It’s All Camouflage

If I hadda do my life all over again, I’d wanna be a lawyer (as it seems that I enjoy argui, er, debating issues…and winning even more!).

Or work in advertising.

(Note: Actually, I always wanted to be the center fielder for the NY Yankees or the lead guitarist for a famous rock band, but you really needed to be great for that stuff and well…😭)

It’s simply amazing how facts can get twisted, manipulated & maneuvered into whatever “truth” you want in order to convince your audience of thinking your way & wholeheartedly believing whatever you say.

Lock, stock & barrel.

> Just listened to a commercial for Invisalign, clear dental aligners that are an alternative to braces.

They’re not cheap by any means, but certainly less expensive than getting traditional braces from your orthodontist.

And they do a good job normally.

One of their tag lines was “…and in many cases, they work even better than more-expensive braces!”

Pretty convincing, heh?

But here’s a scenario upon which that could be theoretically based…

XYZ Clinic Study
10,000 participants

“Braces worked better” – 8,243 votes

“No major difference” – 1,411 votes

“Invisaligners worked better” – 346 votes

They (Invisalign) will NEVER say, “Only 3.5% of study participants preferred our product over traditional braces” as a convincing statement!

“Many people” (yes, 342 people can be considered “many”, even if 342/10,000 may be questionable) is factually true & not lying.

> I remember when a “regular car” (it may have been a small Chevy, I believe) was being compared to a group of luxury vehicles, e.g., Mercedes, BMW, Saab, Porsche, etc..

10 vehicles in all were included in this comparison study that examined 25+ different features of each car.

The Chevy finished DEAD LAST in every single category, except for 3: glove compartment, trunk & back seat leg room, where in came in 9th.

Everything else…overall value, engine, road performance, handling on curves, acceleration, safety features, sound system, braking, etc…went to all the other cars over the Chevy.

But Chevy’s advertising cited…

“More back-seat leg room than a Porsche!
A larger trunk than a BMW! A better glove compartment than a Saab!”

All true facts.

It’s called “pick-n-choose” to tell your story.

(Note: Years later, when I was at Nationwide in their Retirement Planning Business, they distributed the results of a survey.

It compared 10 different competitors (including us) in our field (401K plan offerings for small-to-midsized firms) & look at 10 different performance categories…overall performance, returns, customer service, advisor quality, ability to adapt, problem resolution, employee satisfaction with plan, etc..

10 companies, 10 categories.

Nationwide came out dead last (10th out of 10!) in EVERY single category!!!

I was kinda waiting for the punch line or the proverbial silver lining on the cloud…but there was none.

No twisting of facts. Granted, when you’re perceived by “everyone” as being “the worst” in every category, it’s pretty difficult (impossible?) for even the best fictional writers to paint a better picture.

Now granted, this was the “private sector” half of our business where we offered our products & services to private firms.

In the “public sector” arena, where we offered 403b plans to governmental & certain municipal workers (similar to how private companies offer 401K plans), Nationwide was much more successful. We had more assets under management than any other company that offered these “defined contribution” plans to state/county/city employees as well as members of police & fireman unions.

But even that business was eroding, especially as we just lost our State of California business after having administered that business for years!

It was a very strange environment in which to work.

As a whole, the Retirement Plans Division was losing millions & millions every year. Our assets were decreasing by 10%+ for several consecutive years!!!

Yet everyone operated as if everything was absolutely fine! It would drive me absolutely insane!

They were incredibly resistant to change. We trailed every competitor in terms of technology (especially client-facing applications like websites, electronic/paperless processing, etc.). Our pricing sucked. Our customer service was terrible.

They had NO TRAINING WHATSOEVER for new hires, except for those phone representatives in the Public Sector (and even that program lacked a lot).

At one of the first Annual Reviews I attended (given by our Division President), I thought they were going to hold a damned parade when she announced that our assets “only” decreased 10.8% last year vs. the 11.3% from the prior year.

This was considered “good news”!!!

“YIPPEE, we’re less terrible than we were the prior year!”

I almost threw up on how everyone was patting themselves on the back. I swear I thought I was in some warped parallel universe or something!

I kept thinking, “If this were Citi, they would have cleaned house of the entire leadership team years ago!”

And if I heard one more time of how “wonderful & beneficial it was that we were ‘a mutual’ (instead of a publicly-traded company) that wouldn’t have to answer to its stockholders & worry about stock performance & short-term profits”, I was gonna 🧔🏻 🔫!

In this case, “being a mutual” translated into laziness.

The total lack of motivation to improve & innovate.

Zero fanaticism regarding maximizing performance & customer satisfaction.)

OK, enough with the Nationwide bashing, Mike!

Jeeeez, Louise!

> My favorite example of where facts can be manipulated to tell a completely-different story…

There once was this “dual track meet” between the USSR & the U.S. held in Moscow (no other countries, hence, the “dual” label).

As it turned out, America absolutely trounced the Russians.

Destroyed them.

But in Moscow’s newspapers the following morning, here’s what the readers saw…

“With a tremendous effort from the brave athletes from Mother Russia, we were able to finish in 2nd place at the big international track meet this weekend!

The United States came in next to last.”

> At the USCC, turnover was always an issue.

A real problem.

USAA would regularly eat our lunch & it was really no secret why. They’re a top-notch organization & they pay significantly higher than Citi (here in San Antonio, that is).

I would fight constantly with senior management on their stupid, short-sighted policy of consciously “paying middle-of-the-road”.

And we wondered why our annual attrition spiraled out of control???


So instead of taking a long, hard (& honest!) look at why & what we c/would do about it, we took a different approach…

Play with the numbers.

When I first came down to San Antonio in 1993, the overall USCC attrition “standard” (the ceiling, a goal you did not want to approach) was 15%.

So when it exceeded 14.5%, what did we do?

Brainstorm possible solutions? Listen to why people left? Start some task forces to address the issue?

Nah, that’s too hard! Besides, it’s much easier to look good than actually do good.

We raised the ceiling to 20%!

And when it reached ~19.5%?

Raise the goal to 25%!

When I left in late 2006, the site was at 29.6% annual turnover. I’d bet my last dollar that it was raised to 35% for 2007!

There are dozens & dozens of examples of “looking good”.

Rarely, if ever, did we publish “Customer Satisfaction” in any formal reporting, publications or senior management presentations.

We used the most liberal of all definitions of “Service Level” in the phone units. There are 13 different methodologies on how to calculate SL/Service Level (% of callers answered within a 20 second wait time).

We chose the one that NEVER considered nor measured the impact of “abandoned calls” on SL.

We even began to “manipulate the queues” (putting callers who identified themselves on IVR in front of EVERY caller who didn’t…regardless of how long the non-identified callers may have been waiting in queue)!!!

It always used to be FIFO/First In, First Out, but no longer beginning in the early 2000s.

(I read a customer’s complaint letter once where she claimed to wait 26 MINUTES on a Saturday afternoon before able to speak with a rep.

Impossible!, I thought. Or perhaps we were blowing up for a good long time.

But I checked the stats & during that particular 1/2 hours, we had an 88% Service Level…88% of all answered calls picked up within 20 seconds.

This was statistically impossible for 1 customer to wait that long…with an 88% SL…and all the customers behind her would also face an incredibly-long time.

But as I learned, not if you manipulate the queue!

While this poor lady waited for 26 mins (Note: She did not “self-identify”…input her card, acct or SSN info…at the very beginning of the call and, as such, was placed into the Queue of Death), THOUSANDS OF OTHER CALLERS…who called AFTER her…were answered within 20 seconds!!! She waited 26 mins…thousands of others who came after her waited <20 secs!

That’s because the other callers “self-identified” & the reps’ screens were automatically/immediately populated with their account info when they reached a rep.

And it was done specifically to take advantage of a change I proposed to the Consumer Group Service team…for all Citi phone units across the globe!

The USCC took my change (to narrow down the specific performance metrics…KPIs/Key Performance Indicators…for CitiPhone to simplify the reporting while taking a closer look at some non-phone functions in the back office) & then created a unique call queuing methodology that took advantage of “abandoned calls” no longer being reported to Senior Consumer Group leadership & continued to use an archaic SL calculation formula that totally ignored (INCORRECTLY & UNETHICALLY) abandoned calls!

In affect, they continued to quickly handle certain/most callers (“self-identifiers” placed into Queue A) while never answering a single caller in Queue B (those who did NOT self-identify) until there were NO CALLS WAITING in Queue A!!!

That’s like going into Walmart, getting into line to pay at 2:15 & being able to see the cashier 10 seconds later…while other people have been waiting on line since 1:49!!!

And they NEVER directly told the customers that they could save waiting time by self-identifying! They just said, “Pls enter your…” – – but never warned the customers about the different “wait experience” you would have if you didn’t.

They were, in fact, punishing callers who didn’t behave as we wanted them to…but never warned them before nor educated them after.

And if the poor customers hung up, there was no skin lost as we didn’t formally report “abandoned calls” (hang ups) to the big bosses upstairs.

It’s as if these “abandoned calls” never happened. It had -0- negative impact on Service Level (which was reported upstairs)!

So very slimy.

17 years later & I’m still pissed about it!

As well as about the total ignorance & disinterest that the USCC senior leadership team demonstrated when I sat down with 5 different Senior Directors & the CEO (all individually) to discuss the disgusting & abhorrent action they took!

I will ALWAYS regret not turning them in to the Corporate Ethics Committee.


Oh, well…

Look, here’s my point. Whether you fully understand the workings of how an ACD/Automated Call Distributor & all the different way you’re able to route…and MANIPULATE…calls really shouldn’t matter.

When I come to you with a head full of steam, and tell you that the business is UNETHICALLY routing calls for the sole purpose of making their performance numbers look better than they actually are, I expect you to react accordingly.

I forgot more about the USCC & CitiPhone & the workings of an ACD that anyone who has ever stepped foot inside 100 Citibank Drive!

And I’m not blowing smoke up anyone’s butt!

I expect to receive an appropriate reaction when 1) I’ve caught YOU in your damned scheme, and 2) I’ve let you know that one of your own is doing unethical stuff.

I don’t want your stupid blank stares or your claims of ignorance!

Stupid puppets.

And if anyone thinks I’m bullshitting, I’ll be happy to explain…in gory, unabridged detail…everything that was done as well as poke huge holes in their “justification” for doing it!

That alone would be a book in & of itself.

Now you know why I wanna be a lawyer?

I would’ve been deadly during cross-examination!

Thank you so much for listening!

Posted in:

Subscribe to Mike's Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Recent Comments

Leave a Reply