Customer Service as a Way of Life

I’m sitting in a lab lobby waiting to get blood drawn. The receptionist is one of the rudest people I’ve ever overheard. Every time someone checks in, every word she says is edgy and nasty and she seems to have no tone except one that makes people feel like idiots.

It was like this last time I came here too. I don’t know what’s going on in her life or why this business allows her to keep her job, but it got me thinking about customer service. How is it learned?

I had several customer facing jobs when I was young, starting with door to door candy bar sales for little league and collecting payments from newspaper subscribers. I don’t remember being coached or taught but maybe I was. I do remember feeling nervous and awkward and reading people’s responses. I wanted to not make people unhappy, a tall order in door to door sales but easier when you’re 10. So I’d see what seemed to get the best responses and adjust. I wasn’t consciously systematic most of the time, just adjusting to the situation.

Over time, I learned lots of little things that worked every time. I got good at it. I practiced more running the concessions and pro shop at a small golf course then bagging groceries. Then I installed internet and phone systems at car dealerships and learned to deal with higher profile people in higher stress situations.

The apex of my customer service work was as a legislative assistant to a state representative. Most of the day was spent on the phone and email and physical mail between me (speaking in the voice of my boss half the time) and truly crazy, angry, or delusional people with an occasional nut job for balance. I turned it into a game and tried to find a way to make people happy while being disagreed with. I got good at it.

The ability to interact with lots of people and leave them feeling good after the interaction is really powerful. When I did fundraising for a non profit these skills with receptionist and assistants and gatekeepers worked magic on helping me get meetings.

I’m not sure why some people seem to learn customer service skills and some don’t. It really baffles me. I wish I could crack the code.

Oh, as an aside, say what you will about the U.S., but the customer service in this country is typically about ten times better than any other place I’ve been, save maybe heavily touristy places in Africa. Mises said under capitalism consumer kings rule. It feels so good to be made to feel like a king for merely existing. Vegas is probably the greatest example of this.

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Is There a Market for an ISA Marketplace?

I love the idea of better and clearer markets in everything.

There already are markets in everything, but most lack clear information flow, have fuzzy incentives, and weak to no liquidity or money prices.

Individual earning potential is no different. There is so much that could be done to better allocate money across time slices to get capital to its highest time value location for individuals. When you need money isn’t always when you have it and vice versa. I’ve blogged before about a world where you can sell shares in yourself and securitize your future potential wealth.

But I want to know who would do it.

I want a marketplace where individuals can share their info and sell shares to one or many investors.

It’s gonna be hard to test the demand. It’s a new category and requires a lot of comfort with the idea, not to mention some parameters and assurances that legal issues won’t kill it. How to test quickly and easily if there are enough people who’d try it on both sides of the market?

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The Equality of the iPhone

My daughter brought home a busted up Motorola Razr flip phone yesterday. She got it trading stuff with neighbors.

It’s still a beautiful piece of hardware. She couldn’t understand how it was so cool when it came out despite doing nothing but calls and texts. I couldn’t explain.

It took me back to the days when cells phones all did nothing but calls, yet they were incredible status symbols. The model you had said so much. It was pure bling to go beyond a basic phone. And there was nuance in the choice.

The iPhone ended that. There is no way to signal status with a cell phone anymore. There’s nothing better than a standard issue iPhone. In fact, new models now rarely innovate, so even two or three models back is not any kind of negative status signal.

It’s interesting to watch in real time as goods go from luxury only, to widespread with luxury options, to standard commodities. Like cars, I suspect it will move into commodity plus collectible or customized market.

Maybe some retrofitted flip phone or custom home built job will be next.

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You’re Better Than the Mob; Don’t Forget it

There seems to be a strange willingness to destroy real individual human lives in defense of abstract imagined threats.

Watch the way people get excoriated on social platforms if it is believed that their actions, words, or even thoughts, are potentially not proactively in line with whatever imagined doomsday threat is en vogue. They don’t have to even do anything concrete or harm any specific individual in a specific way. They themselves only need to be perceived as a threat to the crusade against some big unsolvable boogeyman that no one actually really cares about but everyone pretends to.

What if we reserved active disdain for only those times when a real person took an action that caused us firsthand harm?

I cannot imagine any way in which the world would be worse.

The burden of proof would be on those rallying everyone against a public stranger to demonstrate such harm and show why additional parties ought to consider themselves part of the harmed in explicit provable material ways.

The danger of bad individuals – even “evil” if you insist – is utterly dwarfed by the danger of self-righteous mobs seeking to crucify them.

Mobs aren’t human.

They represent a reprehensible sub-human animal spirit that lurks behind mass man at all times. It is the spirit that believes some men ought or need to rule others. It is the spirit that suppresses the individual will with a nebulous collective death cult. It is a spirit that revels in the suffering of those envied more than individual progress.

In religious terms, it is Satan. In political terms, it is The State. They are essentially the same spirit. They exist only based on belief in and fear of them. Their incantations are collectivist words like “We” and obligatory words like “Ought”. They place an unfulfillable burden of responsibility on everyone while making accountability for anyone obscure to the point of impossible.

Their message is always one of what cannot be done without them. Their psychology is that of an abusive spouse angling at co-dependent manipulation. They desperately and cruelly whisper and shout a repeated hammer drum of what horrors and impossibilities await those who don’t yield to their necessity. They don’t pretend to be good. Their lie is that they are necessary. That without them you would die. But they are death. Of soul even when not of body.

Don’t give in.

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The Disadvantages of Being a Government Monopolist

I don’t mean being the dominant player in a market. I mean here a much tighter definition of monopoly: legal monopoly.

Governments suck.

The reason they suck is because they are monopolists. The good news is, this means opportunity to outcompete governments for all the stuff they do badly. (At least the parts that anyone actually wants done).

The challenge of competing with governments is of course that they can kill anyone who doesn’t want to be a paying customer. This gives them a huge customer base.

It turns out, people don’t like to be killed. So they pay government to avoid it. They take the services since they had to pay for them anyway to avoid being caged (or killed if they resisted being caged).

But this provides the opening for competitors.

It also turns out, you don’t get good information about how to make your product valuable when everyone is buying it out of fear you will kill them if they don’t. So governments plod along delivering unimaginably stupid services in unimaginably backward ways with terribly high costs and the worst employees in history.

It’s so bad, in fact, and so hopelessly, systematically deaf to information on how to improve, that people clamor to pay even more money to service providers who can do better, even though they are forced to pay government for their services already.

A customer willing to double pay for your service is a great customer!

Companies that deliver services to compete with government get quick feedback from the market on how to do it well. If they don’t act on it, they don’t survive. It’s very tough out there when your customers don’t have the looming fear that you might kill them. But that’s also what makes real value creation possible.

I am bullish on competing governance services. I love them.

Yes, governments can come threaten to kill such service providers if they don’t stop. But luckily governments move slow, are always trying to figure out the laziest way to maintain power, and often lack the foresight to realize a competitive threat before it’s too late.

The real bear case against competing upstarts is that they will succeed, get tired of competing, and morph into one of the many fat sloppy formerly-private rent-seeking appendages of the government. Yuck.

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College Degrees are Dying Proxies

A College degree was a proxy for employers to help them see if people have what they value.

The cost of tuition plus the time it takes to complete the degree were the key ingredients. Not anything learned.

The logic was, if you can pay the cost and complete it, it’s probably because you are ambitious and resourceful and reliable enough to get a job, get a loan, get a scholarship, borrow from relatives, etc. and stick through it. Statistics from confirm this, students that completed their studies were much more likely to pay back loans on time, even if it meant personal sacrifices.

So ambition, work ethic, consistency, resourcefulness, basic professionalism, were traits sought. Not degrees. There were not easy ways to prove those traits, and the thinking was you probably couldn’t complete college unless you had them.

But we can now go one level closer to source with a much better proxy for talent. We now have access to demonstrable activities much more directly related to those traits. And the degree is a worse and worse proxy for them.

Being able to spend a ton of money one college is a weaker and weaker proof of these qualities, because college loans are handed out like candy, parents have way more education money for their kids than they used to, more scholarships, grants, etc. In fact, spending a lot of borrowed money on college is now as likely to be a sign of poor judgement, and a lot of your parents money is as likely to be a sign of not being independent or responsible.

Being able to spend a lot of time to complete a degree is weaker as well. Not only because it’s easier to defer earning due to more access to money, but because the college experience itself is less challenging and less connected to the marketplace, and because being able to do the same thing for a long time is no longer highly valued in the workplace. Jobs are far more dynamic and less monotonous, and average tenure is short.

So degrees are dying proxies for desirable traits like ambition, work ethic, consistency, resourcefulness, basic professionalism.

Good! Because now you can show them in better ways. Now you can have a proof closer to source. Proof of work. No long guesswork involved in assuming the action is a real indicator of the trait.

Now you can learn things, build things, and do things out-loud for all to see. You can create a digital footprint that gives a window into your character, skill, and ability. That’s what Crash profiles, pitches, and job campaigns are all about. But there are many ways.

It’s not just about showing expertise or the product of skills, it’s also about showing the process. You can list “Ran a marathon” on a skills profile, but better yet, you can share a series of blog posts breaking down your decision to do it, you training regimen, etc. This provides deep insight into the way you think, pick challenges, engage in self-improvement, overcome obstacles, show up consistently every day for a long period, etc.

You can communicate a history of personal progress as well as the current state of your skills in powerful ways today, and these projects and pitches and media are more directly related to the traits desired than purchased paper.

That’s the world we’re already in and I love it!

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