Saturday, 25 November 2006

Lest We Forget

I really am not posting this at the best time. It would have been more topical a couple of weeks ago. But it's one of those thoughts that's built over time.

As you may or may not know, there was recently a motion passed by the Canadian House of Commons regarding whether or not to hold a state funeral for the last surviving Canadian Veteran of the Great War (WWI). There has been a great deal of support, and a great deal of opposition to the idea. I'm not going to provide my thoughts on whether this would be appropriate. I have to admit to seeing many sides to the issue.

What has been percolating through my mind is more about the passing of time, and the deadening of memory. Last century we lived through some of the most cataclysmic events the world has known. Two conflicts whose impacts were felt world wide, both in terms of the geo-political changes they effected, as well as in the unprecedented damage they wrought. A plague that probably killed more people than both those wars combined. The creation and use of some of the most devastating weapons mankind has ever known.

I do not discount or minimize the terrible events of the recent past, but as we come to the point where all those who fought for freedom in First World War leave us, I wonder that we don't lose the power of their memory. For myself, World War I is something I've only read about. Even the second World War only impinged on me in stories that my grandfather told (would that I, as a child, had paid more attention and respect.) Soon there will be no one who can tell us of the horrors, of the sacrifices, and of the glory. That both saddens and scares me.

These events have helped us create a better world (and if you don't think the world of today is a better world, that's another reason to study history). We are a better, more tolerant, and generally safer society than we were a hundred years ago. We are infinitely better off than we were two hundred years ago.

For most of you who will read this, these events will never be more than history. I rejoice that we do not face the awful demands placed upon those who endured the trenches. But I also pray that we do not forget the lessons learned.

Hark the resentful guns!
Oh, how thankful am I
To think my beloved ones
Will never know how I die!
I've suffered more than my share;
I'm shattered beyond repair;
I've fought like a man the fight,
And now I demand the right
(God! how his fingers cling!)
To do without shame this thing.
Good! there's a bullet still;
Now I'm ready to fire;
Blame me, God, if You will,
Here on the wire . . . the wire. . . .
~Robert Service - Last stanza of On the Wire

Thursday, 23 November 2006

Customer Service

You can expect to hear a great deal from me on the topic of customer service. Unsurprising as I work as a Quality Analyst in that field.

I tend to wander around different customer service sites on the net. Most decry the state of customer service today. Many suggest fixes (often their own customer service training package.) Quite a few talk about automated solutions.

Although I won't be so bold as to say I know all the solutions to what is wrong with customer service today, I would like to posit a slightly different cause than most of those I see put forward. I don't think the problem is a lack of training, or the wrong training. I don't think the problem is a poor IVR, or bad websites. I think the problem is with the people doing the customer service.

North American culture worships entitlement. We are 'entitled' to everything. We have rights! It is the duty of everyone else to ensure that we get what we are due. Unfortunately, if we all expect others to serve us, that leaves no one to serve. Customer service in North America is floundering because too many of the people who are providing it aren't concerned with the person they are supposed to be helping. They are only concerned with what they are due.

So when these people encounter others looking for help, they are entirely correct in treating with indifference, or disdain. Their culture has told them that they only need to be concerned with their own needs.

If you've read my previous post on altruism, you'll know that I believe that everyone acts only to their own benefit. Unfortunately North America has become very short sighted in this regard. We've lost sight of the big picture of the benefits a caring society provides in favour of a very narrow view. Our vision is only of tangible personal gain. We have deified the cold and calculating individual.

So what does this mean for companies that want to differentiate themselves from their competition on the basis of their customer service? They can hardly alter the collective ethos of hundreds of millions of people. No company is going to make North America a caring culture in any sort of realistic timeframe.

In the short term I think the best a company can do is to take three basic steps.
  1. First they need to hire people who care (at all levels of the organization). This requires a bit of a different focus in terms of the recruitment and selection process, but I think it will create some very interesting side benefits for the company willing to do so.
  2. Second, the company needs to create it's own internal culture. I think the example of the Ritz-Carlton demonstrates how that is done. They talk about customer service every day. They define themselves in terms of their character: "We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.'' They drive their culture through constant communication of a message that says 'this is who we are'.
  3. Finally, the company needs to structure it's performance management, at all levels, to include customer satisfaction and culture adherence. One of the truisms of performance management is that what gets rewarded, gets done. Failure to make the culture part of the performance management regime sends a clear message that it is simply corporate lip service and should be completely ignored. Any organization that says the quality of its customer service matters, and doesn't include the customer's feedback as part of its performance management is deluding itself (and whoever else is listening). Depressingly, many companies do exactly that.
Until a company can hire or create caring individuals, it can do little more than dabble in the field of customer service.

Tuesday, 21 November 2006

Corporate Altruism?

I'll start by noting that I work for a large multi-national corporation.

My friend and gym partner, PJ, had a rather interesting discussion about corporate reality. I'm not sure if he would characterize the discussion that way, but I do. Basically, we ended up discussing whether a corporation could, would, should, have other motivations than profit. PJ contended that corporations should have other motivations. I felt this was an unrealistic expectation.

Now, to immediately deflect certain arguments, I want to be clear that we are talking about publicly traded corporations. I'm not talking about charitable organizations, governmental entities, etc. I fully recognize that a privately owned company may act based on the personal philosophy of the owner.

Corporations, like the one for which I work, exist to make money for their shareholders. All actions they take are intended for that purpose. This is even true of 'altruistic' actions by corporations. I'm not denying that the people who decide that a corporation will donate to charity 'X' may care deeply about the goals of the charity. However if there was no benefit to the corporation for making those donations, there would be no donations. Corporations undertake 'altruistic' actions, expecting certain benefits. Improved image, improved employee morale, and tax breaks are all very valid reasons why corporations undertake these actions.

I would go farther to posit that corporations are no different than individuals in this regard. We, as a race, only do things that meet our needs. All actions we undertake are intended to create some sort of benefit for us. Barring true psychosis, every individual acts for their own benefit. Mothers protect their young, philanthropists give away money, and masochists inflict pain upon themselves, all for the benefits those actions provide to them.

Corporate or individual, altruism is simply a way of saying that I do something for less apparent benefits.

Saturday, 18 November 2006

Caffeinated Ramblings

I've been meaning to do this for a long time.

That, in and of itself, might sum the story of my life. Sigh.

I think best, when I force myself to write out my thoughts. While journalling has often helped me understand what I think or feel, I find that my motivati0n for journalling flags. I prefer to write for an audience, even if that audience is unknown to me.

Hence, this blog.

I can't tell you what you're going to see here. Thoughts on Politics. Thoughts on Art. Thoughts on the weather (Hey, I'm Canadian. Talking about the Weather is our national sport.) Coffee will likely recur as a theme (something that surprises none who know me).

You'll probably also find a lot of thoughts on 'life', for lack of a better word. I find I watch people, and it amazes me what I see. I suspect I will return to 'people' a great deal during my musings.

Well, enough for now.