Customer Service

I was nearly finished with my Friday, two-mile mall-walk at Fashion Square this evening and tiring prematurely, I ducked into a department store to slow down and look for bargains that I might be able to talk about on my Monday radio presentation as Retail Man. Once a week I talk about the bargains around town on the Retail Store Ads radio show which is a community service to those whose vision has failed them and can no longer entertain themselves by reading about and pursuing the bargains at the malls. It is a production of SunSounds of Arizona. I try to keep it fun and upbeat. Actually what I wanted most was a five-minute break. And right then a salesperson who appeared to be either encouraged by the thought of a sales bonus or was vying for the prospect of an upcoming management vacancy had me in his headlights. All I had to do was stand there with him for a few minutes while I rested.

Sales clerk Randy: Hi there sir, my name is Randy. Would you like a cup of coffee?

Lee; That’d be dandy Randy. Call me Lee if you’d like.

Randy: Great, Lee. Latte?

Lee; Dark Roast. I like my coffee strong.

Randy: Alright, I’m betting you’ll love this. When is the last time you shopped for a coffee maker?

Lee; Years ago

Randy: I’ll bet I can show you some features and benefits that have not caught your eye yet. May I try?

Lee; Go ahead Randy.

Randy: This one weighs and grinds the beans, pours the water, times the delivery and announces the readiness of your freshly poured cup of delicious, fragrant dark roast Columbian or whatever your choices of the many selections available.

Lee; Does it bake bread?

Randy: Sorry Lee.

Lee; How much does it cost, Randy?

Randy:$400.00 and I’ll include a month’s supply of home-made sour dough bread. How’s that sound?

Lee; Sounds good, what else ya got? Try something under forty dollars this time, why dontcha?

Randy: Oh, you’re gonna love this, Mr. Lee.

Lee; Randy, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be encouraging you. I need to get back to my walk. And I love the coffeemaker that I use now.

Randy: What kind is it, Lee?

Lee; It’s a Lee Broom glass canister, slow drip coffee maker, every one made to order. I have a waiting list.

Randy: Wow, how much are they?

Lee: They are $499.99, they come with a pound of my own Special Blend and another pound of homemade peanut butter.

Randy: Would you like me to sell them for you? I can move those in a hurry and I’ll only charge you 20%. You do the shipping.

I told Randy I’d think about it and returned to the mall. As I ran around, weaving in and out of the evening foot traffic, I congratulated myself on my new idea and replayed the events of breakfast. This morning I broke my Mr. Coffee and quickly invented a new coffeemaker, using a twelve-inch high vase, a perfect cylinder, its width and circumference identical to that of the clear blue glass mugs I drink from. All the parts that I needed had been there; the vase, the filter salvaged from another old coffee maker and I was the final component, standing there pouring steamy, boiling water over the dark brown aromatic grounds. It had been so much fun. I even found a red lid to fit over the glass cylinder after the brewing experience had been completed. It came from a jar of “homemade” peanut butter. I look forward to breakfast again tomorrow morning.

Oops! Sorry Lady. Didn’t mean to bump you.

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A Candy Appleish, Sparkly Gold Rolls Royce

“The biggest mistake that you can make is to believe that you are working for somebody else. Job security is gone. The driving force of a career must come from the individual. Remember: Jobs are owned by the company, you own your career!” Earl Nightingale

I was in the workroom of Lee Broom Picture Framing Company. It was a beautiful spring day in Scottsdale Arizona. The stereo was tuned to the classical music station and I was listening to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30. The recording was of the composer himself at the piano. The year was 1929, years before the year of my birth, probably at New York City Music Hall. (I am listening as I write, to this same piece as performed by Olga Kern.) As I listened and locked in the last brad in the frame I was building, reaching as I did so for the Kraft paper I had already prepared to be used as a dust cover, I saw through the window, a Candy Appleish, Sparkly Gold  Rolls Royce pulling up to the curb.

Great. This could mean a big sale. I continued working, observing the driver emerging from a  beautiful if somewhat vulgar looking almost-a-limo; he walked around to the trunk which appeared to be opening itself, removed a large cardboard box and start toward my front door.  As he approached the showroom I was holding the door open for my visitor.  He entered the room moving deliberately toward the 4′x8′ glass table which served as a sales counter and also as my desk. The gentleman did not look around at my beautifully designed showroom as did others when entering for the first time. Nor did he hesitate when entering the room; he seemed to have been here before. Today, I was the only staff member on the premises. My two framers were absent without leave.

The music reached its conclusion. I looked at the welcome intruder, listened as he asked what I thought to be a perfectly ridiculous question, “Do you offer senior discounts.” Music returned. It was now my favorite composition of all time, the Rach’s first movement from his second piano concerto, this time being performed by Van Clyburn. Instantly inspired and at the same time recognizing my visitor, I helped him remove the contents of the box ignoring for the moment his question and pausing to admire a Piranesi print .  “I know you. I couldn’t place your face but the minute I heard your voice I knew you.”

“Well”, He dragged it out a bit, watching me as though he were deliberately and easily reading my mind. “So…..tell me please,” the serious look on his face was a mask for an impish side to his personality, that particular trait being suddenly revealed by a bit of a twinkle in one eye or another, “Who am I?”.

“You Sir are Sky King.”

The gravel in my visitor’s deep baritone voice added an unusually comedic air, filling the small show room as he began to laugh, and laugh and laugh. I chuckled as he quieted down and offered me his hand. “Earl Nightingales” he explained.

“Lee Broom.” I accepted his handshake. “I’m very happy to meet you Mister Nightingale.”

”Thank you” he replied. I wish you’d call me Earl. May I call you Lee?”

“You may do that Earl. I apologize for not answering your question about senior discounts. No. I don’t do that. But I’ll tell you what I will do. If you’ll watch the shop for twenty minutes, I’ll go fetch some sandwiches. You can play with samples. Look at artwork. Just make yourself at home. When I return – I assume since it is 11:45 that you haven’t had lunch?” I paused.  “When I return I’ll give you a ten percent discount on all framing and artwork that you might be inclined to buy and I’ll deliver all completed work to your home free of charge. I’ll even install it for free if you will allow me to bring a photographer.”

A big smile lit Earl’s larger than life, face. “Where’s the sandwich shop, Lee?”

“Scottsdale and Shea.”

“Scottsdale and Shea? That’s two blocks from here. I don’t see another car out front. It’ll take twenty minutes just to walk there and back. Another 15 minutes for the food to be prepared. Is your car in the rear of the store?”

“It’s at the garage having the brakes  re-lined.”

“Well, just how did you plan on getting there?”

“I plan to drive your car.” His face now had that same look that I’d interpreted earlier as his ESP face. He reached in his pocket and removed his keys.

“I’m trusting you with my Rolls Royce, Lee.”

“I’m trusting you with my shop, Earl.” I suddenly had an idea and told him to hold his thought while I retrieved something from the back room. I returned with a well-worn copy of THE STRANGEST SECRET by Earl Nightingale. “I made some notes in this book. Maybe while I’m gone you’d like to flip through the pages.” That look again. And, then a smile.

“Okay”.

And thus began a friendship with a man who would with no more than a dozen meetings in as many years, be remembered as one of the most stimulating friendships I had ever known. We talked a lot about “Success” over the years. He learned that day, the day he loaned me his Candy Appleish, Sparkly Gold Rolls Royce, the day that I left him with my well-worn copy of his book, The Strangest Secret; he knew that I did not agree with everything that he had written. Whenever I had felt a critique rising to the surface I’d left written evidence in the margins of those thoughts. Some were a bit caustic. I’m not certain why I took a chance like that. I ran the risk of sabotaging a friendship not yet realized and on a more practical note, I needed his business. But, I felt that I knew Earl the minute I let him in my front door. And, as time would demonstrate, my sense of a connection had been accurate. It could be said that the concert pianist playing in the background as Earl and I met, was only a skilled craftsman compared to the Composer who was one with the Universe as he wrote the original composition. One could say that but I believe that would be a  mistake in judgment.

I believe that those who create, especially those who create music are often indeed, One with the Universe, regardless of which role they happen to be playing at the time. I believe that on this particular day that Earl and I were every bit as connected as Van Cliburn to Rachmaninov, on that spring day in 1981. Or was it 1982. (As you can see I have more faith in my connectedness than in my memory.)

When I returned, Earl was visiting with my friend and business neighbor, Herb Drinkwater. It was to Drinkwater Liquor and Cheese that I had gone for sandwiches. Silly me. It was right across the street. Earl was telling Herb about his new home. It was near the crest of Mummy Mountain. It had a fully equipped radio station, a 100 foot mast and he was already doing his radio show every morning from the comfort of his own home.

I was very familiar with the building in which he lived and after he left that day I wondered for a moment what it must be like for him to be earning his living doing the work that he loved. It took only a moment to realize that this is what sparked the flame of recognition between us for it was that drive to live one’s dream that Earl and I shared.

I reached across the table and picked up THE STRANGEST SECRET by Earl Nightingale and opened the cover.

“To my new friend Lee, who loaned me his store and welcomed me to Scottsdale Arizona. Earl Nightingale.”

An episode of Sky King:     http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZm7KwQCQGw

The Ninety Day Wonder

Lee_Broom

The name Ninety Day Wonder originally referred to the training of approved army privates after the initial 16 weeks of basic training required for combat. Education requirements could be satisfied with a decent score of the newly devised GED test. I was one of those men chosen for this honor.  I did not complete the ninety days.A few weeks later I was transferred to the 287th Field Artillery based in Dachau, Germany.

Twenty years later I attempted to buy the frame shop that I had successfully managed in Scottsdale Arizona for eight years. My negotiation techniques were netting zero results. I shopped around the neighborhood and found a nearby vacancy, put down a deposit and signed a lease which gave me thirty days to withdraw if I so chose.

I negotiated one more time with my employer, mentioning the new alternative. The offer was rejected. Though I had the support of my bank to buy the older store, they rejected my application for the thirty thousand dollars I needed to get started. I sold one of my automobiles and used the resulting two thousand to get the store furnished and ready for sales. I then went to the bank and asked for three letters of credit totaling six thousand dollars and placed orders for art prints and raw materials inventory necessary to build custom framing.

Loyal to the company which had formerly employed me I refrained from calling my old customers and chose instead to buy a full page in the Entertainment section of the Friday issue of the Scottsdale Progress featuring a picture of me and a hand written letter signed Lee, promoting the benefits of shopping at the newly opened Lee Broom Picture Framing Company.

I began to build a business.

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On the ninetieth day, after witnessing the rapid growth of LBPFC the bank manager offered me a line of credit for twenty thousand dollars.

Yesterday, Today.

Yesterday morning, July 18, 2012, I arrived for a day’s work at PCC. Before being seated I went to the training room and counted new trainees. There were twenty. Tuesday I had counted seventeen. In the five days I worked I estimate that there were between eighty and one hundred new employees. Each day at nine o clock I rose from my desk to take a bathroom break. On my way I visually scoured the fifty seat room for empty desks. The only empty seats that I ever saw showed personal belongings at that desk. Conclusion: These new hires were not there for the purpose of filling vacancies, rather to create them. If seventeen people were hired and successfully trained, then seventeen employees must be removed from the roster to make room for new employees.

So why would PCC do such a thing. I can say only what I know. I know that the first bit of instruction that trainees are given is a request for a signature on a contract which states that the first five days training will earn the worker eight dollars an hour and that after five days that pay will be increased to ten dollars per hour plus bonuses and commissions. There is also a statement that says that dismissal or leaving the company by choice will result in a lowering of pay to $7.65 per hour and that this reduction is retroactive to the day the employee began training. I interviewed eight trainees. Not one of these people understood the terms of the contract. No one I spoke to understood what I was telling them when I warned then that any attempt to make it past the ninety day period would be very risky because from the very second pay check, their earnings would be severely reduced if it was the last paycheck. Those “fortunate” enough to make it to the eighty-ninth day before being fired could technically owe the company hundreds of dollars.

It appears that PCC is saving tens of thousands of dollars per month by doing this; it appears that well over ninety percent of these employees are leaving the company at the default pay rate. As for the requirement of reading every word of the fundraising script word for word with no ad-libbing of any kind, this is a reason for dismissal. The near impossibility of perfection at this task makes it possible for PCC to release anyone using as a reason for dismissal, failure to follow the script. In my case I was told that my production was low. I was seated next to the validators. I consistently sent over well closed donations of $100.00 each. Only two of these were credited on my stat screen. Twice I heard my larger than usual donors being verified without receiving credit for it. Of course I do not know the real reason for being fired. In fact I would have quit of my own accord on 7.26.2012 if a conversation with management failed to produce a better contract for me.

When interviewed I produced a verifiable resume with testimonials from The Republican Party and letters demonstrating a lifetime of contribution to the party and references which when checked would reveal that I had raised millions of dollars a year in previous presidential election periods working on behalf of the RNC. I also was required to fill out application form. The original interview took about three minutes. Not one document was read during the interview. I was hired on the spot. The people I later interviewed told the same story. One gentleman told me how grateful he was for the opportunity. He was schizophrenic he said, and had found it next to impossible to get a job or to hold one.

Another day. Now off to work again.

7:10 am: Yesterday I was asked to stop ad-libbing  but I was unable to do that. When I asked for a clean headset I was told by Kristine that I would be given “an opportunity to buy a headset” if I manage to complete my training.” The implication was that my chances of making it “to the floor” are slim. If I stay on the payroll for two weeks after training, my pay as a result of default to the lower rate would consume a significant part of my pay check.

Randomly distributed headsets on a daily basis.

This is Tuesday, July 17, 2012. Every day, the headsets are distributed to each caller from a batch of randomly chosen head sets. This dramatically increases the risk of spreading disease. I have had a different headset every day. Very scary. I was in the class that started on Thursday, July 12, 2012. There were at least seven of us. Another larger class started the following day. I did not look to see if a class was in progress yesterday. The room has fifty seats. I suspect that the population cleanses itself of the majority of callers on a monthly basis. I’ll check the training room today.

We are treated well but the question is Does this company PCC, actually have reason to prefer a high churn rate? The only reason I could see that this might be so is the default pay rate of $7.65 per hour. If forty callers who would otherwise have been paid $10.00 per hour for 35 hours per week, were instead paid at the default rate that would result in a savings of from $25,000.00 to $30,000.00 for the month.

Handing out unclean headsets on a daily basis increases the likelihood of becoming ill before the ninety day probation is met. If any of us were to separate for any reason from this job on the ninetieth day we would fall into this default circumstance. I’m guessing that most do not make it. The odds of successfully completing ninety days appear to be very slim, indeed.

My guess is that if it were discovered that this company is deliberately encouraging illness as a means of sabotaging individual success among trainees that a felony offense would be discovered within the management staff of PCC.

Customer Satisfaction is the basis upon which succesful businesses are built. Customer Service can improve or destroy a business depending on whether the Customer receives good Service or GETS "Serviced".