Step it up – A sensible approach to reducing gun violence in America

 Like most American’s I’m both tired and frightened from the gun violence occurring in our country.   We seem to be in a perpetual loop – Innocent lives are lost, the blame game begins, Democrats blame easy access to guns, Republicans blame mental health issues and the lack of enforcement of existing laws.  This goes on for weeks until the innocent victims are buried, and the perpetrator has been vilified in the press, with lots of blame to go around.   Everyone who knew someone is interviewed on the news, lots of speculation as to why and how this happened and then — nothing.  Eventually, the furor dies down, the tragic event recedes from the public conscience, and nothing changes, and we all relax a little until it happens again.  And, as sure as the sun comes up in the morning, it will happen again.  We just don’t know where, when or who will strike next.  We all hope that when it does happen again that it won’t personally affect them.
Given that lawmakers either lack the will or desire to provide any meaningful ideas to solve this issue, I thought I would float a plan of my own.  I’m calling it the – The Step It Up Plan.  Given that reducing gun violence is such a politically charged topic, it seems clear to me that making incremental changes – Stepping it Up, is in all likelihood a more viable approach to any sweeping reforms.  With that said, not everyone will be happy with this plan.
Let’s start with the premise that individual gun ownership is here to stay in America – the NRA will like that.  But they may not like this statement, gun ownership must be restricted to responsible sane adults.
Mental Health
Even card-carrying NRA members have to agree that some people are too unstable to own a gun.  Those of you that are smart enough to realize that, make the cut, those of you who disagree with that statement don’t.
Let’s look at both sides of the argument:
Pro Gun
  • Have a right to own and bear firearms.
  • Concerned for their safety from harm – want to feel safe.
  • Conceding any ground on the issue of gun ownership is a slippery slope – if you give an inch, it won’t be long before someone takes your guns away.
  • If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.
Anti Gun
  • Guns are the root cause of violence in society and should be eliminated
  • If no one had guns the world would be a much safer place.
  • Gun ownership should be limited to law enforcement and the military, period.
  • Gun ownership in America is out of control – if we simply cut down the supply of guns in America,  society will be safer.
Given that there are legitimate concerns on both sides, and making any sweeping reforms seems unlikely, I propose that we take a stepped-up approach to change.  At a minimum, this will at least make some progress on the issue, which is a lot more than can be said about where things stand today.
So here’s my proposed 10 point plan:
  1. Step up background checks for gun purchases – no matter the source.  Commercial or private – the transfer of a gun must go through a licensed agent to verify the identity of the purchaser and an approved national background check conducted.  Of course, these checks will only be as good as the data entered into the system, which is why we need to also step-up adherence to updating this information in a timely fashion, with strong penalties for non-compliance.
  2. Step up Knowledge:   Require that gun owners pass a national test regarding the safe operation of a firearm, laws regarding admissible self-defense, penalties for misuse, and responsibilities for safely securing weapons from others.
  3. Step up competency: Concealed carry gun owners must demonstrate competency, knowledge of laws, and issues concerning the discharge of a weapon in a public place.
  4. Step up benefits for compliance: Individuals that pass all these requirements should be free to roam throughout the contiguous US without the hassle of the current patchwork of gun laws passed by the states.
  5. Step up mental health – if an individual is deemed a danger to themselves or others, their access to guns should be revoked and their guns confiscated.  Reinstatement of their gun rights has to be recertified by two qualified medical health professionals.
  6. Step up penalties and enforcement for gun misuse:  Using a gun in the commission of a crime should result in automatic jail time and immediate revocation of all guns.
  7. Existing gun ownership –  Gun owners that acquired their guns before this plan was put in place have two years to meet the requirements.  The sale of ammunition to anyone not in possession of a gun license must be outlawed and carry severe penalties.
  8. Limit access to weapons of war – Tanks, hand grenades, missile launchers, and other weapons characterized by their ability to inflict massive human casualties are restricted to the military – assault rifles should join the list.
  9. Threatening Behavior – Threatening bodily harm with a weapon is no different than mentioning bombs to a TSA agent prior to boarding a plane.  If verifiable threats are proven to be true, then such threats are tantamount an intended act of violence which should result in the forfeiture of weapons and trigger the required examination by a mental health professional.
  10. Apply Science – We should take a scientific approach to studying the issue of gun violence in America.  This issue of gun ownership is so emotionally charged that the NRA lobbied for, and obtained protections from having the issued studied by the CDC.  Let’s study the issue and come up with common sense solutions that don’t interfere with the rights of responsible gun ownership in America.

Society can definitely tolerate responsible gun ownership from sane adults.  Provided gun owners take appropriate measures to ensure their guns don’t fall into the wrong hands.

This plan is not perfect, nor is it entirely comprehensive, but I suspect that both sides will complain that it either goes too far. or not far enough. Come to think of it, that’s a good thing, it’s called compromise, which is something our legislature has long forgotten.

How NOT to handle a customer service complaint

I rented an automobile from a large, seemingly reputable company, who’s name will remain anonymous to protect the guilty.  I picked-up the car from the MD airport, and given schedules, costs, etc., I opted to drive home to PA, which required me to return the car to a different location  Before renting the automobile, I confirmed the billing charges with an agent over the telephone – I was quoted a two-day, one-way rate, that was exorbitantly high.  I then explained that I only needed the car for one day, and would return it promptly the following morning.   The closest return center was 15 minutes from my home, which opened at 8:30 am, but I had the option of returning the car at the Philadelphia Airport (1 hour and 10 minutes away from my home), which was open 24 hours – REALLY?

I picked the car up in the morning, went to my meeting, and drove home that evening, dutifully returning the automobile the following morning at the local center.  I showed up at 8:15 waiting for the return counter to open.  Once the agent arrived, I gave them my keys, a copy of the rental agreement, noting the mileage, and that I had filled the tank.  They logged the car in and presented me with a bill that was twice what I was quoted – charging me for two days instead on one.   Apparently, I either picked the car up 15 minutes early, or was ultimately logged in 15 minutes late, but the said unnamed company charged me for an entire extra day.  When I complained, I was told by the agent that I should contact customer service, and I was assured that they’ll take care of it and make an adjustment.  This explanation sounded quire reasonable and rational to me.

So that same morning I called the customer service department.  After waiting 20 minutes on hold, I finally spoke to an agent who reviewed the case and said, I was wrong and they were correct in charging me for an extra day.  Unsatisfied, perhaps because the agent never really listened to anything I said, I asked to speak with a manager.  The agent responded with “You want to speak to a manager? “ Yes, I replied.  ”Okay, I’ll put it in the system and someone will get back to you.”  24 hours passed, and no call – I again called customer service, provided them with my case number, and asked to speak to a manager, again I was told, “I’ve put you in the system and a manager will get back to you.”  I just assumed that it was an honest mistake and I thanked them and went about my day.  Two days passed, and still no call back from a manager.  Again, I called back to customer service, asking to speak with a manager. I was told, “Sir, I’ll have a manager call you back.”  “No,” I said, “I have already gone through this process several times now and haven’t received a single call back, may I please hold for a manager?”  Please Hold.” After another 20 minutes, another agent got on the phone, saying: “Sir we’ve reviewed your case, and the charges are correct, so there’s no reason to speak to a manager.”  “Oh Really?” I replied, “May I please speak with one anyway?” “No sir, they don’t want to talk with you, “ I was told.  REALLY?  “All-righty then, in that case, may I please speak with the manager’s, manager instead then?”  ”No sir, no one is willing to speak to you about this.”  WOW – Needless to say, I was one pissed off customer, and vowed never to use this company ever again.  I filed a complaint with the BBB, which has had Zero Impact.  Ever since this incident, I strongly encourage others to steer clear of this company – which isn’t the purpose of this article, but boy am I ever tempted. The point that I’m trying to make is this: a quick 10 minute phone call by someone in management could have changed everything – even if the outcome hadn’t changed.  To be honest, I’m more angered by their unwillingness to speak with me – their loyal (up until this incident customer). In retrospect, this was a very shortsighted approach by this company, very short sighted approach by this company – read on to find out why.

Let’s do some quick math to calculate the impact to this rental company.  I typically rent 3-4 cars a month at a going rate of $68 per day.  Therefore, on average I spend $210-$280 per month (That’s over $3,300 a year!).  I have told three other road warriors like myself about the rude customer service, and their unwillingness to even listen to me (their customer), and each of them have said they wouldn’t want to find themselves in a similar situation like that, and have voluntarily switched to other agencies for their rentals as well.  Over the next 5 years, this company will miss out on approximately $60,000 in business, (more if my friends also spread the word) all as a result of poor customer service practices.

The key take away from this experience is this, as you put together your support policies, please remember to put escalation policies in place that will, at a minimum not alienate your customers.

High Performance Virtual Teams

Much has already been written about working with virtual teams.  The CEO of Yahoo recently touched off a firestorm with her recent edict that telecommuters must abandon their homes and get to an office or risk losing their jobs.  Since I haven’t walked a mile in her shoes, I can’t comment as to whether or not this move was necessary, but I can say that managing a remote workforce does pose a number of challenges.  My experience is that with a little forethought, and the right tools, telecommuters can be as productive (if not more) than their office coworkers.

1. The Right Tools Are Essential – If telecommuters don’t have the following equipment then they (and you) are in trouble.  In my opinion, the “must have’s” are:

  • Laptop or Computer
  • Business Application Software
  • Camera & Microphone
  • Headset
  • Telephone or Cell Phone
  • Conference Bridge
  • Printer & Scanner
  • High Speed Internet Connection
  • Web Collaboration Tools – Instant Messenger
  • Access to the Employee Directory

You may be wondering, is all that really necessary?  Well, actually yes.  Essentially, if an employee has all of the same access to physical resources that they would enjoy in the office, then they won’t be constrained.  In fact, it’s extremely wise to ask someone who is considering telecommunicating whether or not they are equipped for success.

2.  Leadership – Having a clear chain of command regarding where telecommuters can turn to for help is essential.  Leaders have to be accessible to telecommuters at a moment’s notice.  Why?  Well telecommuters don’t have the luxury of sitting outside your office, or catching you as you walk by the photo copier.

3. Coordination – Telecommuters should be provided with a clear understanding of the overall goal.  Moreover, each team member must know what they are expected to contribute, understand the timelines, and know the detailed plan for given tasks.

4. Communication – Everyone should be updated regularly regarding status – Get the group together for brief conference calls, E-mails, Instant Messaging, etc.  With proper communication – telecommuters will feel like they are just as connected as their office- going peers and their bosses will not need to question their productivity!

5. Perks – About the only time telecommuters really feel disconnected from the rest of the company is around social activities.  Since they aren’t available to go out to lunch with co-workers, or have a drink after work they miss out on some important bonding. Therefore, I suggest that you sponsor a weekly office lunch, and let telecommuters expense their lunch as well.  And, put the speakerphone on wherever you are gather so that they can be a part of the social interaction.  Be sure to avoid discussing work, but have thoughtful questions for the group, so as to keep everyone engaged.  Some examples would be; 1. What hobbies have you had that people might not know about?, 2. Where have you vacationed that you most enjoyed and why? etc.

If you follow this advice, you’ll have a very productive, and connected telecommuting workforce.