As you can easily imagine, I was always causing a number of raised eyebrows throughout my career.
Some would attribute it to my inability to shut my mouth at times.
I, however, attribute it to one of my greatest “strengths”…I’m brutally honest. And while there are, definitely, times when sugar & spice & everything nice is cool & all, a steady diet of that shit could cause diabetes.
Or a bunch of toothaches, at a minimum.
If you ask me for my honest opinion, or if I have the responsibility to represent my organization the best way I can, or if I’m a member of a working task force where everyone’s input & opinions are important to the success of the overall effort, then you’re gonna get the whole & unfiltered truth from me.
I may not mince words in most situations as I believe in “the truth shall set you free” & “right is might”, but, at times, there may be a little collateral damage.
Or stunned looks.
Sorry, can’t help it. As I’d often say, “If you can’t face the truth, then perhaps, you shouldn’t have invited me!”
Which reminds me…
A long time ago (probably in 2002) down here in San Antonio, I was asked to attend a meeting with an outside vendor (MSource) who provided outsourced customer service to different American companies.
Citi was (supposedly) evaluating a number of different firms that were competing for our business. We had decided to outsource a portion of our incoming Customer Service calls (solely for the purpose of reducing expenses) to companies in India.
(Note: I say “supposedly” as I firmly believed that a hand-shake agreement had already taken place BEFORE this “discovery & evaluation” meeting, but that was never told to anyone.)
Anyway, about 6-8 different USCC Directors were gathered in the Board Room to meet with the President of MSource & 5 members of his senior management team.
As soon as the group introduced themselves to us, I noticed something.
I actually knew the President as he once was a VP with TTI/Transaction Technology, Inc., a Citi subsidiary out on the West Coast that was the brains behind all of the Consumer Bank’s system enhancements, application/tool development & concept creation.
They manufactured many of the on-line terminals we used for balance information & a variety of other functions…the infamous “Type 1 terminal” or “TTI terminal”.
During the late ‘70s & ‘80s, they were actually testing “iris recognition” technology as a means of user identification & verification at our ATMs & branches! (Unfortunately, their research & focus group testing showed that the general American public was not quite ready for such a technological advancement due to unfounded fears of “exposing their eyes to a crazy sensor” & “privacy issues”.
Apparently, no one wanted a hole burned through their head while trying to withdraw cash!)
I believe his name was Ed Rasmussen (though I could be mistaken). Sometimes, getting older is such an adventure…I can remember certain details from years & years ago, but forget what I just ate for lunch!
Who am I? Where am I? Caterpillars taste with their feet.
So I knew the President (though he didn’t remember me) & was introduced to the 5 senior VPs with him.
They were all of Indian descent.
The group did their normal presentation, the ol’ dog-and-pony show. Everything was wonderful, life was good & Boy, do we have a deal for you!
“Are there any questions?”
👋🏼 “Me, me, me!”
This has always been my very favorite part when I’m attending a presentation or seminar. Let’s see if we can inject a dose of reality into the proceedings, won’t we?
“It seems like you only have a single call center in India. No real back-up site. And while you may, indeed, have some redundancy built into your systems & networks, what would happen in the case of a major natural disaster? I also know that there’s been an on-going conflict between India & Pakistan for centuries. What happens if nuclear weapons come into play???”
They provide some answers regarding their “plans to add a 2nd site in the near future”.
“No need to worry about the skirmishes with Pakistan, Mike. That’s really just a matter of ‘raised swords’, that’s all!”
Note: “Raised swords” basically means “all talk, no action”…just a bunch of posturing.
“Oh”, I reply, “so then the recent news about 19 Indians being slaughtered right near the Pakistan border was really just a joke then, heh?”
“You also mentioned that ALL employees go through a very intensive 2-week “accent neutralization & American customs familiarization” course…that’s correct, right?”
“Yes, Mike. Every employee.”
“Including you 5 guys?”
“Did you actually pass? I could detect your heavy accent with the very first words you spoke!” 🔪
“I’m a little uncomfortable with the fact that you’ve never handled an American financial services institution before. You mentioned that your top client was Circuit City. Servicing someone’s TV is a helluva lot different than having access to people’s financial lives, including a lot of sensitive data!”
They explained the different security measures they have in place, plus a bunch of other promises.
We broke for lunch.
Suddenly, I get pulled away by our CEO into his office.
“What the hell were you trying to do back there, Mike?!?”
“Hey, Ken, you asked me personally to attend this session to help evaluate potential prospects for an outsourcing contract. These are questions & concerns that should have already been raised, as it’s pretty obvious this is not the first time you guys have met with this company.
“You know exactly what you’re gonna get when you invite me to something.”
“Yeah, I know, Mike. Just pls do me a favor & try not to upset the apple cart too much.
I thought for a second.
Should I tell him what a fraud I thought that this whole charade was & just leave?
I figured I’d better stay…for the good of our organization. At a minimum, there were a bunch of promises made on many of the issues I raised. (You only heard a few of them here.)
Afterwards, I changed my position from being “accusatory” to that more of a helpful business partner.
I made several recommendations, most of which were gladly received with assurances of complying.
One issue that I raised concerned inquiries they would receive from our customers regarding where they were physically located. (During this time, outsourcing was still pretty much in its infancy in the U.S., especially in banking.)
After all, 9-11 was still very fresh in people’s minds & even if they trained their people for 2 months (not weeks) on accent neutralization & the like, our customers would be able to detect a foreign accent in a split second.
“Well, we have a standard response that we use, saying that we’re unable to provide our exact location due to security issues.”
I’m not accepting that. Not in the least!
“You’re handling our customers’ finances & you have access to some very confidential information…and you’re not gonna tell our customers where the hell you are?!? They already know you’re not from here & to give them a reason like that, which is not true, by the way, is going to cause a lot of customer issues! And we’re gonna hear it from them & from our branches. And then, I’m gonna hear it…personally!
“Just remember, we’re Citi, not Circuit City!”
My own management team agreed with them (!!!) that we should go with their recommended standard response. WTF?!?
Oh, BTW, word from way-upper management (much higher than the individuals in this room) came down about a month later that, effective immediately, all off-shore resources servicing our customers are required to provide their actual location upon request, whether they be Citi-employees overseas or contract workers (outside workers).
*sees a hand raised in the blog audience*
“Yes, Ma’am, do you have a question?”
“I do, Mike. By any chance, did you happen to write a note, or maybe, several, to senior Citi management, recommending this sudden change in policy, like you originally recommended?”
“I’m sorry, but due to security concerns, I’m unable to answer that question.”
Stick up for your beliefs & for what you believe is right.
Your obligation is really to your employees, your customers & your company’s stockholders (or members if it’s a mutual company).
While your bosses, indeed, wield the most power, you have to balance that against your personal values & principles.
They’re not always right. (It’s actually probably closer to 70/30 with major decisions & while that’ll get you a diploma, that 30% could put you outta business! Only takes 1 strategically-placed torpedo to sink a ship.)
But be careful!
Yes, “right is might”, but “might is also might” (and they may believe, right as well).
You walk a very fine line sometimes when you believe you’re being asked to compromise what you believe in.
If it’s a difference of opinion, be very careful. Very.
If you believe something illegal or unethical is going on, then, by all means, you have different avenues at your disposal (an ally in the company, a higher up, HR or, at last resort, your Corporate Ethics Committee).
But always be someone of strong convictions & principles.
And, no, you don’t hafta be confrontational all the time.
Not all the time, at least. Though it does come in handy when you’re trying to cut a path through the bullshit jungle!
Thank you for listening!
Epiogue: Yes, of course, we brought them on board
And they had a practice (as did most outsourcing firms) of having their people use “Americanized names” instead of their own. (Again, this is just a fancy way of “lying”! Lipstick on a pig.)
And, granted, most of the time, they chose “normal names”.
But they must’ve studied up on the USCC here in San Antonio, TX as one of their male representatives called himself “Bubba”!
I kid you not.
At one point, they were handling ~1/3 of our incoming Customer Service calls. There was a noticeable difference in quality between U.S.-based agents & them, but over time, that gap narrowed (with improved training, increased utilization of “scripts”, better tools, etc.).
Customer dissatisfaction with outsourcing also decreased over time as we tried different methodologies to “curb the issue”, e.g., on-site visits from our SMEs/Subject Matter Experts & trainers, directing off-hour/weekend traffic their way while retaining most business day/business hour calls here in the U.S., etc..
Personally, I disagreed…strongly…with the whole outsourcing concept for “direct customer contact” roles. Clearly, the almighty dollar ruled in the mind of most execs.
But, again, similar to the “USAA pays their employees more than Citi” paradigm, I believe Citi was short-sighted in their analysis.
With employees, the “lower salary structure”, while it indeed saved $ Day 1, certainly contributed to Citi’s unacceptably-high turnover rate…especially with bright, high-performing, young(er) employees.
And we never took the REAL “cost of turnover” – – constant new hire training, degraded quality/productivity while new people came up to speed, customer dissatisfaction, error rates, etc. – – into consideration, and, I believe, actually tilted the proverbial financial scales USAA’s way!
Same way with outsourcing, but to a lesser degree as the economics were enormously attractive. I believe we actually could have gained a market(ing) advantage over our competitors by promoting “U.S.-based service”, but again, what do I know?