Originally published at customerservant.com. You can comment here or there.

An email came down the line today, saying that the DB_Interface and Jaws issues will be solved in version 9.5, (we’re in 9.3), and that this should happen by the end of March.
I’m not holding my breath, or rather, I shouldn’t hold my breath, but I can’t help but hope a little.
I really shouldn’t do this, because, so far, every time I have, I’ve been let down.
I’ve really got to perfect the jaded thing.
No reply to my invoice.
In fact, John mentioned it to the operations manager, and his response was basically “That’s nice,” if not in those exact words.
In other words, he’ll admit he messed up and submit for the pay discrepancy, but won’t take financial responsibility.
What a jerk.
I just hope I can manage to find a way to juggle everything so that my rent gets paid, and get through what is going to prove a very tight next two weeks.
God that sucks.

Originally published at customerservant.com. You can comment here or there.

By Jeremy Rosen

The Lubavitcher ( Chabad) Rebbe was undeniably a great man. Many of his followers have done outstanding work around the globe. But sadly as with every large
organisation they have their crooks, their swindlers and their charlatans.

Amongst their failings is an exaggerated tendency to maximise miracles the Rebbe performed (while ignoring his limitations) and inventing myths.

For many years there has been a story circulating that my father who died in March 1962 was promised he would be cured by the Rebbe provided he did not
tell anyone, but he did and that’s why he died. These stories caused my late mother a great deal of distress. Her very different record of the events was
actually published in a Lubavitch book called ‘Challenge: An Encounter with Lubavitch Chabad’ and at one stage she even toyed with legal action.

The facts of the situation are that in the autumn of 1961 my father was diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of leukaemia and he needed regular blood
transfusions. The doctors described his condition as terminal. Initially he kept repeating that he was in the hands of God, not fallible human doctors.
As he deteriorated, his initial optimism began to wane.

He went to see the Rebbe in New York and was tremendously impressed. The Rebbe encouraged him to devote his remaining time to preparing himself to meet
his Maker. He suggested my father grow his beard full, wear a gartel when he prayed and study the Tanya daily. The visit certainly gave my father a lot
of spiritual comfort. When he returned he wrote many letters to friends and pupils telling them that he was nearing his end but facing it with confidence.
His health continued to deteriorate, of course, and in the winter he went to New York again for a final visit to the Rebbe. He kept very detailed notes
of both visits, so we have written evidence apart from what he told us from memory.

The Rebbe reassured him that he would live to dance at his daughter’s wedding (she was two at the time), and that Purim would be a time of turning sadness
into joy. One can argue whether this was honest or not. Let us assume he was just trying to give him courage or speaking mystically. But medically there
was no chance of recovery. He died less than two months later, a week before Purim.

Although I have never joined Chabad, when I was a rabbi in Glasgow I helped Chabad establish itself there. The Rebbe was instrumental in my returning to
Carmel as Headmaster, and I made several trips to New York to see the Rebbe and to get Chabad teachers to come to Carmel. But I was always a fellow traveller
rather than a believer.

Recently this myth resurfaced in the rather sick variation excerpted below, written by a rabbi in Kfar Chabad in Israel. My comments are in brackets.

‘The scene is London 1963.

[My father died in 1962.]

Three religious bearded Jews are sitting around a table and one, a noted rabbi and community leader by the name of Rabbi Koppel (sic) Rosen was weeping.
Usually he was known almost as well for his disdain toward the Chabad Chassidim as he was for his erudition.

[Strange. He came to visit when I was in Beer Yaakov Yeshiva in 1957, and together we went to Kfar Chabad to meet some friends of his. He was responsible
for getting Lord Wolfson to fund the building of Lubavitch House in Stamford Hill in the 1950’s, and he was a very old friend of Reb Laizer Spector, zl,
one of the main early supporters of Chabad in London, who actually went with him to the Rebbe the first time. My father was in contact with the Rebbe long
before his final illness, as letters exchanged between them in the fifties attest.]

Whenever there was an opportunity to belittle or even vilify Chabad he took it.

[It is true that he made fun of the credulous and superstitious, but neither I nor anyone else I know of ever heard him belittle Chabad.]

Several weeks later Rabbi Rosen was standing before the Rebbe. It had all come about so suddenly, he had always shuddered in repulsion at the name Chabad

[Oh no, not that lie again.]

and now it was so obvious that the Rebbe was unequalled in holiness and knowledge that he was actually shaking with excitement. But the Rebbe wasn’t enthusiastic
about his idea of becoming a Chassid. ‘Chassid?’ he answered, ‘I am willing to accept you as a partner. But not a Chassid.’

[The part about being accepted as a partner is the only element of this story that is mentioned in my father’s notes.]

Rabbi Rosen stayed for over a week in Brooklyn

[He has got the two visits confused and time scales wrong]

and every day he felt better and better, in some ways better than ever before in his life. For the first time the hatred he had always carried in his heart
was gone.

[Hatred? Of whom, Chabad? Then why had he been helping them for so long?]

That Shabbat he attended the ‘Farbrengen’ (gathering) of the Rebbe. Rabbi Rosen was elated. After the Farbringen he told everyone he met of the amazing
miracle that was happening to him;. how just reading the Tanya and seeing the Rebbe completely cured him of the worst disease and made him young again.

[There was no cure, no remission. But, yes, he did feel tremendous spiritual elation from being with the Rebbe.]

When the Shabbat was over he called home and told his wife to advertise the miracle until everyone knew.

[Rubbish, confirmed by my mother. In all he said to his wife and children, he never mentioned a cure.]

Rabbi Rosen never felt better in his life.

[He was on blood transfusions!]

He exclaimed that he was healthy and he felt it would last for ever. “I’ll begin by telling everyone about my miraculous recovery!” He exclaimed enthusiastically.

[His letters, notes and conversations say nothing about this at all.]

But the Rebbe emphatically stopped him. “No! You must tell no one!” But it was too late. Rabbi Rosin (sic) had already advertised.

[Strange that none of his family had been told any of this.] He returned home a different man, full of life and Chassidic joy and began several projects
to spread and teach but after a few months he contracted a cold which developed complications

[He had leukaemia!]

and, as the Rebbe foresaw, he passed away.‘

I find it fascinating that the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament contains a similar story of a man being warned not to reveal a miraculous healing, but
publicizing it anyway. It seems that it’s not just the Second Coming that some people in Chabad are borrowing from Christianity! If people can invent nonsense
like this to bolster their belief systems, then every story they tell becomes suspect. Myths and lies certainly won’t help bring ‘Moshiach Now’!

It was my mother’s Yahrzeit this week. Out of respect for her memory, let alone my father’s, zl, I hope someone in Chabad has the integrity and authority
to put an end to this for the sake of its own good name.

Originally published at customerservant.com. You can comment here or there.

By Thomas Stauffer
Arizona Daily Star
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 02.27.2006
advertisement
dillards/250×250
About 1,400 past and present Tucson call center employees of Convergys Corp. will receive more than $350,000 in back wages under a settlement with the U.S.
Department of Labor.
An investigation conducted by the Wage and Hour Division’s Phoenix office determined that Cincinnati-based Convergys, which currently employs about 500
people at its call center at 3760 N. Commerce Drive, failed to compensate workers for time they spent at work preparing for their shift, said Deanne Amaden,
a spokeswoman for the department’s Wage and Hour Division Regional Office in San Francisco.
The back wages for the “pre-shift” work time will be paid to employees for work performed between September 2002 and April 2005 at Convergys, which at one
time had more than 1,400 employees and a second Tucson location at 9060 S. Rita Road, Amaden said.
The $352,376 to be paid to 1,396 employees is based on the amount of unpaid hours worked by the affected workers, Amaden said.
“What they did was go back and do a construction of what would have been worked, so the amounts people will get back should range from very little to a
few thousand dollars depending on how much work they did during that period,” she said.
A former Convergys worker said pre-shift time was comprised of logging onto the computer and bringing up all the applications needed to do begin receiving
or making calls.
“Depending on the computer and who used it before you, that could take anywhere from five minutes to a half hour, and you were never paid for that,” said
Ellen Hudson, who worked at Convergys from February 2000 to April 2005.
Convergys issued a press statement that denied allegations of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, but confirmed that it had reached an agreement to
pay the back wages.
“This resolution with the (Department of Labor) represents a decision by the company not to engage in protracted litigation with the (department) on issues
that were isolated or unique to Tucson, and that have long since been addressed within our operations.”

Originally published at customerservant.com. You can comment here or there.

from the February 24, 2006 edition of the Christian Science Monitor


www.csmonitor.com/2006/0224/p02s01-usju.html

Some say proposed laws can help deter gun violence.
Others worry about deadly confrontations.
By Patrik Jonsson | Staff writer of The Christian
Science Monitor

ATLANTA – Instead of embracing a citizen’s “duty to
retreat” in the face of a physical attack, states may
be taking cues from the days of lawless frontier
towns, where non-deputized Americans were within their
rights to hold the bad guys at bay with the threat of
deadly force.

First enacted in Florida last year, “Stand Your
Ground” bills are now being considered in 21 states
including Georgia, according to the National Rifle
Association and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun
Violence. The South Dakota senate approved one just
last week.

These new measures would push the boundaries beyond
the self-defense measures already on the books. Twelve
states already allow citizens to shoot intruders in
their homes, and 38 states permit concealed weapons in
public places. The “Stand Your Ground” laws would
allow people to defend themselves with deadly force
even in public places when they perceive a
life-threatening situation for themselves or others,
and they would not be held accountable in criminal or
civil court even if bystanders are injured.

Laws putting more judgment in an individual’s hands
stem from people’s increased concern about crime in
their communities. Proponents say it helps shift the
debate from gun control to crime control, and that
these laws are part of the rugged individualism of
Americans.

“These laws send a more general message to society
that public spaces belong to the public – and the
public will protect [public places] rather than trying
to run into the bathroom of the nearest Starbucks and
hope the police show up,” says David Kopel, director
of the Independence Institute in Golden, Colo.

Some critics say such “Wild West” laws are vigilante
justice, and commonplace confrontations and more
likely turn to violence.

“You don’t just broadly paint a new statewide law
saying, if you’re in doubt, go ahead and shoot and
kill the other person,” says Peter Hamm, spokesman for
the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in
Washington. “It’s anathema to peace and calm in our
communities.”

Currently, Florida’s new law is being tested for the
first time. In Tampa, a tow- truck operator who shot
and killed a man he said was trying to run him over
used the “Stand Your Ground” law as a defense. The
district attorney is evaluating other forensic
evidence and eyewitness testimony that the shots came
from behind, and therefore were not in self-defense.

To be sure, the laws challenge the notion of “duty to
retreat” from attack upheld by many state supreme
courts. Yet the US Supreme Court came down against the
“duty to retreat” in a 1921 ruling.

In 2004, a National Academies of Science study was
unable to draw any conclusions about whether owing a
gun makes citizens safer.

About 35 percent of American homes contain some kind
of firearm, according to Center for Gun Policy and
Research at Johns Hopkins University. Their research
also shows that while there are 1.3 million
gun-related crimes committed in the US each year, guns
are used for self-defense 108,000 times in the same
period.

Indeed, those lobbying for the “Stand Your Ground”
legislation say the proposed laws are more symbolic,
sending a powerful message to would-be criminals.
These laws “make it very clear that the good guy has
the advantage, not the bad guy,” says Wayne LaPierre,
CEO of the National Rifle Association in Fairfax, Va.

However, many observers say the laws may promote gun
violence as urban gangs could claim self-protection in
the aftermath of shootouts. In Michigan this week,
people protested a proposed “Stand Your Ground” law by
wearing orange “innocent bystander” T-shirts. It came
only a few days after an 8-year-old boy was killed in
Detroit by a stray bullet from a gun fight.

“Stand Your Ground” laws could also change the way
Americans deal with each other, some experts say.

“If you’re in a state that’s passed one of these laws,
any time you’re in a potential confrontation you’ll
have to think about the fact that, ‘Will the fellow on
the other side misunderstand my anger and pull out a
gun?’ ” says Robert Batey, a law professor at Stetson
University in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Originally published at customerservant.com. You can comment here or there.

By JOHN MARKOFF
NY Times

www.nytimes.com/2006/02/25/technology/25data.html?pagewanted=print

PALO ALTO, Calif., Feb. 23 – A small group of National Security Agency
officials slipped into Silicon Valley on one of the agency’s periodic
technology shopping expeditions this month.

On the wish list, according to several venture capitalists who met
with the
officials, were an array of technologies that underlie the fierce
debate
over the Bush administration’s anti-terrorist eavesdropping program:
computerized systems that reveal connections between seemingly
innocuous
and unrelated pieces of information.

The tools they were looking for are new, but their application would
fall
under the well-established practice of data mining: using mathematical
and
statistical techniques to scan for hidden relationships in streams of
digital data or large databases.

Supercomputer companies looking for commercial markets have used the
practice for decades. Now intelligence agencies, hardly newcomers to
data
mining, are using new technologies to take the practice to another
level.

But by fundamentally changing the nature of surveillance, high-tech
data
mining raises privacy concerns that are only beginning to be debated
widely. That is because to find illicit activities it is necessary to
turn
loose software sentinels to examine all digital behavior whether it is
innocent or not.

“The theory is that the automated tool that is conducting the search
is not
violating the law,” said Mark D. Rasch, the former head of
computer-crime
investigations for the Justice Department and now the senior vice
president
of Solutionary, a computer security company. But “anytime a tool or a
human
is looking at the content of your communication, it invades your
privacy.”

When asked for comment about the meetings in Silicon Valley, Jane
Hudgins,
a National Security Agency spokeswoman, said, “We have no information
to
provide.”

Data mining is already being used in a diverse array of commercial
applications – whether by credit card companies detecting and stopping
fraud as it happens, or by insurance companies that predict health
risks.
As a result, millions of Americans have become enmeshed in a vast and
growing data web that is constantly being examined by a legion of
Internet-era software snoops.

Technology industry executives and government officials said that the
intelligence agency systems take such techniques further, applying
software
analysis tools now routinely used by law enforcement agencies to
identify
criminal activities and political terrorist organizations that would
otherwise be missed by human eavesdroppers.

One such tool is Analyst’s Notebook, a crime investigation
“spreadsheet”
and visualization tool developed by i2 Inc., a software firm based in
McLean, Va.

The software, which ranges in price from as little as $3,000 for a
sheriff’s department to millions of dollars for a large government
agency
like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, allows investigators to
organize
and view telephone and financial transaction records. It was used in
2001
by Joyce Knowlton, an investigator at the Stillwater State
Correctional
Facility in Minnesota, to detect a prison drug-smuggling ring that
ultimately implicated 30 offenders who were linked to Supreme White
Power,
a gang active in the prison.

Ms. Knowlton began her investigation by importing telephone call
records
into her software and was immediately led to a pattern of calls
between
prisoners and a recent parolee. She overlaid the calling data with
records
of prisoners’ financial accounts, and based on patterns that emerged,
she
began monitoring phone calls of particular inmates. That led her to
coded
messages being exchanged in the calls that revealed that seemingly
innocuous wood blocks were being used to smuggle drugs into the
prison.

“Once we added the money and saw how it was flowing from addresses
that
were connected to phone numbers, it created a very clear picture of
the
smuggling ring,” she said.

Privacy, of course, is hardly an expectation for prisoners. And credit
card
customers and insurance policyholders give up a certain amount of
privacy
to the issuers and carriers. It is the power of such software tools
applied
to broad, covert governmental uses that has led to the deepening
controversy over data mining.

In the wake of 9/11, the potential for mining immense databases of
digital
information gave rise to a program called Total Information Awareness,
developed by Adm. John M. Poindexter, the former national security
adviser,
while he was a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research
Projects
Agency.

Although Congress abruptly canceled the program in October 2003, the
legislation provided a specific exemption for “processing, analysis
and
collaboration tools for counterterrorism foreign intelligence.”

At the time, Admiral Poindexter, who declined to be interviewed for
this
article because he said he had knowledge of current classified
intelligence
activities, argued that his program had achieved a tenfold increase in
the
speed of the searching databases for foreign threats.

While agreeing that data mining has a tremendous power for fighting a
new
kind of warfare, John Arquilla, a professor of defense analysis at the
Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., said that intelligence
agencies had missed an opportunity by misapplying the technologies.

“In many respects, we’re fighting the last intelligence war,” Mr.
Arquilla
said. “We have not pursued data mining in the way we should.”

Mr. Arquilla, who was a consultant on Admiral Poindexter’s Total
Information Awareness project, said that the $40 billion spent each
year by
intelligence agencies had failed to exploit the power of data mining
in
correlating information readily available from public sources, like
monitoring Internet chat rooms used by Al Qaeda. Instead, he said, the
government has been investing huge sums in surveillance of phone calls
of
American citizens.

“Checking every phone call ever made is an example of old think,” he
said.

He was alluding to databases maintained at an AT&T data center in
Kansas,
which now contain electronic records of 1.92 trillion telephone calls,
going back decades. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a
digital-rights
advocacy group, has asserted in a lawsuit that the AT&T Daytona
system, a
giant storehouse of calling records and Internet message routing
information, was the foundation of the N.S.A.’s effort to mine
telephone
records without a warrant.

An AT&T spokeswoman said the company would not comment on the claim,
or
generally on matters of national security or customer privacy.

But the mining of the databases in other law enforcement
investigations is
well established, with documented results. One application of the
database
technology, called Security Call Analysis and Monitoring Platform, or
Scamp, offers access to about nine weeks of calling information. It
currently handles about 70,000 queries a month from fraud and law
enforcement investigators, according to AT&T documents.

A former AT&T official who had detailed knowledge of the call-record
database said the Daytona system takes great care to make certain that
anyone using the database – whether AT&T employee or law enforcement
official with a subpoena – sees only information he or she is
authorized to
see, and that an audit trail keeps track of all users. Such
information is
frequently used to build models of suspects’ social networks.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was
discussing
sensitive corporate matters, said every telephone call generated a
record:
number called, time of call, duration of call, billing category and
other
details. While the database does not contain such billing data as
names,
addresses and credit card numbers, those records are in a linked
database
that can be tapped by authorized users.

New calls are entered into the database immediately after they end,
the
official said, adding, “I would characterize it as near real time.”

According to a current AT&T employee, whose identity is being withheld
to
avoid jeopardizing his job, the mining of the AT&T databases had a
notable
success in helping investigators find the perpetrators of what was
known as
the Moldovan porn scam.

In 1997 a shadowy group in Moldova, a former Soviet republic, was
tricking
Internet users by enticing them to a pornography Web site that would
download a piece of software that disconnected the computer user from
his
local telephone line and redialed a costly 900 number in Moldova.

While another long-distance carrier simply cut off the entire nation
of
Moldova from its network, AT&T and the Moldovan authorities were able
to
mine the database to track the culprits.

Much of the recent work on data mining has been aimed at even more
sophisticated applications. The National Security Agency has invested
billions in computerized tools for monitoring phone calls around the
world
– not only logging them, but also determining content – and more
recently
in trying to design digital vacuum cleaners to sweep up information
from
the Internet.

Last September, the N.S.A. was granted a patent for a technique that
could
be used to determine the physical location of an Internet address –
another
potential category of data to be mined. The technique, which exploits
the
tiny time delays in the transmission of Internet data, suggests the
agency’s interest in sophisticated surveillance tasks like trying to
determine where a message sent from an Internet address in a cybercafe
might have originated.

An earlier N.S.A. patent, in 1999, focused on a software solution for
generating a list of topics from computer-generated text. Such a
capacity
hints at the ability to extract the content of telephone conversations
automatically. That might permit the agency to mine millions of phone
conversations and then select a handful for human inspection.

As the N.S.A. visit to the Silicon Valley venture capitalists this
month
indicates, the actual development of such technologies often comes
from
private companies.

In 2003, Virage, a Silicon Valley company, began supplying a voice
transcription product that recognized and logged the text of
television
programming for government and commercial customers. Under perfect
conditions, the system could be 95 percent accurate in capturing
spoken
text. Such technology has potential applications in monitoring phone
conversations as well.

And several Silicon Valley executives say one side effect of the 2003
decision to cancel the Total Information Awareness project was that it
killed funds for a research project at the Palo Alto Research Center,
a
subsidiary of Xerox, exploring technologies that could protect privacy
while permitting data mining.

The aim was to allow an intelligence analyst to conduct extensive data
mining without getting access to identifying information about
individuals.
If the results suggested that, for instance, someone might be a
terrorist,
the intelligence agency could seek a court warrant authorizing it to
penetrate the privacy technology and identify the person involved.

With Xerox funds, the Palo Alto researchers are continuing to explore
the
technology.

Originally published at customerservant.com. You can comment here or there.

By WILLIAM C. TAYLOR
NY Times

www.nytimes.com/2006/02/26/business/yourmoney/26mgmt.html?pagewanted=print

PAUL M. ENGLISH never imagined that a pet peeve would become such a
cause
célèbre. For more than four years, Mr. English, a veteran technologist
and
serial entrepreneur, has maintained a blog on which he shares
everything
from his favorite chocolate cake recipe to the best management advice
he’s
received.

But last summer, fed up with too many aggravating run-ins with awful
customer service, Mr. English posted a blog entry that reverberated
around
the world: a “cheat sheet” that explained how to break through
automated
interactive voice-response systems at a handful of companies and speak
to a
human being. He named the companies and published their codes for
reaching
an operator – codes that they did not share with the public.

The reaction was overwhelming. Visitors to the blog began contributing
their own code-breaking secrets and spreading the word. The consumer
affairs specialist for The Boston Globe wrote about Mr. English, who
is now
the chief technical officer of Kayak.com, a travel search engine he
helped
to found, and gave his online cheat sheet mainstream attention. That
led to
appearances on MSNBC, NPR and the BBC, an article in People magazine –
and
more than one million visitors to the blog in January alone.

So, this month, Mr. English transformed his righteous indignation into
a
full-blown crusade. He started Get Human, which he calls a grass-roots
movement to “change the face of customer service.” The accompanying
Web
site, www.gethuman.com, sets out principles for the right ways for
companies to interact with customers, encourages visitors to rate
their
experiences (the site is to issue a monthly best-and-worst list), and
publishes many more secret codes unearthed by members of the movement.
As
of last week, the ever-expanding cheat sheet offered
cut-through-the-automation tips for nearly 400 companies.

“I’m not anticomputer,” Mr. English explained over lunch near his
office in
suburban Boston. “I’ve been a programmer for more than 20 years. I’m
not
anticapitalist. I’m on my fifth start-up. But I am anti-arrogance. Why
do
the executives who run these call centers think they can decide when I
deserve to speak to a human being and when I don’t?”

The Get Human cheat sheet makes for entertaining – and mystifying –
reading. Want to reach an operator at a certain major bank? Just press
0#0#0#0#0#0#. Want to reach an agent at a big dental insurance
company?
Press 00000, wait through a message, select language, 4, 0. Want to
reach a
human at a leading consumer electronics retailer? Press 111## and wait
through three prompts asking for your home phone number.

It would be funny if it weren’t so depressing – and such bad business.
Countless chief executives pledge to improve their company’s products
and
services by listening to the “voice of the customer.” Memo to the
corner
office: Answer the phone! How can companies listen to their customers
if
those customers have such a hard time reaching a human being when they
call?

The obvious defense is that it’s prohibitively expensive to offer the
personal touch to millions of curious, confused, angry (or even
enthusiastic) callers. The trouble is, companies tend to be better at
cutting costs than at identifying missed opportunities.

Richard Shapiro is president of the Center for Client Retention in
Springfield, N.J., a business that dials out to customers who have
dialed
in to toll-free call centers and asks them to evaluate their
experiences.
He argues that customers who interact with human beings are more
likely
than other callers to volunteer useful information, try out a new
product
and come away with a strong sense of loyalty – positive outcomes that
are
eliminated by excessive automation.

“You create more value through a dialogue with a live agent,” Mr.
Shapiro
said. “A call is an opportunity to build a relationship, to encourage
customers to stay with the brand. There can be a real return on this
investment.”

It’s a point that too many cost-conscious companies seem willing to
overlook. In an era of fierce competition, when customers have more
choices
than ever, the toughest business challenge isn’t to keep expenses
down.
It’s to keep loyalty high. Anything that a company does to make its
products and services a little more engaging, a little less ordinary,
can
pay big dividends. Anything like, say, answering the phone.

Commerce Bancorp, the service-crazed retail bank based in Cherry Hill,
N.J., has generated big returns by injecting a playful spirit into a
notoriously bland business. Its 375 branches, including 47 in New York
City, organize street fairs and celebrations to promote an
entertaining
mood. The locations also feature colorful change-counting machines and
upbeat employees, who every Friday are decked out in red, often to
hilarious effect. The company calls its strategy “retailtainment” –
and it
applies as much to its call center as it does to its branches in
Chinatown
or on Broadway.

“Traditional banking is low cost, low service, low growth,” said
Dennis M.
DiFlorio, president for retail banking and operations at Commerce.
“It’s
like the electric company; everybody needs one and they’re all
terrible.
We’ve built a brand on service, convenience and fun. Our call center
is not
a necessary evil. It’s an integral part of the brand. Every call is an
opportunity to reinforce to the customer that they made a good
decision by
banking with us.”

Forget automation or outsourcing to India. At the Commerce call center
in
Mount Laurel, N.J., 630 employees abide by a strict code of neatness –
“no
sweat pants, no slippers, no junk on the desks,” Mr. DiFlorio
cracked – and
they, too, wear red on Friday, even though customers can’t see them.

Incoming calls are routed easily and directly to agents, who are
encouraged
not just to inform but also to maintain the same friendly and informal
spirit of the branches. “We try to create as much buzz as we can in
our
call center,” Mr. DiFlorio said, “so we can create smiles on the
customers
who call.”

To be sure, few companies can summon the everyday exuberance of
Commerce
Bank. But there is another cost-effective strategy for enhancing the
human
element: make the company so easy to do business with that fewer
customers
call with problems, which frees resources to meet the needs of those
who do
call.

“The reason people are dialing the 1-800 number is that they’re having
a
bad experience in some other channel,” said Mark Hurst, founder and
president of Creative Good, a consulting firm that advises companies
on how
to improve the customer experience. He is amazed, he said, at how
difficult
it remains on most Web sites for customers to do little things like
revise
an order or track a shipment. “If e-commerce were much, much simpler,”
he
said, “a huge percentage of these calls would never be made.”

JIM KELLY, chief customer service officer at ING Direct, the online
bank
with 3.5 million customers and deposits of nearly $40 billion, takes
the
case for simplicity a step further. ING Direct keeps its entire
product
line simple. It offers a small number of easy-to-understand products
such
as savings accounts, certificates of deposit and no-frills mortgages.
The
savings programs entail no annual fees or account minimums.

As a result, the average ING Direct customer calls the bank only 1.6
times
a year. The calls that do come in are answered by full-time employees
who
don’t rely on scripted answers and don’t work under strict time
limits.

“The key word for us is simplicity,” Mr. Kelly said. “If you eliminate
service charges and hidden fees, you eliminate most of the problems
and
complaints. Then the only reason for people to call is to do business.
And
those are calls you’re eager to take.”

That sort of thinking is music to Paul English’s ears – although most
days,
his ears are ringing with outrage from aspiring consumer activists
eager to
join Get Human. “There’s a little ‘rage against the machine’ to this,
but
there’s a business message as well,” Mr. English said. “I want
companies to
wake up and ask themselves, ‘How did we ever let it get this bad?’ ”

Originally published at customerservant.com. You can comment here or there.

We just got userids and pwds for the apps, and the first impression isn’t favorable.
There’s a combo box or something you’re supposed to use to select options in the main ap that does literally nothing.
Jaws is completely silent.
There’s another app that seems to be some sort of alert page, but since none of the tables are labeled, you have to arrow down the entire page.
The combo boxes on that page are hovertext boxes, that take you automatically to a selection when you arrow to it, and the links are moseover as well.
Using the mouseover command doesn’t allow them to click.
Not good for accessibility purposes.
John says he has some more work for me to do, more entering of information in to the scheduling client.
I’m glad for that.
It makes me feel like I’m coming into work and making some sort of an impact, however small.

Originally published at customerservant.com. You can comment here or there.

This morning, when I got into work, I turned the system on, only to find that the master boot record had been corrupted.
One of the technoshepherds got it back up and running, and I played around with the new apps for the new project that’s supposed to start Monday.
I don’t have any log-in information, so I couldn’t go very far with it.
Everything seemed to be accessible though, at least as far as the log-in screens were concerned.
Work? Maybe?
I’d much rather the permanent positon be off the phones, but at this point, if the new project seems to be accessible, I’ll take that too.
It’ll increase the writing done for this site, and should make the days a little less dull.
I’m not fooling myself though.
Customers will be just as rude on the new project as they have been on the last two, and they’ll piss me off just as much.
But, at least then I’ll be able to say I’m earning my keep.
I think I’m going to walk down to HR to see about exempt status concerning the taxes that get taken out of my paycheck, what needs to be in place for me to qualify, ETC.