Back in 1987, when I was running the CitiPhone Unit that served the Brooklyn/Long Island/Staten Island Region of Citi (both its customers as well as the branches), we were enjoying a wildly-successful year.
As it turned out, we were experiencing our best performance EVER…in terms of quality, productivity, efficiency, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, staff retention, attendance & every other measurable performance indicator known to man.
You name it…we surpassed it, beyond anyone’s wildest expectations! I was the proudest Poppa in all the land as my people were ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE!!!
We also went above & beyond the normal call of duty as we ventured out & trained ~90% of the branches in our Region on Citismart & other aspects of customer service.
I would send one of our managers or senior reps to a branch for 2 days.
While the branch was open to customers, my person would help man the Service Counter, often taking the opportunity to teach the branch representatives how to utilize Citismart (especially entering investigation requests) & other service tools used to handle different inquiries & resolve various issues. They would also observe different functions (account opening, tellers, etc.) to get a better understanding of, and appreciate, what the branch goes through on a daily basis.
When the branch closed its doors for the day, my manager/senior rep would then hold training sessions with the branch staff on Citismart & answer whatever questions they had on it or anything that CitiPhone handled.
And the next day, they’d do it all over again, even providing “private tutoring” to those requesting it.
We received incredible-positive responses from the branches via a formal survey we conducted as well as informal feedback we received.
The program was an enormous success!
During this time, I had been receiving several mailings & brochures regarding the formal training of Customer Service personnel, especially front-line supervisors.
The best one I saw was offered by ICMI, the Incoming Calls Management Institute. A 2-day seminar cost $895 per attendee, plus the cost of travel, lodging & meals.
None on their entire schedule were being held in the greater NY area.
I read thru the materials & really liked what I saw. I also felt that it would be a most valuable experience for ALL first-line supervisors in NY CitiPhone…and for that matter, for all Customer Service supervisors throughout Citibank/Citicorp.
Hmmmm, I thought, what if I tried to…
The course was taught by Gordon McPhearson, founder & President of ICMI and a well-respected industry expert in telecommunications & telephone customer service.
I called him & proposed an idea to him.
Instead of sending a number of supervisors to one of his seminars (@ $895 per + travel/lodging/meals), would he consider my hiring him for a week, having him hold a couple of 2-day seminars (Mon-Tues, the other Thurs-Fri for the supervisors) & then coordinate a meeting of Citi senior officers for a special 1-day event on Wednesday, geared specifically for them?
To my surprise, he quickly jumped at the proposal!
I actually asked him what he would charge me. I was even more surprised when he came back with, “$4000, plus expenses”.
I was shocked!
It would easily cost us $1,500 per participant (all expenses) for the 2- day seminar if we sent them to one of his sessions. But in this way, we could send as many supervisors as possible, as long as the facility I rented could accommodate them.
And the Wednesday senior manager conference would possibly be the only time we gathered so many Customer Service Directors & other senior officers from Citi in the same place for something dedicated solely to the business of telephone customer service.
I contacted every Customer Service Unit in the Consumer Banking Group of Citibank in the U.S.: NY CitiPhone, Bankcards (credit cards), Diners Club, Travelers Checks, CitiMortgage, Merchant Services (private label cards), internal Help Desks, etc..
(Sorry, guys, but this was before Citi started gobbling up banks in California, Illinois, Florida, Arizona, etc. or else, I surely would’ve invited you!)
As it turned out, we had over 120 supervisors enrolled for the two 2-day programs. That alone would have cost over $120,000 in tuition alone!
Then we had over 40 senior officers of Citi signed up for Wednesday’s conference!
I immediately reserved a large meeting room at the Hilton Hotel (right by Kennedy Airport) for the conference & negotiated some special discount rates for our travelers. Made all the plans for food & refreshments and even arranged for some special dinners so all the attendees could mingle & share ideas/experiences.
That alone would have endured the success of this whole effort, but..:
Here’s the kicker! I wanted Gordon to “customize” his normal course offering – – especially for us at Citibank.
(Note: I was born at night, but it certainly wasn’t last night. I fully understood that he was eager as hell to get his foot in the door with such a large, reputable company as Citi.
I offered that, upon successful completion of his program & with the right reaction I received from the attendees, I would provide him with the contact information for some key individuals in the company.
In addition, I allowed him to do a small, reasonable sales pitch at Wednesday’s conference. After all, he would have the appropriate movers & shakers all gathered together.)
In order to adapt his standard course offering to a Citi audience, I agreed to meet with him ASAP to get that going.
I made arrangements to meet with him in Boston where he was holding one of his seminars. We’d meet, have dinner & go through every single page of his presentation.
On the day I was scheduled to fly up to Boston, I had my wife, along with our not-yet-3 y/o Heather, drive me to MacArthur Airport in Long Island.
In comparison to the other major metropolitan NY area airports (Kennedy, LaGuardia, Newark) that I’ve used previously, this place was tiny!
Even smaller than that!
There was only one terminal & not that many gates. And it happened to be absolutely pouring cats & dogs that day.
I checked in & everything just seemed so “primitive & semi-amateurish”. There were no conveyor belts for the bags & everything was located in this one large room.
As we were waiting for my flight to be announced, I was making fun of all the planes. “I’m not getting on that jet as it only has 2 engines! I want a big sucker with 4 monsters, especially in this weather!”
We waited for more than an hour as we had gotten there especially early, considering the foul weather & the fact that I had never flown outta there before.
Jet after jet would come & go and, of course, I’d laugh at their size.
Suddenly, they announce my flight to Boston…but where the heck is my jumbo jet???
I exit through the appropriate gate door & I’m standing thereon the tarmac.
About 75 feet in front of me is this prop plane. I ask where my flight is.
That is my flight!!!
A pilot & co-pilot separated from the passengers by a curtain.
The stewardess starts rearranging the passengers to “help balance the load”. The rain & everything now seems to be 100 times worse than when I was inside the terminal.
All I could see is the flashing of tomorrow’s headline in Long Island’s Newsday in front of my eyes…
“CITI EXEC KILLED IN COMMUTER PLANE CRASH IN STORM”
I quickly become soaked from head to toe.
“How will those big planes even see us in this downpour? What if a big wind draft blows us out of the sky? How many exterior lights that this thing have? How are those 2 measly propellers gonna keep us up if they haftsa battle with the rain?”
“Oh, God, the co-pilot looks about 12 years old!”
“M O M M Y ! ! !”
We take off & the plane is bouncing around like it’s on a damned trampoline! Do these guys know what they’re doing?
Finally, we make it safely out of the rough weather & head out to Boston. I was shocked at the relatively low altitude at which we flew.
We made it safely to Logan Airport as I mentally kissed the ground upon landing.
I traveled to my hotel without incident, all the time wondering if the cab was larger than the plane.
I met Gordon at a German restaurant, ordered the Wiener Schnitzel & out it came…a veal cutlet with a fried egg on top. It matched the description in the menu exactly, but somehow, I was surprised when it came out.
I think I may have been suffering from post-flight syndrome.
We worked on the deck throughout dinner..and a few calm-me-down cocktails.
I started feeling a little better. Thank God I showered as soon as I got to my hotel earlier…after immediately setting my underwear on fire!
I was very pleased with all the changes, additions & deletions we made to his standard course offering. I familiarized him with Citi as best I could & discussed the various Customer Service organizations that would be represented at the 2-day seminars.
I was pleased with his material for the Senior Manager Conference as it concentrated mainly on different trends in the industry as well as observations on what’s happening around the country.
The Wednesday session was designed more to be interactive than instructional & he had prepared a number of different topics to discuss with the attendees to get their opinions. A lot of value was to be gained with the interaction amongst the senior managers & their sharing of beliefs & practices.
The next morning, I headed out to Logan to board my return flight home.
Somehow, I fully expected a regular, full-size jet. Yes, I would gladly settle for one with “only” 2 engines.
But upon inquiring with the lady at check-in, I was informed that it was another prop job.
She must’ve noticed the crestfallen look on my face & actually offered to put my on a different flight.
I felt a sudden surge of hair growth on my chest as I said, “Nah, this flight’ll be fine!”
And it was.
The weather was perfect.
As we approached MacArthur Airport from the east, I could clearly recognize different places on the ground. It was as if we were flying over a super-imposed map of Long Island.
No, I didn’t see my house.
Oh, yeah, the week of seminars & the Senior Conference went off extremely smoothly & the feedback I received (after contacting each of the businesses that attended) was overwhelmingly positive.
I was so pleased with everything that I cut a check for $5,000 for Gordon instead of the $4,000 that we had originally agreed upon. The bank probably saved well over $250,000 in total & got a much-better, more-relevant offering for their people.
And all it costs me was a pair of Fruit of the Loom!
Not too bad, I’d say.
As always, thank you so very much for listening!
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