Thursday, December 31, 2015

Paradise Part 14

The next few weeks were like the previous few weeks.  RB read complaint letters and emails from unhappy customers.  He did what was necessary to win the customer back and went on to the next complaint. 

Handling complaints for the executives gave RB variety, which he liked.  Working regular mail was mostly variations on the same problems.  RB also was grateful for the positive feedback from the executives and their staff.  One downside was the complexity of the problems or the value of the customer.  They were high profile in the eyes of the executive who passed the work to him.  RB knew he could not afford to lose a customer when the company executives required him to win them over.  Often, they were rich or famous or both. 
An opportunity for overtime was offered and RB took advantage.  However, it was a double edged sword.  RB made additional money and it was needed since he had 3 kids in high school and a house that needed repairs.  Nevertheless, each additional complaint wore away at his soul.  Each week of additional complaints brought him to a breaking point.  He was compelled to get away for a while.  Too often, he was unable to unable to get the relief his heart required.  Consequently, everything slowly built up. 
He never had health problems and had no concerns in that regard.  All he understood was the constant barrage of negativity ground him down.  Perhaps it was better to explain this way: each complaint required RB to carry a millstone.  Each day off allowed him to shed one.  His heart always had to carry more and more and there was no relief in sight. 
RB was happy he didn’t remember work when he drove home.  For some reason, deals didn’t stick in his mind.  He often needed to pull files to refresh his memory if something came up at a later date.  Once the file was in his hand, he could remember minute details.  If he closed the complaint with a phone call, he could recall voice inflections and even background noise in the customer’s house or place of business. 

Daily, he wished he could find a different job.  He didn’t want to sound dramatic but he felt the job was killing him.  Being in the Bad Place was killing him.  He just had to get out.  He applied for many jobs over the years and had a few interviews to no avail.  Now with the poor economy and lack of movement in the company, he was stuck.  He would retire or die in this job. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Paradise Part 13

With a plate full of blueberry pancakes, RB returned to his cube to read his next letter.  After sitting, he leaned his face forward and above the paper plate stacked with 3 syrup drenched pancakes and inhaled.  With eyes closed, he savored for a moment.  If only Matt had some bacon.

After shoving the first forkful into his mouth, Jennifer entered and put her plate of pancakes on the desk and pulled the chair in RB’s office forward so she could sit and eat.  She asked while adjusting her knife and fork,
“How’s your day so far?”

“Pretty good.  How’s the baby?  Any new pics?”

While chewing, Jennifer retrieved the cell phone from her pocket and turned it on.  She moved her fingers around a bit and handed it to RB who smiled and nodded approvingly.  He slide through the pictures for a moment and said, “What a sweetie!  She is adorable.”

“She is something again.  She is only 4 months old but is so alert.  She takes in her surroundings and even seems to understand it.”

“How’s your adjustment coming back to work?”

“Well, I cry every time I drop her off at the day care.  She seems to like it so that helps.  I just feel like I’m working to pay for day care.  God, it is expensive!”

“Yeah, I remember them days.”

“You know, they are starting a lottery pool for this week’s lotto.  You want it?  Over $200 million this week?”

“How much is everyone doing?”

“20 bucks”

“20 bucks? Jeez!  I guess I’m getting cheap in my old age.  Yeah, I’ll do it.  I’d be pissed if you guys won and I was stuck here.  You’d give me money if you won, right?”

“Of course, Greg and I would love to support you, Melissa and the kids.”

“I know sarcasm when I hear it.  What are you going to do with your winnings?”

“Leaving the Bad Place, you can bet your life on that.  I guess the usual, pay off the bills, travel.  Maybe do some volunteer work.  You?”

“Oh I’ve thought about this.  First, I can do early retirement so I’ll take advantage of that.  Once my last day of work is nailed down, I’ll do everything possible to not work until that day.  That’s the easy part.  What I really want to do is stick it to some of the arrogant frequent flyers.  I’ll pick a flight to some place I want to fly.  Let’s say Honolulu.  I will buy every seat in first class.  When they ask me for names for each seat, I’ll tell them there aren’t any but me and my family.  There will be about 20 empty seats up there.  All them frequent flyers waitin' for their upgrade will be mad when they sit in coach and see all them empty seats.  Too bad!  I paid for em.  You can sit your ass in coach!”

“You really need to get outta this place.”

“You got that right.”



Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Paradise Part 12

RB’s manager, Matt, was an ex-Marine.  RB thought he was a fair man.  He was not against having fun at work and even encouraged it as long as the job didn’t suffer.  On this morning, Matt brought in all the ingredients for pancakes.  He was known in the corps as someone who could “whip up a mean batch of chocolate pancakes.”  He also brought blueberries for those who wanted healthier fare. 

As he sat taking notes from a voicemail, RB heard a noise in the break room.  When the voicemail was finished, RB went to the break room to see who it was and what the commotion was about.
Matt looked up from his work and greeted RB with a hearty, “Good morning, RB.  How’s it going so far?”
“No complaints so far.”  Then RB thought a moment and said, “Well, I did have one complaining voicemail already.  So that makes one complaint so far.  What’s the occasion for this?”

“Can’t a guy do something nice without people questioning his motives?”
“I’m not questioning your motives.  Just making sure I didn’t miss a birthday or anniversary or something.”

“Actually, this is a bit of a celebration.  We dropped 4 days off our response time in the last 2 weeks.  I think that deserves pancakes.”

“Well, I’ll take a blueberry one when you get everything up and running.”
“No chocolate?”

“No, I got sick once as a kid eating chocolate pancakes.  It was too sweet.  Glad I didn’t throw up or it may have ruined chocolate for me.  That would have been bad.  You need any help?”
“No, I just need the skillet to warm up and I’ll start cooking in about 30 minutes.  I need to get my office going now.”

“Thanks boss!”
“Don’t mention it.”

As the two went to their offices, RB thought of how much he liked Matt.  Even though he was the one who told RB he had no choice in taking the job working executive correspondence without a pay increase, RB had no hard feelings.  Matt had always been straight with him.  This was a contrast to some other managers or supervisors he had had.
Many years ago, RB had a job in a warehouse.  The supervisor’s office had a window looking over the warehouse.  RB’s supervisor would sit in the office talking with someone on the phone.  He would lean back in the chair and put his feet on the desk.  The man would talk for about an hour (the rumor was it was with his girlfriend, not his wife) while watching the activities in the warehouse.  When his call was finished, he would enter the warehouse and point out things he wanted done.  The man had a superior attitude and it rubbed RB and his coworkers the wrong way. 

Just a few months later, there was a new manager.  Everyone was happy for the change.  How could anyone be worse than the last guy?  The next guy was.  In his own way, he was worse.  He didn’t act superior.  In contrast, he acted sheepishly while on the job.  This wasn’t such a bad thing but he seemed totally ignorant as to what the purpose of his job was.  Also, when he pitched in to help, which was a pleasant change for the previous manager, he made mistakes. 
One company regularly brought shipments for Calgary and Edmonton, Canada.  He knew which truck on which they were to be loaded since there was only one that went that direction.  However, when they also started shipping to Montreal and Toronto, Canada, he continued to consign them to be loaded onto the same truck.  After this was caught the third time, someone asked why he was using the truck going northwest.  He replied they were going to Canada.  When someone explained Montreal and Toronto were east, he asked, “Well, it’s still Canada, isn’t it?”  After a few tries of people correcting the load manifests, it was decided to let one go and see if he would finally understand his mistake.  It didn’t help.

Matt was a pleasant contrast.  While he came from a maintenance background in an area that was mostly men, he adapted to an office that had mostly women.  Also, he made it a point to say he didn’t know the ins and outs of the jobs of people under him and would let them do their job.  He expected them to do their best in their performance and wouldn’t accept anything less. 
RB liked that about him Matt.  It was fair in his mind.  Still, RB knew he would never go to Matt with help about a complaint.  He would bounce thoughts off trusted coworkers. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Paradise Part 11

September 27, 20XX


Mr. John Doe
123 Main Street
Any City, US  12349
Dear Mr. Doe,
Thank you for your letter to our Chief Executive Officer, David Patterson.  I have been asked to respond on his behalf.  I am sorry to learn of the problems you and your wife encountered on your anniversary trip to Hawaii.  Happy anniversary to both of you!
Let me assure you we are in agreement of the importance of taking care of our customers.  I once heard it said that if we don’t take care of the customer, someone else will.  Therefore, we believe it vital to use customer feedback like yours to gauge the quality of our service and to make improvements where necessary.  Please know I have forwarded your letter to the appropriate areas for further review.  We do not want similar experiences in the future.
Given your long history with us, I am sure you have had schedule changes before.  Nevertheless, the time and manner in which your concerns were handled is disturbing.  We expect helpful, courteous service from our people and I am sorry to learn from your letter a supervisor was needed to obtain a more acceptable itinerary. 
I can certainly understand your disappointment with the multiple delays you and your spouse experienced.  Your time is valuable, and operating on schedule is equally important to us.  In the process of providing air service over many different routes each day, we sometimes encounter mechanical problems, adverse weather, and other unavoidable interruptions.  These are situations faced by all airlines and no carrier can guarantee that all flights will depart and arrive as planned.  I would like to stress the safety of our passengers and crews are our first priority and we do not dispatch aircraft that are not airworthy.  You mentioned your frustration at seeing unused aircraft in Los Angeles.  I hope you will understand we are often able to use such planes and am sorry to learn from your letter one was not available. 
I can only imagine how you felt when you learned your baggage was delayed.  That it was delayed the extra days you mentioned and your need to claim them yourself is disappointing.  Please know we have a task force specifically charged with reducing mishandled baggage.  Your feedback should be invaluable.  I trust your next trip will be an improvement. 
We hope you will understand we do not refund tickets when travel is completed.  Therefore, I must respectfully decline your ticket refund request.  Nevertheless, we will reimburse the expenses you incurred due to the luggage delays.  A check is being sent under separate cover and should arrive within 10 business days. 
In the interest of goodwill, I have enclosed $XXX.XX vouchers which may be used toward future travel.  Also, I have deposited additional miles into your frequent flyer account. They may be used for mileage upgrades or other travel options. 

September 27, 20XX
Mr. John Doe
Page 2

Again, thank you for writing.  We appreciate the loyalty you have demonstrated over the years and want you to know it is a two way street.  We look forward to serving your future travel needs. 


Robert Baxter
Executive Assistant

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Paradise Part 10

September 23, 20XX


Dear Dave Patterson,

I want you to know it has taken me a full week to cool off enough to write this letter.  I have been a million miler on your airline for 8 years.  I remember when flying was fun and people took pride in how they looked while traveling.  Now cheap fares have filled planes with bus people.

But that is not why I am writing.  I booked a vacation with my wife to Hawaii.  It was for our anniversary.  We never really had a honeymoon and I promised one to my wife after I retired.  This was to be a dream vacation.  It was a type of dream.  It was a NIGHTMARE!

Three months before the trip was to begin, I got a phone call telling me there was a schedule change and now we would have an 8 hour layover in Los Angeles.  It used to be an hour and a half.  Now it is 8 hours?  The later flight we had no longer operated and that was the only connection.  I was on the phone for 45 minutes with your representative who was no help whatsoever.  Finally, I demanded to speak to a supervisor.  At least this person understood what customer service means.  I talked with her for another hour and a half before we finally worked out a solution.  Even that wasn’t that great but things were looking up.

On the day we flew out, your flight was delayed.  We were boarded in coach since there were no first class seats available during the 2 hour phone call I mentioned before.  They made us sit there on the plane for 40 minutes with no information whatsoever.  Finally, they said they were waiting for a mechanic to come out to the plane but we had to stay on board.  20 minutes later the mechanic gets there.  About 30 minutes after that they say it will be and hour to fix.  We had to stay on the plane the entire time.

With the 2 hour delay, of course we missed our connecting flight to Los Angeles.  When we get off the airplane and go to the gate agent to see what our options are, she tells us our flight hasn’t left yet.  I thought, Wow, they waited for us.  I was wrong.  This plane was broken too.  Don’t you people take care of your airplanes any more?  You were 2 for 2 going but I’m not done yet, am I?

We sat in your airport lounge for 3 hours.  Thank god I maintained that membership.  It was about the only good thing about this trip.  While we sat in the lounge, we looked at all the planes sitting around the airport.  Why couldn’t one of those airplanes been used?  Surely, one of them could have been used and lessened the delay we had.

Finally we get to Honolulu.  Guess what?  No luggage.  You had 3 hours to transfer our luggage to our plane and you couldn’t get that done.  At this point, all we wanted to do was go to sleep.  When you factor in the time difference, we had been up 19 hours.  We were beat but there was no time for sleep yet.  We had to go buy some clothes and toiletries.  My wife had a splitting headache because of all the stress so I had to get some Tylenol for her.  I ended up having to stop at 2 different places to get everything we needed.

The next day, no luggage.  The day after that, nothing.  We had to buy more clothes and no one could tell us where our luggage was.  Finally, on the 3rd day, they miraculously showed up.  They offered to have it delivered but told us it would be some time between 9 and 5.  I get better service from our cable company.  I told them forget it.  I went and got the bags myself. 

The last 4 days of our trip were the type of relaxing trip we wanted.  Then the night before our return, I got a phone call that our flight the next day was delayed.  My wife said oh my god not again.  I couldn’t believe it.  3 for 3. 

I will say that the remainder of our trip wasn’t as bad as the first half.  For that, I am thankful.  But this trip has left me with a bad taste in my mouth and I have big doubts about the quality company you once had. 

Let me recap

You changed your schedule which gave us an unworkable flight out.  I spent 2 hours on the phone trying to get something better.  3 out of 4 flights were delayed.  Our luggage was lost for 3 days and then I had to go get it myself.  I think you would agree this is not a very stellar performance. 

As CEO, you need to know about these shortcomings or your company won’t be around for long.  Customers will no put up with that.  As someone who has been in business, I believe you must take care of your customer.  I have thought long and hard about what I think is acceptable compensation for debacle we endured.  Here is what I want:

Full refunds of our tickets
Full reimbursement of expenses because of the lost luggage
Reimbursement of my and my wife’s time for the time on the phone and hours waiting for planes that actually can fly and for our luggage to be returned to us (which I had to get myself)
Vouchers for free first class tickets anywhere you fly to

I believe with the amount of the money I have given you over the years, you will agree we are deserving of this compensation.  I look forward to hearing from you.


John Doe

Paradise Part 9

RB was reading a customer letter and mentally determining how to handle the complaint when he heard a small disturbance from across the office.  Curiosity got the best of him and he stood and looked over the cubicles.  He was reminded of a saying he once heard about an office full of cubicles.  Workers who stand up to see what is going on are called prairie dogs. 

While walking toward the commotion, RB learned Jennifer was back from maternity leave.  All the ladies were gathered around her cubicle and looking at pictures.  Baby stories were swapped and smiles abounded.  Babies represent new life, a new start.  Then one by one, everyone returned to their office and back to the business of making unhappy people happy. 
Jennifer and RB once shared a cubicle wall and regularly visited each other’s office to bounce ideas off one another and to gripe about various circumstances that bothered them at that moment.  RB had missed Jennifer but was happy she finally entered motherhood.  During her pregnancy, she beamed with joy and RB enjoyed her happiness.  He had mixed feelings about her return.  It was nice to see her again but he knew how the “Bad Place” affected people.  If she had any signs of post-partum blues, 8+ hours a day of customer complaints might send her into a dark place. 
Shortly after lunch, Jennifer knocked on RB’s cubicle.  She asked, “Are you busy?”

“Hey there, momma!  Of course not.  How are you?  It’s so good to see your smiling face again!  What’s up?”

“Just thought I’d come over and see you.  You are only 2 rows over now but it seems further.”

After a few minutes of small talk, Jennifer lowered her voice to a whisper and leaned toward RB.  The two had done this several times in the past so RB also leaned forward to what was only for his ears.  She said, “I don’t know if I can do this.”
“You mean come back to work while someone watches the baby?”

“That too.  I mean deal with these crazy people who write in all the time.”
Jennifer looked at RB with pleading eyes.  Did she want confirmation or permission not to come back to work?

“We’ve talked about what this job does to a person before.  Are you afraid of how it will affect you or just the thought of getting back into this routine?”
“I suppose the routine.  I just can’t see myself doing this again.  I don’t think I can do it.”

“Do you have to do it?  I mean, do family finances depend on it?”

“Pretty much.”
“You know you can look for another job in and out of the company.”

“Yeah but with all the cuts made here and economy the way it is, you know jobs are scarce and hard to get.  And I don’t want to give up what I’ve built up here with my seniority.”
“I understand.  It’s a hard thing.  I’ve told you how I feel about this job.  Eight or more hours a day, 5 days a week of this negativity wears aware your soul.  Then you add the stupid crap management does with their asinine thoughts on how to make us faster in getting our replies out.  I’ve always said that you basically know what to say and what to give to a customer before you finish the letter.  Writing your reply is quick.  It’s reading the darn customer letter that takes so long.  How many 1 page letters do we get?  Shoot, 75% are 3 or 4 pages and more.”

“And all of that is why I don’t think I can do this.”  Jennifer stopped for a moment, considering her next words.
RB said it for her, “You’re scared.”

“I guess.”
“Understandable to me.  I don’t blame you.  I would be but I know you and if you want to do this, you can do this.  If you want, just do it until you find another job, wherever it is.” 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Paradise Part 8

When RB walked into the house, he greeted his family.  Melissa, his wife, inquired about his day.  He said it was fine.  The only deal he could remember was the Scott Patterson call and RB saw no need to mention.  While Melissa began recounting her day, RB was grateful he didn’t bring work home with him.  Once he started the drive south to his home, the day was forgotten. 

Like most days, Melissa discussed the details of various teachers and students where she worked.  RB rarely met any of her students but knew the staff at the school.  RB remembered the previous year in mid-December RB had the day off.  Melissa forgot her phone at home and called from a school phone to ask RB to bring it to her.  Perhaps due to too many Christmas candies or the proximity of the Christmas holiday, the children in her first grade class were rowdy.  When RB walked in the room, the children stopped their antics and stared at the stranger who entered.  Melissa asked the class with a hint of mystery in her voice, “Class, do you know who this man is?”

The children replied, “No.”

“This man knows Santa Claus.”

A boy said, “Whoa!”  There was murmuring in the room.  RB picked up on the ruse and played along saying, “You weren’t supposed to tell anyone that.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot.  I’m sorry.  Class, please don’t tell anyone this man knows Santa Claus.”

The children were wide eyed.  Several gaped at him not believing it was true but why would Mrs. Baxter lie to them?  RB addressed the class again, “Kids, please don’t’ tell anyone about me.  It would make Santa very happy to know Mrs. Baxter has good kids in her class.”

Then he turned to his wife and handed her her phone.  “Here you go Mrs. Baxter.  I hope this comes in handy.”

The night continued like all the others.  His kids had homework to get done.  RB, due to his job writing letters, was always the one who helped with writing.  Melissa was the mathematics guru.  Both did well enough in the other subjects to get by.  However, their oldest daughter, Beth, was in her second year of Latin.  RB did one year of Spanish in high school and it didn’t help much.  RB and Melissa told her she was on her own and to get a tutor if she needed help. 

The family had recently brought home a dog from an animal shelter.  They named her Bailey.  This dog was for their youngest daughter, Ashley.  She was an animal lover and wanted a dog her whole life.  Finally, as a nine year old, her wish came true. 

Bailey was about three years old and, apparently, had some training.  She knew to go outside to do her business and would sit, shake and lay down on command.  RB liked dogs but never owned a dog before.  He had been bitten by two different dogs as a child.  Consequently, he was nervous around canines. 

He remembered advice from his father about dogs.  He said to never let them think they can get away with anything.  Make sure they know who is in charge.  Therefore, RB established his alpha status as soon as the dog entered the household.  Everyone wanted Bailey to sleep with them but RB refused to let the dog on any furniture.  Since the kids invited her onto the couch or their beds, Bailey soon learned to jump down from furniture when he approached. 

Melissa was a big offender of this rule.  She regularly called the dog onto the bed.  On this night when RB exited the bathroom, ready to get into bed, the dog was on his side of the bed.  Her eyes registered acknowledgement of her offense.  The end of her tail flipped to and fro in an attempt to soften RB’s heart. 

“Who said you could be on the bed?” RB asked.

Bailey rolled onto her back in submission, tail still moving back and forth.  She was working her way into his heart.  Still, he told her to get down and she instantly obeyed.  She is a good dog. 

The next morning, after his typical two bowls of cereal, RB made his lunch and headed to work.  RB never thought about what the day would bring.  He simply listened to the news headlines.  He learned what was going on in his world.  Besides, he knew the stories at work were all basically the same.  Only the names, dates, and airports changed.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Paradise Part 7

By 1:30 PM, RB decided it was time to call Mr. What’s-his-name.  He listened to the voice mail again and found he did leave his name, Scott Patterson, but no flight information or what the issue was.  RB wished he had something to go on.  He tried searching for a ticket using the phone number but found nothing. 

Fortunately, he did find a possible frequent flyer.  There was only one person in the frequent flyer system that lived in the same area code as this Scott Patterson.  This Scott Patterson did recently travel.  It could be him.  RB pulled the past date record from the database to see what he could find.
While waiting for the information to come up on his computer, RB received an email from the department GM.  It was a congratulatory email expressing her thanks for a job well done.  Someone RB had previously assisted wrote in to give their appreciation for RB’s handling of their situation.  While reading it, another email arrived from the company CEO.  He opened this email and found it was a copy of the same email.  The customer sent copies to both the CEO and the department GM.  The CEO copied RB in on his reply to the customer.  It simply said, “Thanks.  RB does a fine job for Blue Skies.  Thanks for recognizing him.  DP”

RB was someone who needed positive feedback.  That was terribly lacking in a job where you only read about problems from unhappy people.  Though he endured much stress when he started this job, he was regularly recognized for his work by the company executives.  Each time he was, RB felt a tremendous high.  This recognition sometimes charged him all day. 
RB drove home that day grateful he completed the required number of letters/emails/phone calls.  It turned out Scott Patterson wasn’t such a jerk once RB got to speak with him.  RB found that to be true in many cases.  RB firmly believed, more than anything, people want to know they have been heard.  Therefore, he made a point to being attentive, compassionate and empathetic.  Besides recognition from the executives, another benefit of working with the executives was he was no longer confined to writing letters in the standard formats of the office.  Therefore, he could tailor his correspondence to reflect his personality.  He felt that come through to his customers. 

So he finished another ten and a half hour day.  RB mindlessly listened to the news while waiting his turn to move a few feet at a time on the crowded highway.  He was happy to be driving home and away from the bad place that wasn’t as bad as it had been.  Still, tomorrow was another day.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Paradise Part 6

RB ate lunch in his typical spot:  At his desk.  Today’s fare was leftover chili.  It was a family favorite and RB liked to make chili.  Since his wife didn’t like spicy food, RB typically made it more bland and added Tabasco sauce.  Unfortunately, he forgot to bring Tabasco sauce and wished Craig still worked in the office.  Craig always kept a couple bottles in his cubicle and happily shared it.  RB replaced Craig a few months earlier in the year when he and nearly half the office took advantage of a package the company offered. 

RB stopped reading a letter from an unhappy million miler and considered the circumstances that brought him to his current position.  He had only been in the office for a few months when an executive writer position opened.  RB wanted to apply for the job but was discouraged from doing so by a supervisor.  He needed more experience was the reason.  In the months leading up to the mass exodus, the executive team was under a lot of scrutiny.  Occasionally, RB would discuss deals he had with Craig.  During these talks, Craig confided in RB how things were going for him.  After a few of these chats, RB was glad he never applied for the job.

Life has many ironies.  RB was very surprised when, 2 days prior to the package accepting coworkers leaving, his manager called RB to his office.  There, RB learned he would be one of the people replacing the executive writer staff.  Since it was late in the day, nothing would be done but the following day, RB was to learn what he could for the exiting employees.

RB had mixed emotions.  He felt honored to be chosen since it was a position that had visibility from the most powerful people in the office.  Nevertheless, he had concerns due to information learned from Craig.  After further consideration that night, RB realized it would be a pay increase.  This made him happy.  The family needed the money.

RB started the next day like any other.  He arrived early and began going through emails.  When he knew his manager, Trent, was in his office, RB walked there with his half full coffee mug.  The day was dawning bright but the clouds soon rolled in.

Since RB felt it important to know, he wanted to confirm the pay increase.  In short order, RB was told there would be no pay raise.  Also, he had no choice in the matter of taking the job being thrust upon him.  Defeated, RB returned to his office.  There, he considered his options.  He had none.

When Craig arrived, RB went there with a pad of paper and a pen.  He scribbled down information about how to do the job.  He got names and phone numbers of various individuals who would contact him to handle deals on behalf of a particular executive.  He received other contact information for individuals who could help with various situations. 

As the day continued, RB became more distraught.  This was the training he was receiving?  This was it?  He was gleaning information from someone while he packed up his office.  This guy was happy he was leaving.  RB wondered if he should have taken a package.  After a few hours, RB could take no more.  His anxiety was sky high.  Finally, he said, ”Craig, I need to get away for a minute.”

“Sure thing, man.  I’ll be here.”

On the verge of tears, RB walked down the stairs and stepped outside.  He pressed the first speed dial on his phone and hoped his wife wasn’t busy.  She answered on the third ring.


“Hi honey.”


RB paused, trying to collect his thoughts.  He felt trapped.  He felt betrayed.  He started, “I talked with Trent this morning.  I’m not going to get a raise.”

“His wife blurted, “Oh no!”

“Not only that, he says I have no option about taking the job.”

“What are you going to do?”

“What choice do I have?”


“Honestly, I want to go back to my office, get my stuff and walk outta here and never come back.”

“I understand.”

RB knew she was being supportive.  He was sure she wanted to say he shouldn’t do it.  Money was tight as it was.  Fighting back tears he continued, “But I know we can’t afford it.  I am so stuck.  I’m tired of being screwed around by this stupid place.”

“What are you going to do?”

RB paused.  He had no real options.  He would have to suck it up and go back upstairs and do what he always does.  He would do the best he could.  Finally, he replied, “I’m going to stick it out.  What choice do I have?”

“I’m praying for you, honey.”

“Thank you.  I need it.”

As RB walked back up the stairs, he felt defeat and resolution in his heart.  This place continues to try to break him.  Several months ago, RB finally admitted to himself he would either retire or die before he got out of that place.  He had applied for many jobs over the years but nothing ever came to fruition.  He had already been there more than 8 years.  It was supposed to be a stepping stone for something bigger and better.  Almost 9 years later and he was still on the same step.  It looked more and more like he would be there another 20 years or so until he retired. 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Paradise Part 5

By 10:15, RB had completed 3 letters and 7 emails.  He was in the groove but did not want to call the man back, yet.  What was his name again?  It seemed most days there was one deal or another he did not want to do.  Something about it conjured up fear in his heart. 
The phone rang and RB looked at the caller ID.  It was Jessica, one of the CEO’s assistants.  RB removed the headset from a hook sticking out of the cubicle wall and put it on.  He then lifted the receiver and smiled as he said, “Good morning, Jessica.  How are you today?”
Jessica was all business.  “RB, I need you to take this call.  This is Jane Griffin from Habitat for Humanity.  She’s at a gate and her upgrade isn’t available.”

“Do you have her PNR?”  (Note: Airline talk for Passenger Name Record.  Most nonairline people call it a confirmation number.)
“No, but she’s on the 11:25 to LA.”

“Ok, no problem.  You want me to get her up front regardless?”

“Yes, please.  She’s being pretty nice about it but she is someone Jerry has worked with in the past and I think she expects it.  Don’t bump someone else to get her up there so if you can’t, just do something nice.  She will understand.”

Knowing there wasn’t much time and he would need to coordinate with the gate agent so he didn’t mess up things for them, RB tried to cut the conversation short. “Ok, I got it.”
“Great, here she comes.” Jessica said as she temporarily made it a three way call.  “Jane? I have RB on the line with us.  He’s going to take care of you.”

RB said, “Hello, Ms. Griffin.”

Jane Griffin said, “Thank you, Jessica.  I appreciate it.  Tell Jerry you guys need to be a part of one of our international builds next year.” 
“I will, buh bye.”

RB repeated, “Hello, Ms. Griffin.  This is Robert Baxter but, please, call me RB.  While you were waiting, I pulled up your reservation and should be able to get this done with no problems but I need to contact the gate agent so my actions do mess up things they want do or plan to do.  Is this your cell phone you're are calling from?”
“Yes, it is.”

“Ok, I see it is the same number in your reservation.  Please give me about 10 or 15 minutes to get this going.  I will call you back shortly, unless you want to wait on the line.”

“No, you do your thing.”
RB placed the handset on the phone and he located the gate where Ms. Griffin’s flight was.  Once that was done, he needed to find the phone number for that gate.  With the airport having about 150 gates, it can be a challenge to locate the correct number since the directory was archaic.  As he dialed the number for the gate, Katie knocked on the side of the opening to RB’s cubicle.  RB said, “Can you wait a minute?  I’m in the middle of something.”

“No problem.” Was the reply as Katie sat in the chair in RB’s office.
It took approximately 15 minutes for everything to be finalized.  The gate agent was one of the better ones RB thought.  Once he explained who he was and that he was calling on behalf of the CEO, she was more than willing to get everything done for Ms. Griffin.  In reality, she would have been upgraded but, for some reason, did not want to go through normal channels to get it all done. 

With that task done, swung around in his chair to face Katie.  He asked, “What’s up?”

“I know I feel like I’m always bothering you about something.”

“No you’re not.  You are still new and it takes a while to feel comfortable in this job.  Whatcha got?”

Katie explained the deal and RB was certain she already knew what she was supposed to do.  He asked if she knew what the standard goodwill gesture was and she did.  RB asked, “So what’s the problem?”
“I just don’t feel it is enough for the circumstances.”

RB replied, “I hadn’t been here very long when I had a deal.  This lady was sitting in the last row of the plane.  She noted the smell from the lavs behind her and hoped it would get better. She pulled open the seat pocket and put her planner in it.  During the flight she went to get her planner but had problems getting it out.  She pulled the seat pocket all the way out with one hand and put her other hand in in order to pull the planner out.  She said she felt something in the seat pocket.  She pulled her hand out and her had was covered in poop.  Someone put a turd in the seat pocket.”
Shock registered on Katie’s face, “Ewww, that’s disgusting! What did you do?”

“Well, first I just couldn’t find the words to do a letter so I knew I had to call her.”

“I knew I had to do something to make this right and I remembered something my first manager here told me when I had a deal where doing what you normally are supposed to do isn’t enough.  She said if you know the letter you send will cause a rebuttal, don’t send that letter.”  RB paused a moment for to let the thought sink it.  Then he continued, “We have various tools to use.  Sometimes, a voucher just isn’t enough.  Maybe a phone call, a sincere apology and a nice gift basket are what you need to do.”
Katie looked at the floor, thinking.  Then she said, “Good points. Thanks.  As long as you keep giving me good advice I’m gonna keep coming back.”

“What if I start giving you bad advice?”

“I guess I won’t know right away but if you start giving me bad advice, I know what kinda car you drive, buddy boy.”  Katie held a serious look on her face for a moment.  Then smiled and said, “I can’t be evil with you.  Thanks for your help.”

Friday, December 18, 2015

Paradise Part 4

Coworkers filed into their cubicles as the morning ticked away.  RB noted various conversations softly buzzing around the office but couldn’t understand the words.  He wasn’t really listening to them anyway.  It was all static that filled his ringing ears. 

By 8:00, office cubicles were occupied and actual work was starting.  Each coordinator had their stack of mail and the process began of reading customer correspondence and writing a reply.  It was a never ending cycle and there was always more mail coming in than going out.  There was a goal of replying to every piece or mail within 30 days.  Each time the office got closer to 30 day replies, management had meetings with the staff, stressing the importance of adhering to the goal.  After each meeting, individuals would congregate around various cubicles griping about the meeting they just attended.

It was always the same.  It was a cycle like the never ending deluge of mail that was delivered to the office 2 times per day.  Management never actually said it but the impression from the rank and file was they weren’t working hard enough.  Each writer had a goal of completing 20 letters per day.  If you couldn’t finish this task in a normal 8 hour day, you were expected to work longer.  If you finished your 20 early, you were expected to do more. 

A young lady who had been in the department for 3 years began calling it “The Bad Place.”  The name had stuck.  It was a sanitized way to say what everyone felt.  It was a black hole.  How many places can a person work where you go nothing but negative feedback for 8 or more hours a day, 5 days a weeks?  Piled on top of that was constant pressure to get the work done.  Many people realized early in their career in this corporate customer service department the only thing they had was each other and their home lives. 

RB felt fortunate he developed a system to working his mail.  He normally began his day at 7:00 AM and cranked the letters out like crazy the first three hours.  His goal was to complete 10 letters by 10:00 AM.  Then he had until 3:15 PM to finish the remaining 10 letters.  In his mind, RB could relax for the bulk of the day, confident he would reach his goal in plenty of time.  When he had time, he would work extra mail.  He wanted to average 21 pieces a mail per day each month.  This looked good during his annual review and it gave him a buffer for days if he was going to fall short.

RB heard a voice from the other side of the cubicle wall.  “Oh, for the love of God!”  Olga often voiced this phrase as she read letters from unhappy, demanding customers. 

Turing to face the wall and raising his head, RB asked, “What is it this time, Olga?”

“Listen to this idiot: ‘You people ruined my dream vacation.  I saved for 2 years to go on this European cruise and because you cancelled the flight, I missed 3 days of the cruise and my luggage never arrived.  I will never fly you people again.  I demand you reimburse the expenses you caused and give me free and my family free first class tickets.” 

“Let me guess, they bought coach tickets and planned to arrive in Europe hours before their cruise was scheduled to leave.”


“Don’t you love how people say they won’t fly us anymore but still want free tickets?”

When people asked what RB did for a living, he always replied he worked in the corporate complaint department.  If the conversation went long enough, someone inevitably asked about people lying in their letter just to get something.  Over years of handling customer complaints, RB honestly felt the number of people who actually lied just to get something was miniscule.  He believed it to be less than 1%.  People who wrote did so because there were multiple service failures.  It was rare to get a letter that had only one issue unless it was a particularly egregious one.  The majority of mail contained some sort of flight irregularity couple with poor handling by an airport agent or flight attendant.  Too often, they also suffered delayed luggage.  RB understood why they wrote.  A major company shouldn’t have this many problems. 

RB and his coworkers were tasked with winning back these unhappy customers.  Were they all happy customers at the end of the day?  No, but RB felt most were willing to give them one more chance.  RB always promised to share the letter with the “appropriate department for further review.”  RB did do this but wondered if anyone was actually reading what he forwarded.  At least now that he was working directly with the executives, he felt someone would.  The CEO was a man that would personally look into things he didn’t like.  He was sure they wouldn’t want the CEO bugging them about how they were going to make improvements. 

Paradise Part 3

With coffee finished, RB glanced at the clock on his desk.  It was 6:43 AM.  There was a part of RB that wanted to call his customer back and wake him.  That would be poetic justice.  What was his name again? 

RB began looking over the emails forwarded to him from the secretary of the CEO.  He hoped there was something that would be quick and easy to work so he could get into the flow of things.  The first was a from a million mile flyer who was not happy with the difficulty of finding frequent flyer mile seats for an upcoming trip. 
Ordinarily, he would pass such work off to another area of the company.  RB’s job was to handle correspondence about events in the past.  Unfortunately, there were a couple things not handled correctly and now these things were back on RB’s plate.  It wasn’t that he minded doing them.  The problem was that he didn’t have full access to do what was necessary.  Too many times, he needed to contact other areas to get things done.  Some people didn’t appreciate RB requesting things to be done when they were outside the rules.  Frustration always built when RB haggled with these people who seemed more concerned with guarding their territory than making things right for the customer on behalf of the CEO. 
RB planned on this one being a long ordeal.  Too many times when trying to book something for a frequent flyer, it was a problem getting ahold of them since they were always flying.  Then there would be the problem of finding seats.  He was glad he had finally been given overbooking capabilities.  That would make his job easier.  Hopefully, the man wasn't traveling.
The next email had a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.  It was a compliment from a company employee for how other employees handled a situation.  The CEO wanted RB to draft a letter in reply that would bear his signature.  In the months in which RB worked with the executives, he had gotten to know them better and began to improve his craftsmanship on their behalf.  He wanted to write they way they would write.  Slowly, he was getting there. 
In this case, the email was from a pilot who had a death in the family.  He worked a flight to Tampa, FL.  Shortly after takeoff to Tampa, his wife received word his father had taken a turn for the worse and the family was being called to get to Columbus, OH as soon as possible.  Rather than contact the plane and advise the pilot, pilot management contacted the crew trackers to determine the best way to cover his trip and get him to his father.
Miraculously, a replacement pilot was found and sent to Tampa while the flight was still enroute to Tampa.  There would be a short delay while customers waited for the new pilot but it was better than a cancellation.  Meanwhile, a flight from Tampa to Cincinnati was arranged for the pilot of the dying father.  His wife would meet him there since the hospital was between Cincinnati and Columbus.  All of this was arranged in the two our flight the pilot worked.  He also noted the kindness of the Tampa agent who advised him of the dreadful news.  The people in Tampa also arranged for a private area for the pilot. 
RB needed to do some research which took about 40 minutes and had the letter done after 12 more minutes.  He waited to proof the letter.  He found that, too often, when he proofed letters shortly after they were written, he missed things.  Nonetheless, he was proud of the work he put into this letter.  Also, it was a joy to learn of how other people in the company could care for one another.  It made his heart feel light, if only for a moment.  RB knew more complaints were on the daily agenda. 

A Time of Need

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