C-I-T-I Reunion Invoked Memories

Our “C-I-T-I Reunion” Facebook group – -!over 2,000 people strong & still growing – -!has afforded us a wonderful opportunity to reminisce with so many of our great Citi friends.

For me personally, I’ve made several new ones as we all share that special common bond!

(Bondage?  🤪)

People often post stuff on the FB page, asking others to recall memorable events and occurrences from their career.

A couple of people have reminded me about things that I must’ve totally erased from my memory.

(“Pssst, Mike, it’s called “forgetting”…ya know, old age…sheeesh! 🤦🏻‍♂️”)

🧔🏻 > >  64, going on 164!

Here are a few things that people noted…

– Angel Quirino (previously married to Cathy) was an outstanding customer service representative in RPS/Retirement Plan Services Phones (actually, we were still Tax Shelter then) after we  migrated the entire business from NY down to San Antonio in late 1993.

As with any new & growing organization, there are a lot of, er, “adjustments” that go on, as people learn more 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 (= really loud) phone conversation.

And It was always a practice of mine to keep my office door w-i-d-e open.

I did that for two reasons: I always wanted to know what was going on in my area AND since I always preached “open door policy”, I felt incumbent upon me to actually demonstrate it!

The only time I would really close it was when I was on a conference call or was handling a very confidential and matter. Otherwise, the door remained wide open and, in that way, people could simply poke their head in to ask me a question or whatever.

No one needed a stupid invite, permission or an appointment 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…OK, maybe not all the way…and continued my conversation (at a much lower decibel level).

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, position or reason.

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 gonna send it right back to you…and twice as hard!!!

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

– Darlene Verastegui Diaz reminded me about the time when she had a pretty tough day, was just so 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 to her.

(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.

Lemme tell ya, not many people can/will do it & 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 never viewed it as a sign of disloyalty or disrespect when one of my people wanted, or needed, a change in scenery.

Not a problem at all!

In fact, I’ve always encouraged & enabled them to do what it best for THEM & their family.

(Listen, the #1 priority in an employee’s life, yes, even 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!

No one can force you to be happy.

They can certainly enlighten you of all the different ways & paths there are to help accomplish that, but in the end, it’s always the employee’s decision.)

Anyway…

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

CitiHelp was designed to assist other Citibank employees with “issue & problem resolution” regarding system entitlements, password resets, any type of technical issue, any questions with policy/processes/procedures, etc.. They assist USCC employees as well as those in the branches across the country.

I encouraged here to apply for it! (Look, leaving CitiPhone was fine, but in no way, shape or form was I willing to lose her from Citi!)

And as soon as I learned that she submitted her transfer 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 (as I probably made some promise to her along that line).

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

It’s the very least I can do for them in return for all their hard work, dedication & overall contribution to my organization.

Besides, I love to “infiltrate” other teams & areas with my people.

It helps me in the future by enriching that other organization with the skills, abilities & service ethic that they developed in my world.

It also truly improves the overall performance of the entire USCC with increased flexibility & shared experiences.

And it provides additional opportunities for others to advance in my area.

Win/win/win.

(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 so hurt me personally whenever we lost an employee to USAA. I would fight like hell 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 5%??? This is not rocket science, people!

“What you’re ‘saving’ in raw 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!

“And their customers are more satisfied than ours!!!”

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 satisfaction scores in both categories can, and WILL, benefit your organization!

“Don’t you think the 10-12% absenteeism rate is a real sign thst things are just not right here?”

“Don’t you understand that $2000, $2,500 is a HUGE amount of money when you’re only making $20,000?”

“We saved gazillions relocating from ‘high-rent districts’ around the country to San Antonio, no? We can afford to pay top dollar, halt then parade of experienced employees leaving & actually/still save money!!!”

*pls insert the appropriate $&?!%#  words here…you know exactly what I would say*

– I once had an employee (let’s call her “Liza”) who transferred from Citibank-California to come work in my RPS/Retirement Plan Services Ops area.

Liza had worked in Collections out west, but all credit-based functions fell under the St. Louis organization’s purview, not the USCC’s, so she came & worked as a processor for me.

Coming down a grade, combined with the fact that San Antonio sat at the very bottom (5 out of 5) of Citi’s geographical “salary bands” (NY, CA, etc. were at the top), she was already $3,000+ over the max for her position.

While I didn’t touch her salary naturally (even though policy said that I could easily request a salary reduction that would bring her down to max as a condition for employment), I did explain that it was next-to-impossible that she’d ever see a merit increase in the future.

That really didn’t matter to her.

She was a single Mom with 3 young boys & was just so very grateful that she got a job at the USCC and even more so, that I left her CA salary alone.

After 15 months of running RPS Ops, I was asked by John McEachern, USCC President, to assume responsibility for the Control Center (handling all phone centers’ support functions: forecasting, planning, staffing, scheduling, call-routing, real-time adherence, IVR, systems issues, communications, etc.).

Lo & behold, I believe within the next year or so, our good friends @ USAA decided to open their own Retirement Planning business as part of USAA Bank.

Their staffing strategy?, you ask.

Get as many of Citi’s existing RPS people as possible…and they were at  war, no exercises here!

Apparently, they contacted Liza & offered her a position – – at ~$3,500 higher than she was already making!!!

She came to me to discuss her “dilemma”.

Sobbing.

She kept saying how disloyal she would feel to me if she accepted their offer. And she kept crying.

I told her 2 things…

First, there’s really no need to cry. I understand.

Secondly, “Your #1 priority IN LIFE is caring for those 3 boys you have at home & being the absolute best Mom possible!

“Understand?

“Don’t you worry about your loyalty to me. You did a wonderful job while you worked for me…that’s all I ever asked for.

“Don’t worry about me. Don’t worry about Citibank. Don’t worry about anything but your 3 sons & doing what’s right for them!

“I’m gonna step outta my office now & I want you to use my phone to call the recruiter & accept their offer.

“And I keep my spare change & my fancy pens in that middle drawer so I’d better not see anything missing when I return, ya hear me???”

She smiled, we had a nice hug (yeah, she started that crying nonsense again!) and I bid her a fond farewell.

Your people always come first. Sometimes, they just need to be reminded of their priorities in life.

(BTW, it also works well with the under-performing employees who are really not giving their best effort consistently.

“Look, you have responsibilities at home & bills to pay. Please, do NOT make me get you in trouble. You need to get your act together, un’erstand?”

By the time they got to me, they’ve already discussed specifics with their manager.

– 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 piece!

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

The winner would garner $100.

Our evening manager, Jim Nestor, entered the contest & won…and had a week to present the bumper sticker in person. Unfortunately, he was on vacation in Disney World when the winners were announced, but 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 bumper assembly with him into work & we stored it in my office for safekeeping.

Yeah, it was quite the conversation piece!

As always, thanks so much for listening!

P.S. This page, “C-I-T-I Reunion”, is still alive & well!

I also created a new FB group page, “Citi Annual Reunion – San Antonio Style”.

Pls feel free to join as it’ll provide info regarding our next reunion, probably some time in late summer/fall 2021.

ALL Citi employees, past & present, near & far, are welcome…and you’re strongly encouraged to bring along your spouse & friends!

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