Sunday, September 20, 2009

Post-birthday superstar!

This little girl is a hoot! Here she is modeling some of her birthday finery. The glasses are her own special addition. Gift she squealed the loudest about? The stuffed pink pony. What occupied her attention the longest after the gifts were unwrapped? The tangle of colorful ribbons. Of course.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Lions at the gate and fresh meat answering the door

At your workplace, does your first line of public contact really know your company? For most companies and organizations, their front desk staff may be the lowliest person on the organizational chart, but they're really one of the most important.

This point was reinforced for me recently when I called a large, local business trying to reach someone who could provide some specific clarifications about their product. The person answering the phone (who I later learned was an intern) transferred me to seven (!) different people before I finally reached someone in the know. Each time, she prefaced the transfer with, "Um, okay, I'll try this one." She had no idea what each one did and didn't know what their titles meant when I suggested options.

When I finally reached a real person who knew something, I told them about the difficulty I'd had reaching them. His reply? "Well she's an intern and you know, good help is hard to find." I'm not sure how much he was joking but really? In this recession?!

Having done my time as that phone answer or receptionist, I know it's usually not the most exciting position and often requires that you take the brunt of a complaint from a disgruntled customer. But it does give you an opportunity to really help people and give them an impression of what your organization or company is about.

I work for a government agency and I'm often forwarded a call from a resident unhappy with some aspect of the agency's service, or more often, just frustrated that they can't reach anyone who can help them solve a specific problem or answer a question.

Answering these questions or helping them find the right person is not part of my job description. But I feel it's one of those things that falls under the category "other duties as assigned." I always hear them out, figure out who can help them, offer to call them back in a few minutes if I can't figure it out quickly, then connect them with the right person and give them my direct number and full name in case they need to follow up.

Often, the department or person they're having a problem with isn't even my own and they just need help navigating a confusing bureaucracy. Again, not officially my job, but certainly part of being a public servant in my book. And the few minutes it takes out of my day is certainly worth it when I hear, "Thank you so much! You're the first person who's taken the time to help me. You've restored my faith in government." Hey: glad to help!

While snazzy websites can do a lot to present a company's image to the world, I suspect some businesses spend more time haggling about the placement of a button on their website than about the skill level or appropriateness of their reception or other staff that interacts with customers.

However, more companies should realize that the person in that spot and the customer service approach of the entire staff is just as important as their website in providing an impression of what their business is about, how it handles things and whether it's a place to which customers will want to provide repeat business or to which they'll refer friends and associates.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

PDX, Paul Bunyon and politics

Some interesting Oregon updates I just ran across. When I worked in TV news, I lived in Portland for a couple years as I made my way back up the I-5 corridor from Medford, Oregon home to Seattle. I started out in an apartment and eventually bought my first home in the Kenton neighborhood in North Portland.

Some folks know it as the place with the towering statue of mythological lumberjack Paul Bunyan (photo courtesy of A fitting icon in a state built inlarge part on logging in decades past.

Others know it as the neighborhood that's also home to the Dancin' Bear Bare strip club (and yes, that's how it's written on the sign).

Whichever memory aid works for you, it was my 'hood in Portland: working class, a little rough around the edges, but I felt, on the upswing. Apparently, I was right, just a bit early back in 2001.

According to the Oregonian newspaper, the neighborhood's getting some revitalization money: Amid face-lift, Kenton values small-town feel.

In other Oregon news, former governor John Kitzhaber is back on the scene and planning to run for governor again. Although he served two terms as governor from 1995-2003, Oregon’s constitution only prohibits governors from serving more than two consecutive terms or more than eight years within a 12-year time frame.

I met Mr. Kitzhaber when I was a reporter in southern Oregon and he always struck me as a reluctant politician who eschewed partisanship and served for the right reasons: because he had good, innovative, progressive ideas, and wanted to work with others to make things better for as many people as possible, not just a select few.

He's a former emergency room doctor who helped write the Oregon Health Plan . After he left office, one of his projects was (from Wikipedia) launching the Archimedes Movement, an organization seeking to maximize the health of the population by creating a sustainable system which uses the public resources spent on health care to ensure that everyone has access to a defined set of effective health services.

When he was in office, one of the criticisms of his tenure was that he didn't work well with the Republican-controlled legislature during his term. Not sure how he'll approach that this time around, but he seems like just the kind of politician we need in the fray these days.