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/

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.

Let’s Talk Customer Service – Internal and External Processes

I have been shopping for a new financial institution since Washington Mutual was gobbled by Chase ten years ago this October.  Washington Mutual was not perfect, but they offered two things I rate all business transactions upon, ease of business, and functionality.  The functionality occurred with precision, veracity, and good customer experience.  Ease of business meant that the customer experience was not inhibited by internal processes, the need for conducting business (external) was not clogged or overshadowed by processes (internal).

Why does this matter? – Because when the customer needed a transaction concluded at Washington Mutual, the bank philosophies of ease of business and functionality made the customer experience more robust and easier for employees and customers alike.  It is to ease of business and functionality, as a core business mentality, the following is addressed, in the hopes of promoting improvements in customer attention, focus, and support.

Blue Money BurningAs a financial institution shopper, especially when the customer approaches a manager or assistant manager, regarding a poor experience, the mentality of ease of business and functionality should be the cornerstone of the conversation with customers (external & internal).  10 October 2019 – I approach the “Welcome Desk” at Navy Federal Credit Union (NFCU) and ask to speak to a manager.  The person behind the desk claims, “I am an assistant manager; how may I help?”  I explain, I am shopping financial institution shopping and have a problem depositing a check using the NFCU App.  Then I ask if the check I was presenting for the deposit, and the endorsement were acceptable for both an ATM and the counter.  When the endorsement was verified as acceptable; I asked, “Why is the endorsement unacceptable for the NFCU App?  To which my answer was, “The verbiage specified for deposits through the APP is different to protect NFCU from double or triple deposits of the same check.”  Interestingly enough, the verbiage is not standard across the website, the NFCU App, or the email received rejecting the deposit through the NFCU App.  Meaning, my check deposit was denied through the App because NFCU’s internal processes are insufficiently designed for ease of business and functionality; thus, the customer is inconvenienced because NFCU cannot function properly in the back office in support of front office customer facing-transactions.  Why is it an external customers job to make the back-office employees work less?

There is a trend in financial institutions, Government offices, and emergency rooms to hide the employees behind the double and triple walls of an impenetrable polymer.  Chase branches have all been upgraded, my local VA Hospital is being updated, and the local Social Security Office was upgraded several years prior.  At the Chase branch, the counters appear to have shrunk to improve the ability to hear and be heard through the thick polymer; good job Chase, Thank you!  The VA ER, no such luck, no such plans, hearing a patient’s concerns has been trumped by the business stated need to “protect the worker.”  At the local Social Security Office, the desks and counters equate to more than 4-feet of separation between the speaker and the listener, and communication is non-existent for anyone with hearing difficulties, speech difficulties, etc.  Functionality and ease of business have been eternally sundered, and the customer pays the price in time, frustration, aggravation, and the inability to conduct business.  In the dangerous times we live, it only makes sense to have a security plan, to implement security options, and to support a safe business environment.  However, security should never be the excuse for killing ease of business or functionality.  I recently traveled from Albuquerque, NM to El Paso, Texas, to visit my “local” Chase branch.  Where I then had to repeat myself no less than twice for every verbal request, and the teller had to repeat themselves the same to conduct business.  Was a transaction concluded; yes, but the functionality and ease of business were abnegated and not conducive to continuing a customer relationship.

3-direectional-balanceEase of business and functionality should not be sacrificed as a cost-savings measure or staff reduction model.  The Chase branches I have visited in the last two-to-three years have been changing, staff reductions have occurred, while automation has increased. During a previous visit to a Chase branch, three teller positions had been replaced with ATMs inside the branch office.  I applaud Chase for the investment made in making technology work; but, when I visit a branch, I want to speak to a person, not be hassled by another machine.  I want to be treated as a person whose time is as important as the banker/teller’s time, and have a human experience.  Hence, when I witness people replaced by machines, no matter how good the technology is, my cherub-like demeanor takes a significant hit.  I understand Federal Minimum Wage, State, County, City Mandated Minimum Wage Laws have all gone crazy increasing the human cost in business, I understand the need for physical security increases costs for human transactions, and I know that the human element is expensive in other ways and means, requiring more back-office work and humans.  Do not sacrifice ease of business and functionality on the alter with the humans.  If you have physical, armed guards, checking, x-raying, and hassling customers, you should not need the polymer and technical stations.  Strike a balance and err on the side of human-to-human contact, not technology.

Corporate LogosSpeaking of the need to strike a balance between technology and human-to-human contact, ease of business, functionality, and customer service, those “Self-Checkout” stations forced upon customers in retail stores remain a significant point of contention.  Home Depot and Lowe’s, thank you for not sacrificing customer attention and customer responsiveness on the altar of technology as “Self-Checkout” has proliferated in your stores.  Walmart, Smith’s, Kroger, Fry’s, and so many more stores could learn from your example.

My spouse has several Walmart locations she visits as “local.”  In every one of these stores, the same thing has transpired, the self-checkout stations have multiplied exceedingly, but the number of floor employees has dropped exponentially.  In fact, there is less customer attention in Walmart since the explosion of self-checkout than before across the five states I have been measuring; thus, I can only conclude, this is a tactical exercise from Walmart Corporate Offices to reduce staff, while not improving the customer experience.  Between the constant game of “Musical Shelves,” where products are in continuous movement from shelf to shelf and location to location, and the reduction in customer support, I find myself losing my cherub-like demeanor when trying to complete shopping.  Back in the 1990s I read a research report discussing how for every minute spent in a store, the balance of the shopping cart increases $10.00; thus, I understand the psychology of playing “Musical Shelves,” but the human-to-human involvement has led to less functionality in the shopping experience, throwing ease of business in the garbage.

Leading to the following suggestions:

  1. When looking to strike a balance between expenses and functionality and ease of business, err on the side of ease of business. Functionality will automatically improve when ease of business is sufficiently provided.
  2. Never allow a process, a procedure, and a business standard of measure to celebrate a second birthday. The ease of business should be a constant aspect of the daily workflow.  Functionality, as an extension of ease of business, should be the second prerequisite in the evaluation of processes to meet customer service goals.  Never forget, if a process, procedure, or business matrix cannot be explained completely in a single elevator ride, then that process, procedure, and business matrix are too complicated and need revision.
  3. Customer service should never involve telling a customer about an internal process. Thus, if the back-office is demanding a customer inconvenience that hinders ease of business or functionality, the back-office needs to be held to task and the process changed.

Businesses cannot long shirk ease of business and functionality and survive.  Human-to-human interactions are customer service, and when anything gets between the customer and the employee, business leadership must return focus to ease of business and functionality, not cut out the human.  Customer service should never be tossed because of technology, ease of employees, or as a staff reduction effort.  Your employee today is your customer tomorrow, and your customer today is your employee tomorrow, do you really want to proliferate problems handed to external customer’s as they become tomorrow’s internal customer?

Trader Joe'sTrader Joe’s remains the pre-eminent example of ease of business, functionality, and customer service working in an environment that is well balanced.  No self-checkout, no hassle when asking questions, and several of my local stores have added physical security without changing the human element.  Ease of business and functionality are apparent from the prices to the products, the shelves, to the physical store environment.  No technology separates the customer from a robust shopping experience that is both pleasing and adventurous.  Nothing special is done as a process by Trader Joe’s, but the ease of business and functionality promote the customer experience, which is shared by customers who spend short or long periods shopping and desire to return.  I recently witnessed a Trader Joe’s employee explaining to a customer how to improve fruit ripening techniques, the employee then went out of their way to guide the customer through what to buy and how to use the methods discussed with several different varieties of fruit.  This example is not a one-off singular event, but a regular occurrence at every Trader Joe’s store I have visited.  When you commit to ease of business and functionality, as a person and as a professional, opportunities develop.

© 2019 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 Surveys – Bringing Sanity to the Survey

Nissan sent me a post car sale survey. I answered the questions honestly, and the sales rep did a great job; yet, those servicing and supporting the sales rep did some stuff, and I am not particularly pleased. I was specific in the comment section, praising my sales rep, and particular on who and where the ball was dropped creating issues. Not 30-minutes after completing the survey, I receive a call from a senior director at the Nissan Dealership who said that my sales rep was going to be fired and lose all his commissions for the month because the survey is solely his responsibility. The senior director went forward and said, “This is an industry-wide practice and cannot be changed.”

I disagree!

As a business consultant, long have I fought the “Voice-of-the-Customer” surveys for measuring things that a customer service person, salesperson, front-line customer-facing employee, does not control. If the customer-facing employee does not control all the facets that create a problem, then the survey should only be measuring what can be controlled. For a car salesperson, they have a challenging job, and they rely upon a team to help close the deal. Including a service department, a finance department, sales managers, and more. The blame all falls upon the sales rep for problems in the back office.

I sold my Kia Soul for a Nissan Juke, my salesperson at Peoria Nissan was excellent and I wound up purchasing three vehicles from Peoria Nissan. I have purchased a Rogue from Reliable Nissan, and a Juke from Melloy Nissan, both of which are in Albuquerque, NM. Tonna Yutze at Peoria Nissan is a great salesperson. Shawn Walker, at Reliable Nissan, is a young salesperson, with great potential. Of all the cars I have purchased, these are the car salespeople who have made a sufficient impression that I remember their names long after the sale — speaking more about the salesperson, than a post-sale customer survey.

Quantitative data is useful but means nothing without proper context, support, purpose, and a properly designed survey analysis procedure. Even with all those tools in place, at best, quantitative data can be construed, confused, and convoluted by the researcher, the organization paying for research, or the bias of those reading the research report.

Qualitative data is useful, but the researcher’s bias plays a more active role in qualitative research. Qualitative research suffers the same problems as quantitative research for many of the same reasons. Regardless, quantitative and qualitative data does not prove anything. The only thing qualitative and quantitative data does is supports a conclusion. Hence, the human element remains the preeminent hinge upon which the data swings.

Leading to some questions that every business sending out a “Voice-of-the-Customer Survey” instrument needs to be investigating and answering continuously:

  1. Is the data being captured relevant, timely, and accurate?
  2. What is being measured by the survey instrument, and why?
  3. How is the information being used to improve upon that which is measured?
  4. Who benefits from the survey and why?
  5. Who is harmed by the survey, and why?

Even with all this taken into consideration, business leaders making decisions about “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey data need to understand one person can make or break the service/sales chain; but, it requires a team to support the customer-facing employee.  Juran remarked, “When a problem exists, 90% of the time the solution is found in the processes, not the people.” Hence, when bad surveys come in, defend your people, check how your business is doing business, e.g., the processes.

The dynamics of “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey instruments require something else for consideration, delivery. AT&T recently sent me a “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey via text message. Collecting the barest of numerical (quantitative) data, three text messages, three data pieces, none of which gets to the heart of the customer issue.  Barely rating the salesperson in the AT&T store I had previously visited. Recently, I received a call from Sprint, where the telemarketer wanted to know if I wanted to switch back to Sprint and why.  The nasal voice, the rushed manner, and the disconnected mannerisms of the telemarketer left me with strong negative impressions, not about the telemarketer, but of Sprint. Nissan sends emails and while the data collected has aspects of the customer’s voice (qualitative) and numerical rankings (quantitative), my impressions of Nissan have sunk over the use of the survey to fire hard-working sales professionals. My previous bank, Washington Mutual, had a good, not great, “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey process, but the customer service industry continues to make the same mistakes in survey delivery and application.

How and why in “Voice-of-the-Customer” surveys, or the delivery and use of the survey data, leaves a longer-lasting impression upon the customer than the actual survey. Thus, if you are a business leader who purchased an off the shelf “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey analytics package, and you cannot explain the how, why, when, where, what, and who questions in an elevator, the problem is not with the customer-facing employees doing your bidding. If your back-office people supporting the customer-facing people are not being measured and held accountable, then the survey is disingenuous at best, and unethical at worst.

I recommend the following as methods to improve the “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey process:

  1. All business leaders using the customer service survey data must be able to answer the why, what, when, who, and how questions clearly to all who ask about the survey tool.
  2. If you have sections for the customer-facing employee and mix in other questions about the process, the customer-facing employee’s responsibility begins and ends with the specific questions about the customer-facing employees’ performance. You cannot hold a customer-facing employee responsible for broken back-office processes!
  3. Revise, review, and research the data collected. Ask hard questions of those designing the survey. Know the answers and practice responding to those asking questions.
  4. Get the customer-facing employees involved in forming what needs to be measured in a survey, have them inform and answer why. You will be surprised at what is discovered.
  5. Use the data to build, teach, train, coach, and mentor, not fire, customer-facing employees. Support your people with data, not destroy them.
  6. If you cannot explain a process or procedure in an elevator speech, the process is too complicated. No matter what the process is, use the elevator as a tool to simplify your business organization, processes, procedures, and tools.
  7. Be a customer! When a customer, ask tough questions, drive for answers that work, and if the customer-facing employee is struggling, train through the chain of command!

Never forget, the value of the “Voice-of-the-Customer” survey is found in actionable data, to improve cohesion between the front- and back-office, training talking points, and the power to return a customer to your business. Anything else promised is smoke and mirrors, a fake, a fallacy, and sales ruse.

© 2019 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.