“But We’ve Always Done It This Way!”

“But, Mike, this is how we’ve always done it!”

You cannot fathom just how much I hated hearing that phrase!

It’s nothing more than a weak excuse for someone not being brave enough…smart enough…insightful enough…daring enough…to, at a minimum, open their ears & eyes & mind to the POSSIBILITY that there may be a better way to do something.

A way that may be quicker &/or more economical &/or make more sense &/or be better for the customer without adding any incremental risk or increased loss exposure to the organization.

And when the recommended process change has already been implemented at other companies – – with resounding success, no less! – – a decision to not seriously explore its feasibility at this company, here & now, is simply foolish.

People are not comfortable with change, most especially when it comes from “the outside”, or from a perceived outsider. 🙋🏻‍♂️

They’re not comfortable with moving away from something that’s tried & true.

But “tried & true” does not necessarily mean it’s the best possible option…it’s just that, to date, it hadn’t blown up the place.

There’s a whole bunch of room for improvement between “it works OK” & “it’s the best possible process”.

You need not recreate the wheel with every change or improvement…just add incremental value than outweighs the “cost of implementation”, including perceived impact on customers & employees.

I faced this attitude while at Citi & then with Lehman Brothers (where the whole Mortgage servicing industry was slightly behind the times) and finally, with Nationwide (where the insurance industry & retirement plan servicing was decades behind the times).

I spent so much time & energy trying to get them to adopt stuff that I helped to successfully design, build, implement & manage so many years earlier!

It was like being stuck in an evil time machine where no one actually realized what was going on in the world around them.

Not with everything, of course, but there was a tangible & definite attitude that new & different wasn’t necessary.

But as I told people (and, perhaps, a little too directly), “That’s funny, but when I open the book of ‘The Most Innovative, Progressive & Successful Service Leaders in the World’, I don’t see this company listed there.”

You can’t be the “best” at anything…running the 100-yard dash, building a car, creating a soft drink, wearing the latest fashions, etc…unless & until you’re able to measure yourself against your rivals.

But first, you need to know what the hell they’re doing & what results they’re getting.

That requires an open mind & an investigative spirit.

The willingness to say, “Hmmm, that looks interesting!”

You know why everyone thinks that consultants & “experts” have all the answers?

It’s not necessarily because they’re smarter…it’s because they’re more informed about what’s going on.

They’re more informed about how the better players in the game operate so if all they do is regurgitate what others (the best) are already doing, then that’s valuable information to you if you’re not already operating like that!

They don’t necessarily have to be original nor first…they just need to be able to provide incremental value to you!

Pls let me review a few examples of improvements & changes I helped implement that initially, faced a whole lot of resistance from the old guard…

> Aurora Loan Services (the mortgage servicing subsidiary @ Lehman Brothers) would historically use MT/Mountain Time zone to communicate “open, available hours for Customer Service & Collections and deadlines for same-day payment processing…because they were located in the Mountain Time zone (in Colorado & Nebraska).

They thought this practice was perfectly fine as “we’ve been doing that for years!”

The problems was that 98% of their portfolio was located in the Eastern, Central & Pacific time zones, NOT  the Mountain time zone.

Pssst, CUSTOMER communications…statements, notices, letters, recordings…should take the CUSTOMER into consideration! Who the hell cares what the company’s time zone or location is, especially when we didn’t have any offices, branches or stores? We sourced mortgages SOLELY through correspondent banks & brokers! There were NO “Aurora Loan Services” or “Lehman Brothers Mortgages” signs or customer locations in existence. We either bought loans from these correspondent banks/brokers or sourced them from other services on the secondary market.

In addition, they weren’t familiar with the practice employed by just about every company with offices/customers across the country – – use Eastern Time as the standard.

People in “non-Eastern” time zones know exactly how their particular time relates to Eastern time.

People in Chicago know instantly that 9PM Eastern = 8PM Central.

People in Denver know it means 7PM Mountain.

And people in LA know it means 6PM Pacific.

But if you were to provide them with a specific time, stated in MT/Mountain Time, it would take them awhile to figure it out. Am I 1 hour behind? 2 hours ahead?

And every evening on the last day of the month to make a mortgage payment WITHOUT a late charge, I would hear my reps say to customers on the West Coast, “I’m sorry, sir, but the deadline is 7:00PM Mountain Time, which is 6:00PM your time!”

Every single month on the last penalty-free payment day.

And I couldn’t get one other person on the Service Committee to agree with me! For months!

So I wrote an e-mail & sent it directly to Lehman’s President…in NY.

About 6 weeks later, a royal decree was issued company-wide that ALL customer communications & correspondence would reference Eastern Time as the stardust’s, effective immediately.

It was pretty sad that I was forced to do that, but they simply refused to listen…and weren’t even willing to research the matter.

> For years, they would ONLY use the customer’s mortgage loan number as the sole method for entering into the IVR/Interactive Voice Response.

And their IVR utilization was embarrassingly low.


I once put all the cash in my pocket & my entire (cards included) wallet on the table for anyone on the Service Committee who could tell me their own mortgage account #.

No one could.

I then asked them if it’s any wonder why IVR usage is so low.

Then I actually hadda connect the dots for them.

“If you made it easier for our customers to get in & allow them to obtain info & make free, on-line payments, then we wouldn’t hafta handle all these silly manned calls. In addition, we could save significant time on manned calls by allowing the caller to “self-verify” on the network & utilize “screen pops” for the reps.”

Screen pops occur when the rep’s screen is already populated with the customer’s info when the call arrives & there’s no need to ask for a Mortgage number or validate the caller’s identity. It would save considerably talk time & reduce manpower requirements that could either be saved or utilized better elsewhere.

Couldn’t get them to agree to use the customer’s Social Security Number.

So I added myself to the IVR Rewrite task force & got the change implemented anyway. IVR usage shot up instantly upon implementation!

> We used an outside vendor (First American) to handle property tax investigations for our customers.

They would speak directly with the customer to open the case, but wouldn’t respond back to our customer directly.

Instead, they would make the necessary adjustments & place a note on the account.

My reps were required to keep a tickler file of all tax investigation calls they transferred to the vendor. Then X days later, they would search the accounts to see if a note was placed.

If there was a note, they would call the customer, but had to speak directly with the customer. No VoiceMail messages with specific information provided were allowed.

If they couldn’t reach the customer, they would call back daily until they could speak with the customer or leave a message for the customer to call us.

That was absolutely ludicrous! I remember hitting the ceiling when I really learned about this process myself!!!

At Citi, our reps would log the investigation request directly into the system. The Investigations Unit would download the items & when they completed one, note the customer’s account & mail a resolution letter to the customer.

“But, Mike, this is how the vendor handles the process. It’s written in our contract with them.”

I meet with the vendor down in Westlake, TX the following month as part of our quarterly review.

I asked them to change their process to mirror the one we used at Citi.

They refused.

I then informed them that if they didn’t agree to do this new process, I would guarantee them that they would NOT get our contract when it was time for renewal.

In fact, I double-guaranteed it. (BTW, this business…Westlake Services…was a joint venture with our company & First American, the vendor!)

After lunch, they agreed to implement my recommended process beginning next week!

> Aurora/Lehman had a Service Performance Indicator that required us to meet BOTH the monthly Service Level (at least “80% of callers answered within 30 seconds”) AND another indicator that we had no more than 3 individual days each month where the Service Level was below 80%.

I told senior management that the second indicator was absolutely foolish.

Since they created the indicator (and the EVP brought it over with him when he came from Chase Mortgage), they didn’t exactly agree with me. Yeah, right…and their shit didn’t smell, either!

After 3 months of producing an 82% SL, an 81% SL & an 82.5% SL (probably the BEST possible combination of excellent timeliness with exceptional productivity since the best contact centers live right on the edge, timeliness-wise, to maximize efficiency), I showed them how I missed the “Daily SL Indicator” for 5, 4 & 6 days respectively.

“How could I produce the best possible results for both timeliness & efficiency and STILL miss this silly indicator?”

I explained that in order to pass the Daily Service Level Indicator, I would probably have to do a MINIMUM 90% SL for the month…which is a total waste of money! The higher the SL, the more reps sitting around just waiting for a call. Doing nothing but waiting for calls.

That’s unproductive.

Finally, the Senior VP agreed to drop it.

Senior Managers have foolishly used this indicator as a “show of strength” & “flexing their muscles”. Meanwhile, it simply tells me that they know nothing (or, at least, a helluva lot less than they think they know) about queuing theory or how a call center really works.

Dick McCrossen (“Monster Man”, from a previous story of mine…”that friggin’ guy with the beard” > me!) once put this standard in place at Citi, but no one had the gonads enough to tell him it was a stupid & counter-productive Indicator!

They foolishly & erroneously believe that you MUST always provide a consistent Service Levrl over the month!

May sound & appear “wonderful”, but it’s not!!!

2MM customers calls you in a month. You answer 80% of them within 20 seconds.

That’s great service for the customer & great efficiency for the company!

2MM callers @ 80% SL = 1,600,000 callers handled “on time” & 400,000 callers “waited too long, i.e., >20 secs”.

It doesn’t really matter when the 400,000 callers called us. It doesn’t matter if they were “evenly spread” across every day or, in the case @ Citi, every 1/2 hour of every day!

Does anyone think there’s a secret society to which all these 400,000 callers belong? Like they compare notes at the monthly meetings?

“OMG, could you believe how many of us waited >20 secs on that first Monday of the month, from 10:00 to 10:30 AM? Oh, the horror!!! 😱”

That’s why “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing!”

Sometimes, people (especially big bosses) demand stuff that is actually counter-productive to what their organization is trying to do. All cost, no benefits.

And if anyone would like to dispute my stance on this, pls feel free to call me  directly @ 210-663-8532 to discuss.

If I don’t recognize your number, you may not be answered within 20 secs (4-5 rings). Pls don’t hang up as I DO measure my “abandoned calls” & must report them to myself regularly.

Feel free to leave a VM message!

DO NOT FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or Google Duo me without first obtaining prior official authorization!

I don’t wear a hat while I’m on the couch & I only do my hair on certain occasions when a hat isn’t appropriate.

Un’erstand? 🤪

> When I first took over a CitiPhone Unit in NY in 1983, we had this totally-convoluted process for stop payments on checks.

We accepted the stop order over the phone & the customer was forced to sign the bottom of the systems-generated confirmation letter & mail it back to us.

If they didn’t do this, we would remove the stop payment on the check.

Huh? Why?

“To make sure it was the authorized signer who called us, Mike!” was the answer I was given.

I responded, “But we fully validate the customer at the beginning of every call, right? And besides that, why would a crook call in a fraudulent stop payment order in the first place? If anything, he’s gonna try to steal money, not place stop payment orders! Duh.”

And on top of that, we were NOT even validating the customers’ signatures on the signed receipts!!!

We changed the process & eliminated the need for the customer to do anything after the phone call.

With this one, I researched everything first with Legal & Compliance, then authorized the change myself. THEN, I told my bosses what I did.

In this way, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission!

Besides, we verify the caller’s identity right upfront when they call! We do tons of stuff for customers based on first getting that verification.

Besides, is a crook really going to call up to place a stop payment on a check??? Really? In what universe?

Pls, don’t ever leave your common sense behind when you go into work!

> At Citi, when we created “Safety Check” (an automatic process to use Money Market or Savings acct funds to cover a check that’s due to bounce), customers could only enroll in the branches as we required the customer’s signature.


“Legal recommended it!”

I replied, “Legal’s job is to point out what Federal or state regulation we may be breaking. They shouldn’t be recommending anything.

“Besides, we verify the customer’s identity on every call. Where’s the risk?”

I spoke with Legal (Cornell Franklin), reminding him of what the Legal Dept’s charter was. After a li’l pushing’ & shovin’, we agreed to change the process so CitiPhone could accept & enter the customers’ requests for Safety Check enrollment.

“When the fraud losses start to hit the Legal Dept’s expense code, then you can change the process!”

Cornell had this really-cool mustache & the professor eyeglasses. I always wondered if he smoked a pipe.

He was a very cool dude & a pleasure with whom to work.

(Note: I could’ve said, “…a pleasure to work with”, but that would’ve been improper English.

Never end a sentence with a preposition, e.g., with, of, to, below, upon, etc..

You can end certain sentences with probation, but that’s an entirely different matter!)

> We had a GREAT Provisional/Immediate Credit process where, based on certain eligibility criteria, the rep would enter a financial investigation request on-line & the customer could get an instant credit to his account while Investigation researched the item back-end. Yes, while the customer was still on the phone! (Without a doubt, one of the greatest service improvements we ever developed!)

But the process only covered situations where the difference was $5,000 or less.

For “more serious” issues (larger $ amounts), the system would not issue an immediate credit & the customer would have to wait for Investigations to complete their research (usually, within 3 business days).

Got feedback from the reps, managers & the branches that they needed the system to handle larger dollar cases.

As such, we assigned different maximum allowable limits to different “roles”.

CitiPhone “regular reps” stayed at $5000.

Senior reps in Client Relations (“Sup Gare”) & CitiPhone managers got a &10,000 limit.

CitiPhone Area Director’s had a $25,000 limit.

And I had a $100,000 limit. (Oh, the schemes I could’ve pulled off & enjoyed the rest of my days on some beach where they don’t have an extradition agreement with the U.S.!!!)

> National Marketing planned a mass mailing to all Checking customers asking their permission to switch their Checking account from “receiving the actual cancelled checks themselves back with the statement” to “receiving digitized printed images, 8 to a page, instead with their statement”.

They forecasted acceptances rates by year (with a new mailing every year to those that hadn’t accepted the change yet) & figures it would take 5 years l to get the OK from 98% of the customer base.

I envisioned this 5-year cross we would be bearing, trying to get customers to agree to that.

Ridiculous, I thought.

I wanted a “negative option” process instead, that is, we’re giving it to you unless you specifically tell us not to.

I won out.

I convinced the business that this is like when you hafta give your child medicine. You don’t ask for their permission as giving them the medicine is the best thing for them.

Check imagining was the medicine & the customers, our children.

BTW, 99% of the customer base was converted within the first year. Oh, sorry, 98.9%. Only 1.1% protested & we reversed the action.

> Citi has a process whereby we would only send replacement Citibank Banking Cards (ATM cards) to the current address on file.

It was designed to prevent fraud.

But what about the customer who’s on vacation & loses his card? The process was too restrictive for certain situations.

So we built a process that required supervisory approval & systemically avoided any countries well-known & documentedfor fraud with our accounts (Colombia, Venezuela, Costa Rica, etc.). It also used customer verification questions supplied by Equifax (credit bureau) for further verification.

It provided us the flexibility we needed without increasing our exposure to incremental fraud losses.

> National Marketing was planning a mailing to those Priority Service customers (now called CitiGold) that didn’t meet recently-increased minimum balance requirements (changed from $25K to $50K).

I suggesting mailing it to ALL Priority Service customers, congratulating those customers who already had at least $50K with us that they already met the new minimum balance requirement, but proving them the opportunity to add even more funds. This is called “stroking the customer”.

So we had 3’groups each with their own letter: those “under the new $50K minimum” saying they “must” add more funds to stay in the program…those already under the existing $25K minimum, reminding them that they had to now get up to $50K…and then those who already met the new $50K requirement (“my group”) where we would simply stroke them, congratulate them, thank them, allow them to add $, etc..

As it turned out, “my group” (which was excluded from Marketing’s original proposal) brought in over 82% of the total incremental funds for the mailing!

> Historically at Citi, the branches handled several manual bookkeeping & reconciliation functions themselves, e.g., working Sub-Ledgers, managing D&F/Difference & Fine, answering simple customer calls (location/hours, acct info, etc.).

We created a front/end to intercept calls to the branch‘ s main phone # and centralize the bookkeeping functions into the back-office.

As a result, we “saved” over 1,000 FTE/Full-Time Equivalents, all of which were “reinvested” back into the branches’ sales functions!

Sales performance improved significantly in every marketplace!


If you’re persistent & have done your homework, it is, indeed, possible to “change & improve” how things are done.

Depending on the situation & the players involved, you’ll face different levels of resistance.

Obtaining senior level endorsement of your proposal will often help moves things along, especially if your crossing organizational lines.

Be persistent & be patient, but don’t be a pushover. Find yourself an ally to support you.

Good luck!

As always, thank you for listening!

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