I like to use that word a lot. In fact, 12 of my stories actually contain the word “stuff” in the title.

But this one’s a li’l different…it’s about Stuff.

See, I used to write “this thing” when I was at the USCC in San Antonio called “Stuff”

It actually started out as a one-page recap (“Branch Manager Update”) intended to inform the Team Leaders in CitiPhone about how we did the previous day, e.g., volumes, performance metrics, issues/problems, successes, challenges, outlook for the current day.

It was a pretty straightforward e-mail & the target audience was limited (the CitiPhone management team).

I started it when I was Director of the “Control Desk” (1995), the centralized unit responsible for “coordinating” all the support activities for all the different phone units we had under our umbrella.

We were responsible for all call forecasting & rep scheduling…daily real-time traffic & staffing monitoring…IVR/Interactive Voice Response…interfacing with Systems & Technology on computer & networking issues…call routing design & implementation…reporting & service indicator tracking…all “off-the-phone” scheduling requests (vacation, time-off, meetings, coaching, group training, presentations, lunches/breaks, etc.)…and most other support functions related to the smooth operating of a professional call center

And as I’ve said before, there is a great deal of science (statistical analysis, staffing formulas, call-routing schemes, detailed scheduling, telephony, agent profiling/skilling, problem solving, etc.) involved – – WAY, WAY MORE than you ever could’ve manage!!!

Many eons ago, I had a senior manager, Joe Redington, who was incredibly knowledgeable about how the back-office operated. He was quite familiar with many of the individual steps in a particular process that a clerk would hafta do to complete the XYZ request.

Came in very handy when a manager would try to bullshit him about needing additional resources or explaining why something went awry.

He once told me, “Mike, I remember you saying that your reps average about 100 calls a day. So why would you need more than 50 reps if you’re handling 5,000 calls a day???”

🤔  <  < < that’s my make-believe “Oooops, he’s got me now!” face.

“It’s a lot more complicated than just a simple division problem, Joe.

“Ya see, calls don’t arrive in any type of smooth pattern. There are volume peaks by hour of day, day of week, day of month.

“And unlike a normal processing unit, we have to start working each item within 20 seconds of it arriving. There’s really no such thing as ‘inventory’.

“If we get ‘too backed up’, it may take us hours to clear out the queue, all the while ‘failing the 20-sec standard’ on every single call! And we can’t work overtime at the end of a shift to clean up the extra calls we may have received.

“Then there’s the queuing theories, the Erlang tables, Joe, that require a certain degree of availability to reach…”

“STOP!!! STOP!!! STOP!!! I believe you, Mike! You just continue to do whatever you do to make your magic happen out here!”

“Does that mean you trust me & no more Spanish Inquisitions?”

He grinned. Broadly.

“You know exactly how much trust I have in you. It was just a question, but I never realized how very complex an operation Customer Service was!

“And how you keep all these people happy is beyond me!”

Coincidentally, the Regional results of the Employee Satisfaction Survey were just published a few days earlier & not only did ours go up, but we surpassed those of every other operating area & every one but 2 small mini-branches!

“Ya know, Joe, whenever you have a couple hours, I’d be happy to…”

His glare stopped me in my tracks.

“Just give me a couple of tapes to listen to on my ride back to Brooklyn!”

The Beatles?

The Fifth Dimension’s Greatest Hits?

Led Zeppelin IV?

Er, not exactly. Ya see, I had set up a tape recorder…yes, a regular tape recorder I bought at Radio Shack…directly to one of our incoming trunks (phone line) using some 🐊 clips.

It would simply record any & all conversations that occurred on that specific line. I couldn’t “direct” it to any particular rep as this set-up was done right on the board itself.

No, not a computer board, but the actual sheet of plywood that housed the copper wire carrying the call directly from the phone company into one of the trunks in our ACD/Automated Call Distributor.

This whole “raw call-taping” process was EXTREMELY DANGEROUS!!!

Fear of electrocution?

Accidentally bringing down the entire network?

Not exactly, but one time, I was almost mauled to death by a runaway Tyrannosaurus Rex!!! 🦖

Holy Fred Flintstone!!! 😱😱😱

Back to the Daily Branch Manager Update…

Over time, I would add more & more content to the Daily BM/Branch Manager Update.

However, after 6 months in that position (and a perfect track record of meeting/surpassing goal for every single Service Indicator we had & bringing a significantly-better sense of control over every function we managed), I was asked by the site President to take the senior leadership position for a unit that we recently migrated to San Antonio from NY…Micrographics.

So I was forced to put the Daily BM Update on the shelf for the time being.

After my 2+ year stint in Micrographics & about a year as a Project Team Director, I was again requested to move to another business…but this time, it was as a CitiPhone Director.

At this point in my career, I had been with Citi for over 20 years & was “pretty knowledgeable” with everything related to CitiPhone, back-office Operations, Citibank, customer service & working with our branches.

Between my stint in NY CitiPhone & my 5 years running PID/Process Improvement & Development in National Operations (we were ultimately responsible for standardizing ALL back-office processes across the organization, including all the new marketplaces…CA, IL, AZ, FL, etc…and promoting Best Practices), I picked up a few things along the way.

I was extremely eager (fanatical) to share what I knew with CitiPhone…and with the entire USCC/U.S. Citibanking Center.

(Note: When Citi decided to centralize all back-office operations, except for Check Processing & Statement Rendition, for its U.S. Retail Bank in the early ‘90s & move from their separate, regional offices in NY, Chicago, Miami, Washington DC, San Francisco & Rochester, “not many” Citi employees moved to San Antonio to work at the USCC.

The overwhelming majority of USCC employees were local residents & only a small percentage had any type of retail banking experience.

It was, indeed, a daunting challenge to bring the USCC’s “collective Citibanking intelligence, experience & expertise” up to speed in order to deliver a consistent level of excellent customer service.

Oh, it was an experience, all right & “daunting” was probably a gross understatement of the challenges we faced.)

And, no, I wasn’t trying to do this as a one-man show. National Training had significantly its process & procedural expertise with its “knowledgeware database”…SOK/System of Knowledge, later renamed “Source”.

(NOOOO, not “Sauce” or “Gravy ❤️”!)

But I personally felt compelled to share my experience & expertise with as many people as possible & as often as possible. (Knowledge is pretty useless if you just keep it to yourself or don’t put it to good use through others who are actually servicing our clients & our branches.)

“Make a difference” is more than a cool slogan.

I would meet with our Training organization regularly to review their materials for new hire training classes as well as on-going developmental training for existing employees.

When they developed Source, I worked very, very nice closely with them on content. In fact, I was the final signing authority for any & all changes made to the database for CitiPhone. (I actually designated myself as such, but no one ever questioned it or me.)

I’d also meet regularly with various teams in CitiPhone, with our centralized monitoring unit, with all the Team Leaders & with other USCC departments to help introduce new product & service offerings, review enhancements to our main servicing tool (CWS/CitiPhone WorkStation) & generally share as much information as possible on properly servicing our customers.

My personal philosophy regarding “true customer service” (NOT handling phone calls) was a little different than most people’s.

I really didn’t care, though…mine actually worked.

I was also the main interface with Systems & Technology regarding CWS and worked very closely with Marketing, Service, Retail Bank, Legal, Loss Prevention, Compliance, etc. back in NY on behalf of the USCC as I had handled responsibilities just like these for National Operations when I was with NY CitiPhone & National Ops Process Improvement & Development.

But what I could do with people in person was limited.

I still had my “normal” job responsibilities to handle & besides, the USCC had several thousand employees on site.

I needed another way.

And that’s when “Stuff” was born.

Using the Daily BM Update as a basis, Stuff would expand greatly past the numbers & our performance & all the service indicators.

It allowed me (especially since it was “my own” publication) the opportunity to review things, to discuss issues, to demonstrate how to provide enhanced customer service, to explain how stuff worked (behind the scenes), to talk about the branches (especially since we had none in TX at that time) & to review just about anything that I believed would be helpful for our people.

And it provided me with the platform & mechanism to tell stories.

Yes, tell stories!

Just like I’m doing here in my blog.

By telling a story, it allowed the people to utilize “something familiar in their real, everyday lives” to better understand some of the theories & philosophies I always tried sharing with them.

Lemme give you an example of something you’d find in Stuff…

I would CONSTANTLY preach that a Customer Service representative’s job is NOT to simply answer customer questions.

They ask you something…you answer them. Good-bye.


Our job, our solemn responsibility to our customers, is to add tangible value.

To satisfy customer’s needs (spoken or otherwise).

To meet, and exceed, the customer’s expectations…way past his wildest imagination.

And while answering questions is often part of our service delivery, that’s NOT our goal!

Often times, the customer will ask about X, but his true need is something else.

He may be calling about a bounced check, but his REAL need is to try to make that “unhappen” or, at least, find a way to make sure it never happens again…yet he won’t talk about that need.

A customer may ask for his Checking account balance, but his true need to getting money into his account as quickly as possible.

Unless you probe (vs. only provide a balance), you may not realize that the deposit is actually sitting in a different account.

Or the customer won’t know about other ways…easier ways, quicker ways…to get those same funds into his account & immediately available for use.

You wanna guess just how many checks bounced on a daily basis due to “uncollected funds”, I.e, the customer’s “recently-deposited check(s) had not yet cleared/were made available”???

And that’s just a sin as we had several programs & products…Checking Plus/Overdraft Protection, Safety Check, Checks-as-Cash, GCRP/Good Customer Recognition Program, specific procedures for depositing government/cashier checks, etc…that could help our customers!

If the rep doesn’t educate them after a check bounces, then who will???

To help demonstrate this philosophy, I told them the story… the true story…of when I, my wife Laurie, and our daughter Heather went to dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack early one Saturday evening.

It was around 5:15, pretty early for dinner & the parking lot was not filled.

As we walked up to the where the greeter was (the nice girl with the menus who sits you), I scanned the dining floor as I much prefer sitting in a booth rather than a table. I had this weird fear of falling off those skinny-ass wooden chairs that were made outta leftover twigs!

As I look around the place, I noticed that there were 2 booths that were unoccupied…but the tables hadn’t been cleared nor cleaned yet.

I asked the greeter, “Do you have any booths available?”

She turned around, looked at everything, then said, “I’m sorry, Sir, but we don’t have any booths available.”


I then say, “How ‘bout you get someone to clean off that booth right there so we can sit? Thank you so much.”

Lesson: My QUESTION was “Do you have any booths available?”, but my NEED was to sit at a booth!

I mean, c’mon, I wasn’t conducting a special survey regarding “booth availability at seafood restaurants in SA on early Saturday evenings”.

I wanted a booth.

Why else in the world would I ask about a booth?

Many times, customers will ask a direct question, but it really doesn’t address their true need.

When a customer calls asking where your nearest branch or store is & you simply provide them with the correct information, you HAVE NOT DONE YOUR JOB!

The customer obviously believes that whatever he needs to do must be done at the branch or the store.

If he needed to place a stop payment, you can do that for him right on the phone! Then you can tell him that next time, he can either call or do it himself on-line. Or, if the check is older than 6 months, no stop payment is needed as it won’t get paid as it’s a “stale-dated check”.

Customer needs to buy a case for his cell phone. She believes that it must be done at the store.

Could you order her one over the phone? If she wants to look at the choices, does she know that she can browse & buy on-line?

I understand these customers asked a very specific question, believing that’s what they needed.

But unless you ask, unless you probe, you’ll never know what the customer’s true need was.

If your 90 year-old Grandmother called you at home, asking where the nearest branch was to her home, and it’s January & the weather is terrible, wouldn’t you ask her why she believes that she needs to go to the branch?


Shouldn’t you be treating every customer the way that you would treat your own Grandmother?

If not, then you have a serious issue.

In other blog stories, I’ll share (have shared)!some other stories with you that I used to better communicate various concepts & beliefs to our people.

BTW, Stuff (BM Update) started out as a page, maybe 2, and was distributed to just the CitiPhone Team Leaders.

But, over time, it grew to over 10, 12 pages (single-spaced!) & was distributed to every manager in the USCC, to every service representative in every phone unit & to different individuals across the USCC.

I just did it.

Didn’t ask for anyone’s OK. After all, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, right?

I was passionate about helping our employees better service our customers. Helping them do their job better. Helping them have a better time doing their work.

Satisfied customers. Satisfied employees.

That’s what everyone shoots for, no?

And then, you blink, and half the floor has changed!

It’s a constant battle and you must have the determination & drive to succeed.


As always, thank you once again for being such a wonderful audience!

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