C-I-T-I Reunion Invoked Memories

Our “C-I-T-I Reunion” Facebook group…over 2,000 people strong & growing…has afforded me a wonderful opportunity to reminisce with so many of my great friends from throughout my Citibank career.

People often post stuff on the Facebook page asking others to recall various events and occurrences during their career that were memorable. (Note: This page, C-I-T-I Reunion, is still alive & well! I created a new FB group/page, “Citi Annual Reunion – San Antonio Style”…pls join it as it’ll have info regarding our next reunion, probably in early 2021.)

A couple of people have reminded me about things that I have totally erased from my memory. Not consciously, mind you, but once a person reaches 60 (and I’m 64 & feeling 164), a lot of stuff just seems to somehow escape through the cracks.

Here are a couple of things that some of my people noted…

> Angel Quirino (now married to Cathy) was an outstanding customer service representative in the RPS/Retirement Plan Services (actually, we were still Tax Shelter then) phone unit when we migrated the business from NY down to San Antonio in late 1993.

As with any new & growing organization, there are a lot of “adjustments” going on, as people learn about each other, what makes them tick, etc..

Angel remembered a time when I was in my office (I ran RPS Operations at the time) and I seemed to be having a rather heated (very loud?) conversation with someone on the phone. It was always a practice of mine to keep my office door wide open.

I did that as not only did I want to always know what was going on in my department, but I felt it was important to show my people that I was dead serious when I said that I always maintain an open door policy for them…both literally & figuratively. The only time I would really close my office door was when I was on a conference call or was handling a very confidential and private matter with another employee or manager. Otherwise, the door remained wide open and, in that way, people could simply poke their head in to ask me a question or whatever. You didn’t need a stupid invite or “permission” to come talk with me.

My shit stunk just like everyone else’s.

Well, this one time, I must’ve been unusually “vocal”, causing Mike Huether (my peer & Director of RPS Phones) to come over to my office and politely shut my door.

As Angel related to me, I immediately got up from my desk & reopened it…and continued to scream at whoever was on the other end.

Like I told Angel, there most probably was a method to my madness.

There are a few things that I will not tolerate, regardless of the person’s motive or reason behind it.

I won’t accept somebody being rude to my people.

I won’t accept somebody lying to me.

I won’t accept somebody unjustly talking badly about my people or the service they provide .

I won’t accept people breaking promises or pledges to me without providing a reason & apologizing.

You’d better be straight up and do the right thing and if you’re gonna come at me strongly, and you’re in the wrong, you’d better take cover! I’m going to deliver it right back to you…and twice as harsh!

I’m sure that I was trying to demonstrate to my people that I always do have your back, that it’s not just something cool you say during a team meeting. I have no problem whatsoever (duh) displaying my emotions, even if they’re not quite professional in others’ eyes!

When you deliver something to me in an unprofessional manner and you’re not in the right, I most certainly will return fire. If I’m in the wrong or my people blew it, then I’m going to shut my mouth and take my medicine.

> Darlene Verastegui Diaz reminded me about the time when she had a pretty tough day, was tired of constantly getting beat up by customers & expressed a desire to leave CitiPhone (and Citi).

Next thing she knew, her team leader Jennifer Dulles “dragged her” (her words, not mine!) into my office and said, “Please take care of this!”.

Darlene sat with me and explained everything that was happening. Apparently, I told her that it’s kind of hard to last in CitiPhone, or any customer call center, for that matter, for more than a few years before suffering burnout or going a bit brain numb. She said how very surprised she was when I said that.

(Note: I’ve had hundreds & hundreds of incredible employees who’ve spent a great part of their careers on the phone…without any noticeable burnout nor any degradation in service quality, productivity or enthusiasm.

It mostly certainly takes a very special individual! 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻)

But that’s the truth! Yes, of course, there are many people who thoroughly enjoy being on the phones, but I certainly don’t view it as a sign of disloyalty or disrespect when one of my people wanted or needed a change in scenery.

Not at all! In fact, I’ve always encouraged & enabled to do what it best for them.

(Listen, the #1 priority in an employee’s life, their professional life, is NOT serving the company, satisfying the customer nor (God forbid!) pleasing their boss!

It’s their own well-being, their own mental health, their own happiness.

You do what makes you happy & when you do it well, you’re happy!)

Apparently, our CitiHelp organization had posted an open position for which Darlene was interested.

CitiHelp was designed to assist other Citibank employees with issues and problems they’re facing regarding system entitlements, password resets, any type of technical issue, any questions with policy/processes/procedures, etc.. They help people at the USCC as well as those in the branches across the country.

I encouraged here to apply for it! And as soon as I learned that she actually submitted her request, I actively campaigned for her with the supervisor conducting the interviews as well as with the manager responsible for making the final hiring decision.

She was accepted…and was so grateful for my advice & help. She sensed that I may have had a small hand in things (I probably promised her that I would).

I never have a problem proactively endorsing my people, and actively campaigning for them (and influencing others’ decisions) when I truly believe that they’re more than capable of assuming those new responsibilities & performing at an above-average, if not, exceptional, level.

It’s the least I can do for them in return for all their loyalty & contributions to my organization.

Besides, I love to “infiltrate” other teams & areas with my people. It helps me in the future…enriches that other organization with the skills, abilities & service ethic that they developed in my world…and it truly improves the overall performance of the entire USCC & provides opportunities for others in my area to advance as well.

(And the sign of a truly successful leader is when your people are successful. And no matter where they go, they’ll always be my people.)

Darlene was so grateful & it truly made me feel wonderful…even more so when she told me that, 23 years later, she’s still with Citi & loving every minute of it!

When I was with Citi, it would hurt me personally whenever we lost an employee to USAA. I would fight with Senior Management & HR regarding our salary structure & the conscious management philosophy of not paying top dollar in the marketplace!

“Why the hell do you think we have 25% annual attrition while theirs hovers around 6%??? This is not rocket science.

“What you’re “saving” in salaries is being totally lost in constant turnover…running a damned puppy mill trying to turn out new CitiPhone reps as the experienced ones are constantly exiting…the cost of all those trainers…the notable deterioration in productivity & quality…all the errors & rework associated with inexperienced staff…and, in fact, all things considered, it’s costing us so much more to service our customers than it does for them to service theirs!!!”

I would’ve been more successful talking to a brick wall. Apparently, none of them were ever good at math…or measuring both customer & employee satisfaction and understanding what extremely high scores in both can & will buy for your organization!

Don’t you think the 10+% absenteeism rate is a real sign of things are just not right here?

Don’t you understand that $2,500 is a huge amount of money when you’re making $20,000?

That when you pay middle-of-the-road, that’s what you get in return?

*insert the appropriate curse words here yourself…you know exactly what I would say*

> My good buddy, Fred Fucaloro, our LI Telecomm guy when I ran CitiPhone @ 100 Baylis in Melville, reminded me of the time that I kept a front fender in my office for over a week.

Lemme tell ya, it served as a great conversation starter!

Apparently, there was some contest going on at a local radio station having to do with an original bumper sticker they they had.

The winner would win $100.

Our evening manager, Jim Nestor, entered the contest & won…but had a week to present the bumper sticker in person. Unfortunately, he was on vacation in Disney when the winners were announced, but he was scheduled to return just in time.

Freddie had the bumper sticker for Jim…but it was still quite stuck to the bumper of a car he had in his garage!

So Freddie just brought the whole back fender assembly into work with him & we kept it in my office for safekeeping. I even put my garbage pail outside my door when I left at night & taped a “Do Not Enter…Do Not Clean” sign to my locked door!

In English y en español.

I also had this absolutely-beautiful, white couch in my office. For some wacky reason, Facilities bought this couch, along with a nice chair & table, and created a nice “waiting area” outside my & my boss’s (John Gang) office. We never requested it nor really ever had a big need for it. Yeah, we’d get a vendor or some other visitor from time to time, but it seemed pretty ludicrous to buy furniture for it.

Maybe they had some leftover funding toward year-end. You’d never be considered a hero for coming in “under budget/forecast”…that is, after we locked in the final full-year numbers in October.

Back when I was hired in ’78 as a management trainee, I handled all the financials for the Brooklyn/Staten Island Regional Service Center & was always good with numbers.

Not only could I make them dance on a sheet of paper, I would supply an accompanying full orchestra as well!

Anyway, I would get “a lot” of $10,000 cashier checks made payable to the “U.S. Postmaster General” & keep them hidden in my locked desk. We would then use “this year’s checks” (which already appeared as expenses on the financial records) to refill our postage meters (for mailing our customer statements) the following year! It also served as a great emergency fund in case we needed money for an unplanned project or initiative the following year.

We’d fill up Stmt Rendition’s meters with last years’ checks (they would incur -0- current expense), then charge the current year’s expenses for unrelated projects & initiatives to them, making them whole & everyone happy!

FYI, the statute of limitations ran out a looooong time ago so pls don’t go that route on me!

Oh, yeah, the white sofa…

So when our volume start to grow exponentially in CitiPhone & we needed additional space for service representatives’ cubicles, we ditched the visitor’s area, I put the couch in my office & we put the comfy chair in our little clerical area.

Male visitors could sit & gawk at Denise White (a former model who handled our typing, filing, audits, etc.) or our cute secretary, Karen…and female guests could shoot the breeze with the ladies.

The couch did come in handy as I slept overnight once when we were expecting a major snowstorm to hit the region overnight.

It hit & I slept well.

As always, thanks so much for listening!

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