Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Nonprofit Career Conference

Opportunity Knocks and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network put on a Nonprofit Career Conference in Oakland yesterday.The event was designed for nonprofit professionals seeking to advance their career and for-profit/corporate professionals looking to switch careers to the nonprofit sector. Several good organizations sponsored the conference including the Foundation Center and California State University East Bay.

There were four workshops each lasting 75 minutes on the agenda along with brief consultations for resumes. carer paths, personal finance and volunteering. The cost was $99 and over 100 people attended which ran from 8:00 to 4:30. With all this on the plate one would think this was a perfect recipe for a successful event for attendees.

Not Quite.

There was confusion early before the workshops started at 9:00 as a large number of people wanted to get that free ten review of their resume or career guidance that the small hallway was jammed. Meanwhile another line tried to filter over to get financial advice. With about ten Counselors offering their services, this seemed to be the biggest attraction. Finally after the area was really overcrowded one of the volunteers ran some masking tape along the floor to get two lines , one for resume advice and one for career advice. It would have made better sense to assign ten minute time slots to everyone in advance, but the program said first-come first-served and we know how those situations sometimes turn out. Lots of complaining and grumbling.

When it was my turn of course the counselor said my resume needed some work, even though it has been worked on twice by professionals in the past two years. I am sure if I went around the room everyone would say the same thing.

The first workshop attended covered career paths. There was another one going on at the same time and then they repeated so spread out the attendees and give you a chance to attend all four. Other than the presenters impressive background I found little to write on my notebook as we all know how hard jobs are to come by in this economy.

The second workshop an overview of how a nonprofit is organized and various positions available. The charts on the projector looked the same as they do in the for profit sector, with one addition. Volunteers. Like in the corporate world you can work your way up the ladder of success.

There was a lunch break and then it was back to that line to see those resume writers. This sure drew a crowd again. There were also school with class schedules, a writer showcasing a book ( I mean have you ever attended a conference where there was not someone selling a book?)

the third workshop touched on resume writing, job searches and interviewing. I would call it a basic 101 workshop. There was far too much time spent on an example resume of a recent college graduate, which did not fit the bill of the vast majority of people there. On a projector we got a glimpse of indeed and linkedin as if this was breaking news to job seekers. Navigating around linkedin on a projector does not work well in a class as it is hard to see especially in the back. Speaking of the back there were not enough chairs and several people had to sit on tables or as we referred to them "bleacher seats."

The fourth workshop touched on the challenges nonprofits face in these rough times. More of a lecture the instructor stressed how important nonprofits are to the community and the economy.

The conference could have been so much better.

At the start of each workshop the standard practice of everyone just stating their name and organization should have been done, which gives a sense of community. For the ten minute consultations everyone should have been given a time slot. There were people that had to leave early that did not get a chance to take advantage of this. At a fee of $99 and on a hot day there should have been water there. There were two fountains that had the usual trickle of h2o coming out.

With time being a factor in a workshop, ALL questions should be held of until the end of the session. They should not get the instructor off track. (I know, I was guilty of that too.) For people wanting to transition from the for profit to the nonprofit sector, there were really no examples or guidance there. Well, I guess that was why all those resume writers were there.

When I got home there was an email from Opportunity Knocks asking me to take a survey. This arrived interesting enough at 2:03 while I was still in a workshop.
Opportunity Knocks had a great chance to knock one out of the ballpark for the conference. Instead it popped up a weak fly to the infield.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Remember when Gas Stations had Customer Service?

Remember when you drove into a gas station and sat in your car while it was filled with gas , had your oil and tires checked , your windows cleaned and someone said have a nice day? Not since the 70s.

One would pull into a service station and almost Immediately two or three smiling guys wearing matching white shirts, bow ties (yes they did wear them) and dark uniforms swarmed all over your car.

One would lift the hood, pull the dipstick to check the oil and squirt some water in the radiator with no extra fee.

Another checks and inflates all four tires to the required pressure and asks if the spare also could use some air. He would then spray water on the windshield, towel and squeegee it off while meticulously cleaning the front windshield and all other visible panes of glass.

The last attendant would lift the nozzle and pump leaded or unleaded gasoline into the tank and give you the total for the gas , walk back into the office and return with your change. Sometimes you even get a free road map.

Family members and attendants wave happily to each other as your vehicle slowly glides away at a gas-guzzling pace of maybe seven miles per gallon. Some had slogans like trust or care or full service.

Today that is replaced by you pumping your gas, going inside to ask for a token to add some air and having the ATM machine asking you if you want a receipt.

Let's take a poll: Who does not want a receipt for anything they purchase?

Like Elvis used to say "thank you, thank you very much".

It doesn't matter which station you go to from Oakland to Fremont and all points in between.You do it all yourself. Chevron, Arco, Union 76 or any local brand you will find yourself in a sea of islands, hoping you see an empty slot and then seeing how much gas has gone up since your last visit.

At one time gas stations were the "ultimate customer experience". Sadly we all dread pulling our vehicle into one now. Especially when the price per gallon goes over four dollars and approaches five.

Doctor's offices do provide Customer Service

You don't think of a doctor's office or in this instance an ophthalmologist's office as providing customer service, just treatment right? It is time to give credit on an event in my life where service in addition to treatment was simply stellar.

A few years ago I was diagnosed as having a cataract in my left eye, which I almost expected since my vision seemed to get weaker over a few months. Thinking that this only happened to people sixty and over my doctor assured me it does happen to people under that age. We set the appointment in June and had a few more checkups to measure the implant replacement and I was thinking FANTASTIC...I will have super vision in four weeks. Not quite, the dark side of The Force was at work.

On a sunny Monday in June with my cataract surgery set for Wednesday, I was nearly at work when I noticed these strange cobwebs on my other eye. After arriving at work I noticed I could hardly see the computer from the right eye now. I called up the doctor's office and explained what was happening and reiterated it was now my other eye that had gone haywire. They said to come in right away.

My regular ophthalmologist was out for the day so another doctor looked inside it , paused and told me I had a tear in the retina. He then paged my regular doctor to come in and examine me. Completely stunned I sat in the waiting room and one of the medical assistants brought me a sandwich and soda from the cafeteria. When the doctor took I look and said we can fix this now, but we need to postpone the cataract surgery.They did a procedure when they numb your eye and kind of freeze the tear.

When it was done they said I would need about two week's off for it to heal, so the staff was very helpful in calling my work number as I was kind of in a dreamlike state and I spoke to HR and they faxed over the necessary papers. They also asked do I need someone to pick me up, I assured I could see well enough to drive, even though that was not true. I did make it home alright.The receptionist there helped me fill out the FMLA form and a few days later assisted with filling out the disability form and giving me literature and a video on torn retinas.

So after the retina was healed my appointment was reset for December and on the followup visits I was treated like an old friend. I was so pleased that I was treated as a person and not another patient a few days before Christmas I arrived at their office with a box of See's candy for everyone as a token of my appreciation for the great service I received which put a smile on everyone's face.

I give out 10 stars ********** to Valley Eye Care Center in Pleasanton.Dr.Savell and his staff are world class, no make that universal class.

On those Tipping Jars

What is it with all these tip jars that are now proliferating on store counters from Fremont to Oakland . They seem to be more common that voting signs. Are we expected to tip for every type of service we pay for. Let's go over one of the most traditional services for tipping.


They have been the most traditional one to tip. You are seated at a table, you order there, your drinks are brought and refilled and your food it put right in front of you. You have personalized service, so you feel generous. Now let's take the delis, fast food chains and coffee shops. You stand in line, order at the counter, wait for your order, take it to your table and that's it for the service. Places like Subway, Starbucks and your local shops now have strategically placed a "tips accepted" jar on the counter.

Tip for What

You are not getting personalized service and no one offers you a refill. I know a lot of people are working barely above the minimum, but these are not career jobs. Gary Taylor of Oakland is one who does put money in the tip jars. " I put whatever change I receive in the jar. It may be nine or ninety cents. I don't really see it as tipping, more of a donation. I would be embarrassed to hand the money to someone as a tip" he said.

Exceptional Service from Clerks

Have you ever gone in a bookstore and had a clerk spend several minutes to locate a copy of a rare book for you? You probably have. Did you tip them? Probably not. Did you ever tip someone at a library who helped you locate some information? Probably not. How about a grocery clerk who carried your bags to your car? Probably not. These people are going that extra mile for you but they don't wear a button that says "tips accepted". How about someone at a Home Depot or Staples who runs around and finds the exact item you need. Again probably not. Yet when we see that tipping jar at the counter we somehow feel compelled to leave some kind of tip.

The Future

The way tip jars are proliferating we may soon see them on buses, auto repair stations, copy shops or every store that has a cash register. By the way, having worked in a call center at one time and taken probably 8,000 calls over a year, I helped people save money, gave credits and got their service running at a critical time. I don't ever recall anyone on the phone saying they wanted to "tip" me.

The Customer is not Always Right

Are you one of those shoppers that mind your own business, keep the table clean after you eat, do not reorganize a store's interior and do not make a spectacle of yourself in front of others? There are however, a small minority of customers who are so self absorbed they do not care about their surroundings and other customers. They come off as rude and haughty.

Here is a list of situations where the customer needs a "get with it" reminder.

1) Did you ever drive around a crowded parking lot, finally see a spot and as you turn in there is a shopping cart in the middle. Safeway, Lucky's and Trader Joe's in San Ramon and Pleasanton are always crowded lots. To whoever left it there.........wish them a flat tire on their way home.

2) You are in another parking lot, you park with no one on your left and on your return there is a huge pickup truck or van over the line and you have have about ten inches to open your door and squeeze in. To whoever owns that vehicle........may they get a speeding ticket on the way home.

3) Standing in a long line at a store you want to get checked out and be on your way. Wouldn't you know right in front of you is someone blabbing away on a cell phone about their personal problems. To the owner of the cell phone......may the battery go dead on the next call you make.

4) You are a customer representative listening patiently to an irate caller who for no reason starts swearing and uses foul language. To that caller.......may your battery also die out and the next time you call you have to trek to a pay phone to make the connection.

5) Standing in line at a store and there is that one person at the checkout who's holding up the show. First their check is rejected, then their credit card is declined, finally they have limited cash and start rationing out what to buy. To that person........bring plenty of cash next time.

6) You are back in the grocery store , third person in line , a clerk announces aisle five is open and and the last three people behind you sprint over and are checked out. while you are still waiting for the person in front of you to clear out. To those people..........I hope you left your wallet at home.

7) Going into a fast food place for a quick lunch, you arrive at a table with your food and there are ketchup stains, fries, spilled soda and a general mess. The staff is busy and hasn't had time to clean it yet so show a little courtesy and wipe it up before you leave. Kudos to Carl's in Dublin for always quick to clean a table.To the people who don't.....hope you get indigestion later that night.

8) You are shopping in a department store and there are clothes on the ground, jammed together or rolled up. to the people who cannot put back what they picked out........may you buy a size that does not fit and you have to come back to exchange it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Don't say these words to a Customer

We all have little phrases that can drive us crazy. This is one of mine - the phrase "we can't do that." Not to be confused with the Beatles song "You Can't Do That" but a service rep basically telling me, "sorry pal you're out of luck."

Recently I walked into a well known tire store in the East Bay to have a tire replaced which was damaged. I had only purchased it a little over a month ago. I asked for it to be replaced with no charge since I had purchased four at the time but was told, "we can't do that" it is over thirty days since you bought them. I then asked what about a discount and was told "well you did not buy the warranty." Alright fine I said let's get this fixed. It got me thinking how often we hear that statement in public - and how abrasive it is to hear as a customer. (Excuse me, but I don't "have to" do anything special for a customer.!) They could have easily given me a discount and speeded up the tire changing, but it took over an hour.

Most of us probably don't say "we can't do that" out of rudeness. We say it because we are trying to protect company policy or set expectations with a customer. But when you examine the meaning of this statement literally, you can see where it breeds a lot of customer resentment right off the bat:

-It tells another person what to do.
-It implies that you have the power in this transaction, not them.
-It doesn't give the customer options.

Perhaps the best example of an alternative to "what we can do" came when my car was in an auto shop at Oakland Auto Care in Oakland. Instead of saying the obvious it will be done tomorrow, you'll have to pick it up then," the technician said, "We will try very hard to finish it by this evening.!" When they called me and said it was ready at six I was happy as a clam and had someone take me there to pick it up.

So look critically at times where you are tempted to say "we can't do that" to customers, and start rehearsing new responses that speak to your customers' interests. The difference will be amazing !

On the new iPhone

PC World reports that Apple has pushed back the delivery date for iPhone 4 advance sales even more. The U.S. Apple Store is now showing that iPhone 4 pre-orders will ship by July 14, a 12-day delay to the original postponed delivery date of July 2.

Apple is having trouble fulfilling the surge of pre-orders that it began taking on June 15, noting in a statement on Wednesday that it has already sold more than 600,000 iPhone 4s. This is like trying to get tickets to a Rolling Stones concert when they were in their prime.

Pre-ordering an iPhone 4 is not easy job, however. First off, AT&T suspended iPhone 4 pre-orders on Wednesday, only a day after its Web site was overwhelmed with demand from customers.

AT&T's surge of interest didn't just come from new customers, but also from current customers. AT&T extended the new iPhone 4 customer pricing to those whose iPhone contracts expire at any point this year, thus making them eligible for discounted prices starting at $199 (with a refreshed two-year contract).

AT&T's servers couldn't cope with the demand, and crashed early on Tuesday, taking down with them the iPhone 4 pre-ordering system on Apple's own Web site as well. In this process, some reported a glitch that exposed some customers' personal information to other users. AT&T said it was not able to replicate the issue on its end.

Afraid of the online ordering problems, many have turned to good old-fashioned brick and mortar stores, where long queues formed both on Tuesday and Wednesday. That didn't last long either, as Apple confirmed in a statement "many customers were turned away or abandoned the process in frustration. We apologize to everyone who encountered difficulties, and hope that they will try again or visit an Apple or carrier store once the iPhone 4 is in stock." They have addressed the issue rather than keep customers in the dark.

If you didn't manage to pre-order an iPhone, but you still want one on launch day (Thursday, June 24), there is still hope. Apple is expected to stock a limited number of devices at its own stores on the day, and Radio Shack, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy will also carry the iPhone 4 on launch day. Stay tuned for another big rush.

Does BP understand Customer Service

According to Jamier L. Scott in Electronic Commerce: A Managerial Perspective, “Customer service is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction – that is, the feeling that a product or service has met the customer expectation." Its importance varies by product, industry and customer; defective or broken merchandise can be exchanged, often only with a receipt and within a specified time frame.

Some have argued that the quality and level of customer service has decreased in recent years, and that this can be attributed to a lack of support or understanding at the executive and middle management levels of a corporation. How true considering the problems that BP has been experiencing since April 20th..

According to, BP service reps have had their hands full since the oil disaster.

"Janice," not her actual name, has been working in the BP Call Center in Houston, answering calls about the disaster from all over the world, and she says she and her coworkers don't think the calls are being sent any higher up in the company. "We’re a diversion to stop them from really getting to the corporate office, to the big people. I don't want to get emotional, but it's so frustrating when these people live right there [in the Gulf Coast] and nothing is being done to help them." There are about one hundred people taking these calls on a special 800 number.

Janice also says that sometimes call center employees don't even write anything down, or just write "Blah blah blah," because they don't think the calls are being sent anywhere. KHOU TV in Houston reported the story, and asked BP for a response. Company officials said that they've logged 200k calls so far, and that they searched for "blah" in their database of call notes and only found one instance.

watch the interview:

Had a disaster like this happened in the Bay Area, I am sure any major company would have done things differently and not have their big kahuna taking off on a glitzy cruise.

It's tough being in a job like this talking to angry people all day. If you don't sympathize with your customers, you're not doing your job and you can make things worse. If you do sympathize, you end up frustrated with not being able to fix the issues at hand and just pass the buck upward. Hopefully, that buck stops somewhere and these inquiries are answered..

Customer Service or Customer Selling

The recent news that Wells Fargo and Bank of America Corp. are pushing their customers to buy more brokerage, savings and banking services from them as the weak economy and new regulations make it harder to earn money from investment banking and loans should come as no surprise.

Known as cross-selling, the concept has been pursued for decades by bankers eager to expand their business without having to find new customers. Now, banks are counting on cross-selling to replace some profit lost after the financial crisis. According to Accenture Plc, which estimates that returns on equity have dropped 21 percentage points from pre-crisis levels to 5 percent.

Profit is under pressure after bank assets shrank by a record 5.3 percent last year and consumer credit dropped 6.6 percent in 16 months, the most since World War II. Now Congress is preparing new regulations on fees, credit cards, securities and capital that may cut income at the 26 largest banks by $21 billion, according to Barclays Capital.

If you have ever called into a bank to see if a check cleared and was asked if you wanted to add identity theft coverage, know what I mean. It isn't limited to banking. Ever call AT&T or Comcast with a service question and be asked, or rather be told you should add our phone/video/internet service, we can save you money (and we can make money.)

"The reason cross-selling has developed such a sense of urgency in banking is that they are just getting hammered on all of their traditional sources of income," said Tony Plath, finance professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Cross-selling is so central to Wells Fargo that managers mentioned it 108 times at last month's two-day investor conference, said Barclays analyst Jason Goldberg.

San Francsico's Wells Fargo is using slogans like "Eight is Great" as it exhorts employees to cross-sell at 6,590 branches, the most in the United States. It's boosting staff 20 percent at some of the 3,254 Wachovia Corp. outlets, acquired in 2008, where customers average 4.85 products per household, compared with 6.02 at Wells Fargo.

Of course cross selling did not start in the banking industry. Remember being asked at McDonald's or Burger King if you wanted some fries to go along with that hamburger?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I want to speak to a Supervisor

If you have ever answered calls in a call center, you probably heard these words several times. "I WANNA SPEAK TO A SUPERVISOR". From working in centers and knowing people in other centers, these happens at least once a day or several times a week depending on the type of business.

Raise your hands if you have ever received this type of call.

Thank you.

From the company's standpoint they always want the agent to take care of the problem. Sometimes the callers will not budge and will insist on talking to a supervisor. The type of business could be banking, or internet.These problems may involve fouled up orders, no shows for appointments, billing inquiries or just general gripes on their "customer experience".

Folks let me first let you in on a little secret. About half the time the call will not be transferred to a supervisor. A real supervisor being a person who hires, fires, writes reviews, signs your time sheet etc. Most supervisors may not have the technical expertise to handle the call or may just plain not want to deal with it. God forbid if the customer asks to speak to "their supervisor". Instead the call will be taken by another representative who has been at the company awhile and has demonstrated knowledge and poise to handle these situations. They may actually be a senior rep, a lead, a floor walker or an escalations supervisor or have a different nom de plume.

Nancy Gale, who was at Washington Mutual said, "in the credit card division it was common for some agents to have two or three escalations a day. We actually had a team that took only those calls".

Having been at times the "supervisor" at a company, the tone of the customer usually changed dramatically as if you will wave the magic wand and fix whatever their issue is. The key point here is to use whatever resources you have to satisfy the customer. If it means calling them back make sure you call them back.

So if you are that customer who calls in, actually give the agent a chance to correct your problem. You may find they can do it fairly quickly and a wait for a supervisor may not be necessary.

Calling an 800 Number

Have you ever had the time, patience and sometimes enjoyment of calling an 800 number for a major company? First of all I have attached a link to a brief history of the 800 number and Roy Weber who in 1978 invented the modern toll free system.

Let's take a look at ten companies, many with Bay Area strongholds on their 800 number system and a rating based on five stars for getting to a live person without pushing too many buttons or delays.

1) PG& E 800-743- 5000. You can report an outage, check on your bill or open an account.

Rating: Four Stars

2) AT&T 800-288-2020 You plow through lots of questions, there are many products from basic phone to billing to tech support to new service to make it stretch out a bit..

Rating: Three and a half Stars

3) Comcast 800- 266-2278 At last they have the Shaq and Ben show opening the call taken off. If you press support, it still says as it has in the past we are experiencing an outage. This needs updated especially if there is nothing down in your area. Make sure you press the right key, as there are different choices.

Rating: Three and a half Stars.

4) Apple 800-275-2273 You get choices for which iproduct you have, including the "magical and revolutionary" iPad.

Rating: Four Stars

5) Chase Bank 800-432-3117 This is for credit cards. Asks way too many question, mentions you may be on hold awhile.

Rating: Three Stars

6) Wells Fargo 800-869-3557 Like Chase, lots of questions. Are you who we think you are? It does give a waiting time estimate for an agent. Mine was ten minutes.

Rating: Three Stars

7) Farmers 800-327-6869 This is for tow and roadside assistance. They do a good job right off the bat asking if your car is an a safe location. Pretty quick route to an agent.

Rating: Four and a half Stars

8) Dell 800-624-9896 Funniest opening with the song "lollipop,lollipop ohhhhh lollipop. Hope you are in a good mood when that plays. Even if you don't have your computer information, you can get to an agent quickly if you follow the prompts.

Rating Four Stars

9) IRS 800-829-1040 Very business like, because it deals with your money and hey it's the Government. It says you will be sent to an agent who will direct your call. Good luck.

Rating Three Stars

10) AOL 800-827-6364 After getting your information at least they say we are experiencing high call volumes. People still use dial up connections ?

Is Customer Service a thing of the past

I did a search on Google for " is customer service dead" to see what kind of posts there were. Below is the link for the search. The results were absolutely stunning. Click on it and feel your jaw drop or your eyes widen.

Over 18 million results found from it is dead, dying, a thing of the past, blog entries, complaints, threats and plain old bad service. What has happened in the past few years? Do companies really care about excellent service or does adequate service make the grade. Focusing on call centers, numbers are the name of the game there. From calls taken, to how long you talk to a customer, to how much time you spend after a call and different rating systems that review a handful of calls per month are the standard.

Here are some possible reasons for a decline and why this is a hot topic.

People are not trained properly. For call centers, you may have anywhere from two weeks to a month before you our on your own taking calls. If you are lucky you may sit near someone who can mentor and assist you through those rough first weeks where bad habits can sprout. It can be sink or swim. Also keep in mind a lot of this type of work is outsourced across the ocean.

Staff feels the product is overpriced or does not believe in it.

This is where communication between managers and supervisors come in either through staff meetings, individual meetings or more training. The employee has to believe this is a great service at a reasonable price. If they don't ,then they may be just collecting a paycheck.

Agents are tired of hearing the same complaints and problems over and over again.

If there are constant issues be it service, outage, deliveries, or billing then this is critical mass and management should start earning their salary and FIX IT.

Incentives and salary are not in line with the job.

Let's be honest, in this recession a lot of people would rather be doing something else than talking to 40 or more callers a day. All of these reasons may account for a high turnover in this industry ( as high as 50%). Having a hard to reach bonus plan or meager raises contribute to this factor.

These are some points of what is wrong with 21st century customer service.