Thursday, August 19, 2010

Intentions, Affirmations, Decisions

Do you set an intention before you do something? I often do. I like to ask participants in my classes to set an intention for the state that they'll be in during the class, or for what they choose to get out of the class. I've noticed that when people do this, they tend to get more out of the class.

Have you ever done an affirmation? If you have, you probably know how powerful they are. In case you've never done one, it's a positive, present tense statement of something that  you want, that can be controlled by you, as if it already existed. I'm a huge believer in affirmations, because a few of them have really changed my life, including the one that brought my wonderful husband to me. (Want to know how that can work for you? Call me for a session.) Others have changed my relationship to time and to myself. 

Just today, though, a very wise woman pointed out that there is something even more powerful -- a decision. Normally, we think of decisions as being choices of what to do or not do. She was talking, however, about deciding what to think and what to believe. Yes, you can choose your beliefs, that is, you can choose what you take as real. You can decide what to believe about the world -- and about yourself.

No matter how cavalierly we use them, words have actual meanings -- meanings which carry the energy from their root words, and from the billions of times the words and their roots have been used.  So it's important to pay attention to the distinctions between these words:

Intention is from Latin intendere, to stretch out for or aim at. So when you intend something, you are saying, 'this is my goal -- but I might not make it'. You are allowing the possibility of failure.

Decision is from Latin decisio, a cutting short. The implication is that you are cutting off all choices but one. This manifests in reality. When you decide, you are only allowing that one thing to happen.

Affirmation is from Latin affirmare, to present as fixed, or make firm. So in order for an affirmation to work, you must first decide that this is so.

It seems from these definitions that you can have a general intention, but for actual results, it's best to make a decision, which you then restate regularly in an affirmation.

Neurolinguistics teaches us that nominalizations, which are nouns made from frozen verbs, rather than real things you can touch, are less powerful than the verbs that spawn them, because they hide lots of information. That is, you can 'make a decision' and it's a complete thought, but if 'you decide', that is not a complete thought. It requires you to state what you decide. Similarly, you can 'have an intention' while you must intend something in particular, and you can 'do an affirmation' while you must affirm something specific.

To get results then, what works best is to decide something, and then to affirm that decision regularly.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Watch your Metaphors!

The words you use really do matter, because your unconscious mind, and your body, hear every word you think, and take them much more literally than you can imagine -- along with all their (less tan obvious) implications.

I especially like the part about the 'knight in shining armor'.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How NOT to Serve Customers

You may or may not have noticed that I've been a little slow to post lately. It's due to external circumstances, including the upgrade of my financial software. My Credit Union upgraded their website, which required that I upgrade my Quicken software, because they no longer support the version I was using.

The latest version is stripped of many features, so the one before that is actually better, as it is more complete. (How ridiculous is this? Is Quicken's owner just trying to get me to upgrade to the more expensive QuickBooks, which I don't really need, to get the features that used to be in Quicken? Note to self: anything entitled 'Essentials' means stripped.)

When you download Quicken for the Mac, you then have to download 2 patches! (Why couldn't they patch the program so you just have to download it?)

After I downloaded the software and installed it, and the patches and installed each of them. I was ready to use it. Worked fine with my other financial institutions -- just not with the Credit Union.

So I called the Credit Union, and input all my information into the phone tree system, only to have to give it all again when I got a human, who still had to direct me to another human, to whom I had to give all the information again. (If I give this information once, why do I have to give it two more times? Can't your computer system keep the info with my call? Or at least my name? Or my customer number?)

When I finally got the real technical support, I told them I thought this was their problem, because the software worked with every other institution but theirs. I even gave them the error number on the software. Of course, they made me go through a bunch of things to prove that I wasn't stupid and just doing things wrong. And each time, we came up with the same error number. Surprise, surprise.

So they said they had a problem, and would call me in 24 - 48 business hours, which sounds okay, but since they're only open 10 hours/day, that means 3 - 5 business days. (Does 3 - 5 business days sound like good customer service to you?) As that was the best they could do, I accepted that. (We'll call this Day 1.)

They called me on Day 5, and said that they still didn't have an answer for me, but would within 5 business days. They never called me again.

So on Day 11, I called them. (I should not have had to do this.)

I went through the whole phone tree and explaining my problem 3 times again -- even though I gave them the case number at the very beginning. The techie was useless. Worse than that, he told me that my case number had been labeled 'satisfied'. This infuriated me, as no one ever talked to me to give me information or find out if I was satisfied! (Don't ever label a customer trouble case satisfied without talking to the customer.) I asked to speak with his supervisor.

The supervisor was also useless, and told me it was my problem, and I had to work it out with Quicken. I told him it was a problem between their institution and Quicken, and suggested we all get on the phone together to resolve it. He told me it was impossible to call Quicken, so I should just do chat with them to resolve it. (Do you really believe that it wasn't possible for a corporate customer to call Quicken? I don't. And don't lie to your customer about what's possible -- see below.)

Chat is unbelievably slow, but there is actually an option on Quicken's website for them to call you, so I chose that, on Day 12. (It says they'll call within an hour, but it's actually two hours. (Don't promise what you can't deliver.)

A very nice Indian guy (in New Delhi), who said his name was Sammy, called me. We went through every possible thing that could be wrong with the software (bad data file, bad download, bad installation, etc.) for 2 hours, only to determine that this was not my problem, nor was it Quicken's. We even explored to see if there was a way to download the information from the Credit Union's website. Unfortunately, all that's possible is a spreadsheet download, and Quicken can't import spreadsheets.

I suggested that we call the Credit Union, which Sammy got permission to do from his supervisor. He conferenced me to a third line, dialed, and then I went through the whole rigamarole with all my info 4 more times, till I got to yet another useless tech support person. When I asked for his name, all he'd give me was his first name. When I asked for an extension, he wouldn't give me one. When I asked to speak to his supervisor, and his supervisor's name and extension, all he said was that his name was George, wouldn't give me a last name, or an extension, and George wasn't available, so could he put me through to voice mail? (Don't stonewall an obviously irate customer.) I said no, we were going to stay on the line until we got George, because I was on the phone with the Quicken guy from India, and this was the only way we could all talk, at least according to George. At this point, I'd been on the phone with Sammy for 3 hours. Mr. Stonewall just asked again to put me through to voice mail, at which point, I asked if he was even in the same building as his supervisor, so he could flag him down. More stonewall. At this point, I told him that if I were not on the phone with George in 60 seconds, my next call would be to the President of the Credit Union to complain, naming names. It took so long to get George that while Sammy and I were waiting, I used another phone to call the Credit Union, went through the whole phone tree, and was on the phone with the head of Customer Service (the President's assistant not being available) by the time George got on the phone.

Sammy politely explained, at least 3 times, that we'd been through every possible way that it could have been my fault, so he was completely sure that it wasn't my fault, or Quicken's. George actually heard this, and at this point, admitted that they knew this was a problem they were having! He told me he had no idea when it would be fixed. (!!!) When I pushed him, he told me that it was a '1', or highest priority to fix, and that it had been assigned to a team. (Since he didn't know when it would be fixed, he should have volunteered this info as a way to reassure me.)  He promised me daily updates on its status. He did not call me the next business day, but someone did call me this morning to say that it should be fixed within 48 hours, which would make it Day 17.

Sammy had been on the phone with me for almost 4 hours at this point, and I asked to speak to his supervisor to praise him. (I'm also sending a copy of this to one of my clients who works at Quicken.)

The Credit Union's head of Customer Service told me he'd follow up and make sure things were resolved within 2 -3 business days. We'll see if that happens. If not, you know who I'm calling -- the President of the Credit Union.

So, to sum up:
  • The new, upgraded version of software should actually work better than the previous versions. If it's not as good, the company is just ripping you off by withdrawing support for earlier version and thereby forcing you to upgrade.
  • Software you download from the company's website should work without patches.
  • You should only have to give your information once when reporting a problem.
  • Good customer service should have a reasonable time frame, like 24 hours, not 11 days.
  • Keep your promises -- if you say you'll call back in a day, do it. 
  • Do not label a customer problem satisfied without talking to the customer. Do not hope the customer will just go away if you do nothing.
  • Don't make the customer wrong when you know it's your problem. 
  • Don't lie to your customers about what's possible.
  • Don't stonewall an irate customer -- it will only enrage that customer more.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

But Will it Make You Happy?

If your money (beyond survival) isn't making you happy, you're not spending it right. (Hint: Buy experiences, not things, because you get accustomed to the things. And don't buy anything fast -- you'll get more enjoyment if you anticipate it more.)

Consumers Find Ways to Spend Less and Find Happiness -

Monday, August 09, 2010

Compassion and Boundaries

My husband and I have a friend, whom I'll call Jim, whom we met about 18 months ago, as part of our volunteer work. Jim had time for this volunteer work because he'd recently been laid off from his software job. He was happy being a stay-at-home Dad to 2 small kids, and didn't seem too worried about finding another job, as his wife was making very good money as an attorney. We liked him -- he was outgoing, smart and perceptive, had lived many places and done a number of things for work, so he had all kinds of stories.

Then last October, Jim's wife decided she was done with him. While he was out of town, visiting his elderly parents, she emptied their bank accounts, packed up all their stuff of value, moved, and didn't pay the rent for that month.  Then she instigated one of the uglier divorces I've seen. That left Jim unemployed, broke except for unemployment checks, and homeless.

A mutual friend, Joe, who lives in the Central Valley, let Jim stay rent-free in a Bay Area studio apartment that Joe rented so that he could be near his Peninsula work place a couple of nights a week. The idea was that this living arrangement would give Jim the stability to look for work, without overly inconveniencing Joe. The lease on that studio was up at the end of May, and Joe decided not to renew it, as the timing of his work had changed enough to render it unnecessary. So Jim was now homeless again. It's not clear that Jim ever looked for work, but in any case, he was still unemployed, as well.

Jim, however, had volunteered to do a big computer project for the organization through which we'd met him. Because we believed in his abilities, as well as the organization's mission,  we agreed to let him move into our spare bedroom long enough to do it. Jim worked his butt off -- pretty much 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with enough time off to sleep and see his kids. We felt like supporting him while he did this work was our contribution to the organization.

When the project ended, my husband and I were unsure of what to do. We didn't want to just throw Jim into the street -- that didn't seem like the compassionate thing to do. On the other hand, we didn't want to let him live with us rent-free indefinitely, either, as there were very real costs to us (decreased privacy, increased cleaning and cooking for us, and increased utility bills). So we had some boundaries, as well. Jim couldn't afford rent, thanks in part to Congress, which was not funding unemployment. So we hit upon the idea of Jim doing handyman work in exchange for rent. (There were a few small things that really needed doing, and I maintain a list of improvements, which would be nice, but never seem important enough to either do myself or to fund.) Jim agreed to this as a fair trade. I gave him my prioritized list, and told him to work down it, asking questions as he went.

But then, for two weeks, he barely did anything at all. He put up a towel rack, nailed in a loose board on the deck, watered half the potted plants once (to be fair, I never asked him to water the plants). I had to nag him to put some things on freecycle, to measure the house for insulation and to shop for the best price online. This was not my idea of of how this was supposed to work.

Meanwhile, my husband, who dutifully goes to a job every day, was getting more and more agitated at Jim's lack of progress. He never seemed to be looking for work; he resisted calling the VA, or even a contact of my husband's at the EDD (CA unemployement folks), for help finding work. My stepson, whose job is triaging PC help calls for the Geek Squad, offered to steer IT work Jim's way, if only Jim would sign up as a provider. Jim never bothered to sign up.

On top of this, we went out of town one Saturday night, and Jim had an, um, overnight guest -- who was still there when we arrived home at 3PM -- without asking in advance if this would be okay. This was the last straw. 

We knew we had to confront him. My husband spoke for both of us when he said he felt betrayed. [As a friend, who is expert in Transactional Analysis pointed out, a broken agreement is a betrayal.) I was left to give Jim a choice: either figure out how he was going to make up all the time he hadn't worked for us, and give us a schedule, or move out. He chose to move out, saying that were he in our position, he'd never have asked for a trade. To his credit he did move out within 24 hours, whining at the end that he'd just 'find the local homeless shelter'! (Actually, he found someone else who was willing to host him within 24 hours, too.)

Even though both my husband and I know we did the right thing, it was still hard. So here are my take-aways:
  •  compassion, feeling for someone else, is part of what makes you human (although this turtle might disagree), so you should offer help to those in need
  • compassion without boundaries allows people to take advantage of you, so you have to know when to stop offering
  • you can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped
  • some people just feel they are entitled to be supported, and those people will continue to get kicked till they figure out that they have to contribute, as well