The Little Things…

I don’t know about you, but lately my days are never dull or uneventful.  Generally this is a good thing because at the end of the day there always seems to be a story to tell…

For the holidays, Kim  and I were traveling to Orlando and before we got to our airport gate, I decided to stop at an ATM to get some cash because I didn’t have a cent on me.   Isn’t it amazing how far you can get through your daily/weekly/monthly life without any cash in your pocket?  For the most part, it is possible to live with only a single ATM or credit card on your person.   Seldom am I even asked to present a driver’s license anymore.

Anyway, I get to the ATM and low and behold, my pin number gets rejected because one of the numbers on the machine keypad is not working.  Okay…  So with all the muscles in my upper skeleton powering my one pointed index finger, I attempt to reenter my pin by pressing the broken key hard enough to make it register in China.  Needless to say, I get nothing except a notification that after three failed attempts I am now temporarily locked out from any further attempts.  Great.  I experience a brief moment of frustration and defeat and then I give myself a quick pep-talk and realize that this is not a problem.   No worries, when I get off the plane in Orlando I will use an ATM there.  Problem solved.

Two and a half hours later we arrive in Orlando without incident and we enlist an attendant to help with our luggage.  Like door men and other service staff, these guys generally expect cash tips.   Knowing this will also be the case with the taxi driver and hotel valet, I remember that I need to get cash.  I quickly peruse the arriving terminal and I blessedly spot an ATM down by the tram to the main terminal.  I am pleased to note that they keypad seems to be fully functional as I insert my card and key in my PIN.  The message presented is a lot shorter and much more deflating.  Instead of the earlier “…three unsuccessful attempts, try again later!”  It simply said, “Your card had been deactivated”.   Apparently this is the Florida version of “Incorrect PIN Number” that I was gifted with earlier in the day.

I am now a little more than frustrated and I make that known to my wife and the baggage attendant.  Big mistake.  The happy-to-serve look on his face immediately changed to one of impending disappointment.   And Kim immediately rolled her eyes and started rustling through her bag trying to scrounge up more than lint from the bottom of her purse.  As I talk this through with Kim on the sidelines, I indicate I have cash.  It wasn’t a lie, I do have cash, I just can’t access it at the moment.  But not to worry, I have a plan.  All I have to do is give a quick call and sort this out.  I’ll have cash in my pocket in minutes, no seconds!

With the attendant hearing “I have cash”, he now returns to his former bubbly self.  He must have disregarded the “I can’t get to my cash” concept I also pointed out.   The three of us continue to lumber through the airport heading for baggage claim. I need to call my bank and get this worked out. I assume this would be easy as it must happen all the time.  Little did I know that the real fun was just beginning…

I start by turning the card over to look for the Customer Service number.  Apparently technology has improved to the point where they can write a novella on the back of the card in a font so small you can barely tell it’s even text. Now I am proud to say that I have pretty good eyesight – 20/15 or 20/20 depending on who is doing my exam.   Well my fine ocular ability aside, I cannot even make out one character of the micro-font so I try to focus on just finding anything that looks like a phone number.   My first couple of passes are unsuccessful but eventually I spot some dashes between what appear to be letters and with my nose pressed up to the plastic I finally see it.   It says something like “1-WE2 –LUVU” which I assume my bank thinks is a memorable catch phrase. All the good numbers like 1-800-OUR-BANK must be assigned.

I hate phone numbers presented this way.  It takes me forever to make these calls using numbers presented as letters. Each time I go for the next number to dial I have to re-reference the code they are using, trying to remember which letter I was on. Added to this exercise is the fact that I am walking through the airport laden down with carry-ons.  I need one hand to unlock the iPhone, one hand to hold the ATM card, one hand to hold onto the pole in the tram which we have just boarded…

Well since I left my third hand at home, I choose to not hold onto the pole in the tram. I now feel like I am in a Birling competition (this is where lumberjacks stand on floating logs and attempt to spin the log in order to make the other lumberjack fall off the log) and have to catch my balance several times as the tram violently starts and stops. All of a sudden I am a lumberjack, a juggler, and a decoder all at once as I try to dial by letter with two bags hanging from each wrist.  I continue typing until I run out of letters.  Ughhh, all that effort and balancing and I am missing one letter somewhere!

My frustration and my blood pressure escalate. I eventually do get the correct number of digits and place the call hoping I have been successful at my decoding.  Not so much.  After the person from “Larry’s Auto Moving Company” answers my call I realize I failed. I try the entire decryption again, get lucky and finally get the bank on the line without a minute to spare because we are rapidly approaching the main terminal.

When I say I got the bank on the line I mean the bank’s ‘line tree’ not an actual person.  First thing they ask you for is what department you want to talk to via a phone menu. They list all the options “press 1 for this, 2 for that” etc.  Ever cautious and thorough me has to listen to all nine choices because if I jump on the first one that I think is what I want, I fear I might miss a better matched one further down the numbered list. As always, the problem is I fall into at least two, if not three categories so I spin the roulette wheel and pick what I feel is the best one. The irony is they probably all go to the same person in India anyway.

The phone system then asks me for my card number. Similar dance as before but at least I am keying numbers not letters into the phone. Then the computer generated voice reads the number back to me SO SLOWLY I try not to lose my mind. I then get placed on hold with my favorite, a message that says “Sorry, we are experiencing higher than average call volume, we estimate your wait to be 10 minutes to speak to a live agent”. Eleven minutes later I do in fact get an English-speaking live agent who disinterestedly greets me with a bland and rehearsed, “(Bank name) and we too love you”.

Ahhhh…It was a Eureka moment for me when I realized the text phone number was an acronym for the customer service rep’s introduction script. So the expectation must be that you are a teenager and can decode the texting shortcuts built into the phone number; creating something memorable so you don’t have to keep looking at the micro-font on the card in order to make the call?!?

The business person in me then starts to imagine the scores of meetings they must have had with a room full of tween-agers hired by their multi-million dollar marketing firm to come up with a message that can be translated into seven letters while simultaneously communicating a memorable message at the same time. I have spent weeks in meetings trying to decide what 6 proposal statuses should be used. I can only imagine how long this phone number –to-letter generation process took.

The operator, in her indifferent voice, asks me for the card number again. Why? I just keyed it in? Was that just a test? Have I been transported back to the sixth grade again?  Ughhh!  I give it to her again and kindly suggest she might tell someone at the bank this is a redundant step.  She does not even pretend to care enough to even respond.

Now I am told I picked the wrong number from the menu and am being transferred. The new operator again asks me for the card number. I have no confidence she cares either so I hold my tongue with my “why do I have to key the card number in for a third time?” redundancy suggestion.   After I give her my dogs name which is the 10th or so bit of information I have to provide to her in order to convince her I am who I say I am, the real conversation starts.

We are now at baggage claim.  I am praying that one of our bags is mysteriously missing long enough to get some cash for I fear our uber-helpful baggage valet may turn on us (and rightfully so).  I tell the latest bank phone operator my story and how I have no cash on vacation. No cash at all!  The attendant now hearing this goes from looking bubbly to destroyed. I notice he not-so-subtlety starts looking around for someone else to help who may actually have cash to offer him for his service.

All I want is my card re-activated. Shouldn’t this take seconds? This must happen all the time…Three more incredibly uncomfortable minutes goes by when I realize it’s not going to happen. All she can do is reset my PIN to “1234” and then I have to change it on the ATM before I can get cash. The problem is it has to be an ATM for my bank, not just any ATM. I am minorly perturbed because this will probably be a little annoying to get to and find, but being in a big city (26th largest metropolitan city in the US from over 350 cities) I should be fine, right?  Wrong.

Without a single breathe in between her scripted explanations, she insipidly informs that there are NO ATM’s for my bank anywhere in Florida. I am ready to choke someone just as my wife and the panicking valet are ready to choke me!

I throw up my arms as she forwards me to yet another agent.  My wife scrapes together a meager tip with what little she has dug out of her purse and the beleaguered valet disappears into thin air as the bank operator takes me through the process I have to navigate through to re-activate the card, which involves faxing a very specific letter (which includes most all the information already provided) signed by me to the special number. I desperately explain to her that I am in an airport and it is not going to work for me. She indifferently informs me that this is the way it is, Sir.

I must be pissing her off because a few minutes ago I was Mr. Johnson, now I am a stern ‘Sir’.  I now have nothing to lose so I decide to follow this through to the bitter end.  I ask to speak to someone else.  I end up speaking to several somebodies…  My journey is still not over as I am passed along to two more agents before I finally speak to someone who is probably not sitting in a row of crowded cubicles in Mumbai.

I tell this latest ‘manager’ that there are several things that the bank could do to better this process. While I offer her some constructive feedback I have gleaned by talking to the bank’s gaggle of operators, she displays absolutely no interest in even listening to my suggestions so I have no allusions that she will be them passing along to the bank ‘higher-ups’. She doesn’t even care enough to lie to me by telling me she will forward them on.  I continue on anyway for my own self-preservation.

Here’s my list of constructive criticisms:

  •  Larger text on the back of the card;
  • Phone numbers shown in number format (not text);
  • Redundant card number entry;
  • Less obtuse and vague choices in their phone menu;
  • No ability to change their PIN number from any ATM; and
  • No way to activate the card and just let me use it again as before.

These are really little things in my mind that would not only make the bank better by making their operations more efficient, but more importantly it would vastly improve the customer ‘experience’.

I end this fun adventure with this last representative explaining to me in a roundabout way that it’s a large bank and there are no small changes. She basically thanks me for my suggestions while simultaneously intimating that her passing along my suggestions or passing along her own suggestions would be useless and would not affect any change. She did not exactly use those words because, “This call may be monitored for QA purposes,” but that was the end of it. Now cash-less and with a huge headache, I am standing on the curb outside Orlando International Airport with a heaping pile of luggage and no way to tip the taxi driver who has just pulled up smiling beside us and is already packing his trunk with our bags, I can’t help being reminded of a Dr. Seuss quote.  “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

It’s the little things…

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”? Hmm…I then think about how we would handle this type of situation and how we handle these little things in general.

We have plans and road maps for the big stuff. We know what we want to do and do our best to get it done in a timely fashion. But what about the little things?

I then recall a quote from Colin Powel (former US secretary of defense). “If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude.”

Excellence is an attitude…Thinking about our team, I am reminded of a few things that have recently happened here. I believe in all cases, these are things that you initiated (many on your own time and not within your job description!) and acted on.


Little things that grew into big things.

  • Our IT department installed software that analyzed what printers were being used for what and the per-page cost from each printer. This so far has saved us about $120 a month.
  • Someone found, set up and configured an AMEX travel portal that helps us find the cheapest flights, hotels and cars and then books them for you. As a company, in a click, we can generate expense reports per trip. We used to just have people make their travel plans in their own way. Using this site we have been able to save ourselves and of our clients (who get re-billed) thousands of dollars.
  • Someone else spent days and weeks researching Orlando hotels (on their own time) that would be a candidate for this year’s UGM. She found a great hotel that is offering great rates for rooms, has more than adequate facilities for our meeting, a SPA and is across the street from Downtown Disney. Wow! Anyone who has been to Orlando knows there must be hundreds and hundreds of hotels to choose from.  She saved us all so much time and expenditure by doing the work for us from home.
  • Someone added access to on-line documentation and tools in ITEMS. Again on their own time and from their own initiative.

There are so many other examples of little things that people have done that really have become big things and demonstrated an attitude of excellence. Our clients also have gotten into the action with many contributions of their own.  Like I said before, lately my days are never dull or uneventful and there always seems to be a story to tell.  We have many individuals here that do care a whole awful lot, and as a result things do get better.

Thank you for being a part of the story. The InfoEd story and more importantly, allowing me to bend your ears every once in a while with my ramblings.   I continue to be so proud of our staff and am even more proud to be an element in this environment that I hope fosters such excellence.  So, I would just encourage you all to act on the small changes you can make, even if you feel they will go unnoticed or make no significant change. Act on them. It’s the little things that grow into large things.  When you think about, most all things I can recollect are just that. A combination.  An accumulation.  An assembly of smaller things.

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