Bottle-Necks and Push-Back – Problems in Production Goal Attainment

Knowledge Check!Let me begin with an affirmation when you believe that a problem is insurmountable, you are 100% correct, and nothing will ever change.  If you tell me a problem is insurmountable, I will say to you BULL!  Every time!  Why; because if people built it, people can disassemble it.  We might have to push at it, swear at it, sweat at it, and kick at it some, but people can disassemble it!  When we believe no problem is insurmountable, we are more than ½-way to solving the problem!

At work right now, a colleague has a problem; trainers do not want to come in early and train new hires.  Because new hires cannot be trained in off-hours, his team is slipping in production goal attainment.  When he drops far enough, his regional bosses will decide more resources need to be spent, and public shaming begins to occur because public notice accompanies greater resource allocation.  The bottle-neck is training; the push-back comes from trainers.

Fishbone DiagramThe trainers are pushing back because they are already double and triple tasked to training new hires in two other more “important” departments.  Except, because those other departments are considered “more important,” production goals for the entire facility will never be met.  A core philosophy is missed; when quality fails, nobody meets production goals.  The vicious cycles keep going around; training cannot spare people to train quality, quality fails to meet goals, and production goals are missed due to training.

Exclamation MarkThere are times I have wished this was an isolated example; however, this repeats so often I should have cards made.  Breaking the training bottle-neck requires thinking outside the standard paradigm, or in more basic vernacular, get out of the box and start thinking anew!  While the following solutions are explicitly geared to fixing the training bottle-neck, the pattern for thinking is helpful as a conversation starter.  Start the conversation rolling!

Here’s some ideas:

  1. Off-hours shift training. Look at your operational schedules.  Do you have times when equipment is not operating, when the production floor is down, and when people can be trained?  Use that time!
        • I worked at a manufacturing facility where after the first three days of new-hire orientation, all manufacturing and warehouse employees worked the third shift for their first four months. Why?  Training could operate the floors and equipment and work around maintenance without crimping operational schedules or hindering production.  Then, new hires went onto the day shift where two extra managers could offer management-by-walk around for additional OJT.
        • I have observed warehouses where new hires work a split shift; they come in for 4-hours of training when nobody else is around but trainers, and then 4-hours when the rest of the warehouse is around—giving new hire equipment operators experience in operating in both a quiet environment and a busy environment.
        • The idea is to find times when you can safely train without hindering operation tempo. Use the calendar, use a shift rotation, be honest with people and be upfront on expectations and the reality of business needs.  Guess what, when you are honest, people respond!
  2. Appreciative Inquiry – Believe it or not, when you have a problem, a pressing business need, or an urgent issue, your people will pleasantly surprise you with solutions if you listen and act. Too often, I have been stunned ever to forget this lesson; people have brains and ideas, use them, give them credit, and watch them blossom into your best problem solvers!
  3. It should go without saying, treat people as the professionals you hired.
        • My first boss in supply chain quality control did not teach me basic stuff, e.g., this is a part, how you count the pieces, a SKU, etc. The boss presumed I knew or would ask questions, which saved both of us time and resources.  More to the point, by treating me as a professional, I grew into being a supply quality control officer and loved the job.  I have witnessed the opposite too often to know my experience is not the norm in supply chains, which is detestable.
        • You hired a professional; treat them as a professional. Set standards, show them, explain, train them, and build them into greater professionals, primarily by getting out of their way!
        • Encourage people never to stop learning through example!
  4. Who is your customer? Who are your vendors?  Who are your stakeholders?  Why is this information important?
        • Customer service is dead; however, if you do not know your customer, vendors, and stakeholders are, so is your business model!
        • Customer helping is alive and well; however, your business model is dead if you do not know your customer, vendors, and stakeholders!
        • Managers, let me give you a hint, your customer is your employees. When was the last time you got to know your customers?  When was the last time you helped your customers?  Why did you last help your customers?

LookWhen it comes to bottle-necks and push-back, knowing your customer is the first step in solving the bottle-neck and charting a positive path through push-back.  Consider my colleague, his customer are his employees needing training, his vendor is the training department, and the stakeholders are the rest of the business, those setting production goals, those relying upon his team meeting production goals, and ultimately the paying external customer.  Yet, my colleague, cannot see who his customer is, does not think of training as a vendor, and the rest of the business as a stakeholder, for this is not how he was trained.  Worse, his business unit refuses to accept this method of thinking to improve production goal attainment.

  1. Leadership must lead by first embracing new thinking and possibilities.

Previously in my career, it was a pleasure and adventure to be on a project where the leadership wanted a solution to their problem.  However, the leaders did not want to change, at all.  They wanted a solution, but refused to change in any shape, form, or method.  Worse, the leaders did not admit they did not want to change because they themselves had not considered that a solution would require change.  Thus, when the solution was delivered, it looked like a great idea, on paper.  But, the second it was implemented, reality bit, change was coming, and this scared the leadership team into panic mode.  Add in the coming economic downturn that had already started to hurt the company, and panic turned into a full-on disaster.

?u=http3.bp.blogspot.com-CIl2VSm-mmgTZ0wMvH5UGIAAAAAAAAB20QA9_IiyVhYss1600showme_board3.jpg&f=1&nofb=1Leaders, it is imperative that you lead first by example personally, then by actions professionally, then only if necessary by words.  When you observe new thinking on an old idea, embrace that and see where it goes.  Even if the new idea fails, build people!  Production goals are about human efforts distilled into statistical symbols.  Never forget about the human element.  Build people, and you meet production goals.  Build quality into every single transaction, and you meet production goals.  Fail people, and you will never meet production goals!  Fail quality, and you will fail to meet production goals.

I cannot make this any simpler!

© 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 Prey24 September 2021 UPDATE:  For the record, the doctor’s appointment forming the central element of this article was with Advanced Neurology Epilepsy & Sleep Center (ANESC), Dr. Aamr A. Herekar M.D.  The staff are now trying to report that I was threatening, demanding, insulting, and reportedly told the commando secretary to “sit on my lap.”  All of which I strongly and hotly contest.  I was at all times professional, but firm.  I did not swear.  I did not insult the staff.  I did not breach professional conduct.  I have never asked any male or female to EVER sit on my lap.  When told to get a face shield, I went to my vehicle, retrieved the face shield, and wore the face shield for the appointment.  For the commando secretary and other staff to accuse me of this behavior is disingenuous at best and I am glad to be rid of this provider.  If you are in the El Paso, TX., are, beware if you are referred to this clinic!

I 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.Angry Grizzly Bear

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.

?u=http3.bp.blogspot.com-CIl2VSm-mmgTZ0wMvH5UGIAAAAAAAAB20QA9_IiyVhYss1600showme_board3.jpg&f=1&nofb=1For 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.

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.

More Repugnant VA Chronicles! – When will this Insanity END?

I-CareMonday and Tuesday this week, 28 and 29 June 2021, the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) returned three more investigations, inspections, or criminal reports.  While no veteran is dead in this batch of reports (Thankfully!), the behavior exhibited remains egregious and blatantly criminal, and the bureaucrats and bureaucracy remain intact to continue to commit malfeasance, misfeasance, and malpractice!

Before getting into the VA-OIG reports, I want to hand out some praise.  The El Paso VAHCS was the focus of a major problem just a couple of years ago when the VA Police attacked a veteran and ended up pulling his arm out of his shoulder socket.  I am now a patient at the El Paso VAHCS, being seen at the VA Out-Patient Clinics instead of the Las Cruces Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC).  While the fallacious claims of the Phoenix VAMC continue to dog me, I am very happy to report that the VA Police in El Paso were professional, polite, and the customer service displayed was top-notch.  Growth has occurred since the veteran incident mentioned, and I, for one, am grateful!VA 3

The VA-OIG has announced that Dr. Kenneth C. Ramdat has received one year of probation after being allowed to “plead guilty” to touching two women’s breasts without permission.  When the VA is compared to a criminal syndicate, where the administrators are actively against the employees and the patients, I can see the connection!  What else happened at the Louis A. Johnson VA Hospital in Clarksburg, West Virginia, while this doctor was on staff and is not included in the criminal trial?  West Virginia keeps coming up as another morally distressed VA Health Care System; what is the VISN doing to improve the environment for illegal activity?  If Phoenix and VISN 22 are an example, nothing, which is negligence worthy of criminal investigations!VA 3

How can employees trust each other when plea deals are allowed, and behavior worthy of criminal punishment exists?  I was physically attacked, as an employee, by another employee, and the administration swept the incident under the rug.  After being discharged during probation, I learned that the employee who attacked me had done this previously with no punishment and the revelation that the administration was gunning for my removal for reporting the attack.  How many VA Employees lost their jobs before Dr. Ramdat was finally forced to be held accountable for sexual assault?  Why the plea deal?  Doesn’t this plea deal re-injure the victims, the perpetrator got off, essentially?

Sexual assault pled down to simple assault with probation – criminal syndicate indeed!Plato 2

Kristopher M. Voyles’s trial ended with a sentence of 27-months in prison, 3-years supervised release, and restitution of $20,502.  While this is a good sentence for theft of medical treatment, Mr. Voyles was never charged and investigated for the actual crime, identity theft of a veteran!  Mr. Voyles stole the name, date of birth, and social security number of a veteran fraudulently created documents, and then obtained care.  Thus, theft of medical care was criminal activity.  Until we read, “Subsequent investigation revealed that Voyles had previously been prosecuted by Atlanta, Georgia authorities for using the same veteran’s identity to obtain prescription drugs from the VA Medical Center in Atlanta.”VA 3

Do the veterans targeted know that Mr. Voyles stole their ID and used it fraudulently?  How did Mr. Voyles repeatedly target and steal the identities of veterans?  Is the ID Theft related to any VA data breaches, losses of veteran identities, or IT problems consistently occurring at the VA?  Were any of these questions asked during the “subsequent investigations?”  If so, where are those VA-OIG reports?  This criminal intentionally targeted veterans, stole identities, used those identities; how many other veterans’ identities does he have or have access to?  The Department of Veterans created the problem of ID Theft; when will they be held accountable for the loss of ID?  Better still, when will the data theft from the VA end?

Knowledge Check!Our final example (today) for the repugnant and criminal behavior of VA Employees needs a little background to be fully understood for those outside the military and government employment.  In government, contracting officers liaison between the facility receiving goods and services, the government paying for goods and services, and the third-party hired to provide goods or services.  Some third-party contractors receive government-issued identification cards similar to an employee identification card, both of which are called a “Personal Identity Verification” (PIV) card.  These cards act as keys to the facility, prove identification and authorize the contractor to be doing what they are doing.  The contracting officers are the end-all in the responsible party for that third-party contracted vendor.

VA SealContracting officers and third-party contractors act under Federal Regulation called “Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).  FAR is like the Bible; it has everything in it outlining duties, responsibilities, and authorities.  Contracting officers are supposed to know the regulations before contracting goods and services, and they teach the contractor their responsibilities.  Especially where a PIV has been issued, the contracting officer, as the liaison, IS THE Responsible Party, not the contractor.

Now, gauge the following VA-OIG report with these facts in mind.

The VA-OIG “… examined a random sample of 46 professional service and healthcare resource contracts. None of the reviewed contracts had adequate evidence to demonstrate FAR requirements were met. VHA contracting officers’ noncompliance with PIV card requirements occurred because they were unaware of their responsibilities and the requirements. In addition, VHA did not have policies or procedures detailing supervisory oversight of contracting officers’ duties regarding PIV cards, the internal audit office did not review compliance, and there was no automated tool for continuous tracking and monitoring of PIV cards issued; to contractors’ personnel.”VA 3

Did you catch that; a 100% failure in a random sample of contracts, contracting officers, and oversight supervisors were unaware of their roles and responsibilities.  How long has this failure been occurring?  How many government PIVs are available granting access to facilities where the contract has concluded?  This is not the first time the government contracting officers and offices have utterly failed to perform their roles and responsibilities; yet, this is one of the most dangerous to the PIV system’s security, safety, and reliability.  This is just an investigation from the VA, how bad is this problem across the entire government contracting establishment?

QuestionI cannot understand how a contracting officer, with all the training, re-training, and refresher training that is mandated, could use the excuse, “I didn’t know that was part of my job!”  As a person who has worked around contracting officers, I knew this was their job, and I am not a contracting officer.  It is simply common sense; if you facilitate obtaining identification, keys, and access codes, you are responsible for getting these things back!

While the behavior of the contracting officers is part of the problem, the culture of passing the buck and dodging responsibility is readily apparent in the following statement from the VA-OIG list of recommendations.  “The OIG also recommended VHA assess whether the existing and planned information systems could have the functionality to allow effective and routine monitoring of contractors’ PIV cards or a new system is needed.”  Designed incompetence will allow the IT failure to be the problem, to finagle more money from Congress for IT infrastructure upgrades and new systems, as the legacy systems were purposefully designed not to accommodate regular, daily, routine activities!VA 3

I refuse to believe the VA has ever designed a system that works, is cost-effective, does its job, and can be useful.  Why; because, having worked at the VA, been a patient at VAMC’s across the country, and reading the VA-OIG reports, the VA has proven their utter incompetence!  If a local hospital allowed this type of failure in their contracting department, heads would roll, and Congress would be demanding investigations to ensure HIPAA was not breached.  Yet, the VA can get away with murder, and Congress cannot even care, let alone issue a mild rebuke or increase scrutinization.

Angry Wet ChickenThus, I call upon every American to share my disgust and demand action!  Stop allowing this detestable behavior, paid for by taxpayers, to thrive.  End the abuse!  Not just for veterans harmed by the VA bureaucracy, but for your hard-earned tax dollars and the disrespect the elected officials display towards you, the boss!  Tell me, if your employees displayed the same behavior witnessed by elected officials and bureaucrats of all stripes, how long would they keep their jobs?  If your boss showed you the same disrespect, how fast would you be looking for new employment and telling everyone not to apply there?  Now, answer this question, “Why do we accept this abuse by government officials and elected representatives?”

© 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: 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.

Where is the Patient Advocate? – A Story in 3-Emails

Three secure messages, sent through the My Health eVet secure messaging system, all related to a need for VA Hospital services, and all reflecting something in common, the VA’s refusal to act.

First Email: Good Morning,

I have but one question, I would appreciate a timely and thorough response, within 24-hours. “Where is the advocacy from the patient advocates?”

Last Wednesday I needed to discuss the problems I am having with pharmacy refills, but was bounced off VA property because I can NOT Physically. Wear. A. mask! This is for patient safety concerns. Why am I being discriminated against and refused care at the VA Hospital and the patient advocates office is doing nothing to help improve this situation?

I was promised a letter from the VA Hospital Director over the incidents from June and July, still no response from the director or advocacy from the patient advocates. Why?

I need to be able to access the VA Hospitals services and cannot do so when the VA Police are enforcing a mask policy that puts my life in jeopardy! Without an adequate workaround to the mask policy, I suffer from refills that are delayed, and without the drive thru pharmacy, now have no recourse to develop a solution!

Why? Where are the Patient Advocates in standing up against the bureaucracy and demanding solutions for patient problems? Where are the Patient Advocates regarding the incidents from June and July, using hard evidence to improve VA Hospital performance?

Enough is enough! Where do I find a patient advocate?

Thank you!
Dr. Dave Salisbury

Second Email: Hello,

Is there a reason the drive-thru pharmacy is no longer?  I must get refills and the refill process through the mail is taking 3-5 times longer than normal; thus, reordering when you have a 10-day supply remaining is not good advice as I keep running out before the delivery is made.   Only because of the drive-thru pharmacy have I been able to stay ahead of medication emergencies with the refill process being broken.

Why? How do I get refills; when, because I cannot physically wear a mask, I cannot be seen in the VA ER or walk into the VA Pharmacy for refills?

I am thoroughly and completely out of two medications, they have both been reordered and I have no word on when they will arrive. The last refill on a diabetic medication took longer than normal (7-10 business days) to be received and I wonder when I should schedule reordering that medication with the added slowdowns and longer delivery times.

How do I gain refills when I have zero access to the VA Hospital and the refill process has failed to delivery on time?

Thank You!
Dave Salisbury

Third Email: Dr.

I do not know what is happening with pharmacy, but something must give! I reordered my refills with plenty of time since March 2020 through the Phoenix, VAMC, and I keep running out before the meds arrive!

Due to the continued increased symptoms, usage of medication increased, but the refill process has slowed, and without the drive-thru pharmacy I am stuck without access to pharmacy.  Especially, since I can never get a straight answer when trying to use the phone.

As of this morning, I had to wake up, and take the remaining dosage and two Advil for the crushing, horrible light sensitivity, facial pain, twitch bordering, headache! How do I get this refilled with the drive thru pharmacy out of operation, and the VA Hospital off limits because I cannot physically wear a mask?

I have, as if this writing 0330 27 October 2020, been out of one medication for two days, having taken the last pill on Sunday (25 October 2020)! One of the reasons why I had 90-day supplies, instead of the VA (policy?) 30-day supply in Albuquerque was because of this exact reason, I kept running out before the deliveries were made. I must be able to trust the VA Pharmacy Refill process, and the pharmacy refill process is untrustworthy, and currently in disarray.

I showed up at the hospital last week (21 October 2020) trying to have this conversation with pharmacy and was first kicked out of the hospital, then escorted off property because I cannot safely wear a mask and asked why.  I also asked for a copy of the mask policy, and had a supervisor turn himself into a pretzel trying to explain why he cannot produce a policy upon request. What do I do?

Thank you!
Dave Salisbury

Before leaving Albuquerque, NM., I had the privilege of being able to discuss certain topics with local hospital representatives.  I had the ability to talk to directors, medical department heads, patient advocates, and so many more dedicated healthcare professionals who work in in non-VA or government run hospitals.  Every one of them stated categorically that if their hospital was run like the VA Hospital system, they would have been fired, and more than likely legally charged with malpractice, shut down, and sued.

Let that sink in for a moment.  The VA Hospital purports to be doing a service for veterans, but the biggest problem in veterans receiving care is too often the VA Hospital system, and if a non-VA Hospital was run in a similar manner, criminal, legal, and other repercussions would sink that hospital system forcing the government to take over to “rectify the situation.”  Yet, this atrocious behavior is tolerated where the veteran’s hospital system is concerned; I can only ask why?

“The VA Hospital purports to be doing a service for veterans, but the biggest problem in veterans receiving care is too often the VA Hospital system!”

Why is it that every time a solution begins to show the promise of working, the VA bureaucracy stifles the momentum, destroys the people involved, and the veterans keep suffering?  A recent VA Advertisement on LinkedIn talked about how the VA is available with a ready hand to help, it was very well marketed, the advertisement was full of great phrases, sound bite captions, and solemnity; except too often the marketing hype does not reflect reality. Yet, the veteran, the spouse, and the dependents suffer!

Want reality in a VA Hospital, if you and your symptoms do not meet a predetermined checklist of boxes, you are considered the problem and the VA Hospital cannot/will not help you.  The VA Physician cannot issue a diagnosis, nor can the records of patient interactions have sway with the Veterans Benefits Administration for a claim determination.  America sends troops all over the world, places them in literally thousands of crazy environments, but the Department of Veterans Administration still demands cookbook medicine, checklists, and cookie-cutter one-size-fits-most medical practices.

Want reality in a VA Hospital, ask a bureaucrat behind a desk why the patient is being inconvenienced, and watch how fast that veteran is labeled as “The Problem,” and the veteran gets surrounded by the VA Police who then threaten, attempt to intimidate, and arrest/fine that veteran.  Average current time is less than 2-minutes!

Want reality in a VA Hospital, look at the lack of cleanliness, everywhere, and monitor how long spills, blood on walls, black “gunk” stuck in corners, etc. stays around.  I have personally witnessed blood spots lasting on doors and walls for months before being removed, even after complaining about the mess multiple times.  One incident, on an ER treatment room door, there was a roughly 2″ blood spot, dried, sticking to the back of the door, was there for 18-months before finally being removed. Yet, the VA Hospital system will always cheer, about cleanliness, friendliness, and helpfulness of VA Staffing.

Want reality in a VA Hospital, depending upon the tier upon service conclusion originally assigned to, you will experience a significantly different VA Hospital experience.  Even if the Veterans Benefits Administration changes your disability rating, you do not change treatment tiers, and receive reduced medical care accordingly.

Need hospital records, run the leviathan and draconian process of filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and wait.  Need to understand policies and procedures, there is a FOIA for that as well, but do not expect anything written down; because, the VA operates upon the philosophy that if it is written down, then you can be punished for not complying.  Not having operational procedures, patient care processes, standards of behavior, etc. written down provides a ready-made excuse for when the VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) calls investigating.  In over 10-years of reading and commenting upon VA-OIG reports, this remains the number one excuse for failures to comply, dead veterans, and incompetence masquerading around as leadership.

Where is the media, the watchdog of society?  Where are the elected officials whose job it is to monitor the actions of the bureaucrats to ensure these problems do not begin, let alone thrive?  Where is the patient advocate’s whose job is to stand between the bureaucracy, and the patient, to aid the patient in completing tasks that the patient cannot do for themselves?  Where are the patient advocates who are supposed to be making suggestions for improvement based upon the data they collect from complaints and failures of hospital bureaucracy?  Where are the patient advocates in improving operational policies to protect the health and safety of patients, before that patient ever arrives at the hospital facility?

The VA has removed my access to the VA-OIG reports, it has been two-months since I saw a VA-OIG report in my email box.  This is standard practice for the VA, when problems arise, shoot the messenger instead of working to find and fix the problems, and this too is a reality at the VA!

© 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/

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/

 

Moving Past Active Listening to Facilitate Communication: Shifting the Paradigm

GearsIn several previous professional positions, especially those in call centers, there has been considerable time spent training people to actively listen.  The problem; active listening can be faked, and fake active listening is as useful as a shower without soap or shampoo.  You might get wet, but you do not feel clean.

Listening has four distinct levels, these are:

  • Inactive listening – Hearing words, seeing written communication, zero impact mentally. Mostly because your internal voices drown out the possibility for communication.
  • Selective listening – Hearing only that which confirms your own voices, opinions, and biases. While others are speaking, you are already forming your response.
  • Active listening – Show the other person you are paying attention, engage with meaning in a reply. Focused upon removing barriers to get your point across.
  • Reflective listening – Paying attention to intent and content, reducing emotion, two-direction as both parties are engaged in achieving mutual understanding.

Tools for listening effectively, which for all intents and purposes, means listening reflectively, requires several tools, along with considerable experience in using these tools.  Customer service focus – not sales in disguise, not having a hidden agenda, and not covertly looking for opportunities to turn the conversation back to you.  The attitude of service – is all about what your intention is after listening.  Sales are all about attitude and winning over someone else; however, how many sales require first being able to reflectively listen; every single one.  Desire – desire determines your choices, your choices form decisions, and decisions determine destiny!

ElectionConsider the press conferences at the White House.  A room is full of people who would claim they are professional listeners, who then report what is being said.  Yet, how many times do you see questions asked with an agenda, personal opinions warping what is said into what they desired to hear, and then reporting what they erroneously heard to satisfy their desires politically; every single time.  Hence, the problems with active listening and how active listening can be faked.  Desire and attitude of service are not being applied to improve customer service focus.

Communication occurs in two different modalities, verbal and non-verbal.  Good communicators adapt their message to the audience.  Adapting the message requires first a choice, determining who the primary and secondary audience is, then focus the message onto the primary audience.  Next, adaptation requires prior planning, which includes mental preparation, practice, and channels for feedback.  Finally, adaptation requires listening to achieve mutual understanding, careful observation, asking questions designed to lead to mutual understanding, and clarifying what is being said to achieve mutual understanding.

Too often, those labeled as “good communicators” cannot listen reflectively.  They have never learned how to use the tools of desire and attitude of service, in a manner that builds customer service focus into reflectively listening.

Leadership CartoonConsider two people the media has proclaimed as great communicators, Presidents Reagan (R) and Obama (D).  President Reagan was listened reflectively, asked good questions, listened to the answers, asked more questions, and then listened some more.  In listening and asking questions, President Reagan built people (customer service focus) and was respected by enemies and friends for his ability to communicate (personal desire determined destiny).  President Obama has been labeled by the media as a good communicator; but by all accounts, he never listened, his questions showed he desired to be heard, and his focus was all on him as the smartest person in the room.  Desire builds an attitude of service, which then forms the customer service focus, which then reflects a desire to reflectively listen and achieve mutual understanding with those being communicated with.

One of the most despicable problems in customer service today is a theme established by Stephen Covey, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  On a recent issue, a letter was sent to Senator Martha McSally (D) of Arizona, the response has formed the epitome for not listening in written communication as the response had nothing of the original issue even discussed.  The response was a form letter, on a different topic, and lacked any response that the sender had been heard; but, the letter advertised Sen. Martha McSally and her commitment to listening to her constituents.  But, you might say, a Senator is too busy to respond to every communication delivered, a few other examples of both verbal and non-verbal communication failures.

  • Two lieutenants, representing the Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Police Service, stationed at the Phoenix VA Hospital. Engage a person not wearing a mask.  Body language clearly states they are the authority and will broker no resistance.  The officers spend 45-minutes haranguing the patient before cuffing and frog-marching the patient to a holding cell, where the patient who was seeking services in the emergency room, waits for an additional 60-minutes before being forced off Federal Property.  The patient informed the officers multiple times of their pre-existing condition and inability to physically wear a mask.  The hospital mask policy allowed for a face shield to be worn instead of a mask, and after the patient put the face shield on, the officers continued to verbally engage without listening, until the foregone conclusion of arresting the patient could be justified.  The patient was fined $360.00 (USD) for “disorderly conduct” by refusing to wear a mask.
  • Calling a major cellular phone provider (AT&T) with questions about the price plan. The representative answered every question but needed to make a sale, and their focus was on making that sale, not on assisting the customer.  Not the agent’s fault, the policy of the call center is to up-sale on every call.  If the agent does not up-sale, the call is automatically downgraded in quality assurance and the agent gets in trouble.  Hence policy dictates that the customer not be listened too reflectively as the sale must come before the customer.
  • Hotel check-in, online registration was made specifically for a particular sized bed, but due to late check-in, the customer is not provided what was asked for, and the attitude of the clerk is one of disgust at being bothered. Verbal and nonverbal cues are sending messages that the customer is the problem and is interrupting the life of the clerk.
  • A patient receives a call to make an urgent appointment with a VA medical provider in general surgery. The medical provider has demanded the patient be seen in the clinic, thus negating a phone or video styled appointment.  The patient’s record clearly states the patient has trouble complying with mandatory masking for patients seen in the clinic.  The provider arrives 20+ minutes late to the appointment, and because the patient is not wearing a mask immediately refuses to see the patient, wasting 90-minutes of the patient’s day.  The provider gets off in 10-minutes, and seeing the patient will make the provider late getting off.  Was the mask really the problem; not likely.

Social Justice Warrior 2Not listening is probably the largest social problem in the world today.  Everywhere fake active listening is observed, along with copious amounts of observable inactive, selective, and active refusals to listen.  Some of the problems in improving listening are policies and procedures that do not allow for individual adaptation or situational understanding.  However, too often, the individual choices to grab power, exercise authority, and pass along inconvenience are the real problems in not listening.  Harvey Mackay is reported to have said, “Easy listening is a style of music, not an attribute of communication.”  Proving again that listening is a choice, a personal choice, borne from desire, bred on attitude and reflected in verbal and non-verbal patterns of communication.

The following are some launch points for improving listening in society:

  1. Understand your desire.  Know that your desire choices are determining your destiny.  If your destiny is not one, you appreciate, return to the desire and make different choices.
  2. Practice mental preparation, based upon previous situations, to make different choices. Listening is a voyage of discovery to reach a mutual understanding, but mental preparation is key to safely reach the destination.  Prepare, use a mirror, practice until what currently feels alien becomes familiar.
  3. Reduce emotion. The principle of empathy and sympathy are destroying listening and only reflect the internal voices.  The volume of internal voices is silencing the ability to reflectively listen, necessitating the need to fake actively listening for employment’s sake.
  4. Listen as you would have others listen to you. This is an adaptation of the “Golden Rule” and remains applicable as a personal choice.  How you choose to listen will determine your destiny.
  5. Listening remains the number one tool you control and has application to written communication and verbal communication channels. Body language is a non-verbal communication channel that can be heard as well as seen.  How are you communicating non-verbally, which is interfering with your written and verbal communication attempts?

Listening is a choice.  Listening is hard.  Yet, many people have pointed out that we have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as often as we speak.  Choose to reflectively listen, choose to reach a mutual understanding, watch your destiny change.

© 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/

Tiger Teams – A Potential Solution to VA Issues: An Open Letter to Secretary Wilkie

I-CareTo the Honorable Secretary Robert Wilkie
Department of Veterans Affairs
Washington D.C.

Dear Sir,

For almost a decade, I have read and studied the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from the position of patient, employee, concerned citizen, and now as an organizational psychologist.  During this time, I have read many Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigation reports, and yearned to be of fundamental assistance in improving the VA.  I have an idea with potential for your consideration, “Tiger Teams.”

In the US Navy, we used “Tiger Teams” as “flying squads” of people, dedicated to a specific task, and able to complete work quickly.  The teams included parts people, technicians, specialists, and carried the authority of competence and dedication to quickly fixing whatever had gone wrong during an evolution, an inspection, or even in regular operation.  It is my belief that if your office employed a “Tiger Team” approach for speedy response, your job in fixing core problems the VA is experiencing would be easier.  Please allow me to explain.

Tiger TeamThe VA-OIG recently released a report regarding deficiencies in nursing care and management in the Community Living Center (CLC) at the Coatesville VA Medical Center, Pennsylvania.  The inspection team validated some complaints and were unable to validate all complaints because of poor complainant documentation.  Having a Tiger Team able to dispatch from your office, carrying your authority, would provide expert guidance in rectifying the situation, monitoring the CLC, and updating you with knowledge needed to answer the legislator’s questions regarding what is happening.  The VA-OIG found other issues in their investigation that were not covered under the scope of the investigation, leaving the VA-OIG in a difficult position.  Hence, another reason for a Tiger Team being created, to back stop and support the VA-OIG in correcting issues found outside their investigatory scope.

Fishbone DiagramFor a decade now, I have been reading how the VA-OIG makes recommendations, but where is the follow-up from the VA-OIG to determine if those recommendations are being followed and applied?  Too often there is no return and report feature built into the VA-OIG investigation, as these investigators just do not have the time.  Again, this is what a Tiger Team can be doing.  Taking action, training leaders, building a better VA, monitoring and reporting, building holistic solutions, and being an extension of your office on the front lines.  Essentially using the tools from your office to improve the operations locally, which builds trust between the patients and the care providers, building trust between the families and the VA, and delivering upon the Congressional mandate and VA Mission.

Another recent VA-OIG report also supports the need for a fast response Tiger Team.  Coordination of care and employee satisfaction concerns at the Community Living Center (CLC), Loch Raven VA Medical Center, in Baltimore, Maryland.  In geographic terms, this incident is in your backyard.  While the VA-OIG inspection was rather inconclusive, and recommendations were made, it appears some things are working in this CLC and other things are not working as well as they should.  By using a Tiger Team as a flying squad, intermittent and unannounced inspections by the Tiger Team can aid in discovering more than the VA-OIG could investigate, monitoring the situation, and reporting on progress made in improving performance.

As an employee, too often the director of HAS would claim, “That problem is too hard to fix because it requires too many people to come together and agree on the solution.”  Or, “The solution is feasible, but not worth the effort to implement because it would require coordination.”  Getting the doctors and nurses talking to and working with administration is a leadership role, providing support to leaders is one of the best tools a Tiger Team possesses one authority is delegated.  The Tiger Team presents the data, presents different potential solutions, and the aids the leadership locally in implementation.  As an employee I never found a problem in the VA that could not be resolved with a little attention, getting people to work together, and opening lines of communication.  Thus, I know the VA can be fixed.

Root Cause AnalysisThe Tiger Teams need to be led by an organizational psychologist possessing a Ph.D. and a personal stake in seeing the VA improve.  The organizational psychologist can build a team of like-minded people to be on the flying squad, and these team members should be subject matter experts in VA policies, procedures, and methods of operation, and should change from time to time.  I have met many people from the VA who not only possess the passion, but are endowed with the knowledge of how to help the VA, and I would see the VA succeed.  Yet, I am concerned that the VA is not changing, not growing, and not developing the processes and procedures needed to survive, and this is damaging the VA, which leads to wasted money and dead veterans.

Why not have a flying squad for each VISN, who can meet to benchmark, compare notes, and best practices.  Who work from home and visit the local offices in the VISN, reporting directly to your office with a copy to the VISN leadership.  Whose job is to build the Tiger teams needed to oversee, provide expert support, and practical analysis.  The idea is to help you gather real time data, improve implementation of VA-OIG recommendations, and meet the demands of Congress.  If a Tiger Team, with the functioning Flying Squad, can save one VA-OIG inspection in each VISN, by improving that VISN, medical center, CLC, etc. before it becomes a major problem on the sSix O’clock News, then the Tiger Teams have paid for themselves.

All veterans know of the Phoenix VA Medical Center debacle, where veterans died while waiting for appointments.  I fully believe that had the VA Secretary had a Tiger Team in place, the root causes of that incident would have triggered the necessary flags to save lives and avoid or mitigate the catastrophe.  Flying squads are the Tiger Team in action, and action should be the keyword for every member of the team.  The mission of the Tiger Team should be to find and fix root causes, repair trust, and implement change needed to improve VA operations at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), and the National Cemeteries.

The VBA is especially vulnerable, and in need of outside resources to support change.  Recently the VBA was involved in another scandal involving improper processing of claims for veterans in hospital over 21-days, resulting in millions of dollars either overpaid or underpaid to the veterans.  Training, managerial oversight, and proper performance of tasks was reportedly the excuse the VBA used, again, to shirk responsibility.  Tiger Teams can provide the support needed to monitor for, and encourage the adoption of, rectifying measures and VA-OIG recommendations, not just at the VBA, but across the full VA spectrum of operations.

Please, consider implementing Tiger Teams, from your office, assigned to a specific VISN, possessing the authority delegated to run the needed analysis, build support in local offices, and iron out the inefficiencies that keep killing veterans, wasting money, and creating problems.  I firmly believe the VA can be saved and improved, built to become more flexible, while at the same time delivering on the promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.”

I-CareThank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Dave Salisbury
Veteran/Organizational Psychologist

© 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/