July 29, 2014

The realities of ineffective Customer Support call centers, from entry level to management. Part 1

This is a call to Comcast Customer support to cancel service. It is not the absolute norm, but it is also far from discouraged by the employer.

I couldn't make it through more than 4 minutes of this and this customer ended up spending over 10 minutes requesting that his account be canceled before it was done.

That was so painful, and I know the realities of it so personally. I worked in  Customer Support for a major telecom for 7 years, from entry level to executive escalations, CS training and assistant supervisor. The very reason I did not stay or continue to get promoted was because of my open disagreement with management over the treatment of our members who were trying to cancel. ( I was at Earthlink) What started off as special retention teams of experienced reps using excellent service and problem solving to save customers turned into teams of pushy, never take no for an answer abuse. It was a daily event to have a customer crying, or screaming or both to cancel before the reps would begrudgingly click the one button necessary.  I got a sit down talk with the West Coast senior manager about my unfortunate attitude after I had had words with a rep who had made an old lady cry because he kept pressuring her. I had been in on the call, it was obvious it had been sold to her by a door to door rep, she did not own a computer and had been paying for it for 3 months while living on social security; but the little prick wouldn't let up on her.  

Yeah so that got me a official verbal counselling. My senior management denied my request to cross train sales with support to reduce call volume at a bi monthly all senior staff meeting. They said "We do not want our sales to team to learn anything that might stop them from making a sale." When I replied "So you are aware that over 1/3 of those sales were secured with the promise of false information? How is lying to people and selling an unusable or unneeded product profitable? Every single dissatisfied customer that calls in costs the company 5-8 $ and on cancellations we go negative 18.00 to 25.00 per call. Worse than the money lost is the bad image and word of mouth negative responses being generated by these interactions. We are actually paying to create bad consumer feedback and damage the company image."

I know now that from a corporate viewpoint, I had just assassinated my career with Earthlink. The room went still; all the senior supervisors looked away and my manager said "We do not think that's the way it should be looked at."

Yeah, within a couple months I got shuffled from assistant supervisor at the main branch to one of the email support departments at a recently acquired  ISP on the other side of town. Over half of the legacy support staff and supervisors had opted to accept a 2 months severance package and leave the company rather than get a small raise and watch the company they had all helped build get swallowed by a hungry competitor. All that was left was handfuls of temps and a skeleton crew of mediocre reps with less than 5 months of experience, the ones who hadn't been with Mindspring long enough to qualify for the severance package basically, i am sure half of those would have left as well if they had been offered it. Worse than that was remnants of middle and upper management that had been offered large bonuses to stay. It was almost immediately apparent that these managers and supervisors were the hangers on, the worst the company had hired, then promoted simply because they met the minimum requirement and had seniority. Nasty, selfish,  uncaring, and stressed out supervisors  who were openly aggressive and abusive about any solutions or activities that required anything other than the absolute minimum of their attention.

When Earthlink started we had the lowest % of employee turnover and the single highest customer retention in the entire business. Within 4 and a half years our new employee turnover was 55% of each class trained within 6 months, average new employee retention after a year was around 22%. That meant for every 50 people we hired, we would have less than 23 trained and useful representatives that had passed the probation period and were given their first performance appraisal and pay increase. Maybe 11 of those or less would be around before the end of a year. The old (Mindspring) location became the place they put people who they were never going to promote or move to any special projects. 2 years after I left Earthlink, i had contacted a close friend and co-worker who I had trained when I was a assistant supervisor. He informed me that everyone we had worked with except for himself and a couple others were gone. That, in fact, almost the entire customer service and technical support sections of the company had been laid off and replaced with remote location, oversea outsourced support from India. The only department still left for inbound customer support was my ex-coworkers, and they only handled support for major corporate clients and special retention for business account cancellations.

During my time at Earthlink I had learned a lot. I had always been very energetic and respected problem solver in my jobs; with a ever deepening desire to provide excellent customer support. My wife and I both had moved up the ranks in various service industries through our customer support skills and had almost made a theology of it. At Earthlink I had been trained by the very finest in customer support for corporations, and a man who I respect deeply and maintain contact with to this day, almost 20 years later.  I helped build the internet, and had many hundreds of unforgettable interactions with incredible people and customers; one was even my childhood hero (Ranger Rick) the environmentally conscious cartoon activist that had a activity sheet delivered to our schools every few months.

   It was also one of the most soul crushing times, watching everything that had brought me joy and personal success rot in front me. The company values I had lived and breathed for 3 years, gone.

 They vision statement of our little ISP, "To Provide the very best in customer service and support." That goal was the driving force of Earthlink and it was the one and only reason we rose up from a small warehouse in LA to the nations number one ISP; surpassing AOL who had almost total market dominance, within 3 years and it was all done with customer service.  Our unspoken motto, "The customer is not always right, that is why they are calling you. You will let them know what can be done and assist them with being right. We will always give the customer exactly what they need, and we will do so in a friendly and respectful manner. "

How very depressing to see all that hard work and positive energy being put out into the world,  our customers happy and our employees proud of the good work; all torn down in a few short years; right after we became a publicly traded company.. Then it was greed and the old business model where numbers mean everything and people mean shit.

So why have I gone on and on about this? Maybe so their is a record of how it happened from the inside, and maybe someone will read it and not make the same mistakes over and over again. The message behind all of this, the moral of the story?  Be respectful and give the very best you can when dealing with customers and your staff. We proved that a company that treats people like welcome guests will thrive in this world. Those people you help who would have been treated badly by others will feel how well they were treated and will be happier. What is is also important is that they will not go on with their day filled with negative vibes, resentment, frustration and anger in them. Every single thing that happens to them that day has the opportunity to make other peoples days better; such as  stopping your car to let someone into your lane when no one else will, instead of angrily forcing your way to block them. These little tiny interactions we have every day matter, just as a positive and helpful attitude towards your day will naturally create more positivity in the world around so can negativity about an unrelated event cause a cascade effect of negativity

 When business is only interested in the bottom line, people become numbers, there is no empathy, there is no community and it makes the world a meaner, more frustrated place.

"Super Childhood Nostalgia Beam, ACTIVATE!!"

OK my fellow militant nerds, this is the EPIC battle against evil you never knew you absolutely needed to experience!

WATCH THIS FILM!!---------------------->


This film is so goddamn awesome and includes just about every single Super Sentai Character from every series since 1975 to 2011 ( 25 different teams with multiple versions from each team, which must be almost 100). Even the Power Rangers can be found teaming up with all the rest of the protectors of earth! If that isn't enough awesomeness, it also has a renegade group of Sentai Pirates trying to plunder earths treasures. Its like Captain Harlock's illegitimate children teamed up to rape and pillage in Sentai power suits!!!!

I have been clapping and jumping around my room for the last hour.

If you still have no clue what i am talking about, then you should still watch this because it will have you giggling to yourself in WTF'ery for days.

July 26, 2014

Working on Working

For the last 3 years almost I have been in a rut. I became so obsessed with needing to create something great and challenging that I backed myself into a corner inside a round room; then just kept circling. Well, no more of that crap, as of today I have started making Mashup videos again. They may not be high art, but they are something that engages me to think creatively again. I must say my training has paid off though; even though I haven't made much of anything in years, the video I made today took me only 5 1/2 hours to make from idea to final render.

So here it is the concept image:

and here is the video
Turn Fancy for What-Tom Boates Everybody from Titus Prime on Vimeo.

A big thank you to Tom Boates Everybody, for making the mashup and another big thanks to my dear friends at Bootie San Francisco for putting this in track in their July 2014 Top 10 list.

July 19, 2014

What's on your mind? Facebook asked Titus, as if it cared about what he was truly thinking.

 I have made the decision to seriously reduce the amount of time and energy I spend on Facebook.
I am instead devoting my reclaimed energy and time to creating new projects, learning new technologies and  the tools to do it with; also to this, my long ignored blog.

I care deeply about the lives, loves, sorrows and joys of my friends. As they should all know, I live by my word and my actions are proof of my word.

    With that said, I can no longer allow myself to waste so much energy, time and genuine concern over the meta society of Facebook. We all have wonderful and amazing lives, whether they are acknowledged by us as such or not. We go through trials and adventures and moments of intensity so extreme that they change us; sometimes they even change those around us. Those moments should be shared, the moments that inspire us or devour our hope; the moments that are shared whether we tell anyone or not; like the loss of a loved one, or falling in love; sharing these things with those close to us is an important part of the journey we are all on together.

 Facebook in my opinion is a double edged sword that has one side worn down to a dull round edge of banality and self possessed obsession with sharing ones every passing thought; trivial encounters, slightly amusing memes and an endless list of places we went out to eat at.  Our every single movement and action has been given a link, app or button to interact with so that we do not really have to waste time interacting with each other about the things that may have been special or horrible. It is a never ending running commentary of activities so mundane that, in most cases, people to not even bother to comment briefly on the who, where, why or what as it pertains to their postings.

I recently found myself pondering all of our lives before Facebook, before the Internet for that matter. I talked to my friends, long involved discussions, sharing stories and listening to each others adventures as it related to the moment we were in together. What we never, ever, ever spent time doing was talking about everything we had seen or place we had been to get a bite to eat. We didn't talk about every single book we ever read, nor did we rehash our opinions on every film, TV show, or short film we had seen.  We did spend a lot of time sharing what we thought was important, what we believed that our friends and people around us would gain something from because we had gained something special from it. Whether it was laughter, insight, inspiration, empathy or just plain awesomeness, what we shared was important.

Nothing seems very important on Facebook; everyone has become entirely jaded, or obsessed with the act sharing. The very idea of sharing has been flattened into a 2 Dimensional plane and can only measure it's worth in the amount of likes it gets; its life expectancy is short, its impact barely measurable as a ripple of minutiae in a sea of memes.

For these reasons and to enhance my own lifestyle I have returned to this format of sharing. I am sharing this with myself, in the future; one day I will read this again and I will reflect on my reflections.

BTW, I am very manly Muppet.

In parting I leave you, and me, with an important message; the very message that helped me see a healthier path to walk as I move forward.  I felt the words of Matthew Silver as if he were speaking directly to me, and knew that he was, in his own way. We are all one and when we truly speak what is in our hearts, we are speaking to everyone.

Thank you Matthew.

I am going to end this with a song, a song about living.

Passenger 'Scare Away The Dark' Dir: James Lees from James Lees on Vimeo.

Wonderful Creations. July 2014

This is the first of my new series of posts devoted to displaying and archiving the finest creative audio visual creations I find each month.

So here we go,

First we have two fantastic shorts by producer and director Chris Capel

  Naptime! from Chris Capel on Vimeo.

Living With Jigsaw from Chris Capel on Vimeo.

This incredible skateboarding short has some of the most unique urban skateboarding cinematography I have ever seen.

Urban Isolation from Russell Houghten on Vimeo.

This one may not be the best, but it carries an important message, from Charles Bukowski, on living.

All The Way - a Charles Bukowski poem from Willem Martinot on Vimeo.

I immediately fell in love with the band that this video was made for: Timber Timbre.

Timber Timbre - Beat the Drum Slowly from Full Time Hobby on Vimeo.

This is a look into the inner structure of nature and technology. A must for photographers and enthusiasts.

Verschleif from Laurin Döpfner on Vimeo.

Next I want introduce Jeremiah McDonald. This man is a genius in my opinion and does not get the amount of appreciation that his work deserves. I am including all my favorites from his youtube channel.

A fantastic satirical look at the youtube phenomenon from the point of view of the content creator.

"Scald Beg Germs"  It is just too awesome to describe.

I am including the dialogue in text format, because it is awesome!!

(Note 1: A new line is an apparent skip in the film.)

It was a perfectly ordinary morning!
That these were just normal chicken eggs.
"Do not scramble."
As you see, here. ["TIME"]

(Note 2: The allcaps word "TIME" is shorthand, meaning: "The man holds up an egg - the word "TIME" is on its shell, in magic marker.")

Now, I'm the same as everyone else!
Well, I say "normal"...
I've never met a chicken that wondered what would happen
Except for the eggs.
That twelve o'clock was followed by two minutes past twelve before
Six of them left outside my door
There's a fey artistic type, lives down the hall
With a note attached to their container
Chickens are good bureaucrats
Before one minute past twelve came along. [Man is... frustrated?]
As you see, here. ["TIME"]
Why a chicken?
I'd like to pretend there was some epic adventure involved
"Time," crudely written on their sides in magic marker
I'd heard the old myth
Of the Time Chicken.
"Do not scramble"?!! [Man is annoyed, in disbelief.]
As you see, here. ["TIME"]
That there's a chicken, at the exact center of the known universe
And yes, I'd thought of this "myth"
Now I claim no expertise on poultry... but-
Closer inspection revealed that each of the six shells had the word "time" 
In getting ahold of these eggs.
With a note attached to their container
I'd like to say they were dragon's eggs!
Because chickens almost wholly lack imagination.
They don't have the dexterity
That regulates time with its mind. [Said condescendingly.]
Stolen from a nest
Why can a chicken be hypnotized by a straight line of chalk
And yes, I thought of this "myth"
Chickens can be relied upon not to think laterally.
They don't have the dexterity
As I stared at my surprise eggs and pondered breakfast.
A hoax perpetrated by a neighbor
Chickens are sequential thinkers, which makes things easier
Drawn in front of it?
As you see, here. ["TIME"]
So, naturally, I assumed this was all a human invention.
"Hi, did you enjoy the eggs?" [Pantomiming left.]
She was my prime suspect.
"Yes, I did, thank you." [Pantomiming right.]
Chickens are sequential thinkers, which makes things easier, for everyone concerned.
Because it's dazed by the beauty of order.
I chuckled to myself.
"Do not scramble"
"You didn't scramble them, did you?" [Pantomiming left.]
A well-meaning, honest omelette can become a smashed omelette
I didn't want to put myself in a position where I'd have to lie to the woman
It was a character test.
Just as I've never known a chicken to have an imaginative thought
I'd be tempted to scramble the eggs and lie about it.
I've never known a chicken to write the word "time" in magic marker o-
As you see, here. ["TIME"]
I thought this was her eccentric way of making a connection with me
Who'd given me the eggs
Smashed doesn't really cover it anymore
Quite by accident
On the side of an egg
With too much time and too many eggs on their hands
I chuckled to myself
But things can go wrong with omelettes sometimes.
Maybe she'd set this up to see if I'd be tempted
So I resolved to make an omelette, instead.
You didn't intend it
So that's my story
I think you know me well enough by now
I'm sorry to my neighbor
I thought about the conversation that might follow
Scramble the eggs and lie about it.
A well-meaning, honest omelette
I'm not the kind of man who will refuse to scramble an egg
As you see, here. ["TIME"]
For scrambling the eggs
On the basis of a warning and some old legend.
Become a smashed omelette
But I am polite.
By accident, become more and more smashed
But as far as I can tell, no harm came of it...?
I didn't mean to
You didn't intend it, but you have scrambled your eggs.
I hard-boiled this one! ["TIME"]
As you see, here. ["TIME"]
[The man smashes an egg ruefully off-camera and is frozen in place in all remaining frames.]

This next one is a very accurate representation of inner creative struggle. Yes, sometimes it is this noisy inside my head too.

This last one of Jeremiah's projects is one of those films that, in retrospect, almost every filmmaker wishes he could make.

I suggest checking out his channel, he has so much more to offer.

I do love me a good western!

The Gunfighter from Eric Kissack on Vimeo.