My balcony view from Laconda della Maria Bed & Breakfast Hotel
My balcony view from Laconda della Maria Bed & Breakfast Hotel
 As per my previous 3 blogs, I and two long time friends are excited about our planned trip to Italy, where we plan to tour for one month starting in May, 2015. I have previously shared travel tips, information on the preplanning for this adventure, how to arrange for train travel and a detailed itinerary for the initial five days. We are looking forward to beautiful blue coastal waters; mesmerizing scenery; museums and architecture tracing back centuries; café watching; nightly strolls and eating delicious foods.
For review, when we arrive at the  Milan airport on the first day, we have planned to be picked up  by a driver with a car to drive us to Lake Como which will cost us about $45.00 per person. We will be luxuriating at a lovely Bed & Breakfast Hotel, Locanda della Maria,  located at  Via Ludovico Loreti 5, 22021, +39 03 1414 7448,  Bellagio, Lake Como for 3 nights. The room is classified as  a  Superior Triple Room with a sea view balcony. I have footnoted below a link for the NY Times suggestions for a 3 day stay in Lake Como. The cost estimate is about $60 per night, per person.
On the 4th day,  we will order a car and driver to take us from Lake Como to Milan where we will overnight at Hotel Berna, Via Napo Torriani, 18, 20124 Milano, +39 02 9475 5704, which is conveniently located near the train station.  The cost for this one night stay In Milan is about $110.00 per person, per night.
We have already purchased the Milan Expo (World’s Fair) tickets on line for about $25.00 per person so that we can take advantage of this huge event while visiting Milan. On the 5th day, we will take a morning tour of Milan, leaving us with the afternoon to peruse at our leisure. In the evening we will take a fast train from Milan to Venice, where we will stay for 3 nights at the Venice Hilton Garden Inn, Via Orlando 1, 30173 Mestre, Venice, phone 39-041-545-5901. On the 6th day, we will have the hotel arrange for a tour of Venice for the three of us. The remaining time in Venice will be spent shopping, eating and just enjoying the sights. (We were able to use miles to reserve a suite. I have foot noted below a 3 day Venice itinerary by the NY Times Travel Section. The above reservations were booked via
Reflections of Venice
Reflections of Venice
During the early evening of the 8th day on our trip, we will take the train from the Venice Mestre station ;which will take us about 2 hours to reach Florence for an 11 night stay. Because we ladies decided to tour Florence for over a week, we went on the internet to reserve an apartment. We reviewed an ad which detailed the following: “Bright and Spacious apartment for rent just steps away from the Ponte Vecchio. This beautifully furnished 3 bedroom apartment is located on the 5th floor of an elegant building with elevator designed by noted Florentine architect Michelucci who designed the central station of Florence in the 1930’s. Situated on Via Guicciardini, a primly located street that leads from the Ponte Vecchio to Palazzo Pitti. A wonderful starting point for exploring the landmarks of the historic centre. This charming district of the city boosts some of Florence’s most renowned restaurants, cafes and boutiques. The apartment can accommodate up to 6 people with 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and laundry facilities. This apartment is titled as the Carolina Apartment Via Dè Guicciardini, 22, 50125 Firenze, Italia, 39 39 3981 2058. We were able to reserve this apartment with a deposit through the web site, Other contact information is:  001 646 8080765; 0039 055 2479309. Our budget is calculated to be about $62.00 per night, per person. This cost is less than the advertised rate because we had decided on another place which became unavailable and so we were upgraded at no extra cost.
We prefer to do most of the sight seeing by ourselves. However, we will want to take side trips to Tuscany, Sienna, Cinque Terre and other popular sites. Any side excursions will be booked through Walks of Italy: Italy Tours & Activities This touring company has earned rave reviews by all travel critics. To phone this touring company from the U.S. call 1-888-683-8670 and within Italy, call 39-069-480-4888.

Then we agreed that we wanted to tour the enchanting Amalfi coast. So, on the 20th day, we are reserving a train ride from a Florence train station to Naples. The Hotel host can arrange for a car to pick us up at the Naples train station to drive us to the Amalfi coast Hotel Onda Verde at Via Terramare, 3, 84010 Praiano, Salerno, Italy +39 089 874125. I booked this hotel online for 3 nights at a cost of $99 per night, per person, for a Superior Triple Room with sea view balcony,  based on the following ad: “A cozy nest on the cliff, halfway between Amalfi and Positano, Hotel Onda Verde is the place from which you can view one of the most fascinating natural shows Italy has to offer. Such view is accessible from all the 25 rooms, with tasteful antique furnishings, private bathrooms decorated with classic pottery typical of this areas and all the services you need including air-conditioning, hairdryer, satellite TV, wireless Internet access. Choosing the Hotel Onda Verde is to be few steps away from our precious beaches having within reach the magnificent island of Capri with ships entering the dock nearby. You will benefit from easy connections with the pearls of the Amalfi Coast: Positano, Amalfi and the picturesque Ravello being only 7 kilometers away, the romantic Sorrento and all the other fabulous towns of the Sorrento Coast. Come and visit us for an unforgettable vacation where you can enjoy great food, amazing view and relax with friends and family in a delightful atmosphere.” The hotel employees can assist us with side tours to Capri, the famous “Blue Grotto,” and Pompeii in Naples.

 Finally, on the 24th day of our trip, we ladies are on our last trek of our travels. We will plan for a ride from the Amalfi Coast hotel to the Naples train station where we will be transported from Naples to the Rome station and then we will take a cab to our Rome apartment for a week.
Again , we booked an apartment on line through The contact # is 39-32-9218-9713. This is the ad for the Battista apartment at  via degli scialoja 18, roma which caught our attention:

“A relaxed, and nicely appointed apartment, in a grand, refurbished building, in central Rome, only 300 mts. from Piazza del Popolo and within walking distance to all the famous landmarks in the eternal city. The apartment has every amenity to make your trip to Rome easy and comfortable, with lasting memories.”


“Meticulously maintained by it’s caring owner, there is parquetry flooring throughout, a large combined living and dining room with a table and dining chairs, a sofa and plasma Satellite TV.”

“Off the hall there are two bedrooms, both with wardrobes. The first master bedroom, has a comfortable double bed, with a high quality mattress for your ultimate comfort and there is an en suite bathroom with a bathtub and shower, washbasin and wc. The second bedroom has two single beds, which on request can be joined to make a double bed. The second bathroom has a shower, washbasin and wc. Equipped with HD TV 32 “with International Sky. The air-conditioning has both heating and cooling is equipped with individual remote control and services the entire apartment. The apartment is equipped with high speed 20 meg Internet access with wireless signal so you can access Internet from all rooms with your laptop or smartphone. This area has many wonderful outdoor cafes, restaurants, bars, supermarkets and with a short stroll, you are at the Spanish Steps and Via Condotti, where you will find some of the best fashion shopping in the world, with every designer label boutique you can imagine.” The estimated cost per person, per night is $82.00.Colosseum_in_Rome,_Italy_-_April_2007 COLOSSEUM IN ROME

 As is our pattern, we will do most of the sightseeing on our own while depending on public transportation. If we arrange for any side trips outside of Rome it will be through my favorite touring company, Walks of Italy: Italy Tours & Activities

On our last day, we will say, “Arrivederci Roma,” as we take a cab from our Spanish Steps apartment to the airport for our return trip back to Florida.

NOTE: Hotels in Italy have strict rules as to how many people are permitted for a particular size room. When you make a reservation, it is crucial to advise the hotel if more than 2 people will be in the room.

To dial from a U.S. phone to Italy, you first dial 011 and then the phone number.


Venice Travel Coverage – The New York Times…/venice/overview Find articles and photos about traveling to Venice. … On this island in the Venice Lagoon, glassmaking has been revered by doges and tourists alike.

36 Hours in Florence, Italy –…/things-to-do-in-36-hours-in-florenceSep 24, 2014 –

36 Hours: Lake Como, Italy –…/36hourslakecomo-italy.html Aug 7, 2014 – In the foothills of the Alps in northern Italy, Lake Como

Venice Travel Coverage – The New York Times…/venice/overview Find articles and photos about traveling to Venice. … On this island in the Venice Lagoon, glassmaking has been revered by doges and tourists alike.

Book These Italian Museums and Attractions Before You Go › … › Things to Do in Italy › Museums in Italy –How to make reservations and buy tickets ahead for museums and tourist attractions in Italy.

Walks of Italy: Italy Tours & Activities walking tours, small group and private, with central meeting points around Italy. Sightseeing walks feature major or off-the-beaten-path itineraries.

Buy your ticket – Tickets | Expo Milano 2015 Expo Milan 2015, tickets for the exposition. … available at a reduced price: click on Learn More for further details and for information on how to buy your ticket.

Italy Rail Passes and Train Tips from Rick Steves  ……/trains/italyrail-passe…Most train travelers in Italy spend each railtravel day taking relatively short rides on the Milan–Venice–Florence–Rome circuit.

36 Hours in Florence, Italy –…/things-to-do-in-36-hours-in-florenceSep 24, 2014

What to Do in Rome –…/what-to-do-in-36-hours-in-rome The New York Times Mar 4, 2015 –




I and two long time friends are planning a trip to Italy in May 2015. We have made arrangements to stay for at least a month. We started making arrangements about one year in advance. I will be blogging on travel issues to assist any fellow consumers on a budget. Our plan is to save monies by sharing the costs among 3 travelers associated with lodging and taxis. We have set a goal for $100 per day, per person for the daily expenses of lodging, transportation costs and food as well as an additional shopping allowance per person of $700. Our total per person monies spent should be about $5500 which includes the above costs plus $1588 per person for our airline tickets. I will let you know how well we succeed in keeping our expenditures at a reasonable level. Before starting our trip, we have taken several steps which I am happy to share.

I am the lady in the middle. and next to me are my friends.
I am the lady in the middle. and next to me are my friends.

1.) If possible, you should renew any expiring passport about nine months ahead of any planned international trip. Many countries require your passport to be valid for at least six months beyond your travel dates. Some airlines will not permit you to board their planes unless this requirement is met. I have footnoted below, the best link for just about any questions or issues you may have regarding the obtaining or renewing of a passport. An added tip is for you to carry your passport on your person if at all possible and at least separate it from your purse. Pick pocketing and theft does occur. Replacing a lost or stolen passport can be time consuming which makes for a very  unpleasant experience. Just to be on the safe side, write your passport numbers on a separate piece of paper.

2.) Yes, I recommend travel insurance. This expense is worth it if you have to cancel a trip due to a medical or other emergency situation. It is also beneficial if you experience a medical need while you are overseas, such as a broken leg and/ or if you need to return home early. However, if you are in good health you can shop around for insurance that does not cover the expensive portion which is coverage for a pre-existing condition. I recommend that you contact “World Nomads” for travel insurance. Again, I have footnoted a link below. One of my friends traveling with me mentioned that she recently contacted Delta Airlines, and she was able to purchase travel insurance through them from Allianz Travel Insurance for $139. Another friend said she has a Chase Sapphire Preferred card which has the free benefit of travel insurance. I looked up this credit card enhancement on their website which advertises, the “TRIP CANCELLATION/TRIP INTERRUPTION INSURANCE,” if your trip is canceled or cut short by sickness, severe weather and other covered situations, you can be reimbursed up to $10,000 per trip for your pre-paid, non-refundable travel expenses, including passenger fares, tours, and hotels.


3.) For our trip to Italy, we did purchase our airline tickets a year early because Milan, Italy is hosting the World’s Fair this year of 2015 and it is open to the public in May. There is no way that these Delta Airline ticket prices would be lowered. We paid about $1588 per person which includes premium seating. Coach seating can be very constricting during a long flight. For a little extra, you can purchase seating in coach with extra leg room. This way we were able to confirm great seats.

Lake Como
Lake Como

When you are traveling on vacation and with a family, and if you are taking a connecting flight, please allow for about a 3 hour layover. Most Airlines offer only one to two flights per day to  international destinations which means that if your domestic connecting flight is delayed, you and your family could be stuck in the connecting city. If the domestic flight is delayed due to weather conditions and you miss your international flight, you will not have any added expenses covered by the airlines. Before you step onto the plane for the first leg of travel, make sure there is enough time for you to make that connection. If not, it is better not to take it and make the airline representative work on  alternate arrangements which are satisfactory to yourself. For international travel, you should arrive at the airport about three hours prior to your scheduled flight departure. If you want a more pleasant travel ambiance due to a long layover, most airports will allow to you to purchase a day’s pass to one of their club lounge areas.


 3.) Travel light. Carrying lots of luggage becomes a burden very quickly. We all selected luggage that is light in weight with spinner wheels. I was able to purchase my luggage on the HSN TV show where the carry on attaches to the luggage handle of the larger piece which cost me $130. We will be traveling by train from Milan to Venice;  from Venice to Florence; from Florence to Naples; and from Naples to Rome. Handling cumbersome, heavy luggage would make this trip a nightmare while we take them on and off the trains, especially since we ladies will not have assistance.

4.) In Italy, I know that we will be walking many miles. It is crucial that you wear comfortable walking shoes or else your adventure will become a very painful one. I have footnoted several links below.


5.) Some important tips include making sure that you always carry a packet of Kleenex with you. You will find out soon enough as to why; make sure you carry cash because not all stores accept credit cards. If you are ever asked at a place of business if you would like them to charge you in U.S. dollars instead of Euros, the answer is no, thank you. You will not be getting a good deal in the conversion rates.

6.) In Europe the American Express card is not accepted at many places, and so you may want to travel with master card as well. Verify if your credit card company charges less than 1% for converting monies while you are in Europe. If not, there are credit cards which charge you nothing to convert your monies from U.S. dollars to a foreign currency. I prefer the USAA World master card and the USAA American Express card which are available to anyone who has ever served in the military with interest rates starting at 9.9%, no annual fees and limited travel insurance but their cards charge 1% for currency exchanges. For non military consumers, I like the Gold or Platinum Delta American Express card and I have been referring to the blog, Nerd Wallet for their recommendations. Their favorite cards are the  Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite master card, the Barclay Arrival World master card, or the Chase Sapphire Preferred master card. If you intend to carry a balance on your credit card, my friends have done some research.  As of February, 2015, they have determined that the credit cards with the lowest interest rates are the Capital One travel credit cards. The Citi preferred card starts their interest rates at 12.99% but the first year of usage interest is -0-and there are no annual fees. Barclays interest rates were starting at 14.99% interest. In Europe, the credit cards have a chip for added security. You can request this chip card from the above companies or which ever banking institution you are using. It is a good idea to write down (in a coded way) your credit card numbers along with the international contact number. There is a link below with a comparison table for credit cards which is current for 2/ 2015.

7.) As per the In Italy online blog which I have footnoted below, you should check with your cell phone carrier to verify that your phone has the 900 and 1800 MHz frequencies – also called bands or networks. If your phone has these required frequencies, then you will be able to use your cell phone which will be expensive but okay if you intend to use your phone only for emergencies. International rates vary from  $0.99-$1.29 a minute plus the tax which  will  cost you an additional 15-20%  and this is for incoming AND outgoing calls. If you want better access to your cell phone, then the blogger suggests, “another much more affordable solution, which is to purchase an Italian SIM card. Besides the unlimited FREE incoming calls from anywhere in the world, outgoing rates are just a fraction of those of a North American provider.”

8.) Don’t forget to bring a couple of adapters so that you can recharge your camera and cell phone in Europe. I recently purchased 5 from Rick Steve’s Europe online store at $1.00 per adapter. He does add the suggestion, “Make sure your appliances have built-in 110/220-volt converters. If not, you’ll need to buy a voltage converter (which we don’t sell!) to use our plug adapters. Imported.” Wal-Mart sells the voltage converter for about $20.00.


We plan to fly into Milan, Italy and out of Rome. This adventure will be continued in my next blog.

This blog was updated on 2/23/15.


Frequently Asked Questions – Bureau of Consular Affairs,…/passports/…/passports/FAQs…Bureau of Consular Affairs

 World Nomads – Explore Your Boundaries  Travel insurance for independent travelers from more than 150 countries. Trusted by Lonely Planet – buy, extend & claim online. 24hr worldwide assistance

Comfty Walking Shoes to Wear in Europe for females – Paris Forum … › … › Paris › Paris Travel Forum TripAdvisor LLC Want to know what brands of shoes to wear for walking in Europe. … buy some decent walking shoes and break into them before going on a trip. …. The main difference in hiking shoes is the sole thickness and upper material (synthetic is best).

The Most Comfortable Walking Shoes for Europe | Fabulous ……Apr 11, 2014 – Well not to worry because fashionista Aliceann Toole has this look at the best walking shoes for Europe or wherever else you might travel to …

Best Walking Shoes for Travel – Articles | Travel + Leisure…/bestwalkingshoes-for-travel…Travel + Leisure Finding chic yet comfortable walking shoes is easier said than done. Here, our picks for classic ballet flats, preppy loafers, and booties that will give you a leg up.

Comfortable shoes to wear in Italy this summer and … – Fodor’s › Forums › Europe Fodor’s  May 17, 2013 – 100+ posts – ‎57 authors  Wear good walking sandals and you will be fine. Closed shoes …… The Best shoes for being comfortable and stylish are NAOT.

NerdWallet’s Best Travel Credit Cards, 2015 – NerdWallet…creditcards/ With a travel card, you can take advantage of awesome rewards like nights at top-tier hotels, … Best airline miles credit card: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.

How to Use Your Cell Phone in Italy (Yes, You Can!)…italy/cellphonesitaly-country-code-mobilephoneMay 30, 2011 – Brought your cell phone with you to Italy? Great. Now, how the ….. What is the best and least expensive way to do this?

Cell Phone Options for Italy – In Italy Online I have been writing articles on cell phone service in Italy since 1998 and … Here is the most effective way to take advantage of the cellular service they offer.

100+ Things to Know If You’re Going to Italy | Italy In SF Italian women always keep a travel pack of Kleenex in their purses for this reason. … You will need to carry a cell phone for anything you need, from calling the …

Compare credit cards’ trip cancellation, trip interruption … › Credit Card News Oct 14, 2014 – Are you covered if you have to cut your vacation short or cancel it all together? Before taking out travel insurance, check your credit card …


  THESE TEN BLOGS DEAL WITH MY RANT AGAINST THE “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL SYSTEM TACTICS.  I MAY BE BLOGGING ON OTHER CONSUMER ISSUES. My value as a Florida elderly voter, taxpayer and consumer of Italian descent, formerly from New Jersey is often taken for granted. I am tired of dealing with mediocrity, folks not willing to go the distance to do a job right, interacting […]


MY RANT  AGAINST “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL SYSTEM TACTICS CONTINUES… HOW DOES A CONSUMER KNOW WHEN THEY ARE DEALING WITH A COMPANY SUFFERING FROM THE “COOKIE CUTTER” CALL CENTER SYNDROME?                               LOOK AT THE  SYMPTOMS!                                     Every time a client calls they  have to talk to a different agent. Even if the call is a major complaint and the customer is furious, […]


customer service

In some cases the call center prototype is adequate for companies to optimize their profits and to retain their reputation for good customer service as is the case for companies selling one time purchases, reservations for airline tickets or car reservations, etc.  The consumer’s purchase of  an airline ticket, etc. can be managed under the standard call center  prototype because the vast majority of purchases or reservations can  be  completed during one phone call while requiring  a minimum level of customer service follow up. It is easy for  any agent to take over the next call with no documentation on the record for their clients.  For example, the adjustment of rental days  is a one step adjustment based on the existing record showing previous dates. It is not too difficult a task to track the  results of these transactions regarding sales, customer service satisfaction and the performance of the agents.

Problems arise when the call center marketers sell this same “cookie cutter” call center system to companies selling more sophisticated products which is where what is best for the company, their customers and their employees gets lost. For example, an insurance, bank, mortgage and/or financial advice company deal with more complicated products than companies selling a one time purchase. The standard call center prototype without modification is  not adequate in the following instances:  (1.)when satisfactory  customer service may require multiple calls from the consumer at a relatively high frequency in order to obtain a resolution on any of their issues; (2.) the product has a high price tag and your company wants the client to maintain or renew year after year; (3.) the company expects future business from current clients as in the form of upgrades and the purchase of future products.  These companies are supposed to be attempting to encourage a long term relationship with their clients in order to expect them to have some loyalty. In short, when a company does not consistently treat their customers with respect and consideration for the consumer’s valuable time and with a sense of fairness and integrity, they will not be rewarded with the clients’ loyalty IN THEIR future business dealings.  Customers do have choices and competition is fierce.

Cartoon-8-thumb aht cartoon small

It only makes sense that a company strives to increase profits in order  to be a viable, successful business. This is the reasoning behind most businesses reticence to deviate from  their “cookie cutter” call center culture. If company leaders were to look at the bigger picture, they could ask themselves, is it possible to modify the culture of the typical call center to better please their clients and their employees while not sacrificing the increase in productivity and the increase in profits due to cost cutting measures? Other companies like American Express, Jackson National Life Insurance Company, Zappos are already doing this while also showing a tremendous increase in revenues as well as an improvement in all their parameters across the board. Companies  which step forward and lead their companies in adapting to a modified model of streamlining operations to reduce costs while also catering big time to their clients and employees will be the winners.

There can be unintended consequences when a company selling more sophisticated products buys into the “cookie cutter” call center syndrome without any customization and business planning. One of them is that you definitely will not obtain a true reading as to who are your star employees. You will know how many calls each agent takes and what their average handling time is. In the year 2013, an insurance  sales representative from a very reputable company told me that the amount of monies she brought into the company and/or the actual number of products she sold was NOT  tracked and was not part of her performance review. This same company did keep track of how many times her clients purchased new products within a three month time span after the initial contact. Can you believe these figures did not have any impact on her performance evaluation?  It was more important that she took her breaks and lunch at an allotted time, had a record of  shorter call handling times, took more phone calls during her work schedule; and was able to report a high number of client sale referrals for the possible purchase of additional products. The production of a high number of sale referrals was greatly valued even though there was no tracking as to whether all these referrals ever resulted in a sale. She stated that every day she received sale referral transfer calls from different divisions within the same company with the customer being oblivious as to the reason for the transfer. In addition, agents who sold one policy per client as well as a bank account with a minimum deposit was as highly rated as the agent who sold 5 policies along with products from different lines of business. This was true even if the client never used the bank account and only signed up to benefit from a multi- product discount. I have never heard of a company claiming to have a legitimate sales organization not keeping track as to how many policies and/or products one sold as well as how much money they contributed to the company’s coffers. It is mind numbing to think that a company would not track and reward the sales agent who sold 50 policies per month versus her peer who sold 25. In addition the agent who sold 25 products per month is more valued because his/ her  average call handling time (AHT) for the month would be less than the agent who sold significantly more. In this case the (AHT) is not the best way to measure an agent’s productivity.

images another planet customer serviceIn the year 2014, this same company is now tracking the total sales of each agent per client as well as their referrals which result in a sale. It is no longer okay to create for example, a bank account which is never used and have that count as a sale. When a client calls for customer service, the agent is no longer required to make a sales referral. It is important for companies to focus more on results of the actual products sold and monies produced per agent. A gifted sales person can bring in a lot more funds in half the time of other agents who look really busy.                                                                                                                                    

image_preview gm recall

How does the company culture lead to situations where a company like GM does not openly deal with an in house known problem for 13 years even after many customer lives are lost, or Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase recently being accused of falsifying mortgage loan documents?  The answer is easy. In both of the above cases, the customer was not the priority. Bottom line cost cutting in order to increase profits was partly what ruled the culture in both these companies. I am sure the individual employees in most cases would not want to act unethically but somehow both companies created the environment and conditions which caused employees to act without integrityA major red flag indicating a problem  work culture is when your company’s front line folks do not feel safe to confront, question, talk to, share important information with their direct management without fear of paying a high personal price. Does your company provide a known safe way for an employee to disclose serious issues involving their direct supervisors while maintaining anonymity? If your frontline folks live in fear of retaliation, not being promoted, not receiving plum assignments; not being valued and respected for daring to do their jobs by informing management of  potential costly issues, what can you expect? If you can describe your company as an entity which does not suffer from this dysfunctional work place then you are self insured against the high costs of loss of reputation, loss of branding and the resulting loss of clients, monies and market share.                                                                                                                                                                                                  As a case study, it is interesting to note that the CEO of GM, Mary Barra is the lone survivor after having testified at a U.S. Congressional hearing. She is the only one who arrived at the hearing with a clear vision that GM was burdened with major work cultural problems but she had concrete plans to change this. She has dealt with the negative publicity head on while taking full responsibility. Those harmed are being properly compensated. GM has managed to do well despite this tsunami of bad news because of her handling. Contrast this with how General Eric Shinseki of the VA Administration and Director Julia Pierson of the Secret Service presented themselves at the recent 2014 U.S. hearings, where they both discounted the existence and depth of the systemic work culture problems within their organizations. They did not grasp that the events being discussed were not simply isolated events which could be fixed with a new procedure, practice, study, office, new department head, etc. When General Shinseki resigned, it became obvious that he did internalize how dysfunctional the VA work culture had become and he felt so disheartened; however, I do not believe Director Pierson is even admitting that there is a cultural malfunction within the Secret Service. In both cases, they did NOT see the red flags warning them.

In a Forbes article published 5/29/2014, by Joann Muller, Mary Barra, CEO of GM, was interviewed with the following  question and response:

“Forbes: In a recent Town Hall meeting with employees, you lamented that there’s still a “culture of fear” within GM, a fear of rocking the boat. How do you convince people it’s ok to speak up?

First, it’s having programs like Speak Up For Safety. If someone picks up the phone and says, “Hey, I’m worried about x, y or z, it’s important that you answer them, either to say, ‘Wow, thank you for raising that issue,’ or ‘Hey, that’s not an issue and here’s why,’ so they don’t leave thinking, ‘I tried, and they didn’t listen to me. They just ignored me.’

It also is me demonstrating the culture and making sure the leadership (follows through). Because they can hear me, they can even believe me, but what is their daily work experience like? What is it like in their department?

We rolled out our three core values last year – the Customer is Our Compass, Relationships Matter and Individual Excellence is Crucial. We’re now getting an opportunity to accelerate the adoption of them because they’re seeing from me, from Dan, from Mark, that we mean it. It’s our continuing to be consistent.”


The $9 Billion Witness: Meet JPMorgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare

RollingStone.com1 day ago Meet Alayne Fleischmann, the woman JPMorgan Chase paid one of the largest fines in …

Wells Fargo foreclosure manual under fire – The Washington…/wellsfargo…/25cd38…

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Wells Fargo Loses Bid to Block FHA Mortgage-Fraud Suit ……/wellsfargo-loses-bid-to-block-Jun 10, 2014 – Wells Fargo & Co. failed to convince a federal appeals court that a multibank … may increase pressure on San Francisco-based Wells Fargo to settle the … primarily involved loan servicing practices and foreclosure abuses. Mar 12, 2014…/wells-Fargo-employees-say-threat-of…Dec 23, 2013 – … for McDonald’s,” one former branch manager from Florida tells the L.A. Times. … Wells Fargo averages more than 6 financial products per household … accounts, one of the 30 Wells employees dismissed in October tells the Times … We are taught exactly how to sell multiple accounts,” says the former …

Times investigation of Wells Fargo culture provokes strong ……/la-fi-mo-wellsfargosales-pressure-2013122…     Dec 28, 2013 – A Times investigation into the intense sales culture at Wells Fargo Bank, published in … Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times (lufbmepd/600/600×383 ) … They said the selling is intended to benefit customers by identifying and …

For two days this week, General Motors Chief Executive Mary Barra withstood a barrage of Congressional questioning over GM’s recall crisis. Maintaining a steady tone, and rarely showing emotion, Barra apologized, repeatedly insisted that there is a “new G…..»»Category: topSource: forbesApr 2nd, 2014

General Motors CEO Mary Barra faces a tough week of testimony before congressional committees about defective ignition switches linked to 13 deaths. General Motors CEO Mary Barra faces a tough week of testimony before congressional committees about …..»»Category: topSource: npr Mar 31st, 2014

GM CEO Barra Brings Tight-Rope Act To Congressional Circus This Week [VIDEO]General Motors chief executive for just two months, Mary Barra already is facing a massive crisis involving the recall of more than three million vehicles, 12 related deaths and revelations the automaker knew about the defect for a decade. Now she’s set…..»» Category: topSource: forbes Mar 30th, 2014

GM recall process will be under congressional microscope – GlobalPost Wall Street JournalGM recall process will be under congressional microscopeGlobalPostDETROIT/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When General Motors Co Chief Executive Mary Barra faces Congress next week she will have to explain how the top brass at the biggest U.S. a…..»» Category: topSource: googlenewsMar 29th, 2014

GM recall process will be under congressional microscope – Reuters Vancouver SunGM recall process will be under congressional microscopeReutersDETROIT/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When General Motors Co Chief Executive Mary Barra faces Congress next week she will have to explain how the top brass at the biggest U.S. automaker …..»» Category: topSource: googlenewsMar 29th, 2014

GM recall process will be under Congressional microscope  DETROIT/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – When General Motors Co Chief Executive Mary Barra faces Congress next week she will have to explain how the top brass at the biggest U.S. automaker can say they knew nothing for more than a decade about a faulty ignition swi…..»» Category: topSource: reutersMar 28th, 2014

California lawsuit claims more GM vehicles faulty than in recall

(Reuters) – A lawsuit against General Motors Co filed this week in San Francisco seeking class action status includes plaintiffs who own cars outside GM’s recall of 1.6 million vehicles……»» Category: topSource: reutersMar 25th, 2014

General Motors Faces Lawsuits as Recall Saga Continues General Motors Company (GM) has come under serious fire from multiple fronts – including the Justice Department, Congress, and auto safety regulators – over the last week. General Motors Company (GM) has come under serious fire from multiple fronts …..»» Category: topSource: bidnessetc Mar 17th, 2014



images top cartoonimages customer service re somone being a number

I can’t help but wonder how the employee morale would be for any employee who had to work under the conditions as described in my prior blog. I’m saddened at the thought that employees at GM would be expected to compromise their moral compass by being party to practices like not being up front with their customers about a design problem, known for years which cost a significant number of clients, their lives. Many of the employees who worked for Wells Fargo had to experience reticence in falsifying customer foreclosure documents. I’m betting that a few at the VA Hospital felt sick over falsifying the appointment records of their patients. While I was watching a recent U.S. Congressional hearing regarding the Secret Service, I kept hearing comments along the lines that Congress  had to rely on information from whistle blowers and that the front line professionals seemed to feel safer talking to congressional members versus their direct managers or even upper management.

cartoon-94 lady customer service

I have been trying to figure out why  management would allow this. My best guess is that these “cookie cutter” call centers were originally conceptualized, so those selling them could legitimately promise their customers and businesses significant increase in profits, efficiencies, productivity by streamlining operational activities between the frontline professionals and customers. The thinking of those marketing these systems was that not only could they help a company to earn more revenues but they could easily win the support and buy in of middle management by painting the picture of how much easier it would be to manage the sales force. The call center sales people explained that by measuring standards such as calls per hour and average handling times by agents and by assisting them with standard type sales pitches with tweaks here and there, the sales would follow. The frontline agents would be randomly listened to, audited and coached. Thus, the “cookie cutter” call center marketers almost guaranteed middle managers easily achievable goals of increase in profits as well as the resulting raises, bonuses, and promotions. The “cookie cutter” call center is designed to measure more transactional type of activities versus detailing actual results which means the frontline managers would not be accountable for hard numbers like the quantity of products sold and the amount of revenues produced within a team or department. Altering this status quo would be strongly resisted by middle and frontline management. Over time, supervisors can become complacent and some how they come to justify the steps they take even when they are not acting in a manner consistent with the company’s mission statement which probably includes words like honesty and integrity. These marketers convinced buyers that with their support, training and other assistance, that the customer service satisfaction surveys and the sales results would continue to do well. Now, welcome to planet earth!

great customer service cartoonI can only guess as to how these employees felt about being so micromanaged. I cannot fathom how a reputable company would not feel mortified at creating this type company culture. My guess is that this “cookie cutter call center syndrome” culture has probably evolved over enough time, so that top management may not be aware of how the decrease in employee satisfaction survey ratings; the increase in employee turnover; increase in employee non planned absenteeism; employees out on disability leave due to mental health issues could be associated with the implementation of the typical call center prototype. The employee is not about to step forward to complain even about any serious integrity issue concerns during this current job market downturn. In addition the employees would be so fearful of retaliation; not being assigned plum jobs; not receiving raises; bonuses and decent performance evaluations. In this environment, the employees who do not rock the boat are highly valued as middle management would not want their boat rocked. Those who dare to question or suggest a better way to be productive, will not last. The methods used to accomplish this are discussed extensively in my other blogs. In this culture, any training designed to encourage employees to value the diversity, different thinking styles and the creative input of others is a waste of money as this would be counter to the interests of middle management which would be very much aligned in keeping the status quo. A significant percentage of these employees have to be suffering from work related stress and mental health issues.

imagesLWJQRJLZBully Online is the world’s leading web site on bullying in the workplace and related issues including stress, PTSD and bullying-related suicide. When this web site was started in the United Kingdom, it was inundated with complaints from call center employees. The “cookie cutter” call center is a huge industry in the United Kingdom and Ireland. One of  it’s articles refers to David Oliver, a researcher in Newcastle, northeast England, who reports the following; “the hi-tech software used by most modern call centres allows supervisors to directly compare call length and amount per hour. He states that although this is a useful management tool, it is used by supervisors on the floor of the call center to discuss which staff are better than others. This is discussed openly and meant to induce competitiveness but in reality often leads to undue competition which makes people more stressed when they deal with customers. In many centres there is a poor structure whereby the management (who are mostly competent and well respected) put pressure on the supervisors to increase performance. These supervisors are not professionals; all they do is increase the pressure on the call takers. This increases the stress on the call takers who, due to this stress, underperform. This underperformance is picked up by the managers who again pile on the pressure. It’s this cycle of pressure, David suggests, which leads to unhappiness at all levels and is thus the cause of the high turnover rate.” The site indicates that the turnover rate of these call centers for inbound calls is at a minimum is close to 50%.


As per a Harvard Business Review article, published in May, 2014, titled “Blue Ocean Leadership, the authors describe what future leadership roles in a competitive world  looks like. In one of their leadership programs, they detail the actions of some in the position of frontline leaders.  “In their program study, the future frontline leaders study team called themselves “Cut Through the Crap” which was changed to “Cut Through to Serve Customers.”  “In this profile, frontline leaders did not defer the vast majority of customer queries to middle management and spent less time jumping through procedural hoops. Their time was directed to training frontline personnel to deliver on company promises on the spot, resolve customer problems, quickly help customers in distress, and make meaningful cross sales- leadership acts and activities that fired up the frontline workers, were sure to excite customers, and would have a direct  impact on the company’s bottom line. …Liberate, Coach and Empower” was the tagline for middle management’s to be profile. Here leaders’ time and attention shifted from controlling to supporting employees. This involved eliminating and reducing a range of oversight activities.” This model will make it essential for the competitive successful companies of the future to be able to attract creative, top notch managers and frontline agents. These folks are not likely to be excited about working in the “cookie cutter” call center company which definitely will never be mistaken for the “Blue Ocean Leadership Model of the Future.”

untitled lady screaming

The succumbing to the quick increase in profits by companies implementing the “cookie cutter” call system without any modification is all fools gold.  As soon as the job market significantly improves, the company’s star employees will leave in droves.  Top rated college students and professionals look at certain websites such as “Glass door” and “” to help them in their decisions as to which companies they would have some interest in pursuing for a job. These websites keep track of how current and previous employees feel about their work environment. Most sites are set up so that employees cannot give a lot of positive input to increase the ratings of a company. For example, there is a provision that allows other readers to agree or disagree with any comments. If a positive comment gets one agree and twenty disagrees, this is telling. I did check these websites for a couple of insurance companies that operate a call center as described above and overall the positive comments had a few agrees but the negative comments had many agrees. There is no way that any company who emulates this “call center cookie cutter syndrome” will receive great ratings which means you will not have top notch potential employees knocking on your door.

This is an example from                                                                                                    Not the same company, now cookie cutter just like rest of the call center financial firms in Phoenix.” 

  • Comp & Benefits -Work/Life Balance- Senior Management-

    Culture & Values-Career Opportunities

Former Employee – Anonymous Employee in Phoenix, AZ 

I worked at Charles Schwab full-time (more than 10 years)

Their insatiable appetite to make decisions based on the bottom line and low level managers being low level across the board forced me to find myself and find a much better way.      CONS                                                                                                                                                                                        Too many to list if you have a soul. Any time spent here will certainly compromise anything positive that you believe in.

Advice to Management

Get a clue….bunch of clowns….people are not stupid or stuck. Leveraging poor job market scare tactics to have their way and think they can make all the rules. Stop hiring people to post all the positive comments on Glassdoor. I’ve been on the inside, I know the truth….it’s a joke but only funny in hindsight. Very sad for the many people that I know still there.                                                                                                                                                                               Doesn’t Recommend                                                                                             Helpful (6)

 imagesN6N5X0WW process issue ..why more customers leaving

In addition, you will not have an inkling as to which agents consistently give out accurate and complete information or who  takes the time required to satisfactorily resolve any issues whenever possible during the initial call. You will not have tracking to be able to detail which agents return promised follow up calls. All of the above examples cost your companies real monies via dissatisfied customers who decide not to purchase your products; start doubting the integrity and branding of the company; start checking out competitors  instead of solely being loyal to your company. Please do not allow your company to be a lemming by continuing to enable these call center marketers without requesting some customization and adjustments as to their business analytics to account for the above described activities.


1.)Does corporate culture drive financial performance? – Forbes…/does-corporateculture-drive-financial-perfor…

2.)Stupefying Statements from the CRM Call CenterForbes…/5-stupefying-statements-from-the-crm-callce

3.)From Call Center Agent To Zappos’ Life Coach Forbes…/from-callcenter-agent-to-zappos-executive-th…

4.)A Story Of Poor Customer Service And How To Fix It – Forbes…/a-common-problem-a-story-of-poor-custome

5.)How American Express Transformed Its Call CentersHarvard…/american-express-how-we-tran…


Customer-Satisfaction-Cartoon-286x300 customer service survey

For any business decision maker, I am gifting you with my minimum standard wish list for how I would like to be treated when I contact a call center selling  more sophisticated products such as property and casualty insurance.  My first wish is not to be placed on hold for more than two minutes and to be connected to the right department on my first contact. I do not want to verify my identity more than once. I strongly dislike having to be trans-ferred around and so I shouldn’t have to endure this more than one time. I want to work with a professional who is qualified, competent and empowered to handle whatever issue I plan to discuss during the initial phone call. I would hope the agent is allowed enough time to listen to me as a human being without the agent having to worry if their greeting was correct; that the call flo met the company’s standards and the closing statement matched a script. As a non legal scholar, I should be able to clearly understand any legal compliance disclosures and should not have to listen to the same disclosures repeatedly.  I would like to be able to count on the agent not being so micromanaged, so that there is enough time for the agent to make sure all my problems are resolved even if my issues are complicated or time consuming to fix. If I am calling for customer service or to complain, I do not want to be sold  something not related to my call. I want my issue to be handled!!!  Any information provided to me should be accurate and complete. If my request  or issue cannot be completed during the initial contact, then I would like the first agent to document sufficient notes so that the next agent can assist me without me having to repeat the entire story again. All possible steps should be taken to avoid my having to make a return call. For example, if I need to email or sign a form, another agent could finish up whatever the first agent started and then email or mail me the results. Remember my time is also precious.

images9D2EMYCT customer service letter

At the end of the call, the agent can then inquire if I have any interest in learning or being sold any of your other company products. If an agent or supervisor has promised to return a phone call on a particular date and time, then I would like the agent to be able to meet their commitment. Whenever possible, I would like the extensions for various divisions to be listed on the company’s website along with the correct hours of service, so that when I call, I can just input the extension and circumvent the voice call system which  never seems to understand me.

Personally, I prefer to use the internet; however, please be aware that many of your more mature clients may not be comfortable using the computer.  Their monies are just as green as your younger clients. If some of your clients are not computer literate, please have marketing materials to mail them along with the CEO’s name; address, phone and fax numbers; a listing of all your products; extensions for the various divisions with their business hours. If your company will treat me as I have described above, then your company will eventually reflect a “customer culture” environment.

customer serviceConsumers, please do not continue to enable your favorite companies to be overtaken by the “COOKIE CUTTER CALL CENTER SYNDROME.” When a company  does not treat you with the dignity, respect and value that you deserve, please write or email the company’s CEO. If you “google” any company’s name, the right side of the screen should list the name of the CEO, the headquarters address and phone numbers. Occasionally, there is an email link.               

Dear Company management, please keep up to date as to improved call center metrics to insure better treatment towards your customers. The following is from a blog  published 10/10/2013 by an insider, Mike Jeffries, ” It is important to take a holistic view when working out what you’re trying to achieve with contact centre performance measurement. For example, if you’re measuring cost per call, it might seem sensible for a centre to finish that call as quickly as possible. However, the more satisfied the customer, the more chance of them becoming brand advocates. The ROI from the call is then probably higher as a long-term relationship is nurtured even if the call has extended slightly beyond answering the initial query. Creating a formula to calculate the ‘time versus value add’ could be beneficial. In fact, as businesses have moved away from viewing contact centres as purely cost centres, and have increasingly acknowledged the value in providing a positive experience to the caller, so metrics such as average call handling time have become outmoded.”

In my opinion, it would be better to track the number of products ( within and outside of one’s division) that an sales agent has sold as well as how much monies they have produced for the company. The referral sales’ transfers should be tracked as to which result in a closed sale. Emphases should always be placed on measuring actual results versus conformity to a set of rules such as following the outline of a script etc. An independent group could monitor the agents’ calls for quality control with the goal being to insure that the sales and/ or customer service agents consistently deliver information and assistance that is accurate, complete and disclose any legal compliance rules.They should not be aware of the identity of the agent or even the results of any previous evaluations to prevent any bias. Then the gifted sales agents would be enabled to handle calls from potential clients as suits them while still maintaining high professional sales and performance standards which are measurable. They would be empowered by having truly objective parameters to compare themselves to their peers and they would have the satisfaction of seeing how they have directly contributed to the profits of their employer. Direct management and any coaching should be of a positive and supportive nature. All customers should have access to a customer satisfaction survey at the end of a call without the agent being able to bar them in any way and the customer should be subject to no more than three questions.They should be offered the option to go on to the company web site to provide input and/ or there should be a well advertised, easily accessible  phone number by which a customer could leave a message regarding their experience. In house team meetings could include brain storming sessions by which the sales agents can share their thinking on how to improve their sales performances and customer experiences. Various levels of management could make time to attend part of these sessions without immediate management present to insure that the infrastructure is well established to allow the agents a safe haven for the free flow of ideas. More research and development could be performed to continuously provide your sale professionals with the most up to date information regarding the competitors’ products and practices in addition to verifying that your products are the best value in the market.


Again, as per a call center marketer insider on the blog dated July, 25, 2012, Andrew O’ Brien writes: “When cookie cutter centers (CCC’s) spew value propositions on sales calls and in RFP’s, pricing is noted as the predominant competitive advantage. There is substantial cause for this claim: the outsourcer has cut corners at every turn to drive cost down to its lowest levels, and they want to brag about it. Hundreds of these providers mention low cost and high savings as a key competitive advantage. Usually and unfortunately the correlation between cost and quality is clear.” He continues with the following comments: “When agents can track and measure and manage their own performance, their individual effort takes on greater contextual meaning. Culture begins with engagement and engagement begins with finding meaning in your work – no matter what job you are doing. In our contact center world, there is a clear line from transparency, accountability, and meaning at the agent level to a strong, productive culture at the corporate level.”


1.) From Call Center Agent To Zappos’ Life Coach: This Forbes…/from-callcenter-agent-to-zappos-executive-th…

 2.)7 Secrets To Get Good Customer Service By Phone – Forbes…/7-secrets-to-get-good-customerservice-by-ph

 3.)A Story Of Poor Customer Service And How To Fix It – Forbes…/a-common-problem-a-story-of-poor-custome

4.)How American Express Transformed Its Call CentersHarvard…/american-express-how-we-tran…

5.)Earn Customer Loyalty Without Losing Your Shirt – Harvard…/earn-customer-loyalty-without/‎‎