Back in 1987, my 4th full year running the CitiPhone Unit in NY, my unit had one of the most spectacular overall performances I’ve ever seen!
We won our 5th consecutive award for the top Customer Service business in NY.
We were #1 in customer satisfaction…#1 in productivity…#1 in quality…#1 in employee satisfaction. Absenteeism was under 2%. We always met our financial goals.
We surpassed each & every formal Service Performance Indicator for every month of the year.
I assigned my Managers & senior reps to spend 2 days in each one of our branches, teaching the branch staff how to use “Citismart”, the on-line application that housed customer/account information & was filled with many different servicing tools (investigations, card replacement, stop payments, checkbook ordering, address changes, account linking for pricing/access, and dozens of other service functions) & which was recently introduced to our branches.
But the branches were never provided any formal training (just a training manual) & to me, that was a HUGE, HUGE mistake! So I sent my best people out there to help them.
We took it upon ourselves to train as many of our 96 branches as possible. Our people also manned the branches’ Service counters for both of those days & also taught the branch personnel how to handle customer inquiries & issues real-time. They held group training sessions when the branch closed for the day to the public.
It turned out to be a very worthwhile endeavor for all parties as my people also got accustomed to the unique challenges facing our branch partners. (I later surveyed the branches regarding this program & over 95% of them were “highly satisfied”!)
We installed special Customer Assistance Phones (in dedicated booths) in all branch banking floors to help offload “service traffic” from the Service counters. These CAPs automatically dialed our CitiPhone unit & we even prioritized those calls (just like we did with Priority Service/CitiGold calls) ahead of our normal incoming traffic as the customers had already traveled to a branch. We also educated the customers about all the services that CitiPhone could provide them from the comfort of their own home or office. (Yes, this was before the age of cell phones!)
I personally met with the President & founder of ICMI/Incoming Calls Management Institute, Gordon MacPherson, a recognized leader in telephony education & performance benchmarking to customize their standard 2-day seminar for first-line supervisors…just for Citibank.
ICMI normally charged $899/participant to attend. That doesn’t include hotel, meals & airfare.
I worked out a unique deal in that I hired Gordon for a flat $4000 fee, plus expenses, for an entire week. That was it…$4000 & we could train as many people as possible! And I traveled to Boston to meet with him to review, and enhance where appropriate, all his training seminar material for our attendees.
Note: I immediately sensed Gordon’s desire to get his foot into the door @ Citi. I promised him that I would hook him up with the right people…and I did!
We trained well over 100 Citi supervisors…from across the country…at the two, 2-day courses (Mon/Tues & Thurs/Fri). By holding the courses at a conveniently-located hotel in NY (as the majority of attendees came from the NY Metro area) & negotiating a one-price-for-all deal, we were able to realize cost savings in excess of $250K, considering tuition, boarding & airfare!
In addition, on Wednesday of that week, we held a senior management summit with dozens of Citi leaders from across the business (Retail Bank, Credit Cards, Travelers Checks, Student Loans, Mortgages, Dealer Acceptance, Diners Club, etc.) in a wonderful forum with Gordon that provided incredible insights into where the telephony industry & Customer Service call centers, in particular, were headed!
Our overall business results were spectacular…our customers/branches/employees were incredibly satisfied…we went above & beyond our normal scope of responsibility to train thousands of employees…
..,and then I got my performance review the following March.
Up until that point, I had been with Citi for 9 years & had always received a “1” rating (“Exceptional” for the top 10% of employee on a rating scale of 1-5).
I knew I had my best year ever…probably the best year one could imagine (seriously).
And then my boss lowers my rating to “2” (“Outstanding”, but it wasn’t the “1” I expected…and deserved)!
I was absolutely devastated.
Actually, I was shocked first. Then, devastated.
Then, angry & pissed beyond human comprehension.
“Bob, how could you possibly lower my rating??? We were #1 in every possible category imaginable & I personally spearheaded several hugely-successful programs on my own initiative.
“I received a “1” last year & we still improved our performance in every single category! I even negotiated a new checkbook contract for the business & we made an additional $3MM!!!
“We have the best attendance in the world. I haven’t lost a single employee all year. Our satisfaction results are great, our business results are great, we always meet our budget & all my people are performing at, or way above, standard.
“How could this be?!?”
“Well, Mike, that’s it. You didn’t have anyone on formal documentation.”
I actually waited for Dumbo to say something else. My shoes weren’t polished every day? That time I stained my tie when I went to lunch? You didn’t like my Halloween costume?
I finally spit out “What did you say?!?”
(Note: “Formal documentation” is the final disciplinary action you take with employees who have significant performance issues.
You speak with the employee initially & give them an “informal, verbal warning” & develop a plan on how to improve performance in that area.
If the problem persists (usually after 3 months), you issue them a formal warning.
Again, draw up a plan with specific performance goals to achieve.
If there is still not enough improvement to get performance “up to standard”, then you’re forced to place the employee on “formal documentation”.
It’s the final step before firing the employee if they don’t sufficiently improve their performance.)
“Bob, I don’t have anyone on formal documentation as we don’t have any employees with major performance issues that merit it!!!
“We have sensational attendance. All my people perform at standard or above in every measurable category…service, productivity, quality, adherence, availability!
These reps are GREAT! We passed every single performance indicator for every month.
“Pls tell me who, of all of my employees, has any type of performance issue that would even merit INFORMAL documentation, much less, formal documentation!!!
“We have never even gotten past the verbal warning phase with anyone!
“Who?!? Tell me!!!”
“You have to understand, Mike, that for a unit of this size, with as many employees as you have, it’s statistically impossible not to have anyone on documentation!”
I couldn’t believe WTF he was telling me!
“Name me one person who deserves to be on documentation. Name me one!
“You get all the monthly performance reports I compile on every employee, Bob! You have access to every employee’s attendance record.
“Name me one single person that has any performance issue whatsoever!!!”
“I already told you, Mike…it’s statistically impossible!”
“You know what, Bob? I don’t give a goddamned crap about your stupid statistics!
“You can’t come up with one example, but you’re lowering my rating based on your theory?!?
“You wanna know what’s statistically impossible, Bob? You really wanna know?
“That’s me continuing to work for you!
I can’t & won’t do it anymore! I’m applying for that One Bank Practices job back in Brooklyn that we discussed last week!”
“Don’t be silly, Mike! You’re gonna travel from Long Island to Brooklyn every day? Besides, the posting on that job came down 2 days ago!”
I was absolutely fuming & now he’s acting like a li’l smart ass with me.
“Oh, yeah? You just wait. I’m gonna call Redington right now. We’ll see!”
I stormed out of his office, went into mine & slammed the door so loudly, you could’ve felt the tremors miles away.
I picked up the phone & called Redington.
(Joseph J. Redington III was the Senior VP who headed up all of National Operations for the U.S. Retail Bank. He was my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss, but I was very close with him.
5 years earlier, he personally asked me to take over the newly-consolidated CitiPhone unit for the Brooklyn/Long Island/Staten Island Region when he was the B/LI/SI Regional VP.)
His secretary answered (who I knew pretty well), but she said that he was at a meeting.
I asked her to please talk with Joe as soon as possible & explain that I wanted to apply for the One Bank Practices position in Brooklyn. The problem was that Human Resources took down the formal job posting a few days earlier.
She said, “I know. I’ve already scheduled 8 candidates to interview with Joe next week!”
I asked her to PLEASE make sure that Joe knows that I really, really want to interview for that job.
This was early Thursday afternoon.
Later that same afternoon, I get a returned call back. She tells me that I have an interview at 9:00 sharp in Joe’s office in Brooklyn, first thing Monday morning.
I thank her profusely. And promise her lunch.
I tell Bob about everything & explain that I’m gonna be late on Monday because of the interview.
He looked a little shocked.
But then he says, “Yeah, even if you get it, you’re not gonna move your family back to Brooklyn!”
I went back to my office & stuck another pin…one of those long suckers…right into his damned voodoo doll!
Come Monday morning, I arrive nice & early at Joe’s office (my old stomping grounds @ 6300-8th Ave from ‘78-‘83). I see 2 other VPs already sitting in his waiting area. We exchange pleasantries.
BTW, the One Bank Practices position…later, renamed “Process Improvement & Development”…was a VP-level job. I was still an Asst VP at the time.
I check in with his secretary & ask her what those 2 guys are doing.
She whispers, “They’re scheduled to interview with Joe, but I had to push them back when Joe said he wanted to talk with you first.”
At 9:00, she finally waves me into Joe’s office.
He stands up, gives me a big smile, shakes my hand & says, “Now what the hell are YOU doin’ here?!?”
“But, Joe, I have an interview with you for the One Bank Practices job.”
“I know that, but I mean, what are you doing here? You LOVE Customer Service! You LOVE those people & they LOVE you! I never thought you’d ever want to leave there!”
“I don’t, Joe, I really don’t…
…but I just can’t work for that Bob Cruz idiot anymore!”
I explain everything that happened with my rating & my annual performance review.
“To tell you the truth, Mike, I was absolutely stunned when I saw your rating come across my desk.
“Why didn’t you talk with Buran about it?”
(John Buran reported directly to Joe & was my boss’s boss’s boss. I was pretty tight with John as well.)
“I did speak with John the same day I got my rating. He, too, said how shocked he was when he saw the rating, but that it was always his practice never to overrule any of his people on employee ratings.”
Joe looked at me, then said, “Stupid bastard!”
I just sat there.
“So waddaya gonna do? Move your family back here? I know how much you guys love it out there on Long Island!”
“Yeah, we’ll probably move to Staten Island. Laurie’ll love it, being close to her family & friends and all!”
“Are you sure, Mike?”
“Of course, Joe, assuming that I actually make it through the process.”
We hadn’t even begun the actual interview yet.
“There is no more process. Give Cruz your 2 weeks’ notice & be here on that following Monday morning.”
“But, Joe, you have 2 guys waiting out there to meet with you & your secretary said tha…”
“Hey, you forgot who runs this place? Now get the hell outta my office!
“And drive carefully. Don’t forget to call Laurie & tell her!”
He eventually got his wrist slapped by HR for doing what he did, but it meant the absolute world to me!
I drove back to the office on Long Island, but I really didn’t need a vehicle. It could’ve floated back the entire way.
Had a whole lotta satisfaction…and a giant smirk…when I handed my 2 weeks’ notice to Bob as soon as I returned to the office & hand wrote him the letter.
Yeah, he looked quite stunned.
As it turned out, he asked me for an additional 2 weeks before I left. (He was clueless on how to actually run a real Customer Service call center. He thought the unit was on his PC, writing reports on what WE did & creating graphs on the great job WE did. He did -0- in 2 1/2 yrs to help, guide or lead (🤣🤣🤣) the business.)
Naturally, I agreed to stay on…not because he asked me, but for the business as it would take him time to find a suitable replacement. (Eventually, Rich Raspanti, my peer in Lower Manhattan CitiPhone & a really-nice guy, accepted the job. It was great for Rich as he lived out on Long Island & would save himself that long trip into the city every day.)
May God strike me dead if anything I’ve said here is not the absolute truth. Trust me, I couldn’t make this shit up!
“It’s statistically impossible for you, with a business of this size, not to have anyone on formal documentation.”
What kind of sick puppy do you hafta be to use that bullshit as justification for lowering someone’s rating? (I later found out, from a very close buddy who knew him well in his prior Citi life, that he had a practice of not rating any of his direct reports higher than what he himself received from his boss. The prior year, I got a “1” while he received a “3”, Full Standard. Apparently, he wanted to ensure that didn’t happen again!
Incidentally, he got another “3” this year. The big bosses knew he was just a figurehead with little to no real substance.)
Having NO ONE IN FORMAL TROUBLE (and no one deserving to be in formal trouble) is the sign of an exceptionally-performing business.
If you jump on potential issues the very first moment you get any indication whatsoever that something may be amiss, then you can control the situation, address it directly & provide the employee with the necessary training, guidance & direction to get back on course.
Poorly-rated calls were immediately discussed & reviewed with the person’s manager & our departmental trainer. If remedial training was needed, it was done, right there & then.
Every single absence required a full review of the employee’s attendance record the morning upon returning. No exceptions.
You don’t wait until the ship springs a leak before you monitor what the heck is going on & make sure that everything & everyone is up to snuff!
Oh, wait until I tell you about my going-away party!
Ah, that’ll be fodder for yet another story.
As always, thank you so much for listening!