The Walmart Effect – Competition is NOT Just Cost

Exclamation MarkAfghanistan and the fraudulent President Biden have had me thinking about the Walmart effect over the last three days or so, and I cannot help but think there are some lessons to be discussed.  More to the point, the lines of congruence between the Walmart effect and the current political situation possess the potential for correcting course and saving America.  Not just America, but representative governments worldwide.  The Walmart effect is a global pandemic more powerful and pernicious than COVID ever will be, and we need to at least recognize this truth.

What is the Walmart Effect?

Working DollarWalmart has always competed on price.  As if there was nothing else to compete upon.  Lowest prices, regardless of the junk sold, price mattered more.  Hammer the price to nothing in every aspect of the supply chain.  Hammer the costs of doing business to lower costs to consumers.  Cheapen and eliminate packaging, “helping the environment,” and reduce costs.  Force suppliers and vendors to absorb traditional costs stores assumed, lowers costs, and increase profit margins.  Everything in the Walmart model is about lowering consumer costs, and Walmart has been very successful at twisting arms and breaking heads to reduce costs.

But, what has been the result of focusing just on costs the consumer sees?  First, lots of hidden fees have become observed.  Some of which was a good thing, most of which have become more obscure, and this is not such a good thing.  Worse, think of the fuel fees and delivery charges you now pay for having a pizza delivered.  Once a fee is begun to be charged, it is very difficult to stop charging the fee.  The Walmart effect passes costs onto consumers and shows the consumer why they are paying a higher fee, then the consumer accepts the fee as the cost of doing business and does not complain.  Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why there are so many fuel fees and why they became apparent almost overnight; I promise the cost of fuel was not the reason, the Walmart effect was the reason, and making money is the purpose.

Pigeon RevengeSecond, quality and service have disappeared in competition.  Safeway, as a grocery store, has excellent service; but they cannot compete on service and quality because the Walmart effect has changed these two adjectives to be synonymous with higher consumer costs.  Believe it or not, the grocery store model has not changed in the last 200 years. Walmart changed society to believe everything was about competing on consumer costs, and the rest of the competition has played along.  Want to know a secret, you as a consumer are being deceived into believing that Walmart has the best prices, but when quality is added to the picture, Walmart is selling you junk.

Third, all big-box retailers employ science to lure you into their stores.  Bright lights, color schemes, smells, all carefully crafted to keep you in the stores.  Musical shelves where products move from day to day in the store to lengthen your time walking the aisles.  Everything is carefully planned and organized to influence you to spend more money.  Now, back to Walmart and the claim about junk.  Some of the items in Walmart are end runs of name-brand products.  Some of the items are cheap knock-offs.  Some of the fruit and vegetables are almost spoiled or completely raw.  Yet, Walmart pushes those products for sale anyway.  Purchasers for Walmart are under strict order to find products for sale at the lowest costs.  After working with a manufacturer supplying big-box retailers, I can tell you that many manufacturers hate dealing with Walmart because of the Walmart costs of doing business.Lemmings 3

Fourth, all big-box retailers represent a plethora of manufacturers trying to get their products in front of customers in the easiest way possible.  This is a truth, and a problem, for the manufacturers, are always competing, think Kraft and General Mills, Post, and other brand names.  These manufacturers compete for every dime you spend; they compete for shelf space; they compete for advertising space; they compete for every second you spend in the store, and dealing with these manufacturers is like herding long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs.  A loose conglomeration controlled by access to the customer portal, Walmart manages an extensive customer portal, Safeway, Home Depot, Lowes, etc. All control certain customer portals and commit to selling XX amount of goods for the manufacturers.  But, this is not “friendly” competition by any stretch of the imagination.  One manufacturer scores a benefit that improves their access to customers over another manufacturer; you can bet another manufacturer will be competing to repeat the performance.  All of which increases costs to the consumer in hidden fees, generally through rebate scams, BOGO “deals,” or my favorite “Rollback prices.”

Interestingly, the political situation in all representative governments is similar to America’s current situation.  A phenomenon I find both alarming and intriguing, but one with enormous potential to be taken advantage of to correct and save representative governments.  The one thing cost-focused competition cannot do is compete with service.  When customer service is truly the focus, cost competitors melt away.  Therein lay the answer, but we must first describe the lines of congruence before we can discuss solutions.Lemmings 5

Consider point one of the Walmart effect, competing on price both hides and reveals costs.  Every representative government worldwide has an entire industry working 24/7, working tirelessly to plasticize words where taxes are concerned to make progress bad and regression good.  Regressive taxes are considered good, even though they kill jobs, ruin lives, cost more, and eventually lead to the ruination of liberty and freedom.  Progressive taxes are hailed as bad, even though they cut government costs, increase liberty and freedom, allow people to keep more of their hard-earned money, and force the government to live on a budget.  While the tax language has been around longer than Walmart, the truth is, the Walmart effect has improved the tax language to the point that representative government can rob you blind, and you never know.  Just like that fuel surcharge on pizza receipts, after the cost of ingredients for the pizza skyrocketed.

Point two of the Walmart effect; where has customer service gone in government?  Since I was a kid, citizens’ accessibility to elected officials has dropped like a sack of lead.  Worse, we have seen active animosity from the elected officials towards the citizenry.  Mayors allow terrorist mobs to destroy public and private property without regard, mobs and gangs to rule, entire sections of cities lost to civilization, and elected officials do not care until they utter empty words in an election campaign.  Enter a government office for a permit, license, get a question answered, etc., and you are treated like scum, and the bureaucrat is doing you a tremendous favor by granting you an audience.  Now, how do you honestly feel when you walk into Walmart and ask an associate a question, provided you can lasso an associate to ask?

Gravy Train 3On the third point in the Walmart effect, politicians spend enormous amounts of effort to use marketing science to play upon emotions to get and keep an audience.  The same marketing science employed to keep you in a retailer making purchases keeps you “connected” to your political party.  Worse, because there are familial traditions in being one political party or another, there remain tighter ties to a political party.  These strings are played to the fullest to bind you ever tighter, so you do not use conscious thinking when voting the party line.

Finally, we come to the fourth Walmart effect, the one with the most pertinence to current political dogma, the bundling of obscure groups into a ruling party.  I have never been shy about admitting that two-party political rule is terrible for America.  I am all for having 10-15 separate major political parties; in the confusion generated by the many voices, better governance occurs, mostly.  I respect the Israelis for their political system with their separate and ungainly political parties because of the need to gain coalitions and be very connected with and responsible to the people in those coalitions and the citizens they represent.  Recognizing that the political system does not always work, a robust system of codified laws is mandatory to keep the government in check and accountable to the people.

Bobblehead DollFrankly, I do not care what side of the political spectrum you come down upon.  What matters to me is how your representative governs.  Once an elected official of a representative government gains office, they cannot simply think they only represent that political party while in office.  Thinking this way is the epitome of the Walmart effect and stems from competing on cost alone.  Worse, thinking that the representative only represents those who placed them in power places that elected representative into a position to abuse their office.

Using others is what Walmart has done because they control such a vast portal to customers, and the manufacturers have been paying a steep price in more than dollars and cents ever since.  Unfortunately, so have the customers.  The harm to the manufacturers is delivered to the end consumer, and Walmart does not care as they are just a portal through which a manufacturer sells goods.  The same thing for the politician, all of society is harmed when a politician can be purchased and influenced; when harm comes to one person because of their political leanings, everyone suffers.

Knowledge Check!Therein lay the other answer to the Walmart effect, recognizing that we must join together, or fall individually, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle since we are all interconnected.  Service and joining together are the only paths forward.  We must not allow divisive political agendas, carefully crafted scientifically marketed political pogroms, and slick groomed politicians to sway us from the important points of freedom, liberty, and a pursuit of happiness.  We cannot afford the governments that have ballooned and festered over the last 60-years.  We cannot afford the Walmart effect; the cost is just too great!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

The Role of Customer Service – Find Solutions!

Bird of PreyI do not care if there is a pandemic or not!  I care even less if there is sunshine or rain, wind, snow, sleet, or hurricanes.  Guess what; neither do those people expecting customer service.  They want solutions, and when they do not obtain solutions, that customer will be looking at your competition and wondering if their needs can be met elsewhere.

Let me set the scene.  I have a follow-up doctor’s appointment this morning.  I traveled more than an hour for an early morning appointment, which included surviving multiple school zones, crazy rush hour parents trying to get kids into school and themselves onto work, and the inevitable school buses working tirelessly to deliver children to school safely.  All of this I can accept; I agreed to the early morning doctor’s appointment as I need to do things this afternoon.  Upon arrival at the doctor’s office, I am greeted by a commando secretary, who knows I have a breathing problem and cannot wear a mask.  Who invents a reason to deny me care.  She calls a supervisor, then “politely” invites me to a back room to try and tell me off.  She then walks out when I suggested she had two options, move my care to another neurologist or have me wear a face shield, and I was leaning towards option 1.

Since January, this scene has repeated itself more than 10-times in two different states, and frankly, I am sick to death of customer service people who refuse to look first for solutions!  Your first duty in customer relations is to find solutions, not complain someone is not wearing a mask, not embarrass, isolate, and denigrate.  Your entire mission is to find solutions that will work with government mandates, business policies, and customer needs.Angry Grizzly Bear

For example, I was a new patient at a medical clinic.  I explained my mask predicament, and the business already had a procedure to protect those wearing masks and accommodate those who could not wear a mask.  Better still, it did not require a supervisor, it did not require special approval, I did not have to be embarrassed by office staff judgments, nor did I have to fight for my right to breathe.  Two different medical offices, two wildly different approaches to the same customer problem, and two phenomenally different solutions and different mental strategies from staff to provide customer service.

Was discussing cellphone service providers; provider one has deplorable customer service, provider two is not much better, and there is no third option.  I asked about solutions for small businesses to compare between the two providers and was aghast at the lack of interest in providing help to owner/operator small businesses.  I do upwards of $3600 in cellphone business a year; yet, even though I have five lines personally and pay for an additional one for my spouse, and am a small business owner, the cellphone provider is not interested in looking for solutions for small businesses.  Is it any wonder that customers are looking for options to ditch their phones?

Call Center BeansInternet providers are another huge pain point for me and my business on the topic of service providers and detestable customer service.  After moving, I am paying double for my Internet service connection, not paying double for the same speeds.  Paying double and not getting similar speeds.  Worse, the customer inattention has gone downhill since I was last a customer of this company 18-months prior.  I have been told that deregulation is why Internet providers cannot compete fairly in markets and scoff.  I have been informed, several times, that the reason the costs are so high for Internet connection is from outdated equipment.  I have scoffed again.  When Google tried to muscle into Phoenix, the current Internet providers threw an unholy fit, and Google was rejected the permits through legal, regulatory means.  Apparently, competition continues to be anathema to cellular phones and Internet service providers, all while these same providers abuse customers and refuse to perform basic customer service, such as finding solutions!

What is the solution; I offer the following as potential places to begin launching a customer service revolution.

    1. Commit to finding solutions first. Quicken Loans is one company I know that asserts that they want to say YES before saying no.  Commit to the same; demand your people learn how to say YES!
    2. This might sound old-fashioned, but believe it or not, it works. Smile and say please and thank you!  When you are thanked, say you’re welcome.  Manners matter in setting the tone in customer relations.  A smile goes a long way to setting the proper tone.
    3. Another potentially old-fashioned idea, but worth considering if your front office staff looks rough. Customers will automatically not want to do business with you if their first impression is tattoos, body piercings, crazy hair, long nails, and scowling faces.  The doctor’s office, the lead office support person, is covered in tattoos, has a body piercing that draws attention to body areas that make professional interactions difficult to conduct. Her hair matches her demeanor, rough and disruptive.

Knowledge Check!Please note, I am not against tattoos and body piercings.  In professional settings, restraint is needed to show respect to the business environment and not distract properly.  The nursing staff all have tattoos, and they are not as disruptive as the lead office support person.  Others have body piercings on their faces, ears, heads, and body parts.  But, these are not distracting, and drawing attention to body parts best left unnoticed in professional settings.  There is a distinct difference between acceptable and unacceptable, and business owners will need to draw a line or be prepared to have problems with customers.

    1. Post in a prominent position what the customer commitment is and who to contact if customer attention fails. Want to raise awareness of customer solutions, post your commitment, and then live that commitment.
    2. Technology is wonderful; there need to be reliable replacement channels when you eliminate a communication channel. For example, the doctor I visited they do not have incoming phone calls.  You can text the doctor’s office, you can fax the doctor’s office, you can send messages through a group insurance website, and you can email the doctor’s office.  When you insist the doctor’s office do something to fit another bureaucracy, e.g., the VA, the office support staff through a fit and stop responding to text messages and emails.   So, not only is their attitudes inappropriate, the customer service communication channels are throttled intentionally to avoid angry callers.  Forcing patients to have to deal in person when technology is made to fail.

WhyCommit to customer relations, find solutions.  Commit to saying YES!  You will be surprised how fast people become customers and want to remain customers when employees representing your business are committed to finding solutions first and excuses NEVER!  End the abuse of customers; I know which doctor I will be ending my relationship with as soon as humanly possible, and I will leave online customer service reports.  Abuse me as a customer, and I will go out of my way to make sure other customers and potential customers know.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Why Should Your Customers Remain Customers?

Bobblehead DollMy wife is mad at me; I was relating an email survey experience where a financial institution had sent me a customer service survey.  I described the truth, I have no reason to remain a customer and feel less than enthused at remaining a customer.  My wife fearing I had been insulting, derogatory, or denigrating, got mad at me.  I explained my position and how I had answered the rote questions, and she is still not happy.  But, her position and my position bring up an interesting point, centered around the following question, “Why should a customer remain a customer?”

Use My Name!

Daily I receive programmed emails from multiple companies.  Do you know how I pick the ones I want to do business with?  They know my preferred name and use it!  What an incredible concept; since the early 1990s, we have had the technology to put in names, create mailing lists, and use people’s preferred names, and businesses still struggle with this concept.  Why?

LookI have several titles, want my business, know and use my titles.  Pick one, and use it!  How can a company claim they “know their customers” when that company cannot use the customer’s preferred name or title in addressing that customer?  I have worked hard to earn a Ph.D.; I do not expect everyone to call me “Dr.,” but it sure as anything beats being called “mister” all the bloody time.  Worse, I still hold several ranks and positions that come with titles. I could be addressed using them, but even with a preferred name on many company customer profiles, I get that lazy customer service representative that calls me Mr. Salisbury!  Guess what company I am going to ditch at the first opportunity?Shhh----Don--t-Say-A-Thing--Just-Listen--Don--t-Talk.jpg (500×273) | The beauty and danger of ...

On the topic of names, if I say, “everyone calls me Dave,” and you continue to call me “Michael,” “Mike,” or “Mr. Salisbury,” you are either not listening, or your company has the worst policies for addressing customers.  Guess what company I will end my business relationship with post-haste?  I have given permission to use a preferred name, use my name.  Listen to me!

Listen!

Job Interview Cartoons ~ Silly BuntActive listening can be faked!  Customer service agents, I know active listening can be manufactured, I have been a customer service agent, I know your stress, I know your job, and I know your problems.  Thus, to your bosses, I appeal; stop the active listening drama!  If you are not stressing reflective listening to your employees, where they and the customer reach a mutual understanding, you are not doing your job leading customer relations!

My wife claims that conclusion is “Too harsh.”  I disagree vociferously.  Here’s why!  Remember how I just related how I had informed customer service agents, “everyone calls me Dave,” and the agent continued to call me everything but my preferred name.  Failure to listen remains the number one customer complaint for a reason; the agents are not listening to reach a mutual understanding.  Too often, they are not even attempting to listen actively but are listening to respond, responding to the voices in their heads and not the customer!Joke of the Day | Joke of the day, Funny quotes, Single words

Do you want better customer survey responses; try listening, then acting, then listening again.  Not speaking; listening, acting, listening, acting; it’s a pattern worth doing!  Yet, too often, what is the pattern found, maybe listening, speaking, maybe listening, token action, maybe listening, half-hearted action.  Wait for the customer to become frustrated and go away.  Guess which company I am going to be ending my business relationship with quickly?

Respond!

AP 20.96 Short-Answer Questions (SAQ) - Bello's Reference Page - Use GOOGLE CLASSROOM for all ...I have four companies who I have informed (several times) I no longer can do business with them.  They continue to send me emails asking for my business for old properties and cars I no longer possess.  Listening is but half the answer; you must also respond with definitive action.  How many times does a customer have to relate to your business they have moved?  I did business with a windshield repair company in Phoenix, AZ.  Good company, good service, but for the next three years, I received calls from them monthly, and I had moved out of their service area.  They were told this month after month, I was promised month after month this was the final call, and month after month, I received another call.  Guess whose recommendation I deleted online?

People ProcessesBusiness processes matter; honoring your word matters, displaying trust, integrity, and fulfilling a promise made all matters in the customer relationship long before the product or service is discussed.  Yet, how often are these issues on shaky ground, before the ink is dry on the service contract or the receipt for goods?  I have a cell phone provider I detest; I long for the day I can finally walk free of this provider and never look back.  Because their customer attention is deplorable, I feel used and abused every time I interact with this company.  I have the same problem with my current Internet provider.  When your customer service is so deplorable, you have to climb to become terrible; there is a problem that colors, signage, marketing, and gimmicks cannot fix!

Why Would I gladly Pay a Higher Price; Service!

Skillet Mac and Cheese with Crispy Breadcrumbs Recipe - Southern LivingI was in the supermarket, my wife asked for a treat.  To her, a treat is a bowl of deli mac & cheese, potato salad, or a bag of potato chips.  As I was in the deli and they had her mac & cheese, I bought mac & cheese.  My wife was shocked, I paid, what to her was an exorbitant price for the mac & cheese, but I was glad to pay the price.  The counter worker wrapped the mac & cheese package in plastic wrap to protect it from spilling, was pleasant, remembered me from a previous visit, and made my day.  The service was well worth the extra cost.

I kept going back to this store, making purchases long after this deli person was transferred to another store closer to their home because the service level did not go down.  Thus, I remained satisfied to pay extra for the service I received.  Walking on a cane, with labored breathing, and having a service representative walk with me, not ahead of me, so I feel like I have to race, is a significant service I would gladly pay more for.  I felt respected and remembered from visit to visit, even if I was sporadic in visiting for over a month.2mm to Sales Mastery | Customer Obsession: Creating "Wow" Moments That Leave a Lasting Impression

Long before the product or service costs are discussed is the customer experience.  If the customer experience fails, you can have the coolest products and the best access to services and fail because you forget the customer experience!  Getting back to the financial survey I just completed, it was full of Likert-style scale questions.  If your company employs a Likert question on a survey, you need a follow-up self-directed qualitative question to explain directly after.

Likert-Style Surveys

Likert-style questions are a quantitative researcher’s bread and butter, showing the relationships between agreement and disagreement on a broad scale.  Generally, on a scale of 1-10, these questions and scales have come to be represented by emojis, colors, statements, and more as technology has advanced.Top 10 Likert Scale Examples for your next survey! | QuestionPro

I completed 15 Likert-styled questions before I was asked why I rated the company as “Neither liked or disliked, neither favorable nor unfavorable.”  Okay, so quantitative data is easier and less expensive to collect, collate, and report.  But, if your customer survey is only collecting qualitative or quantitative data, you are only collecting half the story and none of the customer experiences!  However, you cannot simply ask ½ the questions qualitative and ½ the questions quantitative and expect anything but GIGO.  Careful planning is key to customer survey results worth your time and the customers time!Likert scale questions, survey and examples | QuestionPro

A customer satisfaction survey should first be an instrument of dedicated action!  Where your best and brightest in customer relations work to analyze, report, and propose efforts to satisfy the customers.  They investigate survey findings.  They respond to survey questions and concerns, address real people, and produce tangible results.eCommerce Customer Surveys | An Ultimate Guide 2021

A customer satisfaction survey is not the time, nor the place, for cute emojis and colorful pictures depicting customer attitudes.  Can the customer survey be more than black and white; naturally.  Remember that the customer survey is not where you go to flash and spin; this is where the customer goes, tells the truth, and expects action, not to be played with.  If the customer takes the time to complete a survey, there is a reason, find the cause, know the customer, and win.

Knowledge Check!These are but three basics, fundamental points at the start of the customer relations journey.  If you cannot get these three points right, the rest of the trip will be short, painful, and not fulfilling for you or your customers.  Worse, the experiences will be remembered, and people have this nasty habit of not forgetting bad experiences.  Why do the majority of people despise the DMV; because the majority of customers have experienced the most frustrating issues of their professional lives at the hands of the DMV agents.  Governments abuse their customers, which is as bad as customer interactions get, and everyone feels betrayed when the government and bureaucrats use them.

You are in the private sector; you have competition; your first question daily should be, “Why should my customers remain, my customers?”  When you answer this question, your customers will hear the answer loud and clear!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Operational Trust Embodied – Consent of the Governed

The Coliseum | AncientWorldWondersEmperor Titus Flavius Vespasian began work on the Coliseum of Rome in 69 AD.  Upon completion of the Coliseum, his son Emperor Titus held 100-days and nights of festival in the Coliseum.  Ostensibly to calm the masses after the civil unrest following the death of Emperor Nero, the Coliseum acted precisely as it was planned, distract the masses, while the emperor consolidated his power, undermined the Roman Senate, and set the stage for the end of the Roman Empire.  Roman laws were built, originally, upon the consent of the governed until the emperors broke the law.  The people rebelled, and before the squabbling senators could take control, the Roman government was subjugated to empirical rule.  All historical facts, reflecting the power of the consent of the governed and a lesson upon which we can plot the future if we are brave enough to take action.

Consider for a moment what would have happened if a quorum of the Roman Senate had refused the emperor funds until the emperors relinquished powers they had stolen?  What would have happened to the Coliseum if the people had rejected the “bread and circuses” offered by the emperor and demanded a return to the rule of law?  The erection of the Coliseum is a dynamic point in history where we can see how the unjust powers of a government seal the fate of an entire nation, and the principle of operationalized trust can make a difference.Stunning Facts About the Roman Coliseum That'll Leave You Spellbound - Historyplex

What is Trust?

How to Rebuild Trust as a Leader - Optimize InternationalImperative to the following discussion is an understanding of the basics, and the basics require knowing what trust is, what trust does, and what trust is not.  Webster defined trust as an obligation and a condition of having confidence placed upon another.  Another definition for trust includes a firm belief in the integrity, ability, character, reliance, and having confidence in another person or thing.  Hence, trust is not just a belief but a reliance, signifying there have been experiences shared that have proven trust in the fires of adversity, and the person or thing has been found worthy.

Defining trustFor example, in the US Army, when I went through Basic Training, you spent three days in a classroom learning about gas masks, chemical, biological, radiological warfare (CBR), and other tools for protecting yourself in a CBR environment.  Then, you went to the “Confidence Chamber.”  The Confidence Chamber was there to teach you to have confidence in your equipment; by putting you in first in your gas mask, then removing your gas mask, and experiencing tear gas, you learned to trust your equipment and have confidence that what you were learning could save you pain, misery, and hopefully your lives.

The Confidence Chamber also had another purpose that is often missed in the rigors of Basic Training but is as real as the air a person breathes, building trust in the chain of command.  Asking people to do hard things, experience pain, puke their guts out, and all the other effects of the tear gas begins a trust cycle in the chain of command.  As a soldier, you can trust your sergeants and officers, and they can trust you.  Organizational trust begins with these basic experiences in basic training and hopefully grows as a soldier is trained.Gas Chamber 4

Trust is not easily won but can be easily lost.  Trust is not fully developed in a single transaction but can be germinated in a single transaction.  Trust flourishes in two-directional learning paths among people, sharing experiences, time, and values.  Trust is not a solution in and of itself, but it can be a magnifying power of other efforts in achieving resolution.  Trust is a tool, but not a tool that can be employed by itself.  For example, a screwdriver can be force multiplied by a wrench; trust is the same; it is the wrench that multiplies the power of other tools to accomplish work.

What is Operationalized Trust?

Strong Teams Start with Trust: 5 Ways to Build Trust - Invoicebus BlogEstablishing relationships requires the principles of organizational trust, as detailed by Du, Erkens, and Xu (2018), who found when supervisors trust their subordinates, regardless of whether supervisors have a general propensity to trust others or trust subordinates due to previous transactions and social similarity, customer service is significantly improved.  Operationalized trust is nothing but using a trust relationship to improve a shared or common goal.  For example, a business wants better customer satisfaction, so the supervisors use trust between themselves and their employees to increase service quality, promoting enhanced service satisfaction.

Trust quotes images and wallpapers hdIncredibly, the first principle to empowering operational trust is social similarity, which provides the breeding grounds for shared social interactions—knowing where someone originates and if they share values is critical to initiating, building, and maintaining trust propensity.  The second principle for empowering operational trust is extreme oversight; micro-management kills trust relationships and kills individual initiative, individual agency, and individual moral.  A corollary finding is that efficient use of existing control systems is not objectionable or harmful to trust propensity.  This is a critical finding in organizational trust, in that existing controls are acceptable.  When taken to extremes, the consent of the governed is rejected, and the controls become the problem killing the initiative.  Collocation and less stringent controls breed trust propensity that develops organizational trust, improving how people work, or to put it more simply, less strict controls, combined with people sharing similar backgrounds, opens organizational trust and breeds consent of the governed into productivity.

Consent of the Governed Rests Upon the Following Principles

As a reminder, the fundamental principles of a free society, a liberty first culture, and the consent of the governed rest upon the following, which should be returned to often and refreshed daily by the elected officials in government to feed operational trust in a free society and liberty-based government.

No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles” [emphasis mine].

          • Justice: Decency to all as a behavior of equality and commitment to moral rightness.
          • Moderation: This is all about not going to extremes, being restrained, knowing the boundaries and staying within limits, and being reasonable and approachable.
          • Temperance: While primarily used in drinking alcohol, this also applies to any behaviors where self-restraint, moderation, and expressions or observance of temperate behaviors are required.
          • Frugality: Besides being a good steward of other people’s resources, being frugal requires being sparing, prudent, economical, thrifty, and reserved.
          • Virtue: Requires moral excellence, modesty, personal dignity, goodness, and conformity to a standard of righteousness.

Putting it all Together

ElectionThe consent of the governed is built upon the intermingled trust between people as a body electing government officers and people representing those elected as government officers.  The problems have arisen because many in public office have refused to accept the government of those who elected them and have served only themselves and the monied interests buying their time.  Thus, trust propensity in government has dropped to disastrous levels. Adding to the problem are the accumulated actions of previously elected officials who have set a pattern for personal wealth by tax and spend, supporting political cronies, and gerrymandering system to protect them from negative election results.  The trust between people of shared values has been broken by those elected, who never shared values, who refuse to live in their home districts, and whose time and the highest bidder can purchase interests.  Thus, is it any wonder that people no longer believe the lies of government are restless and agitated?

The consent of the governed is a precious commodity that has been squandered by those who should have held that precious resource as a mother holds her child—protecting, nurturing, and feeding the consent of the governed to build trust propensity against a time when a pandemic or natural disaster would occur.  Where the government would need to act in a difficult manner.  Instead, hypocrisy has been witnessed from the government leaders and the monied interests purchasing the politician’s time, and the people refuse their consent to be governed.  Where do we see the refusal of consent to be governed; how is the health of the US Dollar and other national currencies?  That is not just inflation blowing up prices, confidence in the future has been shaken, and confidence is the visual representation of the consent of the governed.Plato 2

Where else do we see the consent of the governed being refused?  Recently an Olympiad was held, the government of the US held hearings of great import on legislative matters to conflict with the Olympiad to hide scheduled legal hearings as smoke and mirrors.  When Kevin Durant and Draymond Green called the media out for failing to cover the Olympics, they missed the target; the people they should be denouncing are the politicians trying to distract further, confuse, and cause chaos.

Knowledge Check!President Obama proved one thing while in office when you choose to hold hearings is as important as the content of the hearings, the legislation, and the political gamesmanship.  Paying attention to all of the tricks and media hyperbole is all but impossible, and in the confusion, theft occurs.  But, the law of unintended consequences means that the consent of the governed takes a beating when these tactics are played, and soon polls will show a more significant drop in approval ratings.  (Remember how jock itch has a higher approval rating than Congress?)  Politicians will scramble, the media will try and explain the findings, but the result is always the same, the consent of the governed is being removed at a more rapid pace, and every politician of a representative government needs to start paying attention!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

The Role of a Call Center Trainer: A Qualitative Descriptive Study

Bobblehead DollI want to express my deepest gratitude to Call Centre Helper Magazine for the opportunity to advertise for my dissertation research.  I once asked a call center leader what a trainer does; their answer still makes me chuckle.

A trainer trains!

Kind of obvious, right.  Now, what does a trainer train?  How does a trainer train?  How does a business leader know the trainer has been successful in training?  What is the purpose of training?  What does training do for those trained?  These questions and the business leaders’ comment have inspired my professional and academic footsteps for several years now.Call Center 2

In early July 2021, I finally received permission to begin human testing for my dissertation.  I have posted several advertisements on social media for call center workers, trainers, and senior leaders to entice 17 people willing to answer some questions about training in call centers, a call center trainer, and what precisely a call center trainer does.  The following is a brief description of the aims and intents of my research to increase interest and hopefully glean the needed participants to finish my study.

Consider for a moment a teacher who has influenced you professionally or personally, and why did they make such an impact?  Could a different person have made the same impact?  Why?

The above questions are the crux of my research; to date, the role of the instructor has not been considered a variable in corporate training.  As an adult educator, I find this gap very alarming.  In academia, the teacher’s role has been extensively studied, and opinions abound regarding the role of the teacher.  Yet, in a professional setting, no researcher has addressed this gap to date.  With the push to move all training to computer-based solutions in autonomous environments, if the trainer does not teach corporate knowledge and behaviors, who does?

Call Center BeansIn researching the history of professional training, the model employed has not changed since a master taught journeyman who led novice instruction.  Yet, with technology, global populations, cultures, language, and globe-spanning organizations, the role of the trainer seems to continue to take a back seat.  Yet, if a corporate trainer profoundly influenced you professionally, would you not want that experience for another person?

Due to the restrictions on human testing in research, I cannot change the dry legalese of the advertisements.  I know they are long, tedious, and challenging to get through.  However, if you are interested, please get in touch with me directly using:

Msalisbury1@my.gcu.edu

Please note, to participate, you will need the following:

      • Work in an English Speaking Call Center with a home base in the United States.
      • Have a LinkedIn account (This is for verification of professional qualifications only).
      • Speak English like a native.
      • Be willing to answer demographic questions, including time in the current role, education, and so forth.
      • Be willing to elaborate upon your answers. I will ask you some questions about your experiences; please provide details, depth, and descriptions as your answer.

Knowledge Check!Important to note, your name and business will never be mentioned in my dissertation!  I am not collecting any personal data beyond education and years of experience.  Any direct quotes employed will carry no connecting data, and no one will see your details.

Thank you for considering joining me in my dissertation research.  I look forward to publishing this research and discussing the findings with you in later articles.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

Customer Service Agent Abuse – Customer Service Begins with Customers

Angry Wet ChickenPlease note, I am not the best person to be around when my “cherub-like demeanor” dissipates.  I continue to invest time and energy in preparation and in unhooking emotion from knee-jerk responses to provide a better customer experience for those I connect with.  I am not perfect; I am not trying to give advice that I am not trying to implement every day, in every situation.  I have read story after story about “how to handle difficult customers,” “how to provide excellence in difficult customer situations,” and I have read the nightmarish tales of agents not allowed to control a call.

While I am a subject matter expert on customer service, customer relations, and customer attentiveness, I miss my high standards often.  I am not bragging; I hate delivering less than exceptional customer service.  I have been a difficult customer when I do not understand, and nobody is willing to explain.  I fall into many of the same traps I work to avoid and appreciate customer service agents who will see through the barbs and help me understand.  When discussing customer agent abuse, I am a bit of a bear when someone makes my people cry and feel there are solutions to challenging customers that do not require ending the transaction.  However, I will not tolerate abuse of customers or customer service agents, ever!

Angry Grizzly BearBack in the 1990s, when I started at a call center on Friday, there were no locks, no badges, no traffic control, and minimal security presence.  Monday morning, we had badges, electronic key cards, traffic control security points, and a host of new security measures.  Why; because a customer showed up at an agent’s cubicle, he had stalked this employee for months, and the only thing saving this person’s life was that she went into labor that morning.  Her stalker showed up with a shotgun and a dozen roses.  While not perfect at controlling my responses, I can clarify and support customer service agents against abuse.

What is Customer Agent Abuse?

Customer agent abuse is any actions conducted over a phone that would not be tolerated in person.  For example, only in the US Navy was going toe-to-toe with another person, threatening bodily harm, and using the foulest of language acceptable behavior.  Even in the US Navy, this behavior was only “tolerated” if you outranked the person you were hollering at, which made no sense during my time in service and even less sense now.  Customer agent abuse includes threats to personal property, life, or family.  Customer agent abuse includes making personal derogatory remarks.

Exclamation MarkWhile some may add or subtract to this list of agent abuses, I prefer simplicity.  Thus, I repeat, only for emphasis, if the behavior is not tolerated in front of a police officer, that is customer agent abuse, and should not be accepted.  Is speaking loudly customer agent abuse; probably not.  However, the situationality of defining customer agent abuse is such that professionals will need clear and specific directions.  Let us clarify a few topics.

What is a Customer?

A customer is anyone asking for assistance.  That is the entire definition, and when we understand this definition, our whole mindset and attitude swings from “customer service is someone else’s job” to “how may I assist you today?”

Who is a Customer Agent?

Knowledge Check!A customer agent is anyone able to provide the assistance being sought.  Will you be the one today to provide the service needed?  Do you realize this is a choice made every time you engage another person?

Reality Check

Would you ever see your family as customers; why?  Do you think those definitions are too simplistic; honestly, when you think about it, no.  Your fellow employees are your first customers.  Your leaders are your first customers.  Then come vendors and shareholders and external customers.  I have never agreed with separating internal and external customers.  Some try to claim an external customer pays the bills.  Sure, but without your team of employees, there are no products or services to sell.

cropped-bird-of-prey.jpgA business owner once told me that this method of thinking was as valuable as arguing about what came first, the chicken or the egg.  Yet, before you can grow into a small business, you must provide a service or good for purchase.  Hence the most essential customer is your fellow employees, and failing to understand this simple fact, breeds an Us vs. Them mentality in employee and customer relations.  Worse, this aggressive attitude only grows as the business grows and is heard by your customers in every transaction!

Customer Agent Abuse

Tell me, as a business leader, would you allow an employee to scream, swear, act belligerently, and raise their voices to another employee?  If the answer is no, why do you allow any other customer to act similarly?  I have worked in many different call centers, I have had my share of abusive customer calls.  I have suffered the slings and arrows of contempt from fellow employees and customers in hostile work environments.  I have been physically assaulted, threatened, sexually harassed, and more in professional settings, including call centers.  So, why do we allow customer abuse?

QuestionWhat is driving business leaders to excuse irrational and detestably unprofessional behavior by customers?  Honest question, if we would not tolerate behavior in person, why is it allowed over the phone?  Why is the customer agent taking the brunt of the abuse when we all know the problem originates much higher than the agent you are talking to.  Customer service, customer appreciation, customer attentiveness, customer relations, customer retention, etc., all circle around the customer culture bred into the business from its days as a small business.  Worse, the leader’s approach to customer service is felt and observed by agents all over the company and soon will imitate that leader’s attitude and behaviors.

I have led teams where my agents were reduced to tears from the verbal harassment.  When I discovered this, I pulled the quality records and calls, documented everything, and exercised my right to refuse service.  Yes, I invited customers to leave employment and my company without batting an eyelash or caring a single bit.  Nobody deserves to be harassed, sworn at, screamed at, or belittled, all in the name of “customer service.”  Customer agent abuse is a failure of leadership!

Ending Customer Agent Abuse

cropped-tools.jpgSome of what I am proposing will be anathema to your organization; I realize this.  I understand that some of what I propose will be hard to implement, face tremendous pushback, and might cause some organizational design changes.  All of what I am about to suggest is achievable through leadership and customer service.

      1. If employees cannot abuse each other, then neither can anyone else!
            • Invite those who swear to call back when they are more emotionally under control. End the call, end the transaction, make notes.
            • Invite those who habitually abuse to stop being customers or employees.
            • Make notes, keep documentation, and refer to legal if additional problems arise.
            • Make your policy known to your customers, all of your customers.
            • Set high standards of behavior and train to meet those standards.
      2. Revise business policies.
            • Listen to the transactions.
            • Make notes on pain points and process problems that irritate customers, and then dedicate yourself to fixing those pain points.
            • Enter the customer transaction with the intent to act!
            • Listen… Listen… Listen… verify what was said; listen some more.
            • Appreciative inquiry, learn it, love it, live it! Your customers know where and who the problems are.  Repeat as often as needed to ensure understanding, then take prompt action!
      3. Write cohesive and clearly understood policies.
            • Train to the policies.
            • Adjust the policies as needed.
            • Revisit policies every 12-months for applicability.
            • Revise policies as needed to meet customer expectations.
            • Set high standards and train customers to meet those standards.
            • Use rewards for improving customer interaction and transactions.
            • Not all rewards cost money!
      4. Embrace Change
            • Many claim they already do this, but they secretly refuse to change and act opposite to any change that threatens their power source. Eliminate that customer!
            • Change requires courage, tenacity, and imagination. All of which become available when appreciative inquiry becomes a principle for achieving excellence!
            • Set shelf-lives for processes, policies, and procedures.
            • Delegate to achieve new blood and new thinking on old topics.
            • Demand excellence, train for perfection and watch people achieve.
      5. Praise!
            • Honest, sincere, and regular praise will demonstrate an attitude of gratitude to your people, who will then pass along the praise to everyone else.
            • Observe people until you can even reprimand with praise.
            • Never criticize!
            • Never demean!
            • Never allow anyone to denigrate or deride your customers, and your customers will always be at your back.

Bobblehead DollIt does not matter whether your business is a manufacturer or a service provider; it does not matter if you are a non-profit or government agency; what matters is your customer.  Be the customer agent they deserve.  Admit fault, always understand that you cannot know everything, and asking questions is not an evil act.  You customers today are your customer agents tomorrow, and being a better customer is a job!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

The Role of Quality – The Only Path to Improving Productivity

LookWarehouse or call center, manufacturing or non-profit, service industry or product sales, the role of quality continues to be misunderstood.  Sometimes, it appears that quality is intentionally misunderstood.  Often it seems as if quality and compliance are synonymous, even though quality is a small part of compliance.  Some businesses call quality “Quality Assurance,” “Quality Control,” or the “Quality Department.”  Regardless of the name, quality is the only path to improving productivity; however, productivity is measured.Inspiring Quotes on Quality - Fortune of Africa Swaziland

I have worked with businesses that used quality as a stick to beat employees and ultimately fire them.  This is an absolute abuse of quality and the quality people!  Worse, it hinders productivity because everyone becomes worried about meeting quality demands and not meeting customer expectations.  The employees who meet “quality” in these organizations are depressed, morale is pathetic, and the brand suffers significantly.  What really hurts, everything costs too much takes too long, and the company is not competitive, flexible, viable, or even worth mentioning.

What is Quality?

Bobblehead DollQuality is a process of striving to improve.  Interestingly, people inherently know when they have received quality or not.  Be it a person, a company, a community, a state, a government, etc., how one approaches quality as a process for improvement defines that person, company, community, state, etc.  Some companies think, “We have a quality department, we are meeting quality metrics, we are doing just fine in quality.”  To which I reply, in my best imitation of Colonel Potter from M*A*S*H 4077, “HORSE HOCKEY!”Quality Quotes (40 wallpapers) - Quotefancy

Why; because that company cannot define what drives the metrics being reported.  That company has a quality department but not a quality attitude, quality focus, and quality determination.  It cannot be stressed enough if your people are not quality first; you are losing between 33% and 50% of your potential!  Worse, the loss of potential is always hard to pin precisely to a direct problem when the problem is lodged in something as amorphous as “quality.”Chinese Crisis

Recognizing Quality Value

Let’s do the numbers together.  A manufacturing plant, a call center, and a warehouse are examples A, B, and C, respectively.

Example A: Employee A has been trained on making a part; he has never been told how his parts affect the finished product and is sometimes sloppy in creating pieces.  But, because he is within set standards, his sloppy work can be cleaned up at another station, so Employee A does not want to improve quality.  Producing 200 parts made per day, with anywhere between 5 and 75 pieces, needing additional work; Employee A has an overall cost to the company above and beyond expected costs.  Regardless if Employee A increases his productivity to 250 to 300 pieces per day, his defects remain potential lost.Blue Money Burning

Example B:  XX Team has 15 agents; each agent is expected to handle 80-100 calls per day.  But the quality metrics are so stringent; the team can only meet 35-40 calls per day on average.  However, the business processes to complete work, and meet the quality standards, handicap any single agent from meeting the 80-100 calls per day.  Does the company look at the agents or their business processes and quality standards?  The business will demand higher productivity and never realize that the churn increase is from burned-out good employees walking away!blue-money

Example C:  Inbound product receivers, outbound product shippers, and quality are the three departments in a warehouse.  Inbound, they do not consider themselves part of a quality initiative; their productivity is driven by how many items get properly stowed per day.  Outbound is where the company focuses as this is where the customer satisfaction is directly observed; how much an outbound picks and prepares for shipping is productivity.  Quality is considered someone else’s job as a quality department counts for compliance to SOX and other legislation.  Inbound and outbound employees know their positions, and because they are not quality, they can create quality problems intentionally or not, and someone else will always take care of the problem.  Dirty part locations with inventory from other areas don’t matter; quality will fix it.  Torn or damaged product in a location, it doesn’t matter quality will fix it.  In this case, 2/3rds of the employee potential for improving quality is AWOL!

TOP 25 POOR QUALITY QUOTES | A-Z QuotesNow, someone might think, these are hypotheticals, not real businesses.  Those examples are directly from my experience.  Yes, these examples are slightly oversimplified for brevity; however, not having a whole company quality culture hinders productivity.  This is a truth inescapable.

Co-Equal but not Co-Valuable

kpiProductivity, however measured in your company for goods or services, should be a co-equal part of quality.  Yet, if equality cannot be achieved, err on the side of increased quality until productivity catches up.  The value of productivity is measured in green money, cash.  The value of quality is measured in blue money, potential.  Bringing up my favorite axiom, “Burn enough blue money, and cash evaporates, and no one can trace where the cash went!”

Returning to Example A, the employee does not know, has not been trained, and is unaware that their actions are directly costing the company.  Since there is a quality person to check and “fix” the mistakes, the loss of potential is immeasurable until the business leaders have to increase the manufacturing price to account for the added work in quality to correct the errors.  Hence, when all metrics are equal between quality and productivity, err on the side of quality, and productivity will catch up.

Exclamation MarkWant a secret; it does not work in reverse!  Erring on the side of increased productivity increases costs elsewhere, burns potential, and ruins company bottom-lines.  Quality cannot “catch up” to productivity — an example best witnessed in manufacturing and warehouses.  The potential costs between manufacturing or multiple handling of products carry a potential cost, with no means of recovery.  Thus, it remains imperative to understand the roles of productivity and quality defined early, and placed in the proper order, to avoid significant cash hits to the bottom line.

Quality – A Culture, Not Just a Department!

cropped-2012-08-13-07-37-28-1.jpgA quality culture is an extension of the individual’s professionalism, always striving to be better.  Not faster, not slower, but better every day.  Training is a dynamic part of quality, and learning something new should be encouraged.  Yet, training, especially in call centers, always seems to take a back seat to operations and productivity.  All because productivity is not correctly understood and placed in its proper role.  Training and quality are potential or blue money expenses where the return on investment will be unknown.  Why; because quality and training place tools into the hands of employees, who then go on to build or destroy based upon the examples of leadership.

Quality Image Quotation #4 - Sualci QuotesQuality should be felt in every conversation, in every process, in every program, in every interaction.  As the most important customer in a business is other employees, the quality program is the most important activity and process for enhancing the business’s goals, aspirations, and daily production rates.  A culture of quality will then have the ground to grow and room to expand.  But, a quality culture will not grow overnight, nor will it grow without causing stagnant processes to change.

Knowledge Check!Consider a seed.  To grow, that seed has to be destroyed completely; but no one ever mourns the loss of the seed for the potential fruit to be born from that seed growing.  The same is true for a quality culture growing; the culture will destroy the seeds of stagnation, the apathy of indifference, and the processes and procedures that are not valuable to the new quality culture.  Will you allow a quality culture to grow?

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Flexible Workspaces – Alternative Work Options

Bobblehead DollAfter my service-connected injuries went crazy in 2010 and my nerves decided I needed to be a “bobblehead doll,” I quickly realized there was a need for alternatives to commuting to an office every day and working as a traditional employee.  However, alternatives to conventional employment continue to be few and far between, primarily due to the IRS in America.  2020 saw a breakout in other options to the traditional employment paradigm, and I would like to continue this discussion to generate more alternatives to conventional employment.

Olmstead and Smith (1989) wrote what I consider to be the quintessential and sentinel book on alternatives to traditional employment, “Creating a Flexible Workspace: How to Select and Manage Alternative Work Options.”  Flexibility in the workplace is not just a Human Resources (HR) duty but is helped by having HR people with imaginations and who are empowered to be creative to keep good employees.  Flexibility is not merely limited to a wide variety of work schedules which can be offered optionally.  Flexibility in the workspace also includes on and off-site employment, and cross-training, as key fundamentals in empowering employees and driving workplace flexibility programs.  But flexibility always begins with the realization that flexibility is a two-directional relationship between employer and employee and a means for enhancing the talents, skills, and abilities already hired as part of a dedicated appreciative inquiry desire to innovate.

Appreciative InquiryQuestion

Appreciative inquiry is a growth mechanism that states that they already have enough of what a business organization needs, provided they listen to their employees.  Appreciative inquiry and common sense tell leaders who want to know and change their organization how and where to begin.  Appreciative inquiry-based leadership is 6-continuous steps that start small and cycle to larger problems as momentum for excellence permeates through an organization.  But the first step, just like in defeating a disabling addiction, is admitting there is a problem.

The six operational steps of appreciative inquiry:

      1. Admit there is a problem and commit to change.
      2. Define the problem.
      3. Discover the variables and stay focused on the positive.
      4. Dream BIG!
      5. Design the future and outline the steps to that future.
      6. Destiny, create the destination you desire.

Follow the instructions on a shampoo bottle, “Wash, Rinse, Repeat.”  The appreciative inquiry model can be scaled, repeated, implemented into small or large teams, and produce motivated members who then become the force to building change.  Allow yourself and your team to learn, this takes time, but through building motivation for excellence, time can be captured to perform.

Call Center Agent - FemaleFlexibility and Viability – Not just Terms, but Lifestyles

Flexibility in an organization is understood as accepting change and positively using that change to grow and develop more flexibility.  Viability in an organization is where the continuing effectiveness of flexibility generates new growth markets and creates the organization’s potential to flex to meet the growth areas.  Flexibility and viability are interlinked and interwoven ideas that every employee should be conscious of and striving to enhance personally as part of their brand.

Andragogy - The PuzzleErroneously called “Employee Engagement,” flexibility and viability are the continued efforts of all employees to participate in the business’ success.  Appreciative inquiry is the sum of the efforts to flex and be viable in competition with other businesses, recognizing that the answers to your current problems are always found in listening to employees.  Please note, you can think your business is flexible enough, but when the winds of change blow, will your business collapse or grow?

For example, as a consultant and subject matter expert, I was called into a manufacturing company to improve flexibility.  The company had been around for more than 100-years, and the owners, a family business, figured they were pretty flexible.  From day one, though, it was apparent the business had stagnated, and there was no flexibility or viability left in the organization.  When the 2008 market recession occurred, the company lost 5 of its 6 operating shifts and barely survived by draining all remaining liquidity to stay afloat.  The company has limped along ever since, to the amazement of everyone who has worked at this facility.

GearsHence, one must understand the principles of viability, flexibility, and appreciative inquiry as a lifestyle of daily choices where the leadership is engaged in and listening to employees.  Failure to listen remains the number one reason businesses, and governments fail.  Who should governments be listening to; average citizens, not statisticians, not special interest groups, not lawyers and political cronies, the people who voted them into power.  Who should businesses be listening to; their employees, not customers, not vendors, not shareholders, all of whom need to have a voice, but the front-line employee has answers.

Realities versus Fiction

Having worked with many a small businessperson across the continental US, the smaller a business understands the need to listen to employees, but the bigger a company becomes, the less desire they have to listen to anyone, let alone employees.  This is a reality.quote-mans-inhumanity

The fiction is the proclamation that the customer should be listened to, the shareholders know what the business needs, or the vendors have essential information for the company.  While all have a seat at the table, the front-line employees remain a wealth of information generally untapped, unused, and depressingly denied the ability to help.  As a consultant, I spend most of my time listening to the employees, then presenting their ideas to management.  I have never claimed another employee’s ideas as mine and never will.  Yet, I know too many consultants whose ethical and professional brands might be slightly less demanding than my behavior standards.  This also is reality, watch the ethics of a consultant; if they waiver, there is duplicity nearby!

Creating Flexibility in the Workplace

As an industrial and organizational psychologist, I affirm in a language most somber that no single tool will be a “magic bullet” for fixing employee concerns and building flexibility and viability.  Holistic solutions are not just a current “buzzword,” but an actual truth.  The solutions must grow from an apt quote from Captain Jack Sparrow:

“The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do. For instance, you can accept that your father was a pirate and a good man, or you can’t. But pirate is in your blood, boy, so you’ll have to square with that someday. And me, for example, I can let you drown, but I can’t bring this ship into Tortuga all by me onesies, savvy? So, can you sail under the command of a pirate, or can you not” [emphasis mine]?

People ProcessesWhat can your company do, and what can your company not do?  Between these two extremes are a lot of different possibilities, opportunities, and areas for exploration.  For example, as a call center, can you home shore your agents?  Maybe the technology is there, but are the legal questions regarding data security and safety open to home shoring?  What about contingent employment, where you use knowledge vendors to fill in during peak times, thus allowing your call center to flex off and not have to work overtime so much?  Would your call center do well with phased retirement, partial retirement, or voluntary reduced work time programs?

Each of these options builds flexibility and viability, but they come with consequences, and the valuation of those consequences should include input from the front-line employees.  For example, a call center I am familiar with used to have stepped departments, where a rep could learn the basics, then promote into the next higher step.

3-direectional-balanceExcept, the model was broken by HR, and the depth of available personnel dried up.  Thus, the call center went to a universal agent model, where all agents were expected to know all the different departments and steps and act accordingly.  The universal model was sold as a cost-saving measure.  The employees did not like the new model as all the business processes were built on the old stepped agent model.  The universal model failed, the company could not afford to return to the stepped model, and knowledge was walking out the door at an exceeding pace.

The answer was to listen to the front-line employees, but it took more than five years and ten different consulting firms and technology firms to reach this point.  But the cost of lost potential sales and lost business knowledge is still hindering this company from a full recovery.  Why; because the change that broke the company has never been fixed, just plastered over, and the universal agent approach destroyed organizational trust between employees and the employer.  Decisions have consequences, and if you do not know what your company can do, you do not know what your company cannot do; especially, if you refuse to listen to the front-line employees.I'm not listening - boring :: Funny :: MyNiceProfile.com

What will your employees do?  What are your employees already capable of doing if provided the opportunity?  Where is the focus in your company, customers, vendors, shareholders, or employees?  Why?  Who of your employees can you absolutely trust to accomplish a task?  How do you know that employee is trustworthy?  What makes that employee happy to return to work every day?Michael Shurtleff quote: Listening is not merely hearing, it is receiving the message...

When you listen to your employees, honestly and openly communicate with them, and know the why to share the why your employees can work marvels you could not believe possible.  If you desire flexibility and viability in your company, build it!  One employee at a time using imagination, honest communication, and build organizational trust.  You will be surprised at how often the answer to improving your company doesn’t have a dollar sign but a living person and a debt of gratitude.

Reference

Olmsted, B., & Smith, S. (1989). Creating a flexible workplace: How to select and manage alternative work options. American Management Association (AMACOM).

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Call Center Senior Trainers – Focus Group

Date: 19 July 2021

Andragogy - The PuzzleI am a doctoral candidate under the direction of Professor Dr. Susan Miedzianowski in the College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University. My name is Michael D. “Dave” Salisbury. I am conducting a research study to explore the trainer’s specific influence on employees’ development in an English-speaking call center based on a clear understanding of the trainer’s role.

You can participate if you can answer “Yes” to all of the following questions.

      • Do you speak English?
      • Do you live and work in the United States?
      • Are you employed in an English-speaking call center?
      • Do you have an updated LinkedIn.com profile (for verification purposes only)?
      • Are you willing to answer demographic questions about your age, level of education, years of experience in the call center industry, years in your current call center, and your current job title?
      • Are you an adult over the age of 18?
      • Do you have a trainer/senior trainer title, or are you expected to train or supervise call center trainers in your current role?
      • Do you have more than six years in the call center industry?
      • Are you willing to be audio recorded using ZOOM online software?

If you answer “No,” to any of these questions, you cannot participate in the focus group. I will verify your eligibility via your LinkedIn.com Profile before the focus group meets.

The activities for this research project will include:

If you are eligible to be in this focus group, you will be asked to:

      • What:
        • Meet with other similarly qualified professionals via Zoom, approximately 90 minutes, video and audio recorded.
        • Answer the demographic questions honestly.
        • Answer a series of questions regarding how a call center trainer has influenced you. As well as what you think a call center trainer does.
        • Review a job description of the call center trainer’s role.
        • Review data collected during interviews for completeness.
      • When: On the date and time discussed via email.
      • Where:com online meeting.
      • How: Using your home computer or Internet-capable device, connecting with Zoom.com.

Your participation in this study is voluntary.

An alias will protect all data in this study during the recording of the actual interview and in the documents by using an alpha-numeric code to tie your email address and hide any potential method to track your responses back to you.  All information reported in the dissertation will be in a collated format so individual data cannot be tracked to any single participant.

If you are interested in participating in this study, please contact:
M. Dave Salisbury
(435-219-5414)
msalisbury1@my.gcu.edu

Thank you!

Calling for Call Center Employees and Junior Call Center Trainers

Date: 19 July 2021

Call Center Agent - MaleI am a doctoral candidate under the direction of Professor Dr. Susan Miedzianowski in the College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University. My name is Michael D. “Dave” Salisbury. I am conducting a research study to explore the trainer’s specific influence on employees’ development in an English-speaking call center based on a clear understanding of the trainer’s role.

I am recruiting individuals that meet these criteria:

      • Do you speak English?
      • Do you live and work in the United States?
      • Are you employed in an English-speaking call center?
      • Do you have an updated LinkedIn.com profile (for verification purposes only)?
      • Are you willing to answer demographic questions about your level of education, years of experience in the call center industry, years in your current call center, and your current job title?
      • Are you an adult over the age of 18?
      • Are you willing to be audio-recorded using ZOOM online software?

You cannot be in this study if you answer “No,” to any of these questions; you cannot participate in the interviews. I will verify your eligibility before setting up the interview.

The activities for this research project will include:

If you are eligible to be in this study, you will be asked to:

      • What:
        • You agree to answer the demographic questions honestly.
        • Be interviewed, via Zoom, for approximately 60 minutes, audio-recorded, or if comfortable, video recorded, your choice.
        • Answer a series of questions regarding how a call center trainer has influenced you. As well as what you think a call center trainer does.
        • Review a generic job description and comment upon what is contained and whether you would add or subtract anything.
      • When: On a convenient date and time discussed via email.
      • Where:com online meeting.
      • How: Using your home computer or Internet-capable device, connecting with Zoom.com.

Your participation in this study is voluntary.

An alias will protect all data in this study during the recording of the actual interview and in the documents using an alpha-numeric code to hide your email address and hide any potential method to track your responses back to you.  All information reported in the dissertation will be in a collated format so individual data cannot be tracked to any single participant.

If you are interested in participating in this study, please contact:
M. Dave Salisbury
(435-219-5414)
msalisbury1@my.gcu.edu

Thank you!