NO MORE BS: QT and LHI – Let’s Talk Customer Service

Thank you!For a long time, I have deeply respected QuickTrip (QT).  Their customer service is of such outstanding quality; even when their fuel is more expensive, I still prefer shopping at QT.  The people go out of their way to help you have a fantastic customer experience.  I have never had a rude employee, a poor customer interaction, or left with an unresolved problem.  I struggle with a cane and neurological issues and have had doors held open for me; cashiers have brought me my change, always a good experience at QT.  Thank you!

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the Department of Motor Vehicles, and they are joined by Logistics Health Incorporated (LHI).  I have had my share of detestable customer service experiences; I am a customer service subject matter expert and have been regularly published on customer service topics.  When I rate LHI as competing for the DMV for the worst possible customer service provider, LHI might even have the DMV shaded!Angry Wet Chicken

16 April 2021 – I enter LHI at 5333 N 7th St, Phoenix location; I am 35-minutes early to a 1200 appointment.  On 25 March 2021, the Gov. of Arizona stopped enforcing mandatory masking.  As a person with a documented medical condition where I struggle to breathe enough volume per breath and cannot physically wear a mask, I did not wear a mask to this appointment.  I was rudely asked to wear a mask by the receptionist.  I showed her my Dr.’s note about having breathing problems where I cannot wear a mask.  The receptionist, after making considerable noise, canceled my appointment as a no-show.  Guess who is not going to be paid for my mileage to and from the facility.

I went to my car, called LHI Customer Service number 866-933-8387; the representative tried calling the facility.  After several hold sessions, she told me she would find me a provider who would work with me on the mask issue to complete the VA Contracted Compensation and Pension Appointment.  I never heard back from this representative.

Angry Wet Chicken 27-10 days later, I receive a call to reschedule an appointment spending more than 2 hours talking to the representative, who finally schedules me an appointment with another non-LHI provider in Phoenix for 10 May 2021.  I received a call from that provider confirming I have an appointment.  Yet, a bait and switch occurred, and my appointment was then rescheduled for the same provider, same LHI facility, and I attended this appointment.

0750, 10 May 2021 – I arrive early for the 0800 appointments.  The receptionist is belligerent when I walk through the door about me not being seen without a mask.  She further stipulated that since I can talk, I can wear a mask, and nothing I say will change that “medical opinion.”  She eventually tells me to call customer service and have them call her to relate treatment instructions.  She refused me a supervisor and then proceeded to make a bunch of calls, often holding her iPhone in one hand and the office phone in another.

While on the phone with Emily at LHI, at 33:35, into my call with the LHI customer service center, the Phoenix Police arrive.  The receptionist had called 911 and claimed, “I have a disruptive patient, who refuses to follow directions, is swearing, and throwing things, and refuses to leave the building.”  Officer Pacheco Badge #11039, Report # 21-725905, and his partner arrive, speak with the receptionist, who repeats her claim, then they talk to me.Apathy

I report I have not used swear words.  I have not thrown anything.  I have not been told to vacate the premises.  I have a medical condition that precludes me from wearing a mask, and I cannot physically wear a mask.  I show the officers my Dr.’s note to this effect.  The officer then turns to another patient who happened to have come in after me, and he confirms to the officer everything I said.  The worst language that the receptionist can truthfully claim that was used at her was “belligerent” and “snowflake.”  I will own the fact I called her belligerent and a snowflake.

Angry Grizzly BearThe officers go back to the receptionist, who two other people have now joined, names unknown, wearing scrubs presumably from the treatment rooms in the back.  They then make several calls.  Then one of the people asks if I can wear a mask but not over my nose.  I explain it is a breathing volume problem I have, and any mask hinders my volume of air per breath and makes breathing difficult.  The people behind the desk are seriously unhappy that my breathing problem does not have a name, a disease, or some identifying characteristic: the receptionist, the officers, and the people from the back return to a hushed conversation.  I am still on the phone with Emily and on hold while Emily is trying to contact the site.quote-mans-inhumanity

Finally, a decision is made, would I wear a face shield.  I claimed I have offered to wear a face shield twice and been told, face mask or nothing by the receptionist.  A nurse practitioner finally agrees if I wear a face shield, she will see me.  She then spent the next two hours complaining about me being an hour late to the appointment, her “very full schedule,” and how we had to “get this done quickly.”

Then, the nurse practitioner proceeds to lecture me twice about getting the vaccination for COVID-19 and how if I had the vaccination, they would be more comfortable with me not wearing a mask.  At no time, in the first or second interactions with the receptionist, did anyone ask me if I had received the vaccination.  I then finally left with a lecture about not being “anti-vax.” How she had no symptoms or post-injection problems, and how since I already have breathing problems, my comorbidity meant I should be seriously considering getting the vaccine.VA 3

I am not “Anti-Vax!”  I want my questions answered before I get the vaccine.  I want truthful information from peer-reviewed resources that I can reference and discuss with my primary care provider, neurologist, podiatrist, and other specialists who help me manage my health.  I want to know about drug interactions and the vaccine.  I need to know how this will affect diabetes because the experiences of Indians who are diabetic have been horrible!

I have no idea if the nurse practitioner did her job or just wasted my time.  What I do know is that LHI is about 100% useless in their customer service!  Failure to keep promises is the number one reason why trust is built or shattered.  Failure to carry through with what you promise is the second most common reason why trust is Bird of Preydestroyed in customer service.  Face-to-face providers need to be looking for solutions, not actively looking to inconvenience the customer.  100% of the medical profession IS customer service.  How the provider approaches the customer (patient) is the number one factor in how that patient will respond to treatment.

LHI, if you decide to respond, I will indeed include your response in a follow-on article.  However, at this moment, you have scored with the DMV as the worst possible example of customer service, and I hope you learn fast to care for the patient better!  I am fed up with your treatment, and change is mandatory; immediately!

© 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.

NO MORE BS: Government Customer Service

Duty 3As a subject matter expert on customer service, as a professional customer service provider, and as a concerned American, I have to state for the record, the government’s abuse of the taxpaying customer is beyond atrocious, ridiculous, and craven!  I am sick to death of being treated like cat vomit; when I seek customer support from the government, I pay such incredible sums to fund.  Worse, I am fed up with the bureaucratic mindset that places the customer in the wrong, the customer as a pain, and the customer as a nuisance to be endured instead of assisted professionally.

ProblemsMy local Post Office here in Phoenix was visited yesterday (03 March 2021).  The Post Office does not deliver packages to the apartment complex we live in, so the standard procedure is for the USPS delivery person (mailman) to place a card notifying the customer of a package on a 10-day hold in the customer’s mailbox.  Since we moved in, we have not gotten these indicators, and Monday, my wife was notified a package she needs was returned by USPS.  It was delivered Monday to the Post Office and returned to sender as “customer refused delivery” the same day.

I went to the Post Office seeking answers.  The counter-working postal representative was the epitome of rude, obnoxious, and downright unfriendly.  It took more than an hour for a supervisor to arrive, and upon discussing the problem, I was told, “Lots of your neighbors have been complaining about this issue.”  Are you kidding me?!?!?!  You have two 500+ Apartment complexes across the street from each other, multiple people from both complexes are complaining about package delivery failures, and with a smile, you can tell me this is a known issue.

Theres moreAsk yourself the following question, if you had upwards of 100 customers complaining about your work, how long would you remain employed?  Frankly, I am still stunned 24+ hours after the interaction with this supervisor.  My visit was the sixth time I had been to the Post Office complaining about not getting package notifications and having trouble with packages sitting around the post office taking up space.  One of these visits included speaking to the Post Office’s head, general, whatever, the top person in charge of a local post office is titled.  Still, the employee has maintained their job, kept the same route, and the customers continue to be abused.

After I wrote a formal complaint, I was assured that action would be taken, and the employee talked to about this oversight in their duties.  Seriously, that was exactly what the supervisor said, “the employee will be talked to.”  I understand the human resources processes, understand and have designed human resource processes, and possess a Doctor of Psychology title specializing in industrial and organizational psychology.  But, I do not know how 100+ complaints can arrive at the post office weekly, and the same mailman is only on their verbal reprimand for failure to perform their duties.  We have been complaining about this issue for a year now, and in speaking with several neighbors, they have been complaining for longer than a year about this failure.  I have some doubts that this issue will be resolved, ever!

Detective 4But hey, the Post Office is only one of the government agencies exhibiting a race to the bottom where customer abuse and customer disservice are concerned.  The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), a state-run agency, is always in this race, and they take hostile customer service to new heights, or depths, depending upon how you look at their performance.  The last visit to the DMV ended with screaming for several minutes in my car before possessing the proper mindset to drive away safely.  The DMV is comparable to a dentist drilling before anesthesia starts and doing a poor job on an infected tooth; you just know you will have a bad day when a visit to the DMV is scheduled!

Yet, in discussing the race to the bottom, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is also a constant competitor in asinine customer service practices, customer abuse, and inept inertia.  I do not think the VA could even get bureaucratic inertia correct if someone had not taught them how.  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigated a surgical supply program for abuses and found:

VA controls were not sufficient to ensure VA medical facility staff accurately reviewed, verified, or certified distribution fee invoices for the program. VA also did not ensure staff at medical facilities accurately established and applied the on-site representative rates and paid fees based on annual facility purchases. The pricing schedule establishes fee rates for on-site representatives based on annual facility purchase amounts.”

The amount of money involved is staggering ($4.6 Billion). The fact that the VA cannot correctly oversee a supply program, check invoices, monitor stock levels, and pay invoices properly does not bode well for integrity in customer service.

LinkedIn VA ImageThe VA is to be congratulated, the colonoscope, which is used on multiple patients for a colonoscopy, is being cleaned properly and to standard, which means that infections from one patient are less likely to occur in another patient transferred from the colonoscope.  However, the training program, certification program, and training documentation remain under considerable scrutiny for continual failure, as discovered by a VA-OIG investigation of 10 different clinics!  Training, certification of training, and documenting and tracking training are internal customer service actions that the entire VA continues to fail.  Whoever is in charge of adult education and training at the VA is not performing their jobs, and this is witnessed every couple of weeks in the VA-OIG investigation results across the entire VA.  Designed incompetence leading to customer service failures, absolutely ridiculous!

I-CareThe VA-OIG conducted a lengthy investigation at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) Chicago VA Regional Benefits office in Illinois.

The OIG found claims processors did not properly correct administrative errors in 88 percent of cases reviewed. Errors resulted in improper underpayments of about $59,100 to six veterans, improper overpayments of $18,900 to two veterans, and $5,900 in debts VA had inappropriately collected from eight veterans through January 2020.”

Revisiting the Post Office example above, if you had an 88% error rate in your job, how long would you expect to keep your job?  Training and certification of claims processing personnel remains a failure of internal customer service and is mentioned in every VBA investigation by the VA-OIG.  As a point of fact, the failures of training and training certification were recently cited as a significant deficiency, where in 2018, no certification and training occurred due to internal technical problems with the intranet.  Yet, even with all this evidence that training is failing, certification is not occurring, and claims processors continue to abuse veterans through clerical, system, procedural, and process errors on claims, they maintain their positions.  Cited in this latest VBA investigation was the claims processors’ continual failure to communicate with the veteran.

Boris & NatashaConsider the following analogy.  A 100% disabled veteran gets paid once a month and budgets those monies very carefully to last the entire month.  A claims decision is made, and without any communication for why, the amount the veteran is expecting to live is cut in half.  The veteran is then responsible for wading through the various call centers to find why, how the decisions were made, and what to do, which takes time, lots, and lots of time on the phone.  While bills go unpaid, food goes unpurchased, financial difficulties mount, and correcting the situation takes more time.  Sure, the VA will pay back pay, but that is never sufficient to cover all the accruing costs and losses experienced.

Hostile customer service by the government is the most inexcusable example of customer disservice imaginable.  Why; because there is no competitor to move your business.  There are no pathways for holding customer service representatives accountable when even talking to a supervisor is not worth the time and effort.  I spent four hours on the phone chasing a claims processing error; at one point, I finally got so mad I demanded a supervisor.  I waited on hold for just under 120-minutes for the supervisor, who said had I worked better with the agent, I would not have had to wait, and the problem could have been resolved, as their opening statement!

Survived the VABy this time, I had worked with four separate agents who were confused or refused the call by hanging up.  I had been sworn at, I had been told I was a liar, and I was told my office could not handle your request.  Each call required anywhere between 30 and 50 minutes of hold time waiting for an agent.  As the supervisor reviewed the problem, they discovered that their agents could not have handled the situation, and a specialist was required.  But, I never got an apology from the supervisor for the waste of my time, the issues experienced with previous agents, nor the loss of my time and resources it took to handle the problem.

Gadsden FlagGovernment employees beware; how you treat customers is a problem, and you need to be held to task for your insolence, depravity, ineptitude, inertia, and uncaring attitudes!  When discussing the BS of government, the customer service issue is the most egregious.  I will call you out publicly every time you abuse a customer.  I am done being abused!

© 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 Chaos and Appreciative Inquiry

While this article discusses government call centers generally, and New Mexico (NM) Government call centers specifically, please do not think the problems described are specific only to, or lessons could not be applied to, many other call centers.  New Mexico Government call centers all have a common problem, they are purposefully designed to not help or serve the customer.  Worse, the work processes are convoluted to the point that work takes anywhere from 10 – 15% longer than it should, costing 30 – 50% more than it should.  Worse, if a customer gets connected to an “Escalation Department,” the workers in that department have no authority, no tools, and nothing they can do but repeat marketing materials, and hope the customer goes away.

Cute CalfEssentially, the NM Government call centers, at the city and state levels of government are as emasculated as a spring-born calf!  Let that sink in for a moment.  No tools, no authority, no support, and only their verbal wits to make the customer go away.  If you think this problem is only apparent in government call centers; well, you are wrong.

AT&T has a very similar, though not as endemic issue.  Sprint, the problem is both apparent and not considered a problem.  AIU, COX, Comcast/Xfinity, FEDEX, UPS, UoPX, and more, you all have very similar issues where the work processes and the customer service are disconnected, leaving employees emasculated and stuck spouting marketing lines in the hope of appeasing the customer.  Sure, some of you have better call escalation processes, but these escalation processes only show the emasculation of your people more exactly.

For example, take today’s interactions with a NM Government Call Center.  The representative on the call escalation line could very easily reach out to their supervisor and take the criticisms and ideas from the customer’s call, put them forth as their own ideas, and improve the call center and customer attentiveness of the organization.  Unfortunately, sad experience has shown that new ideas in NM Government Call Centers are anathema to the good order and discipline of the call center.  Thus, proving that the endemic lack of customer attentiveness is systematic in NM Government Call Centers and considered a benefit to the customer/taxpayer using the government service.

Purposeful customer abuse is not appreciated, not acceptable, and eventually leads the call center to ruin.  Which is a monumental waste of the potential in your employees, as well as being ruinously expensive for some future disaster.  In speaking with retail associates at Comcast/Xfinity and COX Communications, one learns from frontline representatives what to expect from calling the call centers.  If the retail associates are frustrated with the inability to be served, this is automatically passed to the customer.  Bank of America has this problem in spades!

Appreciative InquiryAppreciative inquiry is a growth mechanism that states that what a business organization needs, they already have enough of, provided they listen to their employees.  Appreciative inquiry and common sense tells leaders who want to know and change their organization, how, and where to go 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.

Coming back to the NM Government Call Center, the front-line supervisor upon hearing about this representative’s experience, chooses to believe there is a problem.  Knowing that the problems are endemic and systematic in the organization, decides, “For my team, we will be the core of excellence.”  Thus, this supervisor is now motivated to take the second step in the appreciative inquiry cycle, “Define.”

The supervisor defines what they can change, and then from that list of items that they can control will select the first item to change by asking themselves and their team, “Which item on this list can we tackle first?”  Thus, leading to the third step in appreciative inquiry, “Discover.”

Imperative at this step is the focus upon what is already going right on the topic selected.  Not focusing upon what is wrong, or upon what cannot be controlled or influenced by the team.  Focus on the positive, list the best of what is going right!  For example, if the inquiry will be reducing hold times, and the team has been trending down from multiple hours to single hours of hold time, focus on the positive, and get ideas about tips used from those who are successful in reducing hold times.

The idea in discovery is to create the motivation for the next step in appreciative inquiry, “Dream.”  But, do not dream small!  Remember, when you shoot for the sun and miss, you still land among the stars.  Dream BIG!  Dreaming is all about setting your sights on what currently is considered impossible, that your team can make possible.  Going back to reducing hold times, set the dream at 30-minutes.  You can always come back and dream bigger or repeat the appreciative inquiry cycle on this topic again in the future.

Next, “Design,” design the future and it becomes your destiny; which also happens to be the remaining two steps in the appreciative inquiry cycle.  President Thomas Monson is quoted as saying, “Decisions DO Determine Destiny” [emphasis in original].  If you decide the status quo is acceptable, that decision determines the destiny, and ruination will follow.  If you decide to pursue excellence, this decision will determine how successful you and your team can be.  Design the future you desire, state the goal, write it down, post the goal, speak positively about the goal, and build momentum through accomplishing small steps towards the goal.

Thus, the destiny is born into fruition and what today is impossible, is tomorrow’s reality.  Destiny in the appreciative inquiry cycle is defined as creating what the future will be.  Positive growth occurs through incremental steps and changes the destination.

A pilot friend of mine loves the story about a new pilot who is making their first cross-country flight with a more experienced pilot.  The young pilot is close to being able to solo, and the experienced pilot knows the route, the weather, and decides to let the young pilot fly solo for a few hours.  The new pilot gets bored holding a single course and wavers a little to the left, and a little to the right of the base course and does not think anything of the consequences.  Several hours go by and the experienced pilot returns to the flight deck to discover bad weather is moving in fast, the small lane cannot fly in the weather that is coming necessitating an unscheduled landing, and the plane is 400-miles off base course.  The young pilot said, I only moved a few degrees left and right, we cannot be that far off course.  Later the experienced pilot shows a track of the airplane on a map to the young pilot and reality sinks in, by a matter of a few degrees, over time, the plane got in trouble.

A few DegreesAppreciative inquiry is exactly like the plane, by having a destination, defined according to positive desires, through the process of discovery, dreaming of the possible future, while designing the future, the appreciative inquiry leader can make the small changes today that move the destination from ruination to success.

The first step is admitting there is a problem, and desire to fix that problem at all costs.  What are you passionate enough about to fix at all costs?  Whether you are a representative or a company director, the same question applies and the answer will determine your ultimate destiny.  The key is action at all costs.  The efforts, time, resources, etc. will be spent to achieve does not matter, the new destination does matter.

A call center supervisor friend of mine had three stellar and highly experienced employees on their team.  My friend also had some young talent with incredible potential.  Because the three stellar employees did not want to become supervisors, this effectively blocked the new employees from achieving potential.  My friend had to make a choice, lose the new potential, or reorganize the team.  My friend chooses to keep the experienced people, and shortly after this decision was made, two quit for other opportunities, the new potential quit because they longed for professional growth, my friend was promoted, and the new supervisor had no depth of experience left on the team.

Some would blame the new employees for quitting too soon, others would lay the blame on the supervisor for not developing the talent pool, others might express dismay at the senior talent leaving; honestly, they are all right, and all wrong!  My friend decided to hang the costs, and the decision was a tremendous learning experience.  Using appreciative inquiry will provide similar learning experiences, prepare, and commit, now to learn first and stay focused on the positive.

Appreciative inquiry can help; there are six operational steps:

  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, can be repeated, can be implemented into small or large teams, and produce motivated members who then become the force to producing change.  Allow yourself and your team to learn, this takes time, but through a building motivation for excellence, time can be captured to perform.

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

 

The Power of Tiger Teams – Shifting the VA Paradigms

I-CareA key aspect of Tiger Teams is their ability to stress test, beta test, and routinely check how operations are performing and recommend changes from the position of the customer.  Recently the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (VA_OIG) investigated a critical piece of the Mission Act of 2018, the health information exchanges.  While the VA-OIG received useful and valuable information from the VA and the community provider side, the customer/patient side was not included. From experience, I can affirm this is broken!

Recently, a veteran needed emergency care and received that care through the community providers under the Mission Act of 2018.  The records from the community care provider never transferred to the VA, the billing has been a mess of letters and notifications, and the patient’s issues were never followed up with the VA provider until the patient called and made it an issue.  One of the main selling points for community providers was to share electronic health information easily with the VA, which included notifying the primary care providers when a patient was seen in the community.  This aspect remains a “pie-crust promise” as well as a frustrating issue for patients and VA providers alike.

Before the Mission Act of 2018, if the veteran patient was sent to a community provider, the patient transferred manually all records to and from the VA and the community provider.  Allowing for lost records, duplicated records, and a host of problems in bureaucracy.  One of the issues the veteran experienced in seeking community care was the historicity of medical records to reduce costs and not duplicate tests; however, the community provider was never able to obtain that historicity and the emergency room costs were greater for the VA.

Thus, the need to operationally check the system, processes, and patient experiences using Tiger Teams.  A Tiger Team is a group of experienced people who interact with the business as customers, who have been granted the authority to make changes and see those changes implemented.  These are a selected group who work from a central office and are dedicated to improving business performance.  While I applaud the progress made with conforming to the Mission Act of 2018, there remains significant work in the patient experience to be completed and currently, the situation is not the roses and rainbows the VA-OIG is portraying.

ProblemsTiger Teams are also helpful in another way, that of “bird-dogging,” or acting as the researchers, and developers of ideas towards making improvements.  The VA-OIG recently brought to light that the VA needs to expand retail pharmacy drug discounts.  With the number of prescriptions filled by the VA hourly, the fact that the VA does not have volume discounts was surprising, but unfortunately, not unexpected.  The VA-OIG estimated that of the $181 million spent on retail drugs in fiscal year (FY) 2018, $69 Million would have been saved.  From the VA-OIG report:

“VA is one of four federal agencies eligible by law to receive at least a 24 percent discount for prescription drugs purchased for its facilities and dispensed directly to patients. However, for prescription drugs purchased through retail pharmacies for beneficiaries, VA pays the higher average contracted wholesale price because it does not have the authority to require drug manufacturers to provide the drugs at discounted prices.”  [Emphasis Mine]

Unfortunately, the program inspected for savings on retail pharmacy prescription was but one of several VA drug programs lacking statutory authority to save the taxpayers from being gouged on prescription drugs dispensed through retail programs at the hands of the VA.  Hence, the findings are surprising, but not unexpected.  How long before the VA secretary will collaborate with the Office of Regulatory and Administrative Affairs to pursue whatever changes are required to give VA the appropriate legal authority to purchase all prescription drugs through retail pharmacies at discounted prices?  At the tune of one program saving $69 Million a year, the benefits add up in a hurry.

How would Tiger Teams help in this situation; by doing the legal leg work, establishing relationships, initiating inquiries, and discovering all the other programs where the statutory authority is missing to close a gap and save money.  While the VA Secretary is responsible, delegating this authority to a Tiger Team saves time and improves the patient and taxpayer experiences.  This is why the Tiger Team must work from the VA Secretary’s Office, endowed with the power of the secretary, to make and affect change for the good of VA.

Leadership CartoonFinally, the power of Tiger Teams is also manifested to the VA in another way, returning to a situation after the VA-OIG has made recommendations to ensure compliance occurs.  Another recent VA-OIG report shows that after a scathing VA-OIG inspection, the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), was still out of compliance in their internal quality control procedures, systems, and processes.  While some improvement had been made to spot errors, the procedures and processes that allowed those errors to occur were receiving zero attention by the internal quality inspectors.  Which is akin to noticing the horse is out of the barn, but not shutting and locking the door to keep the horse in the barn.  There is no valid excuse for the VBA quality controllers to not have been doing their jobs since the last VA-OIG Inspection.

The Tiger Team, with sufficient and specific authority, has the power to cut through the excuses, the red tape, and the intransigence of federal employees to root out the why, and establish a path to correction.  Yet, the VA Secretary is not using the Tiger Team concept as a tool to effect change, power compliance, and intervene to improve the veteran experience with the VA, the VBA, the VHA, and the National Cemetery.

Suggestions for improving the processes at the VA continue to include:

  1. Establish forthwith a roving Tiger Team, provide these employees with proper authority, and set them to work fixing the VA.  Allow the Tiger Team to establish flying squads inside the agency, hospital, medical center, etc. to report back on compliance issues, and any pushback they receive in correcting errors.
  2. Cut the bureaucracy that intransigent employees are using as a tool to stop or slow down change. The VA’s internal bureaucracy is the tail that wags the dog and since it is out of control, it requires an external force to regain control and proper order.
  3. Imbue the Tiger Team with an active mission statement, purpose, and organizational design. The Tiger Team is an active, not passive, tool that requires people dedicated to making change and seeing results.

VA SealNever has the axiom, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” been less true.  The VA is broken and desperately needs fixing.  With the help of those dedicated VA Employees, the proper leadership, and a Tiger Team to aid, the VA can be fixed and fixed quickly!

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Customer Service Begins with Employees – Knowing the Paradigm

During the last 60 days, I have had the ability to see two different companies and their training programs up close and personal.  Both companies provide call center employees, and currently, both companies are employing a home shored or remote agent to conduct call center operations.  Neither company is handling remote agents very well; and, while both companies have excellent credentials for providing exterior customers with excellent customer service, both companies fail the first customer, the employee.

ProblemsCompany A thinks that games, contests, prizes, swag, and commissions adequately cover their inherent lack of customer service to employees.  Company B does not offer its employees any type of added compensation to its employees and treats their employees like cattle in a slaughterhouse yard.  Both companies talk an excellent game regarding treating their employees in a manner that promotes healthy exterior customer relations, but there is no substance, no action, no commitment to the employee.  Company B has an exceedingly high employee churn rate, and discounts that rate because of employees working from home and not being able to take the loneliness of an office atmosphere.  Company A has several large sites and is looking forward to having employees back on the call center campus.

When the conclusions for employee dissatisfaction were shared, the question was raised, “How does the leadership team know when the employees are not feeling served by their employer?”  The answer can be found in the same manner that the voice of the customer is found, mainly by asking the employees.  Neither company has an employee feedback process to capture the employee’s thoughts, ideas, feelings, and suggestions; relying solely upon the leadership team to provide these items.  Neither company overtly treats its employees poorly, Company A does have a mechanism to capture why employees leave the organization.  Company A was asked what they do with this information and refused to disclose, which is an acceptable answer.

Consider an example from Company A, a new hire has been in the hiring process since January, was informed they were hired around the first of April but was also told the next start date/new hire training class has not been scheduled due to COVID-19.  The employee is finally scheduled for a new hire class starting the first week of June.  Between the time of being hired and the start date, the employee begins taking classes Mon thru Fri, 1800-2100 (6:00pm to 9:pm).  The employee is scheduled to begin work at 1030 in the morning and work until 1900 (7:00pm).  The new hire asks for help with the schedule, the classes being taken will improve the employee’s skills upon graduation on the first of August.  Training is six weeks long, but the overlap is only 9 working days.  Company A’s response, either drop the classes or quit the job.

Internal-CS-Attitude-Low-ResThus, the attitude towards employee customer service is exposed to sunshine, and regardless of the games, prizes, food, swag, commissions, etc., the employee-customer service fails to keep highly talented employees.  This example is not new, and is not a one-off, unfortunately.  The example is regular business for employee treatment, and as the trainer stated, there are always more people for positions than positions open, so why should we change operations?  Since January Company A has been working unlimited overtime to fill the gap in open positions.

Company B informed all new hires that training is four-days long, and upon completion on the job training commences.  On day 3, training is extended to five days, on day 4 training is extended, and on Saturday, training is extended to a mandatory Sunday.  No excuses, no time off, no notice, and no reasonable accommodation is provided to make other accommodations for children, medical appointments, etc., and by the time Sunday arrives, the new hire class has already logged 60-hours in a week that began on Tuesday.  Several employees are unable to make Sunday and as such are now kicked out of training, and will lose their jobs once HR gets around to giving them the ax.

Neither employer offers reasonable accommodation to employees working from home, as working from home is an accommodation already.  Marking the first area of risk; if an employee works for your organization, regardless of the attitude of employee treatment, reasonable accommodation is the law in America, and similar laws are on the books across the world.  Yet, both companies were able to eschew the law and deny reasonable accommodation.  Company B did it by never responding to the employees after they missed a day of work during training.  Company A did it by forcing the employee to decide without the aid of HR, claiming HR does not have any power in the decisions of training.

Now, many people will advise the employees hindered in their job search that the company does not serve them.  That fit into a new organization is more important than money.  That if an employer does not serve their employees, that employer has no value and the ex-employee is better off.  Yet, the companies hired these people, went to great expense to onboard these people, and now must spend more money to hire more people to fill the gap.  Both companies will have to pay overtime and other incentives to get the newest new hires through training.  All because of the disconnect between serving internal customers and external customers.  Many business writers have said, the only customer business has, are the employees.

Leadership CartoonMyron Tribus used a water spigot to help explain the choices of business leaders where employees are concerned.  A business is either a money spigot and customers, employees, vendors, stakeholders, do not matter, so long as the money keeps rolling in to pay off the shareholders.  Or business is a spigot with a hose on it to direct the efforts of the business through the relationships with employees, customers, vendors, stakeholders, and shareholders, to a productive and community-building long-term goal of improvement.  Either a business is a money spigot or a community building operation, the business cannot do both.

With this analogy in mind, the following four suggestions are provided for businesses that either want to change spigots or need help building the only customer relationship with value.

  1.  Decide what type of business you want to be, and then act accordingly.  No judgment about the decision is being made.  Just remember, the greatest sin a business can commit is to fail to show a profit.  Employee costs can make and break employers and profits.
  2. Provide a feedback loop. Employees are a business’s greatest asset, the greatest source for new products, new procedures, new methods of performing the work, and new modes of operation, and until the leadership team decides the employees have value, the business cannot change to meet market demands.  In fact, that business that does not value employees, cannot change at all, ever!
  3. Be “Tank Man.” As a child, I remember watching the Tiananmen Square incident unfold in China.  I remember watching a man, stand in front of a tank and bring that tank, and several more behind it, to a standstill.  Nobody knows this man’s name, but many remember his stand.  Be the example of world-changing customer service, even if no one will ever know your name.Tank Man - Tiananmen Square
  4. Many parents have told their children, “Actions speak louder than words.” At no other time has these words been truer.  Act; do not talk!  Show your employees’ customer service and they will conquer the world for you.  Actions to take might not mean expending any money.  Showing someone you care is as simple as listening, and then helping.  LinkedIn daily has examples of hero employees who do more, serve better, and act all because their leader acted on the employee’s behalf.
    • Blue Money BurningConsider Company A for a moment, the time of class overlap was 1-hour. The number of days the overlap was going to affect that employee, 9.  Thus, for the cost of nine hours at $17.00 per hour, or $153.00 USD total, an employee was lost.  How much blue and green money was lost getting that employee hired, just to see that employee leave within two days of starting?  How much more blue and green money will be lost to replace that lost employee?

No longer can employer hope to treat employees poorly and still achieve financial success, between social media and modern communication, the word gets out that an employer does not care about their employees.  No longer can labor unions abuse non-union members autonomously.  No longer can a business walk away from social and community abuses with impunity.  The choice to treat people as valuable assets is an easy choice to make, choose wisely!

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

The Department of Veterans Affairs: The Liars and Thieves Edition

I-CareIn December 2019, I witnessed an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Hospital Administration, create rules to inconvenience a veteran, lie to a veteran, obfuscate, and generally mock a veteran.  The incident included the employee threatening the veteran with throwing away documentation, the primary care provider needed because the veteran was not mailing the forms to the doctor as the employee demanded of the veteran.  The veteran must travel and thought dropping off the forms would be acceptable; until he met this employee.  23 January 2020, I was the veteran being lied to, and my “cherub-like demeanor” evaporated faster than dew in a July sun.  For the December incident, I signed my name to a letter going to the Hospital Director Andrew M. Welch, written by the abused veteran, and testified that I witnessed the treatment this veteran received.  To the best of my knowledge, no action was taken by the hospital leadership where this employee is concerned, I asked.  A copy of this article will be sent to hospital leadership.  If any additional information comes available on this issue, I will write an addendum and update this article.

23 January 2020, 1505-1510, I went to my primary care provider’s clinic at the Albuquerque, New Mexico VA Hospital.  I had another appointment, was early, and went to ask why I am receiving letters claiming the primary care clinic is “having difficulty” contacting me.  The employee is titled “Advanced MSA,” which means they are a Medical Support Assistant who has been promoted.  For my other appointment, I have received two text messages, one automated call, and three appointment emails.  For my next appointment, 24 January 2020, I have received two text messages, one automated call, and three emails.  For my appointment in December 2019, I received two text messages, one automated call, and three emails.  I regularly receive calls from other clinics in the VA Hospital.  My cellphone has voicemail, and the voicemail is regularly checked and responses made.  Yet, the MSA claims, “I have tried calling you, and you do not have voicemail.”  I checked my recent calls, and showed the MSA where I had not received any calls from the VA on the days indicated, and asked why I can receive all these other calls from the VA, including the text messages, but only his calls are not showing up.  The MSA then became intransigent, resolute, and adamant, raised his voice, and told me our conversation was done.  After observing the ways and means of this VA employee over the course of many months previously, I wonder, “how many other veterans are not being contacted in a timely manner, while this person lies, cheats, and steals?”

Quality of FindingsUnfortunately, this is the standard, not the exception for the MSA’s in the HAS (Hospital Administration Services) Department, led by Maritza Pittore, at the Albuquerque VA Hospital.  I have witnessed multiple MSA’s committing HIPAA violations through record diving, gossiping about veteran patients, acting rudely, ignoring veteran patients and their families to complete conversations, and refusing to do their jobs.  As a point of fact, one assistant director one told me, “if what the VA does was replicated by a non-government hospital, they would be closed down and sued.”  While employed from June 2018 thru June 2019, I brought this to the attention of the leadership, including multiple emails and voice conversations with Maritza Pittore, Sonja Brown, and several other high-ranking leaders and their assistants, all to no avail.  I have had nursing staff tell me confidentially that they cannot do anything where the MSA’s are concerned because “it’s none of their business and outside their job duties.”  Yet, the VA continues to proclaim the MSA, the Nurse, and the doctor, along with the patient, are a “healthcare team.”  Upon being discharged, without cause, reason, or justification, I brought this information to the OIG, my congressional and senate representatives, among many others, all to no avail.  The level of customer service, especially at this VA Hospital, is far below the pale because the leadership refuses to engage and set standards for customer service, with enforced penalties. I-CareMore to the point, the employees mimic the customer service they receive from the leadership team.  Thus, even though the Federal VA Office has launched “I-Care” as a customer service improvement initiative, the customer service in this hospital continues to fall and will continue to fail until the leadership exemplifies the standards of customer service expected.

As a dedicated customer service professional, I have offered multiple solutions to the continuing problems veteran patients experience in the Albuquerque VA Hospital at the hands of the MSA’s and other front-line customer-facing staff; but the suggestions all continue to fall upon deaf ears.  I do not paint all the MSA’s and staff as liars, thieves, and cheaters, because there are some great people working at this VA Hospital.  Unfortunately, the rotten apples far exceed the good workers by multiple factors and powers, to the shame of the leadership team who continues to ignore the problem, deleting emails, and generally lying when placed on the spot about the problems.

An example of this occurred recently where a member of the staff of a congressional representative asked about communications sent from an employee to the Director of VISN 18, with carbon copies being sent to Maritza Pittore HAS Director, Ruben Foster MSA Supervisor, and Sonja Brown Associate Director of the Hospital.  None of those emails “magically” exist when asked for, and the verbal conversation included outright lies, misdirection, and complete fallacies.

Since the VA-Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) continues to appear disinterested, I can only ask, “what does a person do to see action taken to correct the problems, right the abuses, and bring responsibility and accountability to the employees of the Federal Government?”  President Trump is providing great leadership, VA Secretary Wilkie is doing a good job and needs more help, but the elected officials in the House and Senate refuse to do their job, and the middle management of the VA is entrenched, obtuse, and inflexible.  The US Media treats veterans’ issues as a punchline to a bad joke.  Still, the problem worsens; still, the abusers maliciously treat people abhorrently; and still, those placed in leadership positions stall, obfuscate, and hinder.

My treatment at the VA Hospital in Albuquerque includes being physically assaulted by an employee, my medical records perused by, and then gossiped across at least four separate clinics, and still that MSA remains employed.  In fact, this employee was promoted for her “good work and dedication to helping veterans.”  I am sick and tired of the poor treatment, the harassment, and the vindictiveness served to veterans of all types, sizes, and colors, at the hands of petty bureaucrats as they visit the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The Albuquerque VA Hospital is one of the most egregious examples of bad behavior and nepotism in the country and it is past time the leadership was replaced and the assaults and crimes brought into the sunshine for some “sunshine disinfectant.”

cropped-snow-leopard.jpgUpdate to this article, 10 May 2020: By the first week in April 2020, the Advanced MSA in the clinic was moved to a less customer-facing post and a new MSA hired.  The quality of that individual was never experienced due to relocating.  The supervisor of the MSA was not very interested in correcting the problems and that showed when I visited with them while trying to obtain an appointment that the Advanced MSA refused to schedule.  Change must come to the VA!

© 2020 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.

A Recent Customer Service Issue – Or, An Example of Why it is Past Time to Shift the Employment Paradigm

            Many sources, most of them veterans, will agree with this statement, “Dealing with the Veterans Administration is an activity fraught with hostility.”  On March 2013, I had the misfortune to experience another hostile occurrence.  Following is what happened.  The VA Hospital left a message in my voicemail alerting me that they had scheduled an appointment for me.  The message included instructions for me to call if this appointment caused scheduling difficulties, which it did.  I called the number, punched in the extension, was hung up on once, called back, and reached an appointment scheduler. The VA had scheduled my appointment for the middle of my workday, which required that I take time off my job to make the return call to discuss the scheduling conflict of the appointment.  The request was simple; please change the appointment to either early morning or late afternoon.  Although I requested no date preferences, travel and loss of work considerations were important and difficult to arrange and especially significant because I was a new employee and attendance is critical.

            The attitude of the appointment scheduler went from simple hostility to overt and active hostility at my request to move the appointment time.  The appointment scheduler reminded me in the most descriptive tones bordering, but not crossing into, profanity that it is “YOUR RESPONSIBILITY” [Emphasis his, meaning my responsibility] to keep the appointments as scheduled by the VA regardless of the inconvenience it causes me.  December 2012, before the start of my current employment, this appointment had been scheduled three times.  The VA canceled the appointment three times, and only once was the cancellation communicated to me prior to my driving to the hospital, checking in, and waiting for the appointment.  The same appointment scheduler provided the same hostile attitude in person as on the phone and made the following statements, quoted verbatim:

“Employment is NOT an excuse for moving an appointment with the VA Hospital System.” [Emphasis his]

“Moving your appointment is a privilege being extended to you that has not been earned.”

Judging by certifications on the walls of this person’s office, he is an example of award winning customer service at the VA Medical Center.  Having been a patient at several VA Medical Centers across the country, having been a customer at several of the VA Regional Offices, and having been a customer of the various VA Call Centers, unfortunately I have found this attitude typical.  This conversation was reported to the Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT) for review.  I declined further follow-up as unnecessary.  The PACT team member did have a unique thought process; she continually returned with the same descriptive term for this incident, ‘not compassionate’.  I refuted this determination several times claiming unprofessional, irresponsible, and ludicrous, but the main complaint continued to be ‘not compassionate’.  The term simply does not fit the incident.  This incident was not created by a lack of compassion, but through an organizational culture gone rogue, hostile, and grown wild.

Returning to the incident, let us be clear and simple; the problem is not the workload the scheduler was quick to point out and often stated the amount of appointments scheduled in a month; it is not the individual; always the problem remains with the system, the organization, the processes and procedures, and finally the training.  This is institutional deterioration at its most egregious level.  “Juran’s rule (Tribus, n.d., pg 5) whenever there is a problem, 85% of the time it is in the system; only 15% of the time will it be the worker.”  This is very telling in this situation.  Before looking to the worker, examining the system will be the answer 85% of the time.  Organizational cultures are the “system” described by Tribus (n.d.) and Juran.  Organizational Designers will specify cultural steps for improvement, thus the PACT team, the focus on compassion, and the ultimate deception ‘customer focus’ hidden under the guise “Patient Aligned Care.”

The problem is a dual core issue, no personal responsibility for outcomes and no personal accountability for results.  This is the organizational culture feeding the hostility, the derision, and animosity found in all VA/Veteran interactions.  The front-facing customer service agent is not held accountable nor feels a responsibility towards the work he or she performs.  Because the same employee is protected in his work by the system, the system becomes a detriment to patient/customers and safeguards the individual from criticism and censure preventing the possibility of change in the individual.  The incredible amount of bureaucracy legislated, litigated, and lumped upon the VA must be exposed to the disinfectant of sunshine i.e. brought to the public attention, reduced bureaucracy in support of veterans and their families, and new solutions created to improve service.  The real solution is not focusing upon a culture grown wild, but short-circuiting the existing corporate culture to jumpstart a new culture.  It is past time, especially where all government agencies are concerned, to shift the paradigm, remove the job security, and breathe the life of freedom and true customer centered focus, i.e. the taxpayer, back into the various government and non-government organizations.

Considering the above incident, if the scheduler was an independent knowledge contractor whose contract extension rested solely upon the referrals and customer surveys of the VA’s customers, the above incident would not have occurred because accountability and responsibility would demand the patient receive higher value as a customer.  If the same accountability and responsibility were carried to the entire chain of command, to all the processes and procedures, and to the organizational hierarchies, the VA would not be the punchline before the epithet in a veteran’s story, but become respected for the work it does.  Yes, the VA has a difficult task to perform.  Yes, the workload is daunting.  Yes, as a government entity, cost constraints and budget decisions matter more than patient care.  Nevertheless, the patient should be more respected, valued, and serviced more appropriately.  By shifting the employment paradigm, an advantageous outcome to all stakeholders involved in the organization is a firmly projected possibility.

Reference

Tribus, M. (n.d.). Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools. Retrieved December 5, 2008, from: Changing the Corporate Culture Some Rules and Tools Web site: http://deming.eng.clemson.edu/den/change_cult.pdf