20 November 2018

Being Grateful

pebble in a pond
At this time of year when we focus on gratitude, many reasons to be grateful come to mind.   One in particular which takes priority for me this year is a valuable lesson I learned about writing, nearly three decades ago.  It was from a friend who was enrolled in an English as a Second Language (ESL) course at the time.  I learned the lesson because of comments his ESL teacher had made on a paper he had written.  Since his English was not a problem, the comments puzzled him.  He wondered what I thought about them.

As I read the comments after having read the paper, it was clear that at issue was the arrangement of content.  I learned from the comments and suggestions his teacher had noted on his paper, and shared with him what I understood the issue to be from those comments, so that he also understood her comments -  more precisely what I had learned from her comments about the issue she had with the arrangement of content in the paper.

I did not ever mention to him that I had learned a valuable English lesson from him about arrangement of content - albeit, indirectly, because of the lesson being from his teacher.  But, he was "the messenger" of a valuable lesson I learned, that we both learned from his instructor.  So I have often intended to credit him for providing the opportunity for me to also learn that lesson.

I did not realize I had learned a good and lasting lesson about arrangement of content until two years later when it served me well in a technical writing course.  As such what I had learned was also valuable to the other students on the team.  Our instructor frequently had us work together in teams of four  on the written material he gave us.  Our task was to use what he was teaching us to improve upon the material's clarity for the purpose of presentation through better delivery of content.

In retrospect I think part of the lesson learned for me was also the realization that using a computer to write makes good writing less labor intensive than writing in long-hand, or typing.  Three decades ago computers were still becoming universal for personal use.  Given that my work in the preceding decades had not included much writing, I had not had occasion or opportunity to use a word processor, so I really do not know if word processing made it easier to rearrange content in the same way it is accomplished with a computer.

Another realization I had from musing about this in retrospect, was that learning to be fluent in another language, beyond grammar, vocabulary,  and spelling, is also very much about sentence structure and arrangement of sentences.  These structure and arrangement issues have been problems for me when I am learning another language. Perhaps it is the intimidating confidence problem more than anything else which some people experience when
starting to communicate in another language they are learning.  I have recognized it in friends who had the courage to try.  They appreciated whatever help others were willing to provide, having asked for corrections.  But I was not brave enough, myself, to ever reach the point of trying to communicate in another language.  However, I now know that fluency in a language is also dependent on learning from the mistakes we make when we actually have the courage to start communicate properly in the language.

More to the point, perhaps it is clear thinking in another language which determines the extent of our fluency which is also dependent on the subject matter's vocabulary and concepts.  Even in one's native language, fluency in expressing one's thoughts is dependent upon adequately learning the content of a subject about which one needs to communicate.  As always, when we  become more clearly aware of the details of what we do not know, regardless of the subject matter, it provides the way forward for learning when we apply ourselves to the task.  We can dread the process and anticipate difficulties  because of all the difficulties which could be encountered, or we can jump into the process armed for adventure with confident good humor, then enjoy the hell out of its full potential, come what may - no regrets - which becomes the joy of learning.

Good communicating, being able to understand, fluently speak and write in any language, is an art and a skill.  Knowing any language well enough to convey well constructed thoughts verbally and in writing, be it through academic papers, news reports, essays, any other genre of writing, even casual conversation, draws heavily on arrangement of content.  Excellence in communicating also includes a rhythm that produces a seamless flow.  Flow, and skillful lack of flow, both highly contribute to clearly presenting whatever information is being conveyed.  In reality, achieving fluency in any language is not easy.  Excelling in fluency, even in one's first language, does not always happen without skillful instruction and even then, it is not necessarily an ability which all develop even when one's writing  and speaking skills are more than adequate.  And in actuality it is not really an issue for many until or unless one applies oneself to fluently learning other languages.

This year as I muse upon gratitude, it seems more difficult due to a myriad of manifested difficulties from the universal to the personal, most of which I have been experiencing nearly all year long as being damagingly negative and unwarranted in limiting ways.  I am not alone in this experience, far from it; but being in good company does not make enduring the difficulties easy even though what some say about them contributes to being more tolerantly patient about them.  Even so, in rising above personal concerns associated with difficulties to make space and time for needed gratitude, it becomes clear to me that a priority I have is the need to express my gratitude to that friend  who so many years ago was instrumental in conveying knowledge I needed about how content arrangement enhances skill in communication.  It was then, and continues to be of high value to me.

Feeling gratitude and expressing it is a wonderful, empowering, and loving state of being.  However, along with feeling gratitude most have also experienced the feeling that saying "thank you", in response, is a woefully inadequate way of expressing our own gratitude; especially when musing upon how differences in our perceptions provided the potential for us to make huge long-lasting changes in our lives, and the lives of others, for good - always for good.  When we learn something of value in life, paying it forward along with gratefully giving credit where credit is due, as always, is often the best way we are able to most abundantly express our gratitude.  And in doing so we transform the feeling of being grateful into the universally beneficial positive actions of gratitude in action.

01 November 2018

The Tedious Customer Service Circus

😏 possibly world’s first customer service complaint, at nearly 4,000 years old 😉
Complaint about delivery of the wrong grade of copper.
About 1750 BC (Old Babylonian period) from Ur
I have never had a year so abundantly full of all types of commercial screw-ups - ever - from businesses of all types, including utilities and financial institutions.   I do not know whose reality it is, but I know it is not mine.  I can not believe it is this screwed up for everyone!  Perhaps it is not.   It would not be the first time my name has been on unwarranted harassing sh_t-lists.   Gotta rant about the tedious circus that corporate customer service (CS) has become.

Every time I am out and about to do errands, back at home the sales slip of at least one of the stores shows that I was cheated, even after trying to diligently keep track of the check-out process.  Of course that means returning to the store after having called CS.  Given all the extra time and effort required of being on the road, again, to resolve the problem, it is tempting to wonder if the underlying motive for cheating is ownership of stock in gas, oil, and vehicle maintenance businesses - by employees and/or corporate.  Of course the real question is whether or not the cheating is due to incompetence or intention.  When it happens frequently, there is no way to avoid asking that question. 

On-the-ground local issues are somewhat easier to deal with though no less time consuming and irritating than are the more virtualized type of problems which require phone calls to CS - often about billing and service problems.  First, it seems evident that  knowledgeable IT people are not being hired to do needed IT work for either websites or the robo auto-answering systems.  Why is that?  Additionally, farming out off-shore customer service continues to be a problem which seems to be back, worse than before, after having minimized for a time.   And why is that?

In this unacceptable reality, the automated robo recording/artificial intelligence answering of phones  at corporate entities, is back to the tedious playing-with-a-new-tech-toy stage. The answering system  is actually intended to discourage phone calls and, instead, strongly suggests the use of the website is preferable -  never to be forgotten, of course, because of the repetitive reminders while on-hold.  But sometimes, probably more frequently than we are told, the reason for calling is because of website screw-ups. Websites are also back to the dumbed-down, tedious, playing-with-a-new-tech-toy stage. The screw-ups which develop are too often  associated with glitches on a buggy website because website interfaces and appearances have been changed. 

Frequently changing websites, in an effort to make them spell-bindingly attractive and interesting, does not increase customer usage or satisfaction.  Neither do the requests for feedback about the website - as if we have nothing better to do with our time than to provide valuable information which could improve the functionality of corporate websites on our dime! And, really, for all we know website changes are based on bogus feedback from pranksters, or more sinisterly from corporate rivals.  While websites sprung up for user convenience in the early days of browsers, they eventually morphed into being all about using the user as much as possible - the same as all other corporate advertising platforms. 

Whatever the reason they occur, website changes are not necessarily improvements.  Instead, unneeded changes require extra time from users to fool around navigating through the new  layout and interface of a website which has been conveniently utilitarian, prior to it being changed into little more than click-bait.  Like most click-bait it is designed to keep a customer on the website and exposed, even if subliminally, to a myriad of advertisments instead of being able to use the website as it has been offered - supposedly for the convenience of the customer! This type of problem, which creates additional problems, fits into the category: "if it ain't broke don't fix it!"  In other words when a website is functional and all the glitchy bugs have been worked out of it, corporate, then leave it alone! 

Even my long-term credit union which has been totally dependable and responsible, for decades, has started repetitively making errors which coincided with a new website look and interface. The most recent was an employee error which resulted in  the configured bill pay feature of my account being deleted thus requiring me to setup and configure the bill pay account, again, but in a new dumbed-down interface which limits some of the previous interactive features!  That buggy interface, of course, resulted in creating several errors, for who knows how many members, given that it was still paying bills from the deleted portion of bill pay when it should not have been, but also from the newly configured bill pay.  That, in turn required phone calls to correct, on several occasions, including dealing with charges for errors not mine, at places where bill pay sends my payments! 

Calling customer service and staying with the entire process long enough to maybe get a solution, requires at least half a day, and endless patience.   No worries for CS though when it comes to wasting time because they get paid for their time, apparently more the longer they can keep a customer on the line.  To even get to the what's-the-problem stage of the phone call requires first getting through the endlessly repetitive, very loud, robo recording on-hold loop.

Then, as usual, after a person answers, it is necessary to  weather an excessive amount of upbeat pleasantries, after which there is required listening while the CS person pleasantly reads the manual for the purpose of imparting information about the business and the account which, of course, the customer already knows!  It is apparently required reading for all the off-shore CS people who answer the calls - thus required listening for the customer who has long since lost patience at the robocall on-hold stage of the CS circus.  After the reading,  it is  time for CS to request the  customer recitations of excessive amounts of security verification information. And that is all BEFORE being allowed to state  the reason for the call!  It really is easier to deal with a houseful of under five children than the CS circus. 

But it is not over, yet!  Next, after a simple explanation which seems difficult for CS to understand - of course speaking clearly and providing the easiest explanation possible - the customer must be transferred, sometimes more than once which requires going through the rigamarole again, including the on-hold robo-recording loop with each transfer - that is unless the connection is lost and it is necessary to start over from the very beginning which of course requires going through the entire rigamarole, again.  At some point the CS person actually does seem to understand the reason for the call - if the connection is not first intentionally severed on either side of the call - and presents a solution with a promise that it will resolve the problem.  Usually one never knows whether or not the promised solution ever made it into the system until the next billing cycle!  Finally, at the end of a call, which it is only possible to hope will resolve the problem, the promised e-mail about it may show up a week later.  If it does show up, it may or may not be somewhat relevant to the reason for having called. 

These screwed up errors occur everywhere - businesses, utilities, banks/credit unions - you name it.  However, all of these corporate entities have been using automated answering even longer than they have been online which by now  is decades.  They should all be far beyond the tedious playing-with-a-new-tech-toy stage. What is the underlying problem that results in frequent and repeated errors?  Is the problem that IT folks are enamored with all the bells and whistle of tech, or is it incompetent IT hires, or in my own case is it also because my name is on the harass lists, or is it more simply not my reality.  It could be any combination of all four, as it has been in past experience!  Evenso, there surely must  be  an end in sight . . .  but I have yet to see even a glimmer of light at the end of what, so far, has been a very long tunnel. 

Having said all that I do have sympathy for most CS folks.  I actually do my best to be patient and kind as long as possible and usually succeed.  It is not a job I would be able to successfully do for long.   And I truly do appreciate those far and few between CS folks who can ask what is wrong, listen, provide a solution, and successfully get it into their system - like they are on a mission to actually do the job as well as it can be done - problem solved - and all under half an hour (including tedious on-hold)! 

Bottomline? It really should not require several hours to make what ordinarily would be a simple telephone call, to resolve what ordinarily would be an easily resolvable problem which never should have happened; then only to have it reinforced that nobody, nowhere, is willing to take responsibility to be accountable for minimal standards not having being met as cause of the problems that developed.  How did such a "comedy of errors" corporate circus become so common place and able to pass as so-called customer service when it really is a poor imitation?  Really.  How did it?