Books I’ve Read: Uncommon Service by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss


Ever since I started working, I’ve been in customer service. Every position has focused on the thankless task of answering people’s questions, catering to their wants and needs, and cleaning up after their indulgences. And I absolutely love it

Not all of it, of course. It’s hard getting yelled at about things you have no control over (the weather, for example). It’s hard when you want to but can’t solve a problem due to lack of autonomy or lack of resources. It’s hard to put energy into tedious tasks that have been outsourced from the customer to you, and with little thanks from those who no longer have to bear that burden. There is no glory in customer service, it seems.

But Uncommon Service by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, which was not what I expected in terms of focus, seems to give hope that the trenches of customer service have more potential for greatness than it appears.

Uncommon Service

My favorite part is that it somewhat confirms what so many front-end employees often learn quickly but back-end management tends to be ignorant of: bad service is not necessarily the fault of the employees. Negative feedback only occasionally centers on the attitude of a specific employee. More often than not, people are complaining about service or product offerings, production time, quality, and price– all things that base level employees can’t change.

I was surprised by this book because I was expecting ways to be a better customer service representative. Instead, it told me that I’m likely already doing the best I can and that the system I’m working in probably needs some help. It’s a nice confidence boost.

Uncommon Service goes way deeper though. It isn’t just about treating employees better to get better interactions out of them, and it certainly isn’t about catering to every customer’s whims. Instead, it’s about creating a system of excellence, within which employees can only provide excellence. It’s beautiful because it takes the impetus off of each individual and puts it on the whole.

There are many ideas that might seem counter-intuitive, like striving to be bad at parts of your business, but it makes a lot of sense when they explain why– and provide compelling examples. Huge names like JetBlue and Zappos regularly make appearances as poster children for some massive changes and heavy-lifting strategies that really make it easier to be great at service.

Overall, it gives some great insights into the pitfalls of customer service-oriented businesses and how to avoid them with grace and even panache. Whether you’re just starting a small business or transforming a flailing massive corporation, the strategies and arguments in this book are exciting and compelling.

Would I recommend this book? Most definitely! Especially if you’re involved in business, customer to CEO.

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Books I’ve Read: Yes Please by Amy Poehler


As always seems to happen when I feel good about where I’m at in life, things got crazy and overwhelming and not so fun. So I decided that I was due for some me time and in that time, I finally finished another book.

I had started several heavy books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Walden and a book called What Language Is. But all of these are sitting on my nightstand partially finished, too dry for my mind at the time. And so, at the suggestion of my boss, I picked up Yes Please.

Yes Please

 

I very rarely find a television series that I really love– as in watch in order to completion and then go back and do it again, or pick a favorite episode, especially when I’m feeling down. Parks and Recreation has become one of these series. Humor that isn’t too over the top, a strong story line, and loveable characters are some of my favorite elements of the show, and the Leslie Knope is the best at all of these.

 

Imagine my joy when I found out that Amy Poehler is Leslie Knope off the set too! The optimism and related but off topic insights translate well from on-screen Leslie Knope to on-paper Amy Poehler. The honesty on everything from her experimentation with controlled substances to her lesbian temptations was fascinating to me, as I’m so used to everyone talking about their sterile “American Dream” upbringing, esp

 

 

ecially in upper middle-class suburbs like the one Poehler was raised in.

While it took me some time to actually finish the book, it was an easy read, and quite pleasurable. Light enough that it made laugh after stressful days in customer service, and deep enough that it really made me think about my life and what I’d like to do. Working for the government and being an improv comedian are not likely lucrative paths for me, but being a genuine person and jumping into new opportunities are definitely on the list.

Would I recommend this book? Yes please and thank you.

Books I’ve Read: How Starbucks Saved My Life


I worked at a Starget ( a Starbucks inside a Target) for a little under a year. It was stressful. We ran out of coffee, and quite frequently. Our espresso machine was down for a whole week once. And there was often only one person scheduled for Saturdays from open until early afternoon– the time frame when EVERYONE decides to do their shopping. This was all after changing management and definitely influenced my decision to go back to Cedar Point for my second year. But it wasn’t all bad. A lot of the people, especially those early in my employment, were really wonderful. And this was what I thought about while reading How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill.

This is the story of a very well-to-do older gentleman who falls from the graces of high society. Mr. Gill was a big shot in advertising until he had too many years on him, and was fired from a high-ranking, high-paying advertising job which he got right after graduating from an ivy league school that he didn’t have to worry about paying for because his father was a big time newspaper executive. He was part of the 1%, and suddenly he wasn’t. As you can imagine, he lost everything: his job, then his money, then his family. And then he found true happiness when he was offered a job at Starbucks by complete chance– by a person he would never have thought would be his savior, namely a young black woman (the narrator is an old white man). And he gained friends and experiences that made him happier at 64 than he had ever been in his previous lifestyle.

How Starbucks Saved My Life is kind of sappy, though I appreciate the coming-up story. I enjoyed following the thoughts and actions of a son of privilege as he navigates life outside of his bubble, from his spiral into poverty to his extramarital affair and child, from his failed attempts at holding on to his spot in the upper echelon to his embarrassment at his family and former friends seeing him struggling. It may seem like I was laughing at him, but I was fascinated by his observations and the connections he made from is old life into his new. The fears he experienced were relatable for those who grew up with struggle, too. Fear of not being good enough, people not liking him, important peers and relatives being disappointed, being too old to do a job, and so on and so forth. His insecurities were universal, which made this easier to read.

My biggest complaint about this book is that the lows weren’t low enough– rather, they weren’t portrayed that way. This man, Michael Gates Gills, is almost too positive throughout his whole self-redefinition. He almost brushes over the whole divorce with his wife, he focuses on how bad his previous employment at a ginormous advertising firm is rather that how perfect it was which makes his firing less heartbreaking, and he uses such weak words to describe the discomfort of his children seeing him at Starbucks or his former friends watching him take trash out in his apron and hat. He’s so positive that it’s hard to feel bad for him. It just keeps going up.

It’s not a bad book overall. I think it’s interesting, and a good look into privilege and how it can frame the world, and also the hardships that come along with it (of course it’s not all rainbows and butterflies). I also find Starbucks to be a wonderful company, even if they are kind of expensive and there are ways they could do better, especially about their waste *cough cough*.

Would I recommend this book? For a light read, it is a good one to pick up.

Books I’ve Read: Brave New World Revisited


I first read Brave New World by Aldous Huxley as a junior in high school. I was the only person in my class who absolutely loved it. I thought everything about it was fascinating. This was a world where everything we had ever learned to be taboo was completely acceptable and even encouraged– sex, drugs, designer babies, and mass discrimination, all under governmental control. I was floored. And I was extremely disappointed when we had to write a paper on Lord of the Flies instead. Yes, yes, the conch is a symbol of innocence and when it breaks, it signifies that their innocence has been lost. Groundbreaking.

I did enjoy reading the latter novel, but something about Huxley’s dystopia has stuck with me all these years. Occasionally, I’ll read an article about a scientific breakthrough or global leadership and see a scene from Brave New World in my mind. Talk about doing your job well.

But this isn’t about the original story, it’s about the author’s reflections decades later on if and how any parts of his creation are coming true. I saw it in a bookstore, Brave New World Revisited, and just had to buy it. After sitting on my shelf for a couple years, I’ve finally gotten through it. And once again, I am floored.

In Revisited, Huxley talks a great deal about dictatorships, propaganda, and controlling the population, themes that were laid on heavy in his novel. With these reflections, he has now seen the Great Depression, the rise and fall of Hitler and Mussolini as well as other dictators, and two World Wars; a second “police action” in full swing and civil unrest over Vietnam; and culture changing drastically with the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of “hippie culture” (in this case meaning drugs), and tremendous technological and medical advances– including birth control. Many parts of this landscape are the same factors that lead to the disturbing society of Brave New World.

This short but very heavy read is frighteningly relevant even today. More than anything, his analysis of how dictators (though really anyone in power or who would like to be) utilize media and language to gain, inspire, and mobilize followers against a perceived enemy makes me look at the current socio-political climate of the United States and shudder. Something written five decades ago with Adolf Hitler as the poster child for population manipulation should not be a reflection of current events, but as it stands in my eyes, this is the case.

I enjoyed reading how the author perceived his vision to be right or wrong, and the ways he worked in various philosophical and scientific ideas to support his analyses. More than anything, I was intrigued and a little scared at how science fiction of the past is slowly morphing into our present and future. There are definitely times where I wish we would consider the fiction of yesterday a warning against tomorrow. But alas, we do not seem to make the connection.

Would I recommend this book? On its own, likely not. But if you start with the novel, the essay is brilliant.

 

Books I’ve Read: 13 Reasons Why


I have a habit of adding books to my reading list and only getting around to them when someone decides to turn them into movies and tv shows. This is no exception. I heard about 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher months ago on another WordPress blog (I would link, but I can’t for the life of me remember what blog it was!) and immediately added it to my growing list, then never picked up a copy. Fast forward to the future, and I finally got my hands on the book now that Netflix has made an original series out of it.

I have not watched the series. I wasn’t going to start until I finished the book. But I don’t know if I want to watch it now. I don’t think the series will be able to compete with the power of this book.

Synopsis: High school student Hannah Baker committed suicide. Before she did, she recorded 13 stories on tape and sent them posthumously to 13 people explaining how their words and/or actions contributed to her decision. Clay Jensen is on those tapes, but he has no idea why. And so he spends the night listening to this story to which he only knows the end, following the path that leads to it.

This story is dark. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. If you’ve ever been bullied, heard rumors, or really even gone to high school, this story might sound familiar. And that’s why it’s so powerful. Everything in it is real, plausible, believable, because these things have happened to us, or to someone we know, or we’ve read a news story or heard someone speak on the issues in this book. And while this story is set in high school, it could have happened in college, or at work, or across several settings. It’s relatable. And it hurts.

I will provide a trigger warning. If you have been bullied, or sexually assaulted or harassed, or are suicidal or know someone who is or has killed themselves, this book might not be for you. But it could be a good tool for reaching out to people, for helping them understand your struggle or the struggle of others, and just how impactful words and actions can be, long after the fleeting moments in which they occur.

Would I recommend this book? I cried and wanted to stop reading because it broke my heart, but I had to find out what was on those tapes. So yes, I think you should read it.

An Ode To My First


We always remember firsts. And my dear, you were wonderful.

The late night drives. The road trips. The moves. The karaoke sessions. You were fantastic through them all. We traveled so well together. You got along so well with my friends. You pulled me through some tricky situations. I didn’t always treat you the best; there were things I could have done so much differently. I know this now, and you have taught me how to do better as I go forward.

Many told me you weren’t worth it, I was putting too much time and money into you. But to me, you were everything. “You can do so much better,” they said, not knowing that in that moment you were what I needed, you gave me the ability and confidence to do so much, and I loved you. I couldn’t do better then because I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to give you up, and I wasn’t prepared for better. I kept you until the time was right, and then we parted ways.

There were tears. It was hard. I still wasn’t ready emotionally; I wanted to keep you forever. But I was at the point that I needed to let you go. I had gotten all I could out of you, and though I know we could have stayed together longer if I had taken better care of what we had, it was time. We both needed to move on, you to someone else who you could help, who might treat you better, and me to something new, something practical instead of emotional, something else I needed to learn.

This new fling may offer more, may be less used and abused by the world, may be better suited for who I am now and last longer, but you were perfect for who I was then, and you will always hold a place in my heart as my first.

I will always love you, my beloved 2002 Hyundai Santa Fe. I miss you already. Thank you for all you helped me accomplish as my first car.

Books I’ve Read: You Are A Badass


I have been in a funk recently. Okay, probably for a while now. School, work, relationships, money, FOMO (that’s fear of missing out for those out of the loop), and so many other stressors have really impacted my mental state and my self-confidence. There’s been a lot of crying, anger, sadness, and stagnation.

I finally reached out to a counselor, and talking through some of the things I’ve been feeling has been helpful. But I’m definitely more of an introvert, and much more into helping myself where I can. So lately, I’ve been supplementing those sessions with various self-help methods– exercising and eating better, reading countless books and articles, attempting meditation and yoga, and exploring several spiritual paths (with little success, unfortunately).

I really feel like self-help gets a bad rap. Which is so confusing, because so does going to therapy or taking medication. There’s this stigma about mental health and stress, and EVERYONE has some sort of mental health issues at some point, yet we act like no one should. I’m convinced that even the most zen Buddhist monk has some stress at some point after they decide on that path. They just found a way to help themselves handle it. We here in the West are not good at that part, even though we’re great at creating the stress.

I decided to ignore all the judgment around self-help books and picked up You Are A Badass by Jen Sincero. And I loved it. It’s a little out there, but it’s very real. It doesn’t read like the books that likely gave self-help the stigma in the first place. Yes, she uses profanity. But she does it in such a way that it sounds like your enlightened friend walking you through a break-up or getting laid off or amping you up for a job you really want but are absolutely terrified of going for. Stress can come from positive events too.

So what does she talk about? There are three big themes throughout the book.

She starts with the phrase “raising your frequency.” The first thing I thought when I read that was that I was getting self-help from a hippie yogi– not totally inaccurate. But this mystical phrase is merely a way of saying that positive people attract other positive people and things, whereas negative people attract negative.  A low-frequency person is just going through the motions, blaming the universe or others for the negativity in their life, and not doing what they want or what makes them happy. A high-frequency person is doing things to better themselves, engaging in activities that they enjoy and interacting with positive people, and understanding that life really is all about what you make it, that the only thing working against you is you. To feel better about yourself and get what you want out of life, you have to raise your frequency.

The second big theme is trusting The Universe. Again, some esoteric mysterious mumbo-jumbo– but it isn’t. What she’s advocating is pretty common in many religions, whether it be Buddhism, Wiccan, or Christianity. The Universe can refer to any number of things depending on your belief system. For instance, in the Christian system, this is the same thing as handing it over to God, praying over it and waiting for him to give you a sign or make it happen. Sincero advocates getting in touch with The Universe through meditation or prayer, really just sitting quietly and opening ourselves up to words from God or hints from our subconscious or whatever it is that we experience when we empty our minds of to-do lists and bank account figures and social media drama. This allows us to more easily surrender to forces that we cannot control. When we try to control every little detail, it becomes counter-productive to getting what we want.  It’s subscription to the belief that The Universe/God/your deity or driving force helps those who helps themselves. Take steps to reach your goal, but trust that there are things out of you control and that by doing what you have to, what you want will manifest itself.

The third and most prevalent theme is simply love yourself. Perhaps the most self-helpish phrase in the book, but ridiculously important. You can’t have a high frequency if you tear yourself down. You can’t do what’s necessary to let The Universe know you want something if you’re constantly thinking of all the reasons why you aren’t capable or deserving of a better job, a quality partner, a new car. We are not perfect, but dwelling on our flaws is such a disservice. We have so much power, and all we have to do is open up our eyes to how awesome we are to start using some of it. Let’s be honest. We are all pretty badass.

I reflect on many of the points Sincero discusses on a daily basis. I’ve started “meditating,” really just lying in bed at night or sitting if I feel so inclined, and focusing either on nothingness or on a specific goal. I fall asleep so much more easily, and I feel more focused the next day. I’ve reached out to people who are so much better than me at the whole “trusting The Universe” thing, and people who are very positive and doing their part to help themselves; it’s easy to see exactly how The Universe has helped them. It’s helped me to take steps toward letting go of control on things I really have no control over in the first place. I’ve got a long way to go, but I love what I got out of this book.

Do I recommend this book? Most definitely.