The BEST Customer Service? Really?

What are businesses saying about customer service?  Following are excerpts from several websites:

 We strive to provide our customers with the best customer service experience possible.

 We are committed to providing the highest quality products and services to our customers, in fact, we guarantee it.

 We can provide excellent service for you when you need it.

 We are on call 24/7, we love our customerswe provide the best service, and we are priced right.

 We will always go above and beyond to provide you with the best customer service possible

 We have developed the know-how to provide the best service for our clients.

 Simply stated, we provide the customer with the absolute best service possible.

 We look forward to providing you our best service.

 We insist to provide the best service.

 We are committed to provide unparalleled customer service and support.

 We believe that we provide the best service to our clients…

Most businesses state they will provide or will strive to provide you with the BEST customer service.  Many more examples could have been provided.  But, the ones used amply illustrate how repetitive and worn-out the phrases have become.

Nearly everyone is saying the same thing, nothing stands out or even rings true given what most customer service experiences are like these days.  Very few customer service experiences reach the level of being good to say nothing of being considered the best service you can hope to receive.

We all know the Golden Rule of customer service: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  It seems so simple.  So, where do things go horribly wrong?

First off, if the business itself is the only one stating that they provide the best service, that signals a problem.  There is nothing like reviews from satisfied customers and testimonials to reinforce that a business really does do the best for its customers.  For a business to just be saying it does not make it so.

Second, many businesses need to pull their collective heads out of the sand in order to recognize and admit that perhaps their customer service experience sucks.

I had first thought of providing a list of suggestions for providing a great customer service experience.  However, highlighting best practices seems to be an ineffective way to seek to improve this problem.  There are tons of those lists out there, yet poor customer  service experiences persist.

Here’s an alternative approach courtesy of Help Scout blog.

5 Warning Signs That Your Customer Service Truly Sucks  By: Gregory Ciotti

1. You Don’t View Customer Service as a Marketing Channel

FACT: 9 out of 10 U.S. consumers say they would pay more to ensure a superior customer experience.

I’m not going to be one of those guys who hastily declares that “marketing is dead”, but I will be the first to say that customer care can easily be your #1 marketing channel.

Fact of the matter is, your customers can do quite a few things much better than you can, and if your business isn’t embracing this fact by viewing customer service as a branch of your marketing department with tremendous ROI, you’re doing yourself a disservice, as well as your customers.

Companies like Zappos were able to quadruple their sales by focusing on word of mouth exposure that was created by their reputation for having outstanding customer service.

This seems to be a universally positive metric for all companies, big and small: 81% of companies with strong capabilities and competencies for delivering an excellent customer experience are outperforming their competition.

Is your customer experience as enjoyable as your competitors?

If it isn’t, you’re definitely losing customers, even if you market extensively and offer a superior product.

2. You Think Few Complaints = Great Service

FACT: The average business hears from only 4% of its dissatisfied customers.

Very few people have time for your mistakes. Even fewer people are going to take the time to let you know about them, and why should they? You’re the one that messed up, they’ve got things to do.

That means you are only going to hear from a fraction of your dissatisfied customers.

Look, every business owner understands that they have a wide variety of customers, and you’re not going to be able to please all of them (some just aren’t right for your offer).

That shouldn’t stop you from constantly seeking ways to improve your service. This is something that is simply impossible to do without candid customer feedback, and if you’re relying on dissatisfied customers only to get your intel, you’re going to run into some serious problems.

Using generic surveys isn’t enough: be sure that you go out of your way to createincentive for customers to give their feedback, make your surveys interesting so that they don’t get immediately acquainted with the “Move to Trash” button, and always be sure to include open-ended questions so customers can give you their most genuine “off the cuff” feedback.

3. You Think Customer Acquisition > Customer Retention

FACT: It is 6-7 times more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to keep a current one.

No one would tell you that customer acquisition isn’t important. After all, it’s going to be a hard fought battle creating loyal customers if you don’t have any customers in the first place!

Despite this fact, you have to understand that bad customer service is more than just a potential liability, it’s a huge cost to your business.

Consumers are far more likely to share bad customer experiences due to their frustration.

If you also take into effect that 86% of consumers will immediately quit doing business with a company because of a bad customer experience, you’re left with a single, undeniable truth: customer acquisition isn’t going to work without customer retention.

It doesn’t matter how many buyers your small business acquires if you’re “leaking” loyal customers left and right due to your poor service.

4. You Think “Speed” is the Most Important Factor of Customer Service

FACT: 73% of dissatisfied customers cited incompetent, rude, and “rushed” service as the #1 reason why they abandoned a brand.

Get em’ in and out, right?

Turns out, no. As they say, “speed kills”, and when it comes to customer service, your customers care far more about competent and helpful service than they do about “quick” service.

Customers cited “slow” service nearly 20% less than incompetent service in their feedback of why they stopped doing business with a particular brand, and that was only when the service was truly slow.

A very relevant example of this fact in action is how Derek Sivers used to conduct customer service over at CDBaby (he’s since sold it for $22 million).

According to Derek:

“I used to request all my employees to intentionally take a little longer on customers calls.

I would ask them to pull up customers albums and catalogues; have a look at their pictures and gears – to learn a bit about them.

Imagine how powerful it is for a customer to know that he is listening to somebody who is a musician that gets him, than something like, ‘Thank you customer 4325. How may I quickly handle your problem?'”

Don’t rush customers out of your support line, many customers welcome some additional time spent if you ensure them that you value their time and their business with you.

5. You’re Reading This Right Now and Think You Don’t Have to Worry!

FACT: 80% of companies say they deliver superior customer service. 8% of people think these same companies deliver superior customer service.

Uh-oh, I might have hurt some feelings with this one!

Actually, my point is far less antagonistic than the headline, because the bottom line is that you shouldn’t be guessing when it comes to evaluating your customer service.

Decide what metrics are critical to measuring customer satisfaction. Don’t just go with your gut; prove that you provide great service with data.

Don’t hesitate to gather and analyze different metrics and feedback to measure your success and shortcomings.

Are you consistently trying to get candid feedback from your customers? Do you closely analyze your customer loyalty programs in hopes of improving them? Do you take advantage of proven research in social psychology when implementing your engagement strategies?

You should be.

This information is out there for you to gather and use (oh yeah, and implement!), and believe me, it’s much more consistent than what your “gut” tells you.

To view the original version of this article by Gregory Ciotti:

How does your business stack up?  Are you saying you provide the best customer service and then hoping it’s so?



Be in the Game

To paraphrase a friend, we typically get the government we deserve.  Anyone who is frustrated with the goings on in Washington, D.C. or in State or local government; perhaps it’s time to reflect on what they are doing to be involved in our democracy.  If you think being involved only requires entering a voting booth on infrequent occasions, you shouldn’t be surprised when things pop up that make you shake your head, or wonder how sane folks able come up with what you may perceive to be a crazy plan or idea.  And, don’t we all know people that moan and complain about the outcome of elections only to learn that they don’t bother to vote at all.

 Our democracy does not work if you expect that those in policy making areas can read our minds or that they even have a clue about what may be important to us.  Making the process work requires ongoing engagement and a dialogue to ensure that views and ideas are brought to the forefront to be considered.  And, we all need to take responsibility for jumping in to make the process work.

 It’s not easy to be truly informed if you only hear and consider one side of the debate.  We all like to hear from and associate with like-minded folks.  But, for me, hearing differing opinions and ideas helps to either reinforce what I might already be thinking or opens my eyes to other possibilities.  Ask questions, perform some research, talk with elected officials and feel free to disagree with those who you might typically agree with.

No returns 512

 In a recent discussion with a friend that turned political, he asked, “So, are you happy with your President?”  My response began by stating that the President is OUR President.  Regardless of party affiliation or beliefs, we have elections to choose officials to represent us.  If we disagree with the final outcome of an election, it would seem that rather than fighting tooth and nail to throw up roadblocks, doesn’t it make more sense to work with folks to find common ground.  In our personal lives, when things don’t go 100% our way we typically make adjustments.   We find ways to work around various issues in order to arrive at acceptable outcomes.  It’s not always easy and can be messy and difficult at times.  Government is really no different other than scale.

 Teddy Roosevelt put it nicely (think gender neutral language), “It is not the critic who counts. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

 So be in the game.  Get a well-rounded view and then decide where you stand.  Keep the debate healthy and invite others to engage along with you.  And, don’t be disappointed or consider your work a failure if things don’t always go your way.

The European Connection

If you’ve been listening to the pundits expound on the financial “crisis” in Europe—teetering on the edge, the eurozone facing a possible break up—the entire situation sounds dire and unsolvable.  But like most stories that get caught up in mainstream media hype, there is much more to take into consideration in order to fairly assess what is at play.  How did the crisis come to be?  What are the implications for the United States?  What are the potential solutions?

As I was telling a good friend recently, gaining an understanding of what’s at play in Europe is complex.  It will take some explaining—far beyond that which has been provided in the sound bytes and reporting of most media outlets.

This cartoon by Martin Rowson, that recently ran in The Guardian, speaks to the various issues.

In the burning building, feeling the heat, are the President of the French Republic, Nicholas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  Merkel is looking at a book titled “Which Fire Extinguisher”.  Outside the building, on the left, is a very, very fat cat, representing bank creditors and a prancing David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (UK)–smugly happy that the UK opted-out of the eurozone.  To the right are PIGS—Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain, the countries that are at the center of the European economic crisis.  Over the door of the building the European flag is burning.

How did the crisis come to be?

For historical background and to put the issues in perspective, you have to go back several decades.

The European Union (EU) can trace its roots to 1950 when French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed integrating the coal and steel industries of Western Europe.  One reason for creating the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), established in 1951, was to help in rebuilding heavy industry following WWII.   Another reason for establishing a consortium was to form economic alliances that might help to thwart conflicts between nations that had plagued Western Europe for centuries.  The original six member countries were Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany.  It is important to note that a supranational body, the High Authority was also created in 1951 to manage the coal and steal industries.

In 1957, with the signing of the Treaties of Rome, the same six countries created the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (ERATOM).  The EEC essentially created the Common Market, which allowed for free trade area.

Fast forward to 1993, the Treaty of Maastricht creates the EU and allows for a single currency, the euro.  Under the Maastricht Treaty members of the EU had to agree to limit deficit spending and debt levels.

By 2007, the EU is the world’s largest economy.  There are 27 member nations with a total population of around half a billion people.  The euro has replaced national currencies in 15 (now 17) countries of the EU.  The EU had established several structures similar to that of a sovereign state.  A European parliament, which meets in Brussels, serves “the second largest democratic electorate in the world (after India) and the largest trans-national democratic electorate in the world.” (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia – European parliament) The European parliament has certain legislative power, but it cannot exercise legislative initiative.  This last piece figures prominently in the current crisis.

On July 18, 2008, the value of the euro was at an all-time high at 1.5843 to the U.S. dollar. However, as the year wore on Europe began to feel the effect of the worldwide recession.  By June, 2010, the euro is at a four-year low, going below 1.19.  In the interim, Greece’s debt has been downgraded to junk status and eurozone finance ministers approve a €110 billion loan to Greece.  Concerns are raised about the economies of other European countries resulting in additional downgrades in credit ratings.

You may ask, why is there a debt problem within the European Union if the Maastricht Treaty included an agreement by members to limit deficit spending and debt levels?  Many countries took advantage of complex currency and credit derivatives structures designed by U.S. investment banks, notably Greece and Italy, and were able to get around the Maastricht Treaty rules to cover the true deficit and debt levels.

The entire blame for the debt crisis does not lie at the feet of investment banks, (even though they did profit handsomely and took little to no risk).  The worldwide recession contributed to increases in debt levels in European countries as many industries were hit hard, for example, tourism.  Other reasons also played into the crisis:

Greece – High defense spending to guard against Turkey, based on historic conflict.

Italy – A decade of lower than the EU averages for economic growth.

Spain – Weak economic growth, which has prompted more scrutiny, as one of the largest eurozone economies.

Portugal – Four decades of very poor management by government officials (exorbitant consultancy fees, unnecessary public servants, risky credit decisions).

Ireland – State guarantees to banks that financed loans to property developers and homeowners which were defaulted on.

Downgrades in sovereign credit ratings, previously mentioned, have been made to many EU countries.  This has a significant negative impact because a downgrade makes it more expensive and more difficult, sometimes impossible, to finance debt which serves to exacerbate problems.

When Standard & Poors downgraded the credit rating of the United States on August 5, 201, unlike Europe, the downgrade of the US did not cause a debt crisis.  The US controls its own currency and US debt is issued in our currency.  Countries of the eurozone issue debt in euros.  The euro is a currency that the individual countries of the eurozone do not control.

What are the implications for the United States?

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton and also in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, recently wrote an article that indicates that “financial chaos” will occur if Europe fails to get it financial house in order.

Based on Reich’s analysis of the situation, Wall Street has lent the eurozone about $2.7 trillion.  A large share of this amount has gone to German and French banks that have in turn lent to Greece and other nations.  Default by Greece or any other nation could seriously impact the German and French banking system, perhaps even causing bank failures.  If this happens, Wall Street is likely to suffer yet another hit.

Banks that have made loans to the banks in France and Germany have stated that they have no exposure.  This likely means that they have “insured” to eliminate exposure, but if we look back in the not too distant past, Wall Street believed they were insured against loss—American International Group, Inc. (AIG), didn’t have the ability to pay.  To put the European crisis in context, before Lehman Brothers failed in 2008, it was leveraged 31 to 1.  German Banks are leveraged 32 to 1.

Therefore, if a solution is not developed for the European debt crisis, the United States will likely feel the pain, as will the rest of the globe.  To say that Wall Street is holding it collective breath waiting to see how this will play out is an understatement.

What are the potential solutions?

Issuance of bonds, called eurobonds, has been advanced as a potential solution to the debt crisis.  The bonds would be guaranteed by all 17 eurozone countries.  At present each country issues its own bonds.  It is believed that bonds guaranteed by all member countries would attract investment.  The debt of the combined eurozone, as of August, 2001 was 60% of GDP.  For Italy, for the same period, debt was 116% of GDP.  Therefore, Eurobonds issued by the combined entity are far more attractive.  Money from the sale of the bonds would be available for weaker countries to borrow at lower rates of interest, thus improving the country’s financial position.

Germany and France are balking at the bond proposal with good reason.  As two of the more fiscally responsible economies in the region they have much to lose if the plan doesn’t work out.  If the weaker countries borrow, but still fail to get their debt under control, they could bring down the entire zone.  Not to mention that issuing the bonds would likely increase Germany’s borrowing cost as it will assume the risk of the weaker countries.  Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France might be on board, but only if a plan for imposing greater legally binding fiscal discipline can be accomplished for eurozone members.

The “soft power” stance of the EU, which originally attracted countries to join has proved to be too loose.  With 27 countries, soon to increase to 28, governance has become unmanageable and the rules have been too east to circumvent or have not been enforced.   When the common currency now utilized by the eurozone was established the stakes became much higher for just the reasons that are now playing out.  Chancellor Merkel has stated that she would like to see that any changes in the treaty would be approved by all EU countries.  But, given the critical nature of the crisis—something has to been done right now and bringing treaty changes before all EU countries could take months—that seems to be unlikely.  The United Kingdom has already signaled that they would probably exercise a veto.

As an aside, obstructionist tactics by the UK seem to only serve in getting the UK to have some relevance in the debate since they are not part of the eurozone.  They are accustomed to having a more prominent role on the world stage, so having a marginalized role in the crisis is bothersome for them.

Other potential solutions to the crisis—the United States could perform a rescue, or Germany and France on their own could probably perform a rescue.  The citizenry in all of these countries would probably revolt.  And, as we have seen with Greece, a bailout does not get to the root of the problem.

The solution that seems to have the greatest likelihood of success is one involves treaty changes at the eurozone level that force fiscal discipline on the eurozone.  It would then be much easier to attract investment.  While this will eat into national sovereignty and may not be entirely popular at the present time, the upside potential is significant.

Swallowing the pill now may just make the EU, particularly the eurozone countries, a formidable powerhouse in the future.  Germany is leading the way, an irony that is surely not lost on the rest of Europe, particularly the UK—but that’s a topic for another blog.

Acting for the greater good is what is really at play here.  Let’s all hope, that goes for everyone worldwide, that Europe sees it that way.

Doing the Same Thing…

Doing the same thing but expecting different results.  It’s a shortened version of a quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results,” often misattributed to Albert Einstein, Mark Twain or Benjamin Franklin but more likely first penned by American writer Rita Mae Brown.  It seems to sum up nicely what certain factions tout as one answer to our near historic unemployment crisis – more tax cuts!  How can we continue to swallow this when it is obvious – based on tons of data – it hasn’t worked?   Rather than continuing to prance down a road that is costing us a fortune and which is not following through on the promise of job creation, why don’t we repeal the tax cuts (or at the very least let them expire) and reinvest the revenue in something that actually has a track record of working?

During the financial downturn of 2008, Germany and the Netherlands didn’t turn to layoffs, a common practice here in the U.S., to counter the slowing economy.  Employers there were able to avoid high unemployment rates because of a policy that calls for reduced hours and job sharing among employees.  According to German Plant Manager, Bernd Schmid, “When you can reach a reasonable consensus between the company and the workers, and this consensus is supported by the government, the Kurzarbeit program is a very good way to prevent unemployment, and all the social costs involved.”

Kurzarbeit,” which literally means short work, involves avoiding layoffs by cutting hours and reducing wages.  A subsidy, funded by the government and paid to employers, encourages across the board reduction in hours worked rather than layoffs.  Bernd Fitzenberger, a professor at the University of Frieburg believes the arrangement is highly beneficial, “Kurzarbeit involves some form of “cost sharing” between the firm, the employee, and the Bundesagentur (Ministy of Economics and Labor).  Earnings are reduced, the firm has lower labor costs, and the Bundesagentur subsidizes Kurzarbeit.  This allows for labor hoarding when the firm faces a temporary reduction in the demand for its goods and the firm expects demand to pick up again in the near future.”

German Prime Minister Angela Merkel believes fighting unemployment was an important component for economic success during the economic downturn.  She stated, “It is only thanks to Kurzabeit that more jobs were not lost.”

In the U.S. we are hearing noise about a possible “double-dip recession,” or in economist speak a “W-shaped recession.”   Germany saw a dip in GDP during the second half of 2008 through the first quarter of 2009 but has been experiencing expansion since.  So what else is different in Germany that has contributed to economic success?

Germany disregarded conventional economic theory.  Let’s segue briefly into an explanation of Keynesian theory, the ideas of renowned British economist John Maynard Keynes, as it relates to solutions for a recession.  According to Keynesian theory a recession can be solved with government stimulus, spending and tax cuts.  The U.S and many other countries have taken the Keynesian route.  Germany did not largely because they also have chosen to focus on balancing their budget rather than economic stimulus.  It is important to note that Germany did have some stimulus spending, but it was substantially less than that of the U.S. and other countries, and they utilized no tax cuts.

Had a Kurzabeit-like program been in place in the U.S. in 2008, it is conceivable that our unemployment rate, currently over 9 percent, would be lower.  With more folks working they have more money to spend, so consumer spending would likely not have dropped to the extent it has – and as we know, consumer spending (GDP is 70% consumer spending) drives our economy.  Jobs = income = consuming.

With many businesses continuing to shed jobs it may not be too late to incentivize businesses to encourage reduced hours rather than layoffs as part of the solution to the unemployment crisis going forward.   To get to a point where job creation occurs, layoffs have to be slowed.  In Germany, the Kurzabeit program was such a success that the unemployment rate fell during the recession.

Change can’t happen if we continue to rely on failed policies.  Kurzarbeit alone won’t solve the economic problems we currently face.  It has, however, proved effective in stemming the flow of more folks to the ranks of the unemployed.   It’s worth serious consideration, don’t you think?

A Question of Responsibility

A recent announcement by HSBC, the largest bank in the United Kingdom, with 460 branches in the U.S. largely in New York (now  whittled down to 265 in the U.S. after a sale of 195 branches to First Niagara Bank), to shed 30,000 jobs should have everyone questioning what’s going on in the financial services arena and elsewhere.    HSBC stated that the reason for eliminating the jobs is the need to “cut costs in an effort to bolster returns to shareholders.”

In a time when many folks here in the U.S. and around the world are struggling to keep a roof over their head, fighting to feed a family or experiencing difficulty because of diminished retirement income, putting more folks out of work and setting off the economic domino effect that will follow makes little sense.

Given that tax cuts to corporations were supposed create jobs and are still being touted as a means to that end, we should be flush with jobs.  To the contrary more jobs continue to be flushed.

The announcement by HSBC is only one of many corporations who have announced massive layoffs since the beginning of this year.  Below is a list of corporations that have made their job cut intentions known since the beginning of this year, as reported by The Street ( and summarized from an article written by Jeanine Poggi (

  • HSBC (HBC) said on Aug. 1 that it will slash 30,000 jobs, more than the 10,000 layoffs Wall Street previously expected.  HSBC has already cut 5,000 jobs this year. The company currently employs nearly 300,000 workers.
  •  Drug maker Merck(MRK) said on July 29 that it will cut 13,000 jobs as its patents expire.  The layoffs amount to a 14% staff reduction and result in $1.3 billion in cost cuts by the end of 2015.  These layoffs are on top of 17,000 job cuts already planned.
  • Credit Suisse(CS) said on July 28 that it will eliminate 2,000 jobs, or 4% of its workforce, in an effort to reduce costs.  The job reductions will affect staff globally, including about 500 in Switzerland, where it is based. Credit Suisse has 50,700 employees around the world.
  • Boston Scientific(BSX) said on July 28 that it will eliminate between 1,200 and 1,400 jobs worldwide over the next two years.  The layoffs will hit about 6% of the company’s total headcount of about 25,000.
  • BlackBerry maker Research In Motion(RIMM) said on July 25 that it will slash 2,000 positions, or about 11% of its work force, as part of its cost optimization program.  The job cuts will reduce RIM’s work force to about 17,000 employees around the world.
  • After much anticipation, Cisco Systems(CSCO) said on July 18 it plans to slash 6,500 jobs.  This amounts to about 9% of its total workforce. The company plans to reduce its costs by about $1 billion annually with the layoffs.
  • Cracker Barrel Cracker Barrel(CBRL) announced on July 15 that it plans to eliminate 60 jobs.  The layoffs will include both staff and managerial positions. Most of the pink slips will be doled out at its headquarters in Lebanon, Tenn.
  • Ethernet networking technology company Extreme Networks said on July 14 that it will slash 110 jobs, or about 16% of its total workforce.
  • Spanish telecom giant Telefonica(TEF) received approval on July 14 to slash 6,500 jobs through 2013.  The move would reduce the company’s workforce by 20%.  Telefonica employees about 32,000 workers in Spain.
  • Wells Fargo(WFC) plans to lay off 80 temporary employees in its home mortgage unit.  This is the third round of layoffs of temporary employees at Wells Fargo this year. In March, the company said it was cutting 200 temporary positions in its mortgage division and in February the company cut 142 shot-term positions.  But Wells Fargo is also hiring. The company said on July 14 that it is hiring 175 workers in Idaho. About 150 of these workers will be hired by August at the customer service center in Boise and the other 25 are teller and banking positions that will be filled across the state.
  • CVS Caremark(CVS) will lay off 74 workers at its Aetna facility in Kansas City, which it plans to shutter by the end of the year.  This comes shortly after 250 workers at a call center in Texas received pink slips. The layoffs took place at its Richardson, Texas, call center due to a restructuring of operations.
  • News Corp.’s(NWSA) U.K. tabloid, News of the World, will fold on Sunday, leaving about 200 people unemployed.  The media conglomerate said staffers can apply for other jobs at the company.
  • Bank of America(BAC) said on July 7 that it will cut more than 100 positions in Connecticut.  The company is eliminating 56 positions at its Hartford Cash Vault site, transferring the work to Dedham, Mass., and Schenectady, N.Y. It is also exiting its East Hartford Lockbox site, which will affect about 50 workers. The work will be relocated to Boston.  Following the layoffs, Bank of America will still employ about 4,000 workers in the state.
  • Universal Technical Institute(UTI), which trains auto, motorcycle and marine technicians, said on June 30 that it laid off 195 employees nationwide, or 8% of its work force.
  • Lloyds Banking(LYG) said on June 30 that it plans to eliminate 15,000 jobs by 2014.  The company, which is partially owned by the British government, also will scale back its overseas business.  In March, Lloyds announced that it will cut 570 positions as part of its ongoing restructuring following its acquisition of HBOS in 2008.  Lloyds has slashed 26,000 jobs since the start of the financial meltdown.
  • Par Pharmaceutical(PRX) said on June 29 that it will eliminate 100 positions to shift its focus on its vitamin B12 nasal spray and appetite loss drug.  As of December 2010, the generic drug maker had 686 employees.
  • Campbell Soup(CPB) announced on June 28 that it is cutting 770 jobs as part of its restructuring.  The company expects the layoffs to save about $60 million over the next year.  The layoffs will reduce Campbell’s total staff by about 4%.
  • Wood products maker Universal Forest(UFPI) said on June 27 that it may consolidate or divest underperforming assets and cut jobs due to weak sales.  The company did not disclose how many jobs will be eliminated.
  • Gannett(GCI) announced on June 21 that it is laying off 700 employees, or 2% of its workforce.
  • BlackBerry maker Research In Motion(RIMM) said on June 16 that it plans to slash an unspecified number of jobs.
  • Sears (SHLD) laid off about 700 employees who sell appliances at 225 Kmart stores, according to the Wall Street Journal.  Kmart employs about 100,000 workers.
  • Lockheed Martin(LMT) said on June 14 that it will eliminate 1,200 jobs in its space systems equipment division.  Pink slips will be doled out around the country, decreasing the staff in the unit by 8%.  This comes on top of news last month that the company will cut 300 positions at its Greenville, S.C., aircraft maintenance facility. Lockheed Martin will begin doling out pink slips at the facility at the end of June. The Greenville facility employs about 1,100 workers.
  • Boeing(BA) said on June 14 that it will cut 225 jobs at its Wichita, Kan., defense plant through the end of this year.  The company blamed the end of several programs and adjustments in aircraft maintenance cycles for the layoffs.
  • General Dynamics(GD) plans to shutter its Aberdeen, Md., facility, which could result in up to 52 layoffs.  General Dynamics employs about 90,000 workers around the world.
  • Ford Motor(F) said on June 9 that it will lay off 150 employees at a Buffalo plant. The job cuts are due to a planned closing of a Canadian assembly plant it supplies.  The layoffs will take effect on Sept. 5. The plant currently has 650 hourly workers. If the Buffalo plant gets more work, Ford could re-hire some of the workers.
  • Coca-Cola(KO) announced in early June that it plans to shutter a distribution and sales center in Indiana, which will result in about 40 layoffs.  The facility will be consolidated into five other Coca-Cola plants. The plant is expected to close by June 30.
  • In an effort to retain its profitability, H.J. Heinz(HNZ) announced on May 26 that it will shutter five factories and cut its workforce by 2.8%.  The ketchup maker will let go between 800 and 1,000 workers in fiscal 2012. The company has about 37,000 employees around the world.
  • Toy maker Hasbro(HAS) announced on May 25 that it will relocate 70 jobs from a Massachusetts facility to Rhode Island and cut another 75 positions at the plant.  The layoffs are part of Hasbro’s plan to create a new center for game development. The company will receive $1.6 million in tax breaks from Rhode Island over the next three years, as it plans to add 300 new jobs in the state.
  • It was reported in May that Sara Lee(SLE) plans to layoff 62 workers at its Exton plant in Pennsylvania.
  • Defense contractor Northrop Grumman(NOC) announced on May 13 that it will lay off 200 workers, mostly in the Baltimore area.  Northrop also said 600 workers were approved for buyouts, but this wasn’t enough to avoid the layoffs.  In March, the company said it would eliminate 500 positions, predominantly in Baltimore, due to a slowdown in defense spending.  In June 2010, 150 workers were laid off from facilities in Linthicum and Annapolis.
  • Pfizer(PFE) warned 900 workers in the U.K. that their jobs may be at risk in May, according to reports.  The drug maker plans to shutter a facility in Kent, the Sunday Telegraph reported. The facility employs 2,400 people.  Pfizer is looking to transfer several hundred of the employees to other locations.
  • Panasonic (PC) announced on April 28 one of the biggest layoffs of the year.  The home appliance maker said it will slash 17,000 jobs over the next two years, as losses mount at the company.  Its workforce will shrink to 350,000 workers from 367,000, a nearly 5% cut.  Panasonic had already been laying off workers, reducing its headcount from 385,000 workers last year.
  • Nokia(NOK) announced on April 27 that it will slash 4,000 jobs by the end of 2012.  The company also said it will transfer its Symbian software operations to Accenture(ACN), displacing another 3,000 workers in China, Finland, India, Britain and the United States.  A majority of the 4,000 layoffs will come from Denmark, Finland and Britain.
  • Eastman Kodak(EK) sent a letter to state officials that it will close another Qualex office in Durham and outsourcing its work to another location, according to a report. This will result in the layoff of 48 employees.
  • Allied Irish Banks(AIB) announced on April 12 that it will slash more than 2,000 jobs.  Allied Irish employs about 13,750 people in the Irish republic and in Northern Ireland and has another 1,250 workers in Britain.
  • J.C. Penney(JCP) said on April 8 that it will shutter a warehouse in Indiana next year, resulting in 230 layoffs, according to the Associate Press.
  • Citigroup(C) announced on March 31 that it will layoff 276 employees at its subsidiary Citicorp Data Systems.
  • Battery maker Ener1(HEV) said on March 25 that it has cut about 3% of its total worldwide workforce.
  • Domtar(UFS) announced on March 29 that it plans to lay off 110 workers at a pulp and paper mill in Arkansas.  After the layoffs, there will be about 940 employees working at the mill.
  • Wireless provider LM Ericsson(ERIC) announced on March 23 that it will slash 450 jobs in Stockholm and Goteborg as part of a reorganization of its regional and administrative structure.  But at the same time, Ericsson’s Stockholm headquarters said it will hire around 250 engineers within its research and development divisions to help develop 4G mobile technology, Long Term Evolution, or LTE.
  • Supercomputer maker Cray(CRAY) said on March 23 that it is doling out 52 pink slips.
  • Steel producer Arcelor Mittal(MT) announced on March 23 that it will shutter its plant in Tennessee. The closure will result in 72 layoffs.
  • General Motors (GM) announced on March 21 that it is temporarily laying off workers at its Tonawanda Engine Plant.  The auto maker will lay off 59 of the 623 employees at the factory, which makes engines for a pickup factory in Shreveport, La., that is closed due to a shortage of parts from Japan following the devastating earthquake and tsunami.  GM has also cut 800 positions in Shreveport.
  • Broadband wireless provider Ceragon Networks(CRNT) announced on March 15 that it will cut about 200 positions as it integrates its acquisition of Nera Networks.
  • AOL(AOL) laid off 20% of its workforce on March 10, with a total of 950 workers losing their jobs.
  • Hutchinson Technology(NOC) said on March 8 that it will cut 30% to 40% of its workforce as part of its consolidation efforts.  The layoffs, which are expected to occur over the next year, amount to between 680 and 910 workers.
  • Medical device maker Medtronic(MDT) announced on Feb. 22 that it will layoff between 1,500 and 2,000 workers as part of its move to help lift lackluster sales.  The company will cut about 4% to 5% of its 41,000 person staff. It did not provide specifics on what positions would be eliminated.  The company’s last round of layoffs was in 2009, when it did away with 1,500 jobs.
  • Ecolab(ECL), a cleaning a pest-control company, announced on Feb. 17 that it will cut 900 jobs in Europe.  The layoffs represent about 3.5% of the company’s total workforce and 12% of its European employees. The company is altering its supply-chain management and consolidating offices.
  • Fair, Isaac(FICO) announced on Feb. 16 that it plans to cut costs through the elimination of about 200 positions.
  • Biopharmaceutical company MannKind(MNKD) announced on Feb. 15 that it will lay off nearly 180 workers, after a new drug was denied approval by the FDA.
  • Amazon (AMZN) announced on Feb. 14 that it will close a distribution facility in Texas, resulting in 119 layoffs.  The e-commerce giant is closing the facility in Irving due to a tax dispute with the state that killed plans that would have created 1,000 new jobs.
  • Goodyear Tire & Rubber(GT) announced on Feb. 10 that it will close its Tennessee plant, which will result in about 1,900 job cuts.  The plant, which has been in operation since 1968, will shutter in an effort to cut costs.
  • Activision Blizzard(ATVI) said on Feb. 9 that it will eliminate about 500 positions as it pulls the cord on its “Guitar Hero” games.
  • M&T Bank(MTB) said on Feb. 10 that its planned merger with Wilmington Trust will result in more than 700 layoffs.
  • Media software company RealNetworks(RNWK) said on Feb. 8 that it will cut 130 positions, or 10% of its workforce.  Despite the layoffs, the company said it will continue to hire in select departments.
  • United Continental(UAL) announced on Feb. 7 that it is laying off 500 workers at Continental’s headquarters in Houston.
  • Corinthian Colleges(COCO) said on Feb. 1 that it will cut about 4% of its workforce, as expects enrollment to fall.  Corinthian has about 16,800 employees in North America.
  • Arena Pharmaceuticals(ARNA) said on Jan. 28 that it will lay off 66 employees, or a quarter of its workforce.
  • Abbott Laboratories (ABT) announced on Jan. 26 that it will cut 1,900 positions as part of the restructuring of its pharmaceuticals business.  The layoffs will hit about 2% of its workforce.  The latest round of layoffs come after Abbott handed out pink slips to 3,000 employees in September.
  • Lowe’s(LOW) announced on Jan. 26 that it is laying off about 1,700 managers.
  • Walt Disney(DIS) confirmed on Jan. 25 that it is consolidating jobs at its money-losing video game division.  It did not reveal how many pink slips it will hand out.
  • Yahoo(YHOO) announced another round of layoffs on Jan 25, this time eliminating 140 positions.  In December Yahoo said it was slashing 600 positions, or about 4% of its workforce. In 2009, Yahoo eliminated about 700 workers on top of 1,400 layoffs in 2008.
  • Call center firmStarTek(SRT) said on Jan. 25 that it is laying off 69 workers at its Lynchburg facility.  The Lynchburg facility employs about 219 people and StarTek says they gave affected workers a 60-day notice.
  • J.C. Penney(JCP) announced on Jan. 24 that it is shuttering six unprofitable stores.  The department store did not disclose how many jobs would be impacted as a result of the closures, which will occur throughout the year.
  • HSBC(HBC) said on Jan. 20 that it will cut 500 positions as it ends its credit card customer service and collections work at a center in New Castle, Del.  The bank said it will continue its insurance underwriting and insurance customer services operations at the Delaware center, leaving 700 people still employed.
  • Boeing(BA) announced on Jan. 20 that it will eliminate 900 positions at its Long Beach plant.  The company, which employs 3,700 workers at the Long Beach facility, said the cuts would come from its C-17 cargo division, as orders for the planes decline.  The news comes after the company announced last fall that it is consolidating its military aircraft business and cutting workers. Boeing planned to lay off 10,000 workers in 2009. When Boeing did not complete the layoffs last year, its management announced that it would finish the job of laying off the workers in 2010 — and might ultimately lay off more workers than the original 10,000 that were projected.
  • American Express(AXP) announced on Jan. 19 that it will shift 3,500 positions around the world and lay off 550 workers.
  • Borders(BGP) made another round of layoffs on Jan. 17, this time cutting 45 jobs at its headquarters.  This is the second batch of pink slips the book seller doled out this year; it announced on Jan. 12 that it would shutter a distribution center and cut 310 positions.
  • Evergreen Solar(ESLR) said on Jan. 12 that it is closing its Massachusetts plant and laying off about 800 employees.
  • MySpace, a division ofNews Corp.(NWSA), confirmed on Jan. 12 that it will slash 500 positions, or 47% of its workforce.
  • BigBand Networks(BBND), which makes digital video management software for broadband service providers, said on Jan. 11 that it will cut about 9% of its workforce as it consolidates parts of the business.  All together, about 40 people will receive pink slips worldwide.
  • Fairchild Semiconductor(FCS) announced on Jan. 5 that it plans to eliminate 120 jobs in South Portland, Maine.  Overall, Fairchild Semiconductor employs about 800 workers in South Portland, Maine.
  • BJ’s Wholesale(BJ) announced on Jan. 5 that it will shutter five underperforming stores, resulting in nearly 500 layoffs.

The list is long and is enough to take ones breath away.  Keep in mind that this list does not take into account tens of thousands more jobs that have been eliminated in numerous smaller companies.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the corporations mentioned above.

Ford Motor – Ford was the only U.S. automaker that did not accept a government bailout in 2009.  Ford has posted a net profit for eight straight quarters.

BJ’s Wholesale – According to the company’s 2010 10K filing, “Our earnings for 2010 reflect consistent growth in member visits, increased sales of merchandise, improved merchandise margins, successful member acquisition and renewals, continued investments in club remodels and technology and continued chain expansion, offset by restructuring charges and charges associated with the closure of five clubs.”

Merck – For its most recent quarter, Merck reported a profit of $2.02 billion, or $0.65 per share, up from $752 million, or $0.24 per share, over the previous year.  Revenue increased 7% to $12.15 billion, buoyed by increased sales on diabetes and anti-inflammatory drugs.  The company also raised the lower end of its per-share forecast for 2011, expecting $3.68 to $3.76.  It affirmed its revenue guidance growth to remain in the low to mid single digits, from $46 billion in 2010.

H.J. Heinz – At the end of May, H.J. Heinz reported growth for the fourth quarter, “…driven by higher sales in emerging markets and strong growth for its top 15 brands.”   Both earnings per share and revenue exceeded the forecast of Wall Street analysts.  Fourth-quarter net income was $223.86 million, or $0.69 per share, compared with $192.37 million, or $0.60 per share, for the previous last year.

These are only a few examples of the profits some of the companies who are shedding jobs are realizing.  Not all on the list are raking in huge profits, and many have had profits reduced as a result of the economic slowdown.  Borders, long suffering based on executive turnover and failure to adapt in concert with competitors in the online book business, began liquidation in late July and expects to close its remaining stores by September.

It has been some time since we have heard much about corporate social responsibility or the triple bottom line.

From WikiPedia:

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

“The goal of CSR is to embrace responsibility for the company’s actions and encourage a positive impact through its activities on the environment, consumers, employees, communities, stakeholders and all other members of the public sphere. Furthermore, CSR-focused businesses would proactively promote the public interest by encouraging community growth and development, and voluntarily eliminating practices that harm the public sphere, regardless of legality.”

 Triple Bottom Line

“The triple bottom line (abbreviated as “TBL” or “3BL”, and also known as “people, planet, profit” or “the three pillars”) captures an expanded spectrum of values and criteria for measuring organizational (and societal) success: economic, ecological and social. The concept of TBL demands that a company’s responsibility lies with stakeholders rather than shareholders. In this case, “stakeholders” refers to anyone who is influenced, either directly or indirectly, by the actions of the firm. According to the stakeholder theory, the business entity should be used as a vehicle for coordinating stakeholder interests, instead of maximizing shareholder (owner) profit.”

Shouldn’t corporate America be held to a higher standard?  Does it make sense for corporations to continue to shed jobs when many are, in fact, profitable?  Perhaps it would make more sense to keep people employed, be a little less profitable and a little less productive, hopefully in the short-term, but allow consumers to have more money to spend – to pay the mortgage, feed the family, invest in education, purchase products and services and so on.

Extreme Makeover (Needed): Customer Service Edition

Sir Ivor Maxse, a WWI British officer, wasn’t by the book.  He tailored battlefield tactics to fit the circumstances.  British infantry tactics dictated a slow measured advancement.  To stand tall and march in a straight line directly toward the enemy was the standard tactic of the day, one which had devastating consequences at the Battle of the Somme.  Maxse was one of very few divisional commanders to achieve objectives set forth on the first day of the battle.  He was able to meet the goal by hiding his division from view as they advanced on the enemy line.  His methods challenged the tactical status quo.  Not only was he successful but his methods ended up forming the basis for modern infantry warfare.

British officer and military historian of Maxse’s era Sir Basil Liddell Hart described Maxse as follows:

“… Maxse seized the salient points of any idea with lightning quickness, although occasionally misjudging some point because of too hasty examination… He was always ready to encourage and make use of new ideas.”

Another military historian, Correlli Barnett said that Maxse was, “One of the ablest officers of his generation, a man of originality and drive, and a formidable personality”.

While the Maxse example may appear extreme for this discussion, providing great customer service or dealing with solutions to other challenges are no different.  If the established tactics are providing less than satisfactory results, seek to encourage and make use of new ideas, strive for originality.  It will set you apart from your competitors. 

Customer service, it is one thing frequently cited by companies that they believe gives them an advantage over the competition.   However, when it comes to tactics, they all seem to be pretty much the same.  The standard course of action calls for:

  • Listening to the customer
  • Dealing with Complaints
  • Not Making Promises You Can’t Keep
  • Being Helpful
  • Taking the Extra Step
  • Training Staff

We are all customers and probably have a good sense of how we would like to be treated – and we can all probably relate numerous customer service horror stories.  Perhaps this doesn’t fit into the horror category, but it is an example of a lapse in customer service that tainted an otherwise good experience I had recently with a local grocer.

I had stopped in at a small locally owned market to purchase a few items.  The owner’s had just completed a multi-faceted renovation of the store.  There was a small café corner, an expanded organic vegetable and fruits section, a new delicatessen and  a fabulous wine and cheese area, just to name a few of the upgrades.  The color palette was fresh, along with enhanced lightening and a mix of new wood and tile flooring.  The store looked great.  I cruised the aisles picking up the items I needed and a few more things that I hadn’t planned to get.  All was going well until I went to check out.  The cashier was less than enthusiastic.  The young woman was no more than 16, I would guess.  She didn’t make eye contact and didn’t greet me.  She scanned the few items I had purchased at a turtle’s pace and spoke nearly inaudibly when she told me the total due.  Once I had paid, she did say thank you as she shoved the receipt into my hand, but it was so programmed that it didn’t seem genuine.  Consequently, what had been a great experience in a comfortable and newly enhanced environment, that had elicited a “wow” when I walked through the door, had been degraded.  Now this is really not huge when it come to bad customer service, but up to the point of check out my expectations had been exceeded and I was let down. When I relayed the experience to my husband stating that I knew several 90 year olds who were more engaged and that could have moved a lot faster, he said, “Well it is a fabulous summer day and she probably wants to be somewhere else.”

And, therein lies the rub.  For the most part, we too easily accept poor service and in some cases will even make excuses for it.  I expect that the owners of the market have endeavored to follow the standards for customer service listed above.  So why is the result so (I’m sorry if I’m delivering bad news) typical?

To ensure excellence in customer service, the people who are charged with providing it have to be so inclined.  You need people like Ivor Maxse, those who will encourage and make use of new ideas.  You need those who think originally and have drive.  You can’t script good service and you can’t mold people lacking these qualities to have them.  Employers need to hire for these qualities.  Doing this would makeover customer service as we presently know it.

Addendum:  A good friend provided a great critique on the forgoing post.  He thought my post was “incomplete.”  He contends that, “poor customer service is a direct result of apathy, NOT just the team member charged with providing it… service is a direct reflection of management, and ownership, and most are willing to give poor service thinking that paying less for workers who give poor service is somehow more advantageous.”  He further believes that we should hold “the real culprits accountable, which is 1.) management  and ultimately 2.) we consumers, who put up with it.  We should be voting with our wallets.”

Points taken, anyone else want to weigh in?

Responsible, Dependable, Loyal and Mature

Very few days pass that one of the news outlets is not presenting a story related to the current high unemployment rate.  Many of these stories focus on the long-term unemployed, particularly those who are Baby Boomers (the roughly 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964).

The unemployment rate in the United States (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) was last reported at 9.1 percent in May of 2011.  This figure includes all age groups.  However, the unemployment rate for men and women 45 or older continues to rise, and for older Baby Boomers the rate is growing faster.  For the unemployed aged 50-54 the unemployment rate has nearly doubled since the downturn in the economy began (May 2011 – 6.4% | Dec. 2007 – 3.3%).

So, what’s happening?  Is it age discrimination?  Or, is something else going on?  A little research reveals that there are a number of factors at play.

First off, as I addressed in a previous entry, there are just not enough jobs to go around regardless of the unemployed workers’ age.   Then there are some employers who might have hired but who have realized that they can operate with fewer employees.   So, from an efficiency standpoint, why hire?

Businesses are making money, but are holding on to it.  The reasons stated for this is that they are nervous about the recovery and don’t wish to jump into expansion or hiring mode too soon.  Others are waiting to see a boost in consumer spending – problem here is that consumers who aren’t working can’t spend and those who can are also holding on to their cash too. To further exacerbate the issue, more Baby Boomers are staying in the workforce longer.  While it was expected that waves of Baby Boomers would start retiring, it hasn’t happened to the extent anticipated.  Many saw reduced retirement savings as a result of the economic downturn and need to remain employed, while others, who are enjoying better health than previous generations, wish to continue working.

When businesses do hire, many are opting to select younger employees.  Typically the younger employee is viewed as more energetic and, of course, less expensive from a payroll perspective.

Recognizing the payroll dilemma and laws of supply and demand, many Boomers are offering their services at reduced rates.  But still there’s little response from employers.  We hear many excuses for why older workers are not being hired.  For example, employers believe they will jump ship if something better comes along.  Or, that the older worker is nearing the end of their careers so are less motivated and/or will retire shortly.  The most frequently heard excuse is that many are seen as over qualified.  This reason makes little sense.  Wouldn’t we all like to have someone that is over qualified?  Don’t we want someone who can truly hit the ground running; someone who can mentor and lead; someone who presents a positive role model.

A number of years ago, I had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with an older woman who had recently retired from the insurance business.  She was looking for a part-time employment situation so that she could travel, spend time with family and generally just ease into retirement.  When we hired her, at 60+ she was by far the oldest employee in our office of about 8-10 employees.  However, what she brought to the company, as a mature, experienced employee was astounding.  Her work ethic and professionalism was second to none.  She provided a model for the younger employees and shared her wealth of knowledge with everyone.  On a part-time basis, she performed as much work as a full-time employee.  She was one of the smartest hires the company ever made.  After several years with the company she decided she was ready to retire full-time, but those of us who worked with her were forever influenced by what she brought to the company, we all benefited greatly from having worked with her.

There are many reasons to hire an older employee.  The list below compiled by Stephen Bastien ( covers a few of them.

1. Dedicated workers produce higher quality work, which can result in a significant cost savings for you. Stories abound of highly committed older workers finding others’ potentially costly mistakes regarding everything from misspelling of client names to pricing errors and accounting mistakes.

2. Punctuality seems to be a given for older workers. Most of them look forward to going to work each day, so they’re likely to arrive on time and be ready to work.

3. Honesty is common among older workers, whose values as a group include personal integrity and a devotion to the truth.

4. Detail-oriented, focused and attentive workers add an intangible value that rubs off on all employees and can save your business thousands of dollars.

5. Good listeners make great employees because they’re easier to train–older employees only have to be told once what to do.

6. Pride in a job well done has become an increasingly rare commodity among younger employees. Younger workers want to put in their time at work and leave, while older employees are more willingly to stay later to get a job done because of their sense of pride in the final product.

7. Organizational skills among older workers mean employers who hire them are less likely to be a part of this startling statistic: More than a million man hours are lost each year simply due to workplace disorganization.

8. Efficiency and the confidence to share their recommendations and ideas make older workers ideal employees. Their years of experience in the workplace give them a superior understanding of how jobs can be done more efficiently, which saves companies money. Their confidence, built up through the years, means they won’t hesitate to share their ideas with management.

9. Maturity comes from years of life and work experience and makes for workers who get less “rattled” when problems occur.

10. Setting an example for other employees is an intangible value many business owners appreciate. Older workers make excellent mentors and role models, which makes training other employees less difficult.

11. Communication skills–knowing when and how to communicate–evolve through years of experience. Older workers understand workplace politics and know how to diplomatically convey their ideas to the boss.

12. Reduced labor costs are a huge benefit when hiring older workers. Most already have insurance plans from prior employers or have an additional source of income and are willing to take a little less to get the job they want. They understand that working for a company can be about much more than just collecting a paycheck.

My advice to employers, don’t discount the older worker.  Don’t risk passing up the best hire you may ever make.