Article 43


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Call Center Blues

image: call center

Nothing like being stuck in a cube smaller than a cattle pen for over eight hours a day, tethered to a phone like a cow chained to a barn. Humans are not designed to talk for eight hours a day. I will be shoveling cow manure or pig crap before working in a call center again.

[T]hey get on you about AHT “handle time” being too long. So you have to shuffle customers through and blow them off to have your “talk time"/handle time in line and not get yelled at. Also, there is always some nitpicking about how to speak, no matter how articulate you are
- City-Data

Criticising our work and PUTTING US DOWN is the norm. [M]istakes are shared by management both as an internal note on the ticket for all employees to see, and broadcast on an intracompany mail list… The LEVEL of negative FEEDBACK and MICROMANAGEMENT is SUFFOCATING.
- Can’t Find a Qualified US Worker - Redux 2

Negative feedback should be an unusual event: If you run your own business or are in a position of management, you should be aware that your behavior influences the environment of your company. If you and the people in your company criticize and complain a lot, maybe this is a sign that you are providing too much negative feedback, and the risk is that the work environment can deteriorate. Be aware that critiques should be delivered just once in a while, and not permanently, as too much critique ruins the relationships between your collaborators, and risk their disengagement and consequently their performance.
- 10 Good Ways to Give Feedback


The Worst Job I Ever Had: Working in a Call Center for a Cell Phone Company
It was four straight hours of listening to complaints, a lunch break, and then another four hours on the phone.

By Lucas McDaniel,
Bloomington, Indiana

How I got in

I was just out of college, struggling to find a job, and expenses were piling up - student loans, rent, utilities, food, car insurance. I felt the walls closing in and knew I had to find a job, any job.

I decided to apply for a job at a call center, answering customer service calls for a large telecom provider. The place had a bad reputation - a couple friends had worked there and told me, It sucks, but IT’S A JOB. Which was my exact mindset heading in.

All I had to do was walk in and fill out the application. The next week they invited all the new applicants in for a mass interview, and if you made it that far, you were basically hired.

We had about eight weeks of training, all of it paid at $8 per hour. The training consisted of the new crop of employees sitting in a room for eight hours a day, looking at PowerPoint slides and listening to recordings of people dealing with customers.

Fewer and fewer people showed up over the course of training. They got a couple paychecks, then bailed. It was demoralizing. I had just earned an engineering degree from a four-year university, and here I was among a bunch of high-school dropouts.

The last week of training was spent on the floor, where we watched customer service reps field actual calls from customers. I learned more that week than I did the previous seven. All the other training was a waste.

When I realized it was going to suck

That’s when I realized I was totally unprepared for the job. I watched the customer service reps log their call information in the internal software system, and quickly realized I had no idea how to use it. “What did you just do?” I asked them. “We didn’t go over that in training.”

“Ask your supervisor” they’d say.

The supervisor said if we had any questions, we should just look it up in the internal learning database and follow the script. But the database didn’t account for most of the situations the customers described. Or the customer would give a response not included in the script, and we’d be left flying blind.

I often had to put the customer on hold just so I could call over a supervisor and ask them what to say.

There were about 500, 600 people on the call center floor at once. It was a wide-open warehouse, with rows of cubicles, 10 to each row. The partitions between them were small, so our calls often bled into each others. I worked nights, and it was miserable going from fluorescent lighting to utter darkness.

Our base pay was $9.50 an hour, but you could make up to $12 if you stuck it out long enough. Promotions were on a merit system. You were judged harshly by the customer satisfaction surveys conducted after each call. If you weren’t able to fix someones problem, even if you followed the script, the customer would rate you low and ruin your chance for a raise or bonus.

One of the points emphasized in training was that we were to always keep the customer happy, whatever the cost. This meant giving them lots of free stuff - phone accessories like Bluetooth headsets or chargers, or upgrading them to a better plan.

I worked for the enterprise division - businesses that bought phone plans for everyone in their organization - and they knew they’d get freebies if they complained. Most of the calls were people not understanding their bills, and me having to point them to certain line items.

One time I made a mistake that caused a customer to be charged more than they should have. I was apologizing profusely, and the person on the other end kept saying, “How are you gonna make it up to me?”

After each call, we had two minutes to enter the details into the system and get a quick breather. But there was never enough time for a break. It was four straight hours of listening to complaints, a lunch break, and then another four hours on the phone.

How I got out

I lasted only a month on the floor. I had had a line on an IT job at Indiana State University, and it finally came through. The day I got the offer, I told my supervisor I quit - no notice, effective immediately. He didn’t bat an eyelash because the turnover was ridiculous.

It was the only job I ever got sick of, and that’s including delivering newspapers as a kid. I would sit in my car before each shift started, trying to psych myself up before walking in from the parking lot.

The job forever cemented in my head that its an actual person on the other end of your customer service call, and to treat them with the according respect, no matter how frustrated you are.

Every other job I’ve had has been a cakewalk relative to working in that call center. Whenever I’m feeling down at work, I just think, I could be stuck answering customer service calls all day. Maybe this mandatory lunch meeting isn’t so bad after all.



Toiling Away in ‘White-Collar Sweatshops’ - aka Call Centers

By Maria Verlengia
CRM Buyer
ECT News Network
June 9, 2009

Sarah Betesh’s career in customer service began in box office call centers at venues such as the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. She moved on to and Vertical Alliance, at one point becoming a call center manager.
Toiling Away in ‘White-Collar Sweatshops’ - aka Call Centers

However, in spite of her success, Betesh left her call center career behind in 2003. She now teaches autistic children at a middle school in Bucks County, Penn. The high stress levels she experienced in the call center environment left her feeling burned out. Ultimately, she found the work unsatisfying because she did not feel she was accomplishing anything.

High Stress, High Turnover

“I worked for for two years,” Betesh told CRM Buyer. “It’s a really high-stress job. You don’t get a lot of money. The only time people call you is if something is wrong. They’re mad. Phones would ring off the hook. Phone centers are typically very busy.”

Another difficult aspect was the repetitive nature of the work. Betesh likened it to a factory. “It gets boring. That’s tough,” she said.

Betesh’s story sheds light on some of the factors leading to the high turnover rates typical of the call center industry. People take on the typically minimum-wage positions hoping to move on to something else, she said. It’s a good way to enter the customer service field.

“They’re using it as a stepping stone, or it’s their second job,” Betesh observed.

Most people consider a call center position as a way to break into a company or field—not a long-term career, echoed Karl Bonawitz, division manager at firstPro, which fills call center openings.

“People look at it as a foot-in-the-door process,” he told CRM Buyer.

Recession Effect

In spite of the historically high turnover rates at call centers, Bonawitz has seen a tremendous slowdown over the past six months—at least in the IT call centers he staffs in the Philadelphia area—which he attributes to the poor job market.

“I think it’s the economy. The economy has everyone scared,” he said. The moving around that typically occurs in the call center industry is not happening as much.

Will turnover become high again once conditions improve?

“That’s the $10 million question,” he said. Once the job market improves, he foresees people once again moving on to bigger and better opportunities.

Higher Pay, Better Training

Working conditions are a factor in the high turnover rate—especially for people who are not prepared for or suited to customer service work, said Bonawitz. “I think it can be a stressful job. Every single call is tracked. Customer satisfaction is tracked. The volume is high. It takes the right kind of personality. You need a little bit of a thicker skin.”

Additional training would help retain people, he suggested. “People in those roles don’t want to feel stymied. They want to continue to learn.”

Higher pay would also help retain the right employees, Bonawitz maintained, but companies are resistant to the extra expense that would entail, typically viewing call center staffing as a low priority.

That is a mistake, he said, because contact with a call center staff member is frequently the first impression a customer has of a company. A bad attitude can have a negative effect on a customer’s opinion.

“I think it makes a huge difference,” said Bonawitz.

High-Turnover Costs

In the long run, high turnover is very costly, said Paul Stockford, chief analyst at Saddletree Research and director of research for the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CALL CENTERS (NACC).

“The hiring costs are huge,” he told CRM Buyer.

In fact, the cost of attrition was US$5,466 per individual, Stockford noted, based on a 2008 survey of 70 call centers conducted by Furst Person, a company that specializes in call center staffing.

Solutions to the Problem

Impersonal workspaces, tightly controlled staff, and some methods of monitoring performance such as critiquing calls and measuring call times all factored into the high turnover rate, said Stockford.

“It’s pretty much like a white collar sweatshop,” he remarked.

In her experience, companies kept a close watch on the performance of call center employees, observed former CSR Betesh.

“All of your calls were tracked,” she said.

When she moved into a managerial position, she recognized the pitfalls of overmonitoring employees. “No one likes to be micromanaged.”

Some companies are taking steps to improve working conditions, such as measuring performance based on successful outcomes of calls, which Stockford believes is a better indicator of performance.

Some are offering telecommuting to call center employees.

“It’s happening more than you realize,” observed Stockford. “That’s a way of keeping employees.”

JetBlue and Veterans2work are two companies offering work-at-home options for call center staff, he noted.

Still, there aren’t many companies offering an option to telecommute yet, firstPro’s Bonawitz said, likely because companies think they cannot adequately monitor employees who work at home.

Although companies may believe that, the perception is unfounded, Stockford said.

“A lot of monitoring is done online anyway,” he pointed out.

Signs of Change

Surprisingly, Stockford does not believe increased training will help alleviate the call center churn problem. Training is currently highly variable among call centers, depending on the complexity of the product. In a survey of NACC members and newsletter readers Saddletree conducted last year, participants were asked asked if they would like additional training. Half the respondents expressed no interest.

Improving the work environment, however, can help reduce churn. Some companies have less than 10 percent turnover per year, Stockford commented—usually, they are companies that understand the value of customer service.

Yet many call centers are resistant to change; Stockford attributes that to a lack of leadership in the industry and calls for more innovation and initiative.

Although firstPro’s Bonawitz reported a definite slowdown in call center staffing, Stockford has not noticed a drop in the turnover rate or many layoffs during the recession in the call center hot spots he monitors such as Phoenix, Dallas and Florida.

That is because companies are doing everything they can to maintain their customer base, he suggested, and they want to keep their call centers running efficiently.

“I think attrition is still an issue,” he said.

The Right Fit

Although working in a call center was ultimately not the right career for her, Betesh acknowledged that a call center job could be the right fit for some people.

Working in a well-managed call center can be a pleasant experience, especially with respect to the social aspects.

“For some people, it’s their niche,” she said. “There’s definitely camaraderie if the office is run right. Huge camaraderie. We had fun.”



The Last Bullying Frontier
Call center representatives take a beating.

By Guy Winch
Psychology Today
March 31, 2011

Bullying of LGBT youth has received well deserved attention over past months and raised public awareness about every other societal manifestation of bullying-except one.

There is one group that contends with bullying with alarming regularity and although no lives have been lost as a result, the psychological, emotional and financial consequences of their bullying is staggering in scope. They are CALL CENTER REPRESENTATIVES.

Call-center representatives are the people who answer the phone when we call customer service or municipal hotlines to report problems, make complaints, or request technical support. They are entry level employees who receive a few weeks of training before being deployed to the front lines of their industry where they encounter an impatient and highly aggressive public.

Many of us associate call-centers with out-sourced facilities in India or the Philippines but there are thousands of call centers across every state in our nation that employ hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens.

How Abusive Do Callers Get?

In doing research for my book The Squeaky Wheel I interviewed many call-center representatives and heard many stories of terrible verbal and emotional abuse (the most dramatic of which is described in detail in Chapter 7 of the book). “People burst into tears here all the time,” a woman at one call-center said. “I was cursed at, called stupid, slow, moron, retard and idiot so many times a day-I cried myself to sleep every night.” Why didn’t she quit? She was a single mother and she needed the job.

Call-center employees can average up to 10 hostile encounters a day in which they are subject to vile and personal insults, screaming, cursing and threats. Imagine being treated abusively in your job numerous times a day, every single day.

While in-store employees can call security if a customer becomes threatening or belligerent, call-center employees enjoy no such back-up. They are required to stay on the line and ‘salvage’ even the most abusive and hostile calls as best they can. Further, they are forbidden to ‘fight back’ as responding in kind to such provocations can cost them their jobs.

The Bullying Power Dynamic

This grossly uneven power dynamic between caller and call-center representative is something of which we the public take full advantage. After going through automated menus or waiting too long on ‘hold’ we take out our anger and frustration on people whose job prevents them from fighting back-in doing so we are bullying them in every sense of the word.

What is striking from a psychological and sociological perspective is how common it is to hear otherwise decent people confess to treating call-center representatives in a manner they would consider verbally abusive and reprehensible in any other context. In fact, we are so desensitized to the plight of call-center employees, such stories are often related without a hint of remorse or recognition of the mental anguish the representative in question might have endured. In other words we demonstrate a problematic lack of empathy (read How to Test Your Empathy here).

Why We Dehumanize Call Center Representatives

There are several reasons why we allow ourselves to bully call-center representatives:

1. We tend to view them as literal representatives of the companies responsible for our frustrations and problems-thus we hold them personally responsible (even though they had nothing to do with our problem) and feel they are fair targets for our anger and frustration.

2. Never seeing their faces allows us to switch off psychological filters such as civility and empathy. As a result, we typically feel no remorse for our actions and have little sympathy for the plight of the call-center employee who was subjected to them. In other words, we are in denial about the emotional and psychological distress our bullying might cause.

3. Our complaining psychology is such that we are convinced (often erroneously) the ‘company’ will make it as difficult as possible for us to resolve our problem or get through to a live person. As a result we get into a veritable battle mentality even before dialing the toll-free number.

The Consequences of Bullying Call-Center Representatives

The impact of our bullying has severe consequences for call-center employees as well as the industry as a whole. Call-center representatives typically experience severe and chronic stress and have high rates of medical absenteeism, burnout and depression. As a result, call-centers have one of the highest employee attrition rates in any industry because few workers can manage our psychological and emotional assaults for long.

The annual costs to companies of having to regularly hire and train new call-center employees can run hundreds of millions of dollars or more. The rapid turnover also creates a vicious cycle in which a chronic influx of new workers increases the likelihood of us encountering hesitant and inexperienced representatives, which then frustrates us and inflames our tempers even further (read about Complaint Handling: Why Companies and Customers both Fail: here).

Dehumanizing call-center employees and treating them as emotional punching bags represents the kind of societal bullying that should be as intolerable as any other form of bullying we decry today. It is a behavior that causes staggering financial losses to companies and untold emotional and psychological ones to tens of thousands of our fellow Americans.

It is up to us as citizens and as consumers to acknowledge victims of bullying wherever they exist. Let’s remind ourselves that call-center representatives are there to help us and that treating them with respect and civility will make our encounters with them less frustrating for us, less painful for them and more productive for all.



The Social Science That Explains Customer Service Attrition Rates

By Daniel Weiss

High customer service attrition rates can sink an otherwise promising business, but this stubborn problem is solvable. Even if repetitive tasks, infrequent breaks, and irrational customers are unavoidable job hazards, understanding why this line of work often leads to burnout is the first step toward creating a sustainable team environment.

Fighting Back Boredom

Contrary to popular belief, BOREDOM IS NOT CAUSED BY A LACK OF THINGS TO DO. This all-too-prevalent mental state occurs when none of the things a person can realistically do appeal to them.

Outside of work, we might feel bored while sitting through a children’s piano recital - when listening to disjointed chords or discreetly checking your email no longer stimulates the brain.

Customer support can, unfortunately, feel limiting in this way. The repetitive nature of answering phone calls paired with mandatory scripts can lead to mental burnout.

Even if the work requires an attention to consistency, boredom can be equalized by incentivizing high performance. The promise of rewards and upward mobility within the organization will instill personal meaning into support agents work.

But boredom isn’t just a symptom, its also a mental reflex to tasks we find difficult. If a support representative doesn’t have the requisite knowledge or experience to answer customers inquiries, it leads to mental fatigue and self-doubt. Boredom, in this context, can be described as a “shield against self-confrontation.”

(There’s a reason why most high school students consider modeling advanced statistics boring.)

When a lack of knowledge creates an impasse, it means helping customers is no longer an option. Boredom (not to mention frustration) will kick in. The solution, however, is simple.

New agents may feel this way until they’re fully acquainted with company policies and operations, but it should be noted that training does not end when onboarding schedules are complete. More experienced and trusted agents can be given administrative “rights” to solve more complex issues without additional transfers or escalations. This way, “roadblocks can be avoided” and agents frustrations eliminated.

After all, customer support for all its stresses - is fulfilling in terms of person-to-person interaction and problem-solving. When support representatives are able to efficiently delight customers and resolve issues, boredom will cease to be an issue. Helping people will bring a more complete and genuine sense of satisfaction.

Addressing Social Exhaustion

Customer support is, at its very core, about human interaction. Support representatives are contacted because self-help resources, website content, or message boards have all come up short. Each inquiry represents a conversation that requires social tact, empathy, and critical thinking.

From a social and emotional perspective, these conversations can quickly add up, and its usually the hardest working employees who feel this burden the most. In fact, the highest performing agents are usually the most negatively affected.

A 2004 study found a correlation between employee conscientiousness (i.e. how committed an employee is to their position) and the effect to which emotional stress impacted work. Essentially, agents who value their positions and take pride in their jobs work slower and make fewer calls when emotional stress builds-up.

Ironically, the main culprit behind emotional burnout amongst support agents might be a lack of genuine emotion. False displays of amicability and empathy have been shown to encourage mental fatigue and employee burnout. Support agents who were instructed to follow strict rules when interacting with customers (e.g. an overtly friendly tone of voice) reported greater overall emotional stress than those who were allowed “display” autonomy.

Relieving the social stresses of the support industry can take many forms, but there are a few steps that will help your agents better manage the human-aspects their work.

For one, scripts are a great tool for training, but they won’t always be appropriate given a callers individual case or emotional state. By giving agents autonomy to veer from the script, you can promote genuine empathy - eliminating the canned-emotion that leads to stress in the long-term.

Also, if emotional stress negatively impacts your best employees call volume, consider giving equal importance to NPS/CSAT scores when conducting performance reviews. Top performers should be able to relate to customers on a personal level, in addition to fielding an adequate number of inquiries.

Defending Against Angry Customers

Emotional fatigue is a large-scale problem for support personnel, but everyone who has worked a service job knows disgruntled customers are part of the terrain. Your representatives are often the first available target for upset customers, eager to vent their frustrations to an actual person. Rightly or wrongly (usually wrongly), support ops absorb the blame for seemingly all client-facing issues.

When heated situations arise, have an action plan to cools things down.

Broadly speaking, research supports a three-step system to defuse hostile situations. Agents should:

Listen empathetically to the customer
Practice blame displacement
Offer an apology on behalf of the company

Step one should be straightforward. People want to be listened to, especially if they feel they’ve been wronged in some way. However, when contacting support, customers only want to be listened to once. Representatives should take thorough notes so any transfers or follow-up conversations can avoid repetition.

Blame displacement involves shifting a customers anger from the individual representative to the problem at hand. If possible, this should be an explanation of exactly when the issue happened and what went wrong. Providing insider-details lets the customer know you respect them as a customer and their anger isn’t baseless.

Finally, if appropriate, consider offering an apology on behalf of the company. A solution (or a timeline for a solution) can be offered as a service-gesture in order to maintain the brands image. Repeat customers and retention are keys to success for any business. A negative experience can have far-reaching effects, especially in the age of message boards and review sites.

But beware anger is contagious. For support representatives to avoid burnout and stay stress-free, its vital to deflect hostility and decompress in the right way.

Contrary to popular belief, venting anger only tends to make it worse. In one study, participants were asked to hit a punching bag while thinking about someone who has made them angry. Another group (who were also angry at a specific individual) was instructed to hit a punching bag in a way geared toward exercise. The exercise group showed lower levels of anger post-experiment, while the venting group ended up even angrier.

Superior customer support is the hallmark of brands consumers trust, but managers need to recognize the strain it puts on individuals. If these obstacles are lessened by stress-reducing measures, customer support becomes a personally and professionally rewarding field, incorporating critical thinking, problem-solving, and person-to-person interaction. Burnout and attrition become a thing of the past.



Dear Customer Service Centers, Please Stop It With the Scripted Empathy

By Katherine Reynolds Lewis
March 23, 2016

Youve been on the phone trying to reach customer service for 10 minutes, pressing buttons and entering account numbers. Finally, a real live human being picks up the phone. You explain your problem briefly. LetҒs say your cable service is out.

But instead of a quick resolution, you spend another minute listening while the customer service agent says something like this:

Let me begin, Mrs. Lewis, by thanking you for being a customer for the last five years. We certainly appreciate your business. Now, I would like to first take a moment to say how sincerely sorry I am to hear your cable is not working. I can tell you as a cable customer myself who loves watching TV, sports, and lots of movies with my family, I certainly understand how inconvenient this must be to not have your systems working. I get frustrated, too, when this happens to me, Mrs. Lewis. So to be sure I understand, the purpose of your call is to get technical support because your cable is not working, correct?Ӕ

The response is so long and carefully formulated, you could be forgiven for thinking that you hadnt actually reached a human being. And this attempt to scriptempathy is clearly on the rise, according to customers and call center workers alike.

Companies have turned to these kind of scripts in hopes of appeasing the 60% of Americans who walked away from an intended transaction in the previous year due to a poor service experience, and the 38% who believe that companies are paying less attention to providing good customer service, according to a recent American Express survey.

Unfortunately for the companies employing canned empathy, experts say itҒs a misguided attempt to improve the customer experience quickly, without taking the time to hire well and train employees.

You canӒt scriptempathy, says Bruce Temkin, managing partner of Temkin Group, a customer experience consultancy in Boston. ԓThe right way to do it is to teach the agents about why youre trying to show empathy, what is it, and why is it important.Ҕ

For empathy to be genuine, Temkin says. the agents must have autonomy over how they respond, and choose what course of action to take and what words to say. After all, even the best actor will sound wooden after 10 repetitions of a similar script.

If youӒre chatting in or calling in and youre upset, you donҒt want to be greeted with a robotic response, says Arthur, an IT professional in Pennsylvania who asked to be identified without his last name so he could speak freely about past employers. ԓIf you use real human interaction, unscripted talk, youre going to get to the heart of the problem, youҒre going to calm the customer down quicker.

Unfortunately for Arthur, in his previous roles at Apple @aapl(AAPL)and Comcast (CMCSA) customer service support, he was required to give specific answers depending on the customer complaint and type of interaction. When he joined Apple in 2012, he said the company prided itself on not using a script. But by the time he left earlier this year, he says, the electronics giant had rolled out a program with three explicit steps for each call. While not exactly a script, the conversational path employees were supposed to follow left little room for detours.

ԓWithin the first 60 to 90 seconds, youre supposed to understand whatever the customerҒs calling in about but also have a path of resolution in your mind, he says. ԓOnce you have that, youre supposed to immediately start in with aligning the customer, assuring them youҒre going to get this fixed and letting them know you feel the same type of way.

Arthur said that Apple trained him to identify customer personality types: thinker, feeler, director, and entertainer. (An Apple spokesperson said that the company does not use a customer matrix.) Depending on which type the caller was, the agent was supposed to respond in a certain way. Arthur found that, rather than helping, these responses tended to irritate. ԓOftentimes, those customers end up super pissed off, he says.

Bad as that was, Arthur describes his experience working with Comcast as even more scripted. ԓIf you didnt say it a very specific way, you got dinged on it and your team manager was notified,Ҕ he said. If you got dinged three times in a month, you had a meeting with your area manager and might get fired.Ӕ

Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Khoury said that the company does not give scripts to its call center employees. We do give them suggested guides for how to handle various calls and on-the-job training to make sure they are helping our customers with whatever they need,Ӕ she says. We emphasize the need to listen to our customers, politely answer their questions and always treat them with respect.Ӕ

A spokesperson for Apple also said the company does not scriptcustomer engagement, instead giving advisors access to tools and guidelines to address product issues more quickly given the technical nature of AppleCare calls. The same spokesperson pointed to Apples No. 1 ranking for tech support by Consumer Reports, which goes back to 2007.

Redway Havens, the pen name of the author of a forthcoming memoir on his call center experience, Thank You for Calling, also worked for Comcast and found the empathy scriptrang false. ғThey were really trying to create the appearance that they cared about the customer when in fact they really dont,Ҕ he says.

According to Havens, some of the most meaningful interactions in his call center career came in completely unscripted moments with customers. That aligns with the 69% of consumers surveyed by Software Advice who said their customer service experience improves when agents dont sound like theyҒre reading a script.

Take the lady in her late 80s who routinely called at Havens newspaper call center job to ask the carriers to prop her paper up against her door because she couldn’t physically bend down to pick it up from the ground. “She would always call me directly and talk about the paper and her life,” he says. She would always tell me how much she loved the newspaper but it was getting hard to pay for it. She had to choose between the newspaper and her meds and the electric bill. (In the end, Havens said, she stayed a customer until her death.)

Employers should give customer service reps multiple examples of opportunities to show empathy and let them have some control over the interaction, Temkin says. They also should empower agents to actually help customers through follow up actions, rather than merely repeating their concerns, says Micah Solomon, a customer service trainer and consultant.

Arthur recalls a heartbreaking support request from a mother on the day of her daughters funeral, looking for help downloading photos from the girl’s iPhone to use as part of a slideshow in the ceremony. She had already tried to chat with three other people and “just disconnected on them,” he says. In that case, genuine empathy did well in “calming down the customer.”


Posted by Elvis on 11/28/18 •
Section Dying America • Section Workplace
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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Collapse Of Western Morality II

image: tear gassed kid

(Why) America’s in a State of Moral Collapse
What Happens When a Nation’s Taught to Think What’s Right is the Enemy of What’s Good

By Umair
November 26, 2018

I spent a gentle and quiet Thanksgiving with family, watching Christmas movies and overeating - away from the internet. Yawning and checking the headlines this morning, I was startled, horrified, to see the picture above - toddlers being tear-gassed. I asked myself what many of you probably did: is this who we’ve become? Or is this, perhaps, who we always were?

What a moral abomination - ATTACKING CHILDREN. Is there anything lower? And yet that’s hardly the only one - what the world regards as moral abomination has become a gruesome habit in America, a grim feature of daily life. Here’s a shocking yet somehow unsurprising statistic - 40% of Americans struggle to pay for basic medicine. School shootings, opioids, suicide, depression, an imploded middle class, the swelling ranks of the new poor - everyday American life is an endless list of the kind of stuff that would make dystopia blush. What links all these things?

America’s a nation in steep, profound moral decline. It “gasses those kids” - while making its own do “active shooter drills.” What kind of society lets this happen? How did America become such a society? I think it happened because America’s moral muscles atrophied to the point that it became a moral weakling - unable to shoulder any kind of weight, to act with much humanity, decency, or goodness, towards itself, or others. Now, I don’t say that to judge or condemn or shame - but to observe gently, and to maybe point a way forward.

(Moral atrophy shouldn’t be a surprise - Americans have been taught, maybe indoctrinated, not to care for one another, that they are only their “productivity” and “utility,” seduced or compelled into a kind of survival-of-the-fittest CULTURE OF CRUELTY, overworking and undervaluing themselves and each other, which is the inevitable result of a history of exploitation, slavery, segregation. It culminated in the apocalyptic every-man-for-himself ideologies of neoliberalism and predatory, which imploded back into the supremacism they were born from. But I’ll return to all this.)

Let me explain what I mean, by way of an example.

Americans are told that the only case they can make for things like immigration and refugees is an economic one - hence, endless repetition of the fact that refugees become immigrants, who set up businesses, and create jobs, and XYZ percentage to GDP and so on. Very well, they do. But that fact alone doesn’t convince the unpersuaded, does it? It seems to elide, to miss, to evade something deeper, more crucial, truer - about the heart and soul of a people and a nation.

What is always left unmade - what perhaps cannot be discussed in America - is the moral case. The truly moral one = not just why acting in everyones best interest is right, but why it is good. Good for us all. Not just right - at our own expense. Do you see the difference? Think about it. Aren’t we told precisely the opposite in America? What’s good for everyone is whats bad for us. But is it really true?

What we don’t discuss - what we aren’t allowed to discuss, really - is how morality, true morality, as in humane and caring acts of kindness and decency, not Darwinian-Nietszchean survival of the fittest - dramatically alters the fortunes of a society, betters the prosperity of a nation, in profound, lasting, and transformative ways. Do you see how foreign and alien it is when I speak this way? It is as if this is something that we can barely bring ourselves to even conceive of in America today.

Why is that? Why cant we make the link between what is moral being genuinely good for us, not just right at our own expense, exactly? Why are we always more or less told to believe, in America, that what is right and what is good are polar opposites? I’m asked by mainstream American thinking to believe, for example, that my greed, vanity, contempt, and selfishness will somehow lead to the best for everyone. In other words, I should never use my moral muscles - that way, everyone will be best off. Whatגs right is the enemy of whats good. But does that bizarre, twisted, convoluted logic seem to have worked out for America to you?

Let us think about what happens if a nation accepts refugees. Not to its economy, per se - but to itself, its deeper capacities and capabilities, all the things that underpin an economy, which is just stuff. That act of care confirms, strengthens, and expands its capacities for empathy, generosity, humility, courage, truth, wisdom, and gratitude. It extends and commits it to freedom, to justice, to equality, for all. It is an act that builds moral muscles, in other words. But what do moral muscles allow - or maybe compel - us to do?

The growth of all those moral capacities, empathy, generosity, humility, and so forth, in turn, make it much more likely that such a nation will act humanely toward itself, too. Those moral muscles will give it the reason and the power both to develop systems like universal healthcare, childcare, retirement. They will help steer it away from inequality and injustice and bigotry and resentment, and towards the opposites. And if a nation has universal goods, like healthcare and retirement and so on, then humane acts, like accepting refugees, will probably reconfirm its commitment to them, as well, by testing the limits of its own goodness, the power of its moral character.

Let me distill the three key lessons. One, humane acts, by testing us, by strengthening us, and by empowering us, build moral muscles in three ways. And there is no other way to build moral muscles, really. Two, using moral muscles builds moral strength. But leaving moral muscles to atrophy makes a nation morally weak. Three, we can only really act as humanely towards ourselves as do to others, and so when we act humanely to others, it confirms and tests, expands and strengthens, our own moral strength, too.

Now. If all this is not just idle theory, but truth, then we would expect to see something particular happening in the world. Those nations with things like universal public goods would also have the most humane policies towards refugees and so on. And that is very much the case. Scandinavia, for example, has the worldגs most expansive public goods, which underpin the worlds highest quality of life җ and also, mostly, the most open stances towards refugees. Many of these are the most moral societies in the world  by that I hardly mean they are perfect, but I do mean that in them, people treat each other with greater respect and decency than elsewhere. Not just theoretically, but genuinely ח socially, economically, politically. You would be quite right to say thats changed in a place like Denmark җ and Id say that stance towards refugees indicates a weakening of moral muscles that will have effects on society itself, too, corroding its humanity towards itself in the long run.

So the link seems to be true in the real world, too - humane acts build our moral muscles, and make it possible for us to act humanely towards ourselves, too. When we do things like accept refugees, we are in a sense going to the moral gym - and making sure we are morally strong also ensures that we have the power and strength to treat each other humanely, too.

You would be right to say that I am suggesting nothing different than Jesus or Buddha or the prophets said thousands of years ago. So why are Americans taught that they were wrong, essentially? That what’s moral must come at their own expense? That whats right is the enemy of what’s good - not that what’s right is whats good? Do you see my distinction? It’s a subtle - but I think a crucial - one.

Let me put it another way. Why are Americans never taught any of this? That there’s a moral case for humane acts җ like accepting refugees  not just an economic one? Why does the kind of discussion above ח that links real world morality to economics and society, and produces a more sophisticated account of the prosperity of a nation  never really take place?

The reason is that Americans have been confused about what morality is for a very long time now. For example, in America, it is perfectly acceptable to label selfishness, greed, spite, and cruelty merely as “different kinds of morality.” But a sensible, thinking person should reject this approach entirely. Me thinking your kids are not really people or denying you healthcare or turning a blind when your kids are shot at school is not moral in any sense of the word - and so if we accept such stances merely as different moralities, we undermine the idea of morality to the point it has no meaning whatsoever. It may be something that elevates my status within my own group - it in no sense is it moral, because what I give to my own, I merely take away from yours.

At minimum, performing one’s moral duty as a citizen of a society is to imagine, to learn about, to reason towards, how to care for all  not just some, those of your own tribe, race, color, creed, religion, place, or stratum. When I put it to you that way, it should be much clearer where America’s problems stem from. It struggles to reach the mature morality of a developed nation, because it has never really built moral muscles to begin with. Americas moral horizons never really expand beyond the idea of caring for your own tribe or group - that is the toxic residue of centuries of slavery and segregation, which resulted in a social philosophy of almost pure atomic individualism, bitter competition, and power, money, and status as the prizes to be won. The idea that ones moral duty as a citizen is to care for all - how could it ever develop in an America that was segregated until the 1970s?

But today, that failure to develop moral muscles has left America in a state of moral collapse. It is having a kind of implosive blowback  only having been taught to care for themselves, or, at best, their own kind, Americans are left unable to build a truly modern society.

And yet at the same time, Americans are;t often offered a perspective of themselves that goes beyond economistic - mere cogs in a capitalist machine, not truly moral agents. But being true moral agents is what forging a genuinely better society - a more decent, humane, caring, courageous, and wise one demands. How can mere cogs in a capitalist machine ever do it? That is why cases for human actions which only analyze economic consequences are badly deficient things. They are well intentioned, but they donҗt ultimately help a society build its moral muscles. If the only reason I am helping you is that I will grow rich - then I am not acting morally at all, I am still just a self-interested automaton. But if I am helping you because it is by helping that you that I help all, of which I am a part, then I am a moral being, who can reason morally, think morally, and act morally, too. Do you see the difference?

The atrophy of their moral muscles has left Americans weak where it counts most. Not just economically or socially or politically. But morally. One of the great lessons of the last century is that morality and prosperity go hand in hand. The riches and wealth we gain from exploiting others come with a curse - they cheat of us modernity itself. But modernity’s riches - societies wealthy in the most beneficial goods of all, like healthcare, education, retirement, which then engender trust, meaning, belonging, and purpose - cannot be had any other than by building one’s moral muscles.

How strong? So strong that it is each ones first duty to lift up all.


Posted by Elvis on 11/27/18 •
Section Dying America
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Friday, November 09, 2018


image: dying america

The Economy Does Not Care Who Won The Midterm Elections

By Brandon Smith

Activist Post
November 8, 2018

Over the past few weeks I received numerous requests from readers to publish my predictions on the outcome of the midterm elections, but I did not do so for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I view the election process very differently from many people. I do not see it as legitimate in the slightest; therefore, my predictions of the past have been based not on voter turnouts, polls or any other such nonsense. Elections are molded events, framed under the false pretense that the Left/Right paradigm in politics is real. As far as the upper echelons of politics are concerned, the paradigm is completely theatrical.

To be sure, the average American does lean either “left” or “right” on the political spectrum. Such divisions are a natural part of social discourse. However, political theater is designed in most cases to drive citizens away from centrally shared principles of freedom and equal opportunity (not equal outcome) and push them to the far ends of the spectrum toward extremism and zealotry. And to be clear, there is no “good” form of zealotry.

Zealots are not self-aware, and they never subject their own positions to scrutiny. They operate on pure assumption that they are divinely correct in everything they do, and anyone who disagrees with them, even in the slightest, is an enemy that must be destroyed by any means necessary. Zealotry is the root of human atrocity. Zealots are a tidal wave of war and genocide. They are a cancer on the soul of mankind.

Certain groups of people within the establishment, namely globalists that desire total centralized control of every aspect of economy and society, prefer that the public remain as radicalized and divided as possible. For them, zealotry is an asset.

To pursue this goal, they purchase allegiance from politicians through various means, including financial favors, media favors and campaign contributions. There are very few people left in politics that are not part of the club.Ӕ Both Democrat and Republican leaders are essentially on the same side the globalist side. They attack each other with rhetoric, but when it comes down to actual policy and action, they are all very similar.

The outcome of elections is, therefore, erroneous in the long term. Their only purpose is to manipulate public psychology to a certain reactionary end game.

When I predicted the election of Donald Trump in 2016 many months before voting commenced, I did so based on which election outcome better served the interests of globalists. I concluded with the highest certainty that Donald Trump would win based on the same premise that drove me to predict the success of the Brexit vote in the U.K.; that premise being that the globalists would allow ԓpopulists (conservatives) to gain an illusory foothold on political power, only to then collapse the global economy on their heads and blame them for the disaster.

At the time it was unclear whether Trump would play along with the globalist narrative of conservatives as ԓselfish bumbling villains. Today, with his consistent relationships with banking elites and globalist think-tank members, it is obvious that Trump intends to play the role he has been given. TrumpԒs policy actions the past two years indicate that he is following a model very similar to the one Republican President Herbert Hoover used just before the crash of 1929. Trump was a perfect choice for the globalists.

So, the question I had to ask in terms of the midterm elections is, what outcome best serves globalist interests this time? The only conclusion I could come to in this instance was it didn’t matter who wins the midterms. The globalists will get their economic crash regardless and conservatives will still be blamed.

The ultimate outcome turned out to be mixed, with Democrats taking the House and Republicans holding the Senate.  The assertion in the mainstream being that this will result in political gridlock.  In terms of stock markets, the reaction is not surprisingly euphoric, as it has been not long after almost every election event.  But there are many that assume this is a euphoria that will last.  This is a narrow view of the situation that ignores economic reality.

It is certainly possible that equities will sustain a jump on the news of a Republican win, but I see this as a very limited event, lasting perhaps one or two weeks. In the long run as December approaches, stocks and every other sector of the economy will continue accelerated declines seen in October.

Here are the facts:

New home sales, an indicator highly valued by mainstream economists, has been in decline for the past year, hitting two-year lows in September.

This has come as a surprise to many mainstream analysts because the story thus far has been that the U.S. is in advanced recovery which should continue the supposed rejuvenation of the housing market. Alternative economists will give you the real story on home sales, though.

The “housing boom” hailed in the mainstream over the past few years was a farce driven primarily by corporate behemoths like Blackstone.  Companies buying up distressed properties across the U.S. using cheap loans and bailouts through the Federal Reserve and turning them into rentals hardly constitutes a “recovery” in housing.

Regular homebuyers have also enjoyed artificially low mortgage rates for many years. But now, mortgage costs are spiking as the Fed raises interest rates, and corporate debt is becoming more expensive, making it less profitable for companies to continue vacuuming up properties.  Add to this the fact that the Fed is now dumping Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS) from its balance sheet. These are the same securities that constituted a toxicӔ influence that led to the mortgage and derivatives bubble. It is hard to say exactly what the effects will be as they add to existing ARM-style mortgages and derivatives already on the market, but I suspect the result will be destabilizing.

Auto sales, another fundamental indicator used in the mainstream as a signal for economic health, is also failing recently. U.S. auto sales plunged in September from 11 percent to 25 percent depending on the company and make of vehicle. While the mainstream media argues this massive year-over-year decline was due to destructive hurricanes in 2017 creating overt demand, the truth is that the average monthly payment on new vehicles has rocketed to over $525 and interest rates rise due to the Federal Reserve.

Car sales, new and used, have thrived in recent years in most part because of artificially low rates and ARM-like loans to people who cannot afford them. Much like the mortgage bubble in 2008, the auto bubble is set to implode as car payments become too expensive for the average buyer and defaults increase.

The US budget deficit climbed to six-year highs under Donald Trumps watch in 2018 as fiscal spending skyrockets.  Conservatives hoping for budget responsibility and reduced government spending are given a rude awakening once again, as Republicans and Democrats and Trump ALL seek bigger government.  This is hardly gridlock.  In fact, there has been resounding unity in Washington for ever increasing power, and ever increasing costs.

The trade deficit, which was supposed to decline aggressively in the face of Trump’s trade war, has actually climbed to record highs with China (among other nations).  I have heard claims that the outcome of the midterms will force Trump to end the trade war because he is no longer receiving backing from the Federal Reserve or Congress.  The trade war will not stop.  It provides perfect cover for central banks as they continue to remove artificial support from the overall economy.

Perhaps the biggest factor in economic decline in the U.S. will be corporate debt, as mentioned earlier. Corporate debt has jumped to record highs not seen since 2008, with debt-to-cash levels in 2017 hitting lows of 12 percent. Meaning, on average for every $1 of cash a company has in reserve it owes $8 in debt.

How is all this debt being generated? Its all about stock buybacks. In 2018, U.S. corporations increased spending on stock buybacks by 48%, while only increasing spending on development by 19%. Meaning, corporations are spending far more capital, and borrowing far more money, just to keep their stock prices artificially propped up than they are spending money to invest in future growth.

In 2016, globalists needed a conservative president to sit in the Oval Office as the Federal Reserve pulled the plug on artificial economic life support by raising interest rates into the greatest corporate debt crisis since 2008. At this point, that program seems to be in full swing.

The midterms are now over, but it is important to understand that where economic consequences are concerned, the result would have been the same no matter who came out on top. It makes sense for the globalists to desire a dominant Republican party, for when they crash markets the blame would fall entirely on the heads of conservatives. On the other hand, it also makes sense for globalists to introduce a Democratic takeover of Congress, for they can continue to push citizens to further political extremes as the Left blames the Right for the financial crisis while the Right blames the Left for political interference.

In the meantime, the banking elites can simply blame the extreme political divide, wait until the crash runs its course and then sweep in after the dust settles to admonish the capitalist structure, barbaric nationalism, populism, etc. They will shake their fingers at all of us as if we should be ashamed and then offer their own solution to the disaster, which will surely include even more centralization and more power for the banking class.

The Fed will continue to raise rates and cut assets.  The trade war will escalate. The housing market will continue to falter, auto markets will implode, and corporate debt will become a millstone on the neck of stock markets.

Economic function and repair are far beyond the scope of any political body to fix when the dysfunction reaches the point we are at today. To believe otherwise is foolhardy.  To believe that the political elites actually want to fix the economy is even more foolhardy. The answer is not replacing one set of political puppets with another set of political puppets, but for regular people to begin localizing their own production and trade - to decouple from dependency on the existing system and start their own system. Only through this, and the removal of the globalist tumor from its position of power and influence, will anything ever change for the better.


Posted by Elvis on 11/09/18 •
Section Dying America • Section Next Recession, Next Depression
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