Saturday, December 1, 2018

Tamara Smiles a Lot



Life is a bitch. And then you die” is a quote sometimes attributed to Hollywood legend Mae West. Here is a life that could well have confirmed that sentiment.

Russian Tamara Cheremnova had cerebral palsy and was abandoned by her parents to a lonely life in an orphanage at age 6. She lived there for 12 years under atrocious conditions, and incorrectly diagnosed with learning difficulties, was sent to a psychiatric home where conditions were also awful, and she was effectively isolated and imprisoned for the rest of her life.  She has said that she felt a “searing shame”.
Tamara was depressed, suicidal, had to come to terms with who she was, what she wanted …  I am lying in bed all bent and disfigured. I have no future. I was biting my lips and choking on my tears”.  She needed existential sense, to find a reason for living, and “Somewhere deep inside was a seed of hope

 She nourished her inner self through reading, knew that her diagnosis was wrong, and determined to overturn it. Tamara wrote fairy tales. One letter at a time. Eventually the day came when she achieved this. She was published. Won awards. Became known to the outside world. At the age of 62 she was adopted. Natalia Vasilenko was convicted to become Tamara’s carer – not an easy task. She was from a very poor home and with her husband had adopted orphans after her own children left home.  

So Tamara has come home and now belongs in a family. She is known as the storyteller of Siberia. Tamara says she has always known what love and suffering are. In her dreams she saw the house in which she now lives.
It is a true-life fairy tale. Tamara smiles a lot.





Thursday, November 29, 2018

Death of the Contact/ Call/ Customer Service Centre?



“The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer” - Peter Drucker


PAST

Let’s look at a potted history of contact with customers from a centralised point.

Phenomenal growth. In 1968 a court order forced Ford to establish a toll free line for use by customers owning a particular model car that needed to be recalled in order that faults be rectified. It worked.
In the mid-1980s, AT and T Universal Card established their Jacksonville, Florida, toll free call-centre as a means of communicating with customers. It proved to be an enormous success. Call Centres began to mushroom. In fact, between 1983 and 1997 contact centres worldwide grew at about 700% (whether measured in terms of numbers of contact centres, number of contact centre agents, or amount of investment in facilities), followed by several years of growing at 20% plus.  The growth rate continues to be high as these facilities have become an integral part of many businesses and other organisations (emergency services, government tax departments, help lines, whistle-blower reporting ….)

Technology, in particular the merging of communications and information technologies and the world wide web, has spurred the evolution of greater connectivity and multi-media centres beyond the telephone - inbound and outbound.  Workforce and workload management, agent performance measurement to reach speedy and deft resolution of complaints, queries, orders and requests; customer relationship management and customer experience management systems - have all become much more sophisticated.  We’ve moved far beyond primitive predictive dialling and mailing, and call distribution capacities to voice - recognition, and in some cases into the distributed and virtual agent worlds

Caseworkers.  In a major development in the 1990s, Hammer and Champy introduced the idea of the ‘caseworker’: a person in the organisation who becomes the customer’s main (often single) point of contact, and is responsible for rendering responsive, empathetic and effective customer service experiences.  The caseworker was viewed by them as the basic component of the customer call centre, custodians of the organisation’s primary service - provision effort. This necessitated the design of radical, customer-facing, resolution processes, and promised “dramatic improvements in critical, contemporary measures of performance, such as cost, quality, service and speed".  (Hammer & Champy, 1993)
Hammer said during an interview: “I think that this was the work of angels”. 

So people, business processes and enabling technology came together in an unprecedented fashion to produce a means of delivering excellent customer service ………But ……



PRESENT

…… Something has gone wrong!

Numbers trump customers. Every reader will have experienced cumbersome instructions and identification processes and lengthy waits as the norm (“We’re currently experiencing high call volumes ….”)  Followed by the intimidating recording of calls, provision of average service levels and frustrating ‘escalations’.  The truth is that business managers see higher value in operating contact centres as ‘efficient’ cost centres rather than giving top class service. Hence:

·    Measures are skewed towards ‘efficiency’ rather than relationship-building
 
·    Command and control sweat shops for both inbound and outbound service centres are the order of the day. Lack of meaning for agents results in low engagement, which results in low levels of service

·    Allied to this, the notion of the ‘case-worker’ as envisaged by Hammer and Champy, a person able to collaborate and motivate internal responsiveness and having decision-making authority (and thus not subject to “escalation” rules) has all but disappeared

·    As a consequence, customer trust in the system naturally declines, anger rises, expectations are lowered. A downward unsatisfactory - resolution spiral sets in          

Business has chosen, for short-sighted, selfish reasons, to ignore Peter Drucker’s insight (see quote at the beginning of this article) and ignore the primacy of the customer.

A “You – owe – me” mind-set prevails.  For most managers, it is not about serving and helping others, especially customers.  A Sufi story:

A man in a forest saw a fox that had lost its legs. He wondered how it fed itself and stayed alive. Then he saw a tiger arrive with game in its mouth. The tiger ate his fill and left the rest of the meat for the fox.
The next day God fed the fox by means of the same tiger. The man began to wonder at God’s greatness and said to himself, “I too shall just rest in a corner with full trust in the Lord and he will provide me with all that I need”.
He did this for many days but nothing happened, and he was almost at death’s door when he heard a voice say, “O you who are in the path of error, open your eyes to the truth! Stop imitating the disabled fox and follow the example of the tiger”. (de Mello, A.  1987)

Zappos are a notable but rare exception of a company paying attention to the building of real customer relationships through outstanding service, which allows them to discard typical contact centre measures based on quantitative ‘efficiency’. They follow the tiger. One of their customer service representatives had a ten-and-a-half-hour call. David Hutchens reports:

“The customer called to order a pair of Ugg boots, but in the conversation the service rep discovered that the customer was about to relocate to the Las Vegas area, where Zappos is located. They spent 10 hours exploring neighborhoods and other details of life in Vegas. At the
end of the call, the customer purchased the pair of Ugg boots”.  Somewhat extreme perhaps, but this story does make the point that relationships with customers remain paramount in terms of future business success. That there is a difference between imposing responsibility and achieving response-ability.  That leading companies with courage to act on the right logic, will prevail. (Hutchens, D. 2015)



FUTURE

Death by technology? Technological and analytical developments continue apace. Soon artificial intelligence, remote agents and chatbots (primarily as self-service facilitators) will become the new norm in contact centres. A recent service provider advertisement boasts: “We allow you to excel at digital containment of customer engagement!”   We are likely to see the slow death of customer service centres in parallel (and as a result of) these technological developments.
It is a bit like playing a game of monopoly where one is confronted by an opponent who owns all the key income-generating hotels and utilities, and you have virtually no assets. You may travel the board another three or four rounds, but the fact is: the end is certain. You’re dead. It is simply a matter of time.

Unless we are saved by empathy and compassion ……  Is it possible that death in fact frees one from current constraint and a new world opens up – something better?  A time when contact centres for customers and other stakeholders play a new strategic role? Because although process, product and systems change, people remain constant in their needs, aspirations, desires. Both workers and customers.  Futurist John Naisbitt, who has laid down and advocates the balancing principle that more high-tech demands more high-touch, puts it this way: “The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology but because of an expanding concept of what it means to be human” (Naisbitt, J.  1984) and thus the imperative of “learning how to live as compassionate human beings in a technologically dominating time”. (Naisbitt, J. et al. 2001)
And backward managers see the light. Because if contact centres die, then the customer connection dies. And if this customer closeness dies, the business dies ….

A choice. We can choose life over death. A great illustration of superb, standard - setting customer excellence possible in future came out of the New York September 11th disaster:

"GTE Airphone operator Lisa Jefferson would probably like to forget what was going on at the other end of the phone that morning when she spoke to Todd Beamer, a passenger on the hijacked United Flight 93. It was his plane that crashed into a field in western Pennsylvania after passengers bravely decided to charge the hijackers. Knowing he was going to die, Todd tried to call his wife from the plane. But he had a problem with his credit card and was connected to Lisa. According to news reports, they spoke for 13 minutes during which Lisa took details of the hijackers, consoled Todd and promised to call his wife. Finally, she prayed with him before the air phone connection was terminated. Lisa told the authorities she heard passengers wailing in the background. Later she called Todd's wife to relay her husband's heroic final moments and message. How was Lisa able to keep herself together in those harrowing and unprecedented 13 minutes? What kind of customer service training could have prepared her for a situation like that? Yet customer service representatives, helpdesk advisers and emergency phone operators everywhere are capable (if allowed) of handling distressing and stressful situations with compassion, clear thinking, confidence and the strength that are all so important during a crisis. Service professionals who find meaning in their work know instinctively how to shine brightly during the darkest hours. Such customer centre service is vital to our economic healing, and perhaps our emotional healing as well”. (Dawes, Gary. 2002). Similar stories are being told of 999 calls made during the Grenfell Tower fire in London, 2017


References

Dawes, Gary (2002)   Customer First : Front lines (Vol 3 No.7.)
de Mello, Anthony, S.J. (1987) The Song of the Bird    Gujarat Sahitya Prakash Anand, India
Hammer, Michael and Champy, James (1993), Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution   Harper Business Press, New York
Hutchens, David  (2015) Circle of the 9 Muses: a storytelling field guide for innovators and
meaning makers Wiley
Naisbitt, John (1984)  Megatrends: ten new directions transforming our lives Warner Books
Naisbitt, John with Naisbitt, Nana and Philips, Douglas  (2001) High Tech High Touch:
technology and our accelerated search for meaning Nicholas Brealey Limited UK

Friday, May 11, 2018

A Void that Won't be Filled



The physical structure of the universe is love - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things - Pope Francis 


The truth I do not stretch or shove
When I state that the dog is full of love. 
A glimpse of pure love - Ogden Nash



A SUDDEN LOSS


Lynette and I can attest to the fact that grieving for the loss of a pet is tough. On the evening of 20th April, Pongo, our little boy miniature Yorkie, was killed. From being SO alive, he was suddenly so dead. The incomprehensible happened.

I had put his sister, Perdita in the car in the driveway (which is right next to the garden gate), and before I could reach down for Pongo, he slipped out and hurtled towards a dog across the road and straight into a speeding car. He was killed instantly.  I can still hear that awful thud. I still see myself screaming his name and rushing over to pick him up. He stayed warm and soft and cuddly for what seemed like ages, bled through three layers of my clothing to the spot where my heart is.  A neighbour fetched Lynette from her place of work and she was also able to hold and cuddle him. 

I feel guilt. I’ve been in a dwaal since then (Dwaal is an Afrikaans word for being in a daze, not present, unfocused, meandering, lost), and weepy. The doc prescribed some chill pills and they help. I teach others how to build resilience to change and adversity, but haven’t shown much myself.   



ENDEARING AND ENDURING MEMORIES 


Pongo shadowed us and brought love and joy for 9 years. We bonded from 'day one' - "... the bond you form with that animal is irresistible, inexplicable, indefinable, and unbreakable".(1)   He was a spirited, inquisitive and ever-present companion. 24/7.  We miss him. Perdita (who hid under the car seat when she heard the accident bang) is lonely. 

We remember things like his melancholy look but joyful demeanour. His macho trot (He was about 20 cm tall and weighed a little over 3 kgs but acted as if he was 2m tall and weghed over100kg). If he took the lead down a known path, he would periodically stop to look around and make sure that we were following. When his tail wagged his whole body wagged. Every morning he came along to feed the garden birds. He’d push his toy box with his paw if he wanted to play, push his food bowl if he wanted more. Push the koi fish down if they came too close to the surface for his liking. Pawed us for attention if he wanted his chest and tummy scratched. Pawed the sliding door if he wanted it opened so that he could go outside. Even pushed the tortoises to stop them from fighting. He would lie on our clothes while waiting for us to finish showering or bathing. 

During the night Pongo would stand between me and my bedside table if he wanted water. He was very attuned to us, sensitive to our expressions, gestures, body language and voice changes – and would raise his ears, cock his head when trying to understand what we were saying to him. He had a knack of calming us if we were uptight. And he was extremely protective of us. 
If we were lying down or seated, he had a habit of throwing himself down to lie next to us, always making close body contact with a gentle bump. 

During Lynette’s time of being off work for nearly three years with depression, Pongo never left her side, was therapy. A ministry. In recent years as he got older, Pongo did slow down a bit – for example, he had a bit more difficulty jumping up onto the couch. 

On the afternoon that he died he did something that he hadn’t done for over two years – he brought a ball to me, pushed it around with his paws, and barked at me until I played ball with him. Thinking back, it seems like a goodbye gesture.  



A GOD - GIVEN GIFT?


Theologians debate and argue finer points, in the process sometimes losing essential meaning: for example, should we believe in infant or believer’s baptism, use water or not, and if so should the act be one of immersion, pouring, sprinkling ……..?   I have no wish to enter into nor invite any intellectual debate about a pet’s soul, spirit, capacity to reason, show real love (not attributed by nor projected by us humans), doing wilful wrong,.... Or having a place in 'heaven' or the afterlife (however we define or understand it). Because we are told otherwise by 'learned' people - who claim to know not only about body and mind but also have the answers to all soul and spirit matters.

They offer thoughts such as: humans have individual, 'rational' souls that survive death, and animals have only lesser, 'sensitive' souls or collective (non-individual) souls. An anthropocentric view to say the least ....

This is what we learned, experienced and grew to believe during our relationship with Pongo:

He was a wonderful, God-created being. He learned. Adapted his behaviour. Trusted fully. Expressed his emotions. (Carl Jung sensed that “Even domestic animals, to whom we erroneously deny a conscience, have complexes and moral reactions”, (2) and the young Jung recorded, “Because they are so closely akin to us and share our unknowingness, I loved all warm-blooded animals who have souls like ourselves and with whom, so I thought, we have an instinctive understanding”.) (3). 

Pongo loved unconditionally, consistently, transcendentally, and knew no deceit, only total transparency and honesty.  

We had times of uninterrupted, complete present-moment shared connection, clarity, peace, purity, an interchange of consciousness (which is a natural and shared thing). In this context Eckhart Tolle has referred to dogs as “guardians of our being”.(4)  They help us to be more mindful, and to practice and develop a greater capacity for love. I think that they teach us, in our digital, lonely and alienated world, the characteristics of attention, affection, and unbounded joy. 
(Neuroscientists say that distracting one’s brain in this way frees it to subconsciously get on with other crucial stuff without being hampered in any way, but rather, in a focused, more productive manner)



GOING DEEPER TO TRY AND MAKE SENSE OF WHAT HAPPENED


Can relationships (including one with a pet companion) continue after the ‘boundary’ of death has been crossed - not to cling to something that has passed, but to experience a release into something better? 
In the Creator’s “… hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind” (Job 7:10) and surely His life, spirit and love are contained in every aspect of nature and all living beings?   Man and animals have been interconnected from the start, and will remain so.  Call me a heretic but I believe that although the physical 

Pongo may be gone, yet his spiritedness/ energy/ love/ essence/ memory/ presence/ his “thisness” (to use a word coined by the theologian-philosopher Duns Scotus), are still part of the evolving universe.  In terms of the new quantum physics, are matter and spirit not one and the same (as in the Genesis story and some New Testament miracles)? 

Richard Rohr is clear that “each living thing reveals some aspect of God …. 
When you love something, you grant it soul, you see its soul, and you let its soul touch yours. You must love something deeply to know its soul…. Before the resonance of love, you are largely blind to the meaning, value, and power of ordinary things to “save” you—to help you live in union with the source of all being. In fact, until you can appreciate and even delight in the soul of other things, even trees and animals, I doubt if you have discovered your own soul either. Soul knows soul”. (5)

For us Pongo acted as a bridge that connected the secular to the sacred.

The Pope has said “… all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast. In union with all creatures, we journey through this land seeking God”. (6) 

Sister, Professor Ilia Delio, writing eloquently from the heart about the death of her cat: “Mango was ensouled…. divine mystery is expressed in each concrete existence. Soul is the mirror of creaturely relatedness that reflects the vitality of divine Love ….  Soul existence is expressed in the language of love ...
Teilhard de Chardin realized that the prime energy of the universe is love, unitive energy that unites center to center, generating more being and life. Love is not a thought or an idea, it is the transcendent dimension of life itself, that which reaches out to another, touches the other and is touched by the other…
If God is love then the vitality of love, even the love of a furry creature, is the dynamic presence of God… the Spirit of God is present in love … his (Mango’s) core love-energy will endure. His life has been inscribed on mine; the memory of his life is entangled with my own. My heart grieves for my little brother, my faithful companion, but I believe we are intertwined forever and shall be reunited in God’s eternal embrace”. (7)    Yes!



AND SO

Pongo lived to the full and then died suddenly without being subject to any suffering. Lynette and I are grateful for that.

We identify with what actor Jimmy Stewart said about the void left by his dog Beau: “After he died there were a lot of nights when I was certain that I could feel him get into bed beside me and I would reach out and pat his head….   But he's not there.  Oh, how I wish that wasn't so ….”  (8)

To cut through the horrible images of the way Pongo was killed, hurtling into a speeding car - every time this replays in my mind I deliberately trigger substitute images – and imagine him bounding towards, to play with St Francis, the patron saint of nature and animals (who called animals his brothers and sisters).  For me this is a helpful fantasy-reality.  I am trying a somatics practice to counter depression, by stroking Pongo against my chest when I feel teary. He is in my heart and my heart knows.  Sometimes I will look deeply at his picture to go beyond the intellectual and access the inherent God-sourced qualities that he (He) kept on giving and giving, and still does – to ‘see’ with the heart.   
A clinical psychologist has wisely suggested that I write Pongo a letter ….
And I recall the words of an old Vera Lynn song:
“We'll meet again
Don't know where
Don't know when” ...................  (9)

And just maybe there is something in this Wintley Phipp's quote: “It is in the quiet crucible of your personal private suffering that your noblest dreams are born and God’s greatest gifts are given in compensation for what you’ve been through”





References
1. Walsch, Neale Donald   FaceBook  March 17th, 2013  
2. Jung, C.G. Civilization in Transition (Collected Works Volume 10) Translated by Adler, Gerhard &   Hull, R.F.C     Bollingen Foundation/ Princeton University Press   1964
3. Jung, C.G   Memories Dreams, Reflections, Recorded and edited by Aniela JaffĂ©. Translated from the German by Richard & Clara Winston Flamingo, 1990.
4.Tolle, Eckhart    … giving pointers on letting your dog go
5.Rohr, Richard  Newsletter 11th March, 2018 ; Nature Is Ensouled  https://cac.org/nature-is-ensouled-2018-03-11/
6.Pope Francis  Encyclical    Laudato Si: 47 and 244
7. Delio, Ilia Prof     Brother Mango and Eternal Life
9. Parker, Ross & Charles, Hugh  (1939)    We’ll Meet Again