Saturday, June 28, 2008

Customer (dis)Service?

I'm in the middle of a common issue with a large corporation. There's a problem. Relatively small for both myself and the billion dollar corp. It matters not exactly what it is. The attitudes and options of all parties is what interests me. But for clarity, here's my letter to the CEO of Virgin Mobile which I sent along with my non-working cell and copies of the relevant receipts and instruction booklet.
John Perkins
5201 22nd Ave NE #201
Seattle WA 98105
206 524.4496

June 27, 2008

Mr. Dan Schulman, CEO
Virgin Mobile USA
10 Independence Blvd
Warren NJ 07059

Re: Balance Held by VM
Phone #:*** ***.****
Customer names: Julene Weaver/John Perkins

Dear Mr. Schulman:

I have been a customer of VM since November 2005. The service has been superb.

I have run into a problem and you may be the only person who can solve it.

Relationship summary:

Date Activity

11/05 Purchased VM Kyocera phone/service from Radio Shack (RS).

08/07 Purchased a top-up for one year @ $90.

06/08 Phone malfunctions, troubles begin.
±$60 balance remaining.

The phone no longer works. Try it. I returned to RS to discover they needed my vkey/PIN. The short of it is that the salesman at RS (at time of purchase in 05) entered the online information and mistaken told us the wrong number to pay attention to as our vkey/PIN. Human error. We have entered over 30 variations with no luck trying to guess this number. Frustrating. I send you copies of our paper documentation.

I'm asking you, as CEO, to authorize VM to return my balance. You may need to re-examine your no refund policies before approving this.

In all fairness,

John E. Perkins, III
Dealing with VM is a dance of frustration. To call in to the customer service number means working past about 6 or 7 steps with their automatic voice responder. Each time.

Then I go over the history, each time, and they invariably say what's the answer to the Question, in this case favorite pet. We don't know as we never entered that. Then, they say well, nothing we can do. So I point out they are holding my $60 and I would like it sent back. And we start at the top again about needing the pin/vkey, etc.

So, next I called into the headquarters on a toll number and got the identical run around. But, get this, when I asked who the CEO was so I could send him a letter the CS rep (and after a pause, her supervisor) said send it to the customary complaint address I can find on the web. This is a slip on their part for two reasons: 1. the name of the CEO is easily found via other means. So give up the name. Or send the Money. And, 2) The usual complaint route will have the same rote response as I'm getting from the phone in Customer Service. Like I want more of this!

The following day, I got a call from D. who eventually said that the phone I mailed in would probably make its way to him and he'd take a look. I had told him I would most likely get another VM phone (price is the best for my needs, still). He said he'll see what he can do to make me whole because he didn't want to have a customer for 2.5 years to continue with a bitter taste in his mouth. The right attitude, at last. Can he come through? Stay tuned.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cross-cultural dialogues

After mentioning that two current movies (see recent posts) would be good for cross-cultural discussions, I reminded myself that not everyone would approach these matters in a productive way. Sometimes these conversations "just happen" and given the relative skill level of each person in the conversation the experience can range from crappy to lifechanging. A random method is not one I would recommend.

Why? Ongoing relationships and the building of mutual good will sufficient to continue a discussion over time sometimes suffer when people talk without sharing a culture of what is "too far" or provocative. Especially if someone hurt during the conversation has no means of asking for a change in the rules or norms and also may be viewed as vulnerable or weak relative to the other discussants (who stay a bit one-up due to not revealing any vulnerability).

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Two Movies Worth Checking Out

Over the past week I have attended two exceptional movies. Both are "mainstream" but take viewers to the edges of our understanding of what we can do to, with or for one another.


As part of the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) I got to see Alan Ball's first directorial pix: Towelhead. This from Time:

By mid-August, audiences should be ready for something provocative enough to jar us out of our special effects-induced stupor. Enter Alan Ball, the Oscar winning writer of American Beauty and Six Feet Under, the George Lucas of the dirty-little-suburban-secrets genre. For his directorial debut, Ball adapted a novel by Alicia Erian about an Arab-American girl growing up and coming of age in Texas during the first Gulf war. Newcomer Summer Bishil plays the lead; Peter Macdissi is her strict father, Aaron Eckhart an Army reservist whose head is turned by his young neighbor. Towelhead has all the makings of the best of Ball: precocious teens, narcissistic parents, uncomfortable sexuality, cutting cultural commentary. And, in this summer movie, the aliens who teach us about ourselves aren't CGI.

And this from Apple:
TOWELHEAD follows the dark, bold and shockingly funny life of Jasira, a 13-year-old Arab-American girl, as she navigates the confusing and frightening path of adolescence and her own sexual awakening. When Jasira’s mother sends her to Houston to live with her strict Lebanese father, she quickly learns that her new neighbors find her and her father a curiosity. Worse, her budding womanhood makes her traditional and hot-tempered father uncomfortable. Lonely in this new environment, Jasira seeks friendship and acceptance from her neighbors Mr. Vuoso, an Army reservist, and Melina, a meddling but caring expectant mother. Thrown into an unfamiliar suburban world, Jasira must confront racism and hypocrisy at home and at school - and at the same time struggle to make sense of her raging hormones and newfound sexuality. Her boyfriend, Thomas, though a few years older, provides some comfort - but even that relationship causes problems when her father discovers that Thomas is black. Surrounded by adults who are just as lost as she is, Jasira yearns for understanding, even amidst often brutal acts.
Summer Bishal aced this role. Alan Ball came to Seattle for this showing to a packed Egyptian Theater. He said she walked in during the first week of the call for this role. She was 18 but looked 13. Her "character arc" takes her from pawn between her divorced parents to a "somewhat in charge of herself" person. Hard to do at 31 much less 13 and as a minor. She begins to make choices amidst steady swirls of decisions made for her.

I grew up in a family with strict rules among a community with families with strict rules. Parts of the ending don't read fully likely to me, but there's a lot of variety out there in the secret lives of suburban families. Could be as vital for cross-cultural conversations as Crash was a few years back.

The Visitor

My comment about Towelhead being useful for cross-cultural dialogues applies equally strongly to The Visitor. Interestingly enough, the actor who played the father in Six Feet Under has the lead in this sleepwalking-white-guy-awakened-by-a-little-bit-of-soul movie. From Matchflick:

'The Visitor' is an extraordinary film, able to captivate an audience with its simplicity and humanity. It stars the terrific Richard Jenkins as Walter Vale, a widowed college professor still deeply saddened by the death of his beloved wife. He no longer seems to care about anything, especially not his job; but he is called to deliver a paper at a conference in New York, so he leaves his suburban home in Connecticut and flies to the Big Apple, where he has an apartment he rarely stays in. He finds it is occupied by two illegal immigrants, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman), from Syria, and Zainab (Danai Gurira), from Senegal. Kindness compels him to let them live there until they can find another place, and he befriends the extremely amicable Tarek. Zainab is not as trusting, it takes her a while to warm up to Walter, and what helps that process along is a shared love of music. Tarek is a musician, and introduces Walter to exotic African drum beats, and Tarek helps Walter overcome his self-imposed introversion, by introducing him to new people and injecting some joy and fun back into his life.
Tarek gets arrested on the way with Walter to play drums in Central Park. He then enters the Kafkaesque world of immigration prisons, lawyers, and limited legal rights. The facility where Tarek is taken, Walter learns, is in a distant area of the Bronx, run by UCC, United Corrections Corporation (fictional company based on private prison corporations). A visual reference to the privatization of correctional work. To the director's credit, no verbal reference is made to this fact. The building is windowless and Tarek in a later scene says UCC's idea of "outdoors" is one of the cells with the roof cut out.

Though Walter had begun to make the transition to African Drums the movie's pacing still felt European Classical. Still, the frustrations of dealing with a "justice" system that is clearly "unfair" shows up the tragic ironies that the abuse of powers sprout.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Announcement: Facilitating Change by an Insider

Come attend the best kept secret for professional development: The NW Facilitators Guild of the ICA (Intercultural Affairs). On Saturday, August 2, I'll be the featured presenter.



Is it possible for organizations to live up to their own highest ideals? YES!-with the right approach. Come learn how the same four-stage method that insiders used to lead Quakers to abolish slavery and major league baseball to integrate can be applied to achieve change in any organization. As facilitators, we can help people rekindle their passion to see their values in action. This presentation will include
  • Discussions on how to support and coach for change by our clients (who are insiders by definition).
  • Details from two historical references demonstrating how to use this method.

JOHN PERKINS, Ph.D. is a Solution-Focused Consultant and a founding partner of Keep the Change. He has a B.A. in Economics from Amherst College and a Ph.D. in Organizational Change from Union Institute. Safeco Insurance Company awarded him a Rudy Award in 1994 for his ability to "cut through the fog and get the job done." Keep the Change Press released his latest book, Get Off the Dime!-Courageous Board Governance Through Sensemaking, in October 2002. He is currently working on a book about the interweaving of powers and loves in our lives and communities. He is a long-time member of the ICA Facilitators Guild. You can reach him at 206 524.4496 &

Time and Date: 10 AM - 2 PM, Saturday, August 2, 2008

Fee: $5

Other contributions: Bring food or beverage to share for the potluck lunch.

Location: We'll be meeting at the 2100 Building, 2100 24th Avenue South. Seattle, WA 98144-4632

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

BarCamp Topic: Bringing Insights from Game Designers into the Workplace

It happens that I attended my first BarCamp over the weekend of June 14 & 15. One session I attended is the title for this entry. But to zoom out a level, BarCamp itself has the quality of a "game" of the infinite variety, not the finite kind. What are finite and infinite games, you ask?

Words I once used to describe the infinite game characteristics of Open Space Technology can apply equally as well to BarCamp. BarCamp builds the context for an entirely different type of game: an infinite game. As James Carse says in Finite and Infinite Games: A Vision of Life as Play and Possibility (1986), "A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, an infinite game for the purpose of continuing the play" (p. 3). BarCamp has many of the attributes of infinite games. Plus, the experiences Carse attributes to infinite game players could as easily be described by participants in BarCamp.

Finite games have ranks, levels, winners, losers. Infinite games have enjoyment, laughter, learning. Finite games are played to win, infinite games are played for the joy of playing.
It is an invariable principle of all play, finite and infinite, that whoever plays, plays freely. Whoever must play, cannot play. (1986: 4, emphasis in original)

Infinite players cannot say when their play began, nor do they care. (: 7-8)

While finite games are externally defined, infinite games are internally defined (: 8).

Infinite players play best when they become least necessary to the continuation of play...The joyfulness of infinite play, its laughter, lies in learning to start something we cannot finish
(: 32). An interesting feature of Open Space and BarCamp is that the organizers and facilitators are noticeably casual and laid-back. They can be seen comfortably talking with others while the event is in full bloom.

To be playful is not to be trivial or frivolous, or to act as though nothing of consequence will happen. On the contrary, when we are playful with each other we relate as free persons, and the relationship is open to surprise( :19).

everything that happens is of consequence (: 19).

In infinite play one always plays dramatically, that is, towards the open, towards the horizon, towards surprise, where nothing can be scripted (: 31).