myself for not blowing up. Instead, I calmly asked for the number, called it and, ARE YOU READY FOR THIS? No Answer!

Now I have 45 minutes invested and I’m back to square one.

This is mind-numbing to me. It’s not like Sandals is a roadside motel located outside of Des Moines, Iowa. This is a renowned 5-Star Caribbean Resort. They aren’t bashful about what they charge and typically receive great reviews. I understand that on any given day, even the best can screw up. However, this was so easy — a simple request that they’ve handled 100 times over! I was clear in explaining my plight as the father of the groom. You’d think someone along the way would have put a halt to the escapade and said, “Don’t worry Mr. Campion, I’ll make sure your son and future daughter-in-law have the champagne and chocolate-covered fruit delivered to their room on their wedding day. Once again another example of the process taking precedence over pleasing the customer.

Just to be clear, I write blogs like this one with the hope that it is helpful to those at the top. It’s obvious that the front-line workers at Sandals are adhering to a process or a set of rules that aren’t necessarily in the customer’s best interest.

As always, thank you for reading my blog. Any comments, critiques, suggestions, random thoughts, are appreciated.

I hope you are having a delightful day. BC

Posted in american values, brand loyalty, Business, culture, Customer Service, perceptions, process | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Managers Tell, Leaders Ask

Telling is so much easier. It’s faster and more efficient. Asking takes time, and time is money. I’m on a schedule; I need to get things done. I don’t have time to answer questions! In my experience, this is the mindset of many managers. It’s understandable. They get paid to get things done. The key is to know when to tell and when to ask. Certainly, there are times when telling is necessary. I refer you to Steven Covey’s Time Management Matrix for a clue:

I’m sure it is obvious that the time to tell is when the situation is URGENT & IMPORTANT.

Deposits Before Withdrawals

Effective leaders earn the right to tell people what to do. Wait a minute, doesn’t the right to tell come along with being the boss? Maybe it did back in the industrial age, but things have changed a little since then. Why is it necessary to earn the right, and how does one do this? Those are excellent questions; I’m glad you asked.

Leaders earn the right to tell by asking during times that are not URGENT & IMPORTANT. When explaining this to our managers, we used the simple “bank analogy.” You must make deposits before you make withdrawals. In other words, your team needs to know you are invested in them as people, and that you care about their best interests. At crunch time, you may be barking orders, telling them what to do. The niceties sometimes become a secondary consideration. This is fine when the individuals on your team know you are invested in them.

During my days working for a large, successful Applebee’s franchisee, we facilitated a class for our newly hired managers called The Fundamentals of *WOW service. It consisted of a series of exercises designed to sharpen the manager’s skills as a leader in creating an environment where WOW service could thrive. While the curriculum evolved over time, there was one exercise that stood out above the rest. It became a permanent fixture because of the impact it was having on our managers.

High Impact Roleplay

It was a role play involving two class participants. One played the role of the manager (Beth), and the other played the role of an employee (Michael). We placed 2 chairs in the middle of the U-shape seating area, making it conducive to a face-to-face conversation. The roleplayers were provided with the following scenario:

Beth has noticed that Michael is not invested in the culture. It is apparent that he’s going through the motions — just working for a paycheck. She has noticed his lackluster attitude, and other employees have mentioned his lack of teamwork. The roleplay is a one-on-one conversation to discuss the employee’s performance. Beth’s outcome is to get Michael to step up his game and become more of a leader in providing WOW service. We ask the participant playing Michael to be ambivalent, act surprised at the feedback provided, and be resistant to making any changes.

We let the first several roleplays go without providing feedback of any kind. When they finished, we thanked the participants and called on the next two. During each roleplay, the manager told the employee about his or her performance and told the employee how he or she could improve. It became evident that these new managers were predisposed to telling people what to do. Invariably the dialogue morphed into a monologue, and the session came to an awkward conclusion. We left it up to the class to critique and make suggestions on how the manager could communicate more effectively. Initially, the input was, all about telling the employee to do this or that. Ultimately they’d realize that asking questions was a better approach. It was fun to observe as the proverbial light bulb illuminated above their heads. Suddenly, the momentum shifted, and the group began brainstorming excellent questions that they could ask the employee to help the manager achieve her outcome.

Learn How to Ask the Right Questions

There is an art to asking questions. Be concise and don’t answer the questions for the employee. Listen carefully to the answers and reflect. Allow the employee to summarize the conclusion.

Examples of Questions for this Scenario:

  • What do you enjoy about your work here at the restaurant?
  • What do you like the most?
  • What do you dislike?
  • Why did you decide to work here?
  • What motivates you?
  • What is your understanding of the WOW service philosophy?
  • Describe your role in support of WOW?

Asking questions is a caring approach. Telling is, well, telling. Does any adult like being told what to do? Effective leaders prompt their team members to think, respond, and come to their own conclusions. They ask questions to learn the best way to motivate, teach and coach an individual to help them improve performance.

Thank you for reading! As always, I’d love to get your thoughts and opinions in the comments section.

Have a fabulous day.

Posted in Business Leadership, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Putting Fear in Perspective

*What is Fear?

According to a blog written by Dr. Paul Ekman…Fear is one of the seven universal emotions experienced by everyone around the world. Fear arises with the threat of physical, emotional, or psychological harm, real or imagined. While traditionally considered a “negative” emotion, fear is vital in keeping us safe as it mobilizes us to cope with potential danger.

Our Physiological Reaction to Fear

Back in the day, when cavemen and women were a thing, fear was essential to avoid getting eaten by a lion or some other large, hungry animal. The exact biochemical reaction in the neanderthal brain two million years ago still occurs in the 21st-century human brain. The sequence goes something like this:

A man sees a child running toward a busy street. Cortisol, along with epinephrine and norepinephrine, is released in the brain. This activates the body’s sympathetic nervous system, triggering a lineup of physiological responses that speed up respiration, constrict blood vessels, dilate pupils, and slow down the digestive system. Commonly known as the fight-or-flight response, it allows muscles to react more powerfully and move faster, priming us to fight or flee. Alan Goodman, a biological anthropologist at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, studies stress in prehistoric humans. He agrees that cortisol and the entire acute stress response system is an evolutionary design. “It’s an ancient mammalian system adapted to protect hunter-gatherers,” says Goodman.


Managing Fight-or-Flight Today

In today’s world, we rarely get chased by lions – maybe an angry dog now and then, but even that’s a rarity. I’m not sure our prehistoric ancestors could create fears without evidence. In other words, it was:


As evolution would have it, the “modern” human brain is proficient at creating fear. I once heard the second biggest fear for human beings is public speaking, second only to death by fire. Whether this is factual or not, we do create fears that aren’t based on reality.

There is a school of thought that says all fear is imagined. To a certain degree, I guess that’s true. However, if I see a shark fin while swimming in the ocean, that fear is as “real” as the caveman’s fear of the lion. In the 21st century, 95% of our fear is imagined. How often have we gotten all worked up over a presentation to the board of directors or a random meeting with the boss? Then afterward, we ask ourselves what all the worry was about?

We can all agree that fear is part of the human experience. If we didn’t have it, our planet might not exist today. Those who claim they are fearless aren’t. They acknowledge their fear and often take action in spite of it.

**My favorite business example of this is the spring of 2001. Steve Jobs was still running Apple Inc. When all his competitors were leaving the retail business, Jobs decided to start opening Apple Stores. Of course, the analysts thought he was crazy, and so did the general public. This was a bold, high-risk decision, and I’m sure it made Apple board members shake in their boots. You can’t tell me they weren’t fearful of the possible consequences, but they did it anyway.

That was the brilliance of Steve Jobs. There’s no doubt he considered the consequences but didn’t become paralyzed by them. Instead, he focused on the upside, made the decision, and never looked back. This story is an excellent lesson for all of us non-CEOs. It comes back to mindset. Fear is a choice. We can let ourselves get stuck in it or keep it in perspective.

Next time you face a meaningful life or business decision, it is natural to have some fear. Acknowledge it but don’t allow it to dominate your thought process.

*Dr. Paul Ekman was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME Magazine and ranked fifteenth among the most influential psychologists of the 21st century.

**A tale of two Apple Stores (the first two) How the tone was set for Apple’s foray into retail.By Benj Edwards

Macworld MAY 19, 2021, 12:15 AM PDT

Posted in awareness, Business, Business Leadership, change, decision making, perceptions, psychology | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Flo Has Let Me Down

While I find the Progressive TV commercials annoying, I can see why they are effective. They’ve turned Flo into an icon similar to Mr. Whipple, who was famous for squeezing the Charmin (toilet paper). The Flo character is an overzealous representative for the company who is effusive about bundling your home and auto insurance. Whether you like or dislike the character, she must be helping Progressive sell insurance — she’s done over 100 commercials for the brand since first appearing in 2008! While Flo is not necessarily my type, she has given me the impression that Progressive is committed to caring for its customers and providing personalized service.

Advertising Icons

Late last year I switched auto insurance from Geico to Progressive. I did it because I was miffed at the lizard for jacking up the prices. I had no problems with their service; however, they wanted to raise my premium by $200 per month. I’ve been with Flo for a few months, and I already have a not-so-happy story to share. What happened the other day is not a deal breaker; however, it has made me think twice about my relationship with Flo. I’ll share the story, realizing it may be an anomaly.

The Story

On December 29th, I was on the Dallas North Tollway (southbound) when I spotted an object in the middle of my lane. It was rush hour, and there were cars on either side of me. I had no room to swerve around the object. My only choice was to run over it. Little did I know I was doomed. I thought my SUV could clear the object. Unfortunately, it was bigger and less malleable than I thought. I winced as I drove over it then stunned by the horrific sound it made. The object was hard and heavy. I looked down at the dash. It was obvious the engine had shut down. Luckily I was close to an exit and was able to coast down the off ramp to a place that was relatively safe.

From Bad to Worse

I knew it was bad but I had no idea how bad. I got towed to a repair shop and was later informed that I’d need a new transmission. Fine. It took them two weeks to get a recycled transmission installed and the story gets better from here. I called to check on the car and they told me the transmission has been installed but they couldn’t get the engine to turn over. The next conversation with the mechanic blew my mind. He informed me that the engine locked up, it’s not fixable and will have to be replaced. He also let me know that he called Progressive and an adjuster will be out tomorrow.

I hung up the phone in a state of disbelief. My perfectly fine 2013 Hyundai Sante Fe now appeared to be DOA. I picked my jaw up off the desk, and immediately called Progressive to confirm an adjuster was scheduled. Tomorrow came and went – no adjuster. I went from hot to scalding. I immediately call the local guy in charge of dispatching adjusters. I want reassurance that someone will assess the car tomorrow. His response made me throw up in my mouth, “We are extremely busy sir so I can’t promise when I’ll have an adjuster out there. I was not a happy camper.

The Rigamarole*

The next day was Friday and I woke up in a less than stellar mood. I knew if I was unable to get an adjuster out to the shop by the early afternoon, I’d lose at least 2 days. I tried to call the claims agent and she was unavailable. Her voicemail instructed me to call her supervisor in her absence which I did and I got her voicemail. Her message said, “This blah blah blah. I’m unavailable until Monday. If you’d like to leave a message I will get back to you within 24 to 48 hours.” Seriously? All I wanted at this point was interaction with a human. In desperation I got on their “live” chat where Marcus informed me that I must speak with the claims agent. I try the claims agent again and she’s still unavailable. So I get back on the chat and he gives me another number to call. – This time it is to someone in a local office. I dial the number and a live human answers. She is friendly and accomodating and quickly informs me that an adjuster is scheduled to visit the shop at 1:00 PM. Because of her demeanor, I trusted her. Later in the day, my mechanic called to tell me the inspection was completed. The car was declared “TOTALED.”

Flo Gets a Second Chance, However…

It’s crazy to me that a successful insurance company like Progressive can’t get it right. This might’ve been a one-off situation, however, it seems like a systemic issue to me. They could have directed me to the local rep much sooner in the process. This would have saved me the time and frustration of making multiple calls.

The good news is this is not enough for me to break up with Flo. The bad news it has caused me to have a shred of doubt. Insurance companies can’t afford a hiccup while serving their customers because there’s always the lizard, the the good hands, the good neighbor the emu, Mayhem, the General, and so forth and so on.

A heartfelt thank you to those who read my stuff. As always, I look forward to your comments.

*Rigmarole means complicated, bothersome nonsense, so it might seem that, like gobbledygook, kerfuffle, to-do, and blabbityblab, the word’s origin is onomatopoeic or fanciful. But there is a story behind rigmarole that goes back to a 13th century list of names known as the Ragman Roll.

Posted in brand, brand loyalty, Business, Customer Service, insurance, media, perceptions, process | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Evolution of the Self-Help Industry

Have you ever noticed that short, simple sayings are often the most powerful and memorable? I remember my Grandmother used to say, “You can if you think you can.” I’m unsure if she realized how insightful this was when she said it. Her hero was Norman Vincent Peale*, best known for popularizing the concept of positive thinking.

A Little History

It was in the mid-70s when I was first introduced to the “self-help” concept. Back then, only a handful of so-called experts in this field existed. Three of them — Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale, and Napoleon Hill were born before the turn of the 20th century; the other, by the name of Zig Ziglar, was born in 1928. I find this fascinating for more than one reason. By the 70s, their theories were practically ancient, and as far as I can tell, the only credential they had was street cred. *Ziglar dropped out of college and sold pots and pans; *Carnegie attended  State Teacher’s College in Warrensburg, Missouri, graduating in 1908. Subsequently, he was a salesman for the Armour Company selling bacon, soap, and lard. *Norman Vincent Peale’s book, The Power of Positive Thinking, was widely criticized for hundreds of unverifiable quotations and studies of questionable validity. *Napoleon Hill’s background was sketchy at best. He made several claims that were never substantiated. This included claims that he aided President Wilson in negotiating Germany’s surrender in World War I and helping FDR write his fireside chats.

An Educated Guess

Don’t get me wrong, these were not snake oil salesmen. However, I find it interesting that none of them had a background in psychology. Their experiences were similar in that they didn’t come from money, and they performed at a high level in sales. The only evidence they had that positive thinking made a difference came from their personal experience. They interviewed and observed successful salespeople to understand the attitudes and behaviors that contributed to their success. They were experts at influencing large audiences of people who were searching for ways to get ahead in life. Amazingly they built their businesses on a collection of educated guesses.

The Landscape Has Changed

It appears their educated guesses were valid. Fast forward to the 2000s, and the self-help category continues to grow and evolve. The landscape has changed dramatically, as evidenced by the photos of some of my modern-day faves above. **According to The NDP Group (a global information company), between 2013 and 2019, unit sales of self-help books grew an average of 11 percent annually, reaching 18.6 million in 2019. In today’s world, if you don’t have the data, people won’t listen. You can’t convince an audience that thinking positively works unless you have evidence that what you communicate is valid. Throughout the years, scientists and researchers have validated much of the theory espoused by motivational speakers of the past. No longer is it just opinion that positive psychology is foundational to career success and a happy, more fulfilling life.

Enter Dr. Joe Dispenza

If you haven’t heard of Dr. Joe, he’s world-renowned. Just Google him. He’s all over the internet. At the urging of a close friend, I picked up his book — BECOMING SUPERNATURAL – How Common People Are Doing The Uncommon. In the introduction, he states his reason for writing the book:

“I wrote this book to take what I’ve always thought was possible to the next level of understanding. I wanted to demonstrate to the world that we can create better lives for ourselves–and that we are not linear beings living linear lives but dimensional beings living dimensional lives. Hopefully, reading it will help you understand that you already have all the anatomy, chemistry, and physiology you need to become supernatural sitting latent within you, waiting to be awakened and activated.”

I’m convinced after reading several of his books that we can change our lives, in some cases dramatically, by changing the way we think. For example, he and his team have done hundreds of studies and used brain scan technology to prove that people can change their biology during meditation. This is just a tiny slice of what he’s done to validate his work.

People Can Change

Dr. Joe Dispenza

I wrote this article because there is still skepticism about the value of positive psychology (self-help). I believe in it because I’ve seen it work in others, and it has worked for me. It’s important to understand that change is complex, and it requires hard work to change thoughts that, over the years, have become embedded in our minds. How many people do you know who are stuck in their thoughts, unwilling to make the necessary changes to improve their lives?

Today’s leaders in the field of positive psychology aren’t slick salespeople who write books based on their own beliefs and opinions. Instead, they have studied and researched how the mind works and use proven methods that make a difference for anyone willing to do the work.

Final Thoughts

It is fascinating to examine how the field of positive psychology has evolved. I don’t discredit those in the past who preached and wrote books based on their personal observations and opinions. They had the guts to evangelize their theories and got many people to believe them. We have come full circle to realize they laid the groundwork for a billion-dollar industry. Psychologists and researchers have put these unsubstantiated theories “through the meat grinder” by performing thousands of quantitative studies on human behavior. They have leveraged modern technology to validate their work. It is now more difficult for the skeptics to build a case against positive psychology.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with self-help and making positive changes in your career and life. Are you a skeptic? Are you on the fence? Or do you believe there is a tremendous benefit to the whole idea of positive psychology?

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

*Norman Vincent Peale (May 31, 1898 – December 24, 1993) was an American Protestant clergyman [1] and an author best known for popularizing the concept of positive thinking, especially through his best-selling book The Power of Positive Thinking (1952) –Wikipedia

*Zig Ziglar dropped out of college in 1947 and moved to Lancaster, South Carolina, where he took up a job as a salesman with the WearEver Cookware company. Ziglar was promoted to field manager and eventually divisional supervisor in 1950.–Wikipedia

*Norman Vincent Peale (May 31, 1898 – December 24, 1993) was an American Protestant clergyman,[1] and an author best known for popularizing the concept of positive thinking, especially through his best-selling book The Power of Positive Thinking (1952).–Wikipedia 

*Dale Carnegie (/ˈkɑːrnɪɡi/;[1] spelled Carnagey until c. 1922; November 24, 1888 – November 1, 1955) was an American writer and lecturer, and the developer of courses in self-improvement, salesmanship, corporate training, public speaking, and interpersonal skills. — Wikipedia

*Oliver Napoleon Hill (October 26, 1883 – November 8, 1970) was an American self-help author. He is best known for his book Think and Grow Rich (1937), which is among the best-selling self-help books of all time. — Wikipedia

**The NPD Group offers data, industry expertise, and prescriptive analytics to help you grow your business in a changing world. Website –

Posted in awareness, change, culture, education, perceptions, psychology | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Customer Service Woes at Walmart

The purpose of this article is to help anyone in customer service avoid a common pitfall. My recent experience at Walmart gave me the perfect example of what not to do.


I happen to be a fan of Walmart. They don’t mess around. They offer lower prices. Period. Their massive workforce is diverse and relatively competent. Like every other retailer in this world, they are far from perfect.

Looking for an update on Walmart, I checked their website this morning and read the first paragraph under the “About” tab:

From our humble beginnings as a small discount retailer in Rogers, Ark., Walmart has opened thousands of stores in the U.S. and expanded internationally. Through innovation, we’re creating a seamless experience to let customers shop anytime and anywhere online and in stores. We are creating opportunities and bringing value to customers and communities around the globe. Walmart operates approximately 10,500 stores and clubs under 46 banners in 24 countries and eCommerce websites. We employ 2.3 million associates around the world — nearly 1.6 million in the U.S. alone.

It’s a legendary success story that continues to evolve. They are truly the behemoth in the retail sector.

There’s a lot to be said for being the biggest. It allows them to offer “Everyday Low Prices” and to invest in technology that helps the company maximize efficiency. I want Walmart to continue to be successful, especially considering how many people they employ.

Our Recent Experience

Last week my wife, Susan, and I had an unusual experience with our local Walmart’s customer service department. I think it is worth sharing so your organization can avoid falling into a similar trap.

A couple weeks before Christmas, Susan ordered a carpet shampooer online. They didn’t have the one she ordered in stock. Apparently, if Walmart doesn’t have the exact item available, they will substitute and send something similar. Upon receipt of said “similar” item, they sent a significantly lesser model, which was unacceptable. Susan went back online to see if the model she had ordered originally was now in stock. It was, she ordered it, and to Walmart’s credit, it arrived on our doorstep the next day (with a broken part). It was obvious Murphy’s Law was in full effect.

She went back online to get instructions on how to return the two shampooers and received instructions to return one at Walmart curbside and the other at Federal Express. When she shared this information, I said, “We aren’t doing that!” Instead, we loaded the half-opened boxes into the car and headed to the customer service counter at our local Walmart.

Cluster at the Counter

I was thinking this should be a “no-muss, no-fuss” return. Remarkably, the line at the customer service counter was short, allowing us to speak with a representative within minutes. This was an encouraging start.

At the counter, Susan began the dialogue with a “less than happy to be there” customer service person. Her effort to assist us with the return was feeble. Ultimately, she directed Susan to call customer support. It’s a miracle I didn’t draw blood from biting my tongue. I wanted to butt in and say, “Wait a minute, it says CUSTOMER SERVICE in big letters just above your head. Why in the world would we have to call customer support when we are here in the flesh?” The rep provided us with a weak reason why this step was necessary. Susan obliged and dialed up customer support. Surprise, surprise, a computer placed her on hold. After a brief hold, she was forwarded to a bot requesting her ID#. WTH? We had no such thing, and there was no option to speak with a human.

At this point, I was ready to leap over the counter and strangle someone, but instead, we calmly asked to speak with the manager who was scrambling around helping others. He took a minute to put a new rep on the case and instructed her to call customer support. Seriously? She, too, was put on hold and forwarded to a bot asking for an ID#. As the great philosopher Yogi Berra would say, it was deja vu all over again. Now we are approaching the 1-hour mark without a solution. The new rep, visibly frustrated, turned to the manager and suggested they handle it like an in-store product return (instead of an online transaction). We followed her to a vacant checkout aisle, where she processed the transaction in less than 5 minutes. Yahtzee!

Final Thoughts

I have not embellished this story. Clearly, I’m not capable of making this sh*@% up. I share this story because some organizations are still committed to processes that compromise their ability to deliver outstanding customer service. Customers could care less about your process. All they want is a fast, fair resolution. The good news is the 2nd rep was proactive and willing to confront her supervisor. The bad news is what should’ve taken 15 minutes took an hour.

As a customer, have you ever experienced a situation similar to this – where the process gets in the way of customer service? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. As always, I appreciate you reading my stuff. Thank you! Until next time…

Posted in Business, culture, Customer Service, process, Uncategorized, workplace | Tagged , | 2 Comments

How The World Became a Ball of Confusion

People moving out, people moving in
Why, because of the color of their skin
Run, run, run but you sure can’t hide

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth
Vote for me and I’ll set you free
Rap on, brother, rap on

Well, the only person talking about love thy brother is the preacher
And it seems nobody’s interested in learning but the teacher

Segregation, determination, demonstration, integration
Aggravation, humiliation, obligation to our nation

Ball of Confusion – The Temptations (released 1970)

How did the world become so confusing? From my perspective, it’s a chaotic mess. Sure there’s a lot of bad stuff going on throughout the world, most of which is out of our control. This article is less about the events and more about how we learn about them; how the information is conveyed. Americans are inundated and overwhelmed with talking heads expressing their opinions and sharing far-flung ideas on how to make the world a better place. Often what they share is factless; pure conjecture.

Who remembers these fine upstanding young men?

Simple, Straight-Forward Information

Most Boomers recognize these guys. On the left is Chet Huntley and on the right is David Brinkley. They combined as anchors on the NBC Evening News back in the 60s. My parents watched these dudes like it was their job. They trusted them to provide the day’s news in a manner that was direct and to the point. As Dragnet’s Sgt. Joe Friday would say when interrogating a crime witness, “The facts, ma’am, nothing but the facts.” Apparently, the Nielsen Ratings didn’t mean much then. Whether it was coming from the newsroom or Donna Reed’s bedroom, there was not a hint of sensationalism in what was shown or said on television in the 60s.

The Cultural Revolution of the 60s

The cultural revolution in the 60s changed everything. The events that took place during the decade are well documented — Vietnam, the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK, Kent State, the Civil Rights Movement, Woodstock, and much more. Bob Dylan wrote and produced a song called “Only a Pawn in Their Game.” This was one of many songs of the 60s that represented the thoughts and feelings of many young, restless Americans. They were disgusted with Vietnam, the violence in our cities streets, and tired of being misled by the government. They didn’t want to be a pawn in the game anymore and were compelled to have their voices heard. This was the beginning of the confusion.

Technology Boom

The technology boom took the chaos to a new level in the following decades up to the 2020s. The internet became a thing in 1983. In the 90s, it exploded, growing from 130 websites in 1993 to over 100,000 at the start of 1996. By that time, the world wide web had around 10 million global users. Ted Turner made his contribution to the madness when he launched CNN with its 24/7/365 news programming. Cable TV subscriptions peaked in 2000 with 68.5 million subscriptions. Instead of 3 national networks and a couple of local stations, we now have hundreds of channels from which to choose.

Ratings Rule

The stakes have become extremely high for network executives. Ratings are paramount to success. Through experience and research, the leaders in this industry have learned that the more controversial, sensational, outrageous, and opinionated, the better. This type of programming attracts viewers. The more viewers, the higher the ratings, the more attractive for advertisers, and the better revenue and profits for the network.

Social Media

Around the year 2000, social media started to gain traction. With the advent of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and hundreds of other platforms, anyone can express their opinions on anything, anytime. It can eat you up if you choose to partake in social media. If you are not selective, it is simply too much. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that mini-computer we carry in our pockets and purses. The cellular revolution took hold in the 90s.  In 1990, the number of mobile users was around 11 million; by 2020, that number had risen to a whopping 2.5 billion. If we don’t have the appropriate filters set on our mobile devices, hardly a day goes by without messages that seem legit but are junk, spam, or a scam.

No Wonder

A little stroll through 6 decades refreshed my memory of how we got into this mess and what caused it to explode. While I believe these factors have a lot to do with it, we Americans have to take our share of the blame. It’s evident that many of us add fuel to the fire. We crave sensationalism and enjoy a good train wreck whether it’s a movie star’s divorce or a politician’s indiscretions, it’s like a feeding frenzy. Could you imagine if the news was still reported in the same manner as Huntley & Brinkley? Their show would be off the air within a week. The real tragedy is all this misinformation has left Americans scratching their heads, not knowing what to believe.

Final Thoughts

I am at a loss on how to clean up this misinformation mess. I have several questions for you before I wrap up. Is this a problem that needs fixing? Is it even fixable? Are you okay with the situation getting worse in the future? Back in the day, we used to say if something on TV violates your moral code, change the channel. The problem today is that you’ll find similar bullshit on every channel. It’s like the Temps said, “You can run, run, run, but you sure can’t hide.”

Off the top of my head, I can’t even begin to think of a viable solution. Is anyone out there (besides Trump) in favor of terminating parts of the constitution? We could get rid of the part about freedom of speech! If hunting, killing, and gutting your dinner every night is your thing, I suppose we could go off the grid. Or, I don’t know much about lie detector technology, but we could hook all the talking heads to a lie detector to let the audience know when it is a lie and the truth. That may clear things up a bit. When I haven’t a clue, I resort to sarcasm (part of my Jersey upbringing). I’d love to hear your ideas, serious or sarcastic – there’s no such thing as a bad idea! Until next time…

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Culture is more than a buzzword used in employee satisfaction surveys; it is a company’s multifaceted personality, soul, and character. A company’s culture includes concrete aspects of work life, such as compensation, benefits, and career development, as well as less tangible aspects like attitudes, values, and employee behavior.*

For example, in his book Onward, Howard Schultz described the spirit (soul) of Starbucks this way: “Our stores and partners [employees] are at their best when they collaborate to provide an oasis, an uplifting feeling of comfort, connection, as well as a deep respect for the coffee and communities we serve.”

Whether culture is expressed through mission, vision, values, or some other way, every organization appears to be focused on creating and sustaining a culture where workers can thrive, customer service is extraordinary, and products and services are of the highest quality. If you Google ten companies right now, ten would provide an enticing message about their culture. Most go through a painstaking process to ensure they use the right words to describe their culture and why it makes a difference

The truth is culture happens regardless. During my career, I worked for companies that have the best intentions when it comes to culture. Leaders communicated all the right things, but for some reason, the message didn’t translate for the frontline. I have also been in situations where leaders preach culture and then do and say things that undermine it. In an article titled The Soul of a Start-Up, Ranjay Gulati offers a structure for organizations to help them find and sustain three crucial dimensions of a start-up’s soul:  business intent, or a loftier reason for being; unusually close customer connections, and an employee experience characterized by autonomy and creativity—by “voice” and “choice.” All three provide meaning to stakeholders. **

“I don’t know how it started either. All I know is that it is part of our company culture.”

Once the leaders in business gain clarity around these 3-dimensions, they must be resourceful in making it stick. This is more difficult than it may seem. As we all know, change is the only constant in business and life. Employees no longer stick around to get the gold watch or, for that matter, a 10-year pin. The churn is constant at all levels. To make matters more challenging, marketplace dynamics are changing at an escalating pace. Therefore, it becomes a delicate balance between evolving the culture based on these changes and holding on to the fundamental elements that are still relevant.

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Grocery Store Dilemma

Apparently, grocery stores don’t have to provide good customer service. They just have to be conveniently located–either close to the house or on the way home from work. Typically, grocery shopping is a utilitarian experience featuring service that is between not good and barely good enough. I sense that employees are preoccupied with tasks and feel zero obligation to interact with the customer.

Case in point…I recently acquired an Apple credit card and wanted to see if it could be used to buy groceries. The card is different because it doesn’t have any specific information on the card itself (see below).

Little did I know I was going to get a lesson on the current state of customer service at grocery stores:

Grocery Store #1

I drove by the store in the closest proximity to our house and asked the dude at the customer service counter if they accepted the Apple credit card. His answer was NO. That’s it. Nothing else, just NO.

Grocery Store #2

I then called the next closest store to the house and was able to get through to their customer service department. When I asked if they accepted the Apple card, the young lady who answered the phone responded, “I have no idea.” She didn’t offer to place me on hold so she could go find out. She seemed satisfied with her response.

Grocery Store #3

My final call was to the 3rd closest grocery store, where I received a warm greeting from a cheerful customer service person, and her response was, “Yes, come see us!”

I drove to store number 3, got my groceries, and went to check out. It just so happened that the customer service associate I spoke with on the phone (Shelly) had jumped into my aisle to bag groceries. I mentioned the Apple Card, and she immediately acknowledged that we spoke over the phone. She wasn’t 100% sure how to conduct the transaction but was confident I could pay for the groceries with the card. We tried to complete the transaction as you usually would and couldn’t get it through. Then Shelly invited me to follow her to the customer service counter, where she said we’d figure it out together. That’s when I had a “duh moment. It dawned on me to go to the app on my phone, which had all the information, including the cc#, expiration date, and CRV code. Shelly put the card reader in manual mode, punched in the required information, and presto– the card went through.

Now, correct me if I’m wrong. Couldn’t the other two stores have done the same thing? Assuming this is the case, the response from customer service at both stores caused me not to shop there that day. Even worse, on the days when I have time, I will invest the extra 10 minutes driving to store #3.

I understand it’s a struggle to hire and retain employees in retail brick-and-mortar stores. Regardless, the team members with customer service in their title must be the ultimate brand ambassadors. Their role is to set the standard by doing whatever it takes to please customers.

Of the 3 stores, guess which one is thriving?

Posted in culture, Customer Service, perceptions, workplace | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Sometimes Good Guys Do Finish First

From time to time, I fall off the wagon and have to write about sports. I can’t help myself. Sport is embedded in my DNA.

As you might imagine, growing up in northern New Jersey, I became a Yankees fan before I learned to walk.

As my fellow Yankees fans know, this season has been a roller coaster ride. Before the All-Star break, they had the best record in baseball. After the break, they went into a tailspin. Guys got hurt, and everyone who was healthy and in the lineup seemed to be mired in a slump. The only player that continued to perform at a high level was number ninety-nine, Aaron Judge.

Aaron Judge is hard to miss. At 6’7″ and 280 lbs. he’s a physical freak of nature – an Adonis in pinstripes. As I write, he is on the doorstep of baseball nirvana. Even the casual fans know he is one swing away from tying the American League record for homers in a season. The record is held by Yankee great – Roger Maris, who hit 61 in 1961. As if that wasn’t enough, Judge is also chasing the Triple Crown, another rarity in Major League Baseball. It is awarded at the end of the season to a player who leads the league in 3 categories – batting average, home runs, and runs batted in. Currently, Aaron is hitting .313 with 61 homers* and 130 RBI.

*Update – On Wednesday night, 9/28/22, in Toronto, with the score tied 3-3, Aaron Judge ripped a line drive home run to left, tying Roger Maris’s American League record of 61 homers in a season. He’ll look to break the record tonight in the Bronx.

Since the beginning of the major leagues in 1876, only 14 players have won baseball’s Triple Crown. But wait, there’s more. He’s also the odds-on favorite to win the AL’s Most Valuable Player Award. Many have said he has put together the most outstanding season in baseball history. However, what is even more impressive is who he is.

Aaron Judge making another kid’s day

Aaron Judge is an exceptional human. On and off the field, he’s cool, calm, and collected. Recently by a reporter asked about his demeanor. Aaron explained that both of his parents are teachers, and from an early age, they taught him to be polite and respectful to others. He’s on what is arguably the biggest stage in the sport, under the bright lights of New York and the scrutiny of the most demanding fans. The way he deals with the media is “Jeter-like.” No drama! His words are carefully chosen, brief, and to the point. He will tell you, in no uncertain terms he’s focused on two things: being a great teammate and winning a championship. Sure, this is scripted, however, his actions speak louder than his words.

It didn’t take long to realize he was different. When was the last time you witnessed an outfielder in an MLB game playing catch with a kid in the stands between innings? This is just one small example of the mutual love affair between Aaron and the fans. When he’s asked about this relationship, he’ll tell you he was once that kid in the stands, and he understands that even a small gesture from a pro athlete can create a memory that lasts a lifetime.

The long and the short of MLB

Over the last couple of years, Aaron has become the face of the Yankees and MLB. He stands for everything that is right in sports and in the world. Regardless of your fan loyalty, it’s hard not to root for this guy.

I’d be remiss on this day if I didn’t give props to the legendary Albert Pujols (pronounced POO-hols) of the St. Louis Cardinals, who just smacked his 700th career home run last night Friday, September 23rd, in Los Angeles in the top of the 4th against the Dodgers. Only three others in the game’s history have hit 700 homers – Do the names Babe Ruth, Henry Aaron, and Barry Bonds* ring a bell? After 22 years with the Cardinals and the Angels, at the age of 42, this is Albert’s final season. Many talking heads didn’t think he’d be able to make it to the magic number. He qualifies as a superhero, too. Who he is as a person far outweighs his prowess as a baseball player.

Posted in american values, Baseball, MLB, New York Yankees | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments