Today on Tommy T’s Random Ruminations – “A sale of two shitties” edition

Hi – my computer died earlier this week, and the only existing backup was over three months old, so my spreadsheet of what I had posted and what I had not yet posted is gone. This one may be a duplicate, so my apologies in advance if it is. Also, it’s kinda long, so a lot of it will be below the fold.

So – In the 80’s, I worked for Marshall Field and Company (the famous Department Store) in the Dallas Galleria location.

At that time, Marshall Field was a purveyor of high-end merchandise and clothing, providing boutique lines of merchandise and superior customer service.

However, Marshall Field was sold by BATUS to Dayton-Hudson, which also owned Target.

That’s when the fun began.

Our new corporate overlords determined that we would benefit by carrying the low and mid-priced goods already being purchased by the Target buyers.

Good idea, on paper, but it killed the company.

I dunno, maybe that was their intention, although it seems mightily like driving a Rolls-Royce into a concrete lane divider to make it more like a compact car.

In any case, the upper-middle and upper-class patrons quit buying, and quit coming. They went to Neimann-Marcus (which, unlike Marshall Fields, is still around, BTW) to get the goods they wanted. If they had wanted to shop at a Target or a Dayton’s, why drive to the Galleria?

The stores outside of home base Illinois closed, one by one, including the Dallas Galleria.

And I lost my job.

I did get a severance package that allowed me to take three months for a job search, at least.

Macy’s swooped in, picked the bones clean, and finally killed the tottering animated corpse in 2006, completing the destruction of a legendary department store that had existed since 1881.

My computer skills (self-taught when at Marshall Fields and A.C. Nielsen) allowed me to get a job in phone tech support for GTE. One day they outsourced the entire level 3 (top level) helpdesk.

One of my favourite authors once wrote “If a little black box puts you out of work, find a job building little black boxes.”

(more below the fold)

OK – I asked my then-wife who the best outsourcers in Dallas were.

She said “(…..) and CompuCom.”

She was right. Unlike Stream International (who she worked for as a trainer) and a lot of the other “boiler-room” operations (outfits that bid low on support contracts, provided shitty service with entry-level kids who knew little and cared less, lost the contracts at first renewal, and just low-bid another to replace it), CompuCom provided what I call “boutique tech support”.

You had to have an A+ certification or better to get in the door, and they over-staffed slightly to eliminate call-waiting times completely.

Want to put your employees who can’t work due to computer/account issues on hold for 45 minutes, and then have them “helped” by a disinterested kid? Hire Stream.

Want to have your employee’s call answered in 60 seconds or less, and answered by a seasoned IT professional? Hire CompuCom.

Cool. I applied, and was accepted. It was a great place to work, and people were actually happy to come in and do their shift. Agents smiled. Supervisors smiled! This was as far from the boiler-room, supervisor-kicking–the-back-of-your-chair-because-you’re-on-a-call-too-long paradigm as you could possibly get.

CompuCom also did amazing things for its employees. Vendor-supplied lunches for agents happened at least once a week, and awards ceremonies were annual, held at impressive halls, and catered by restaurants like Lawry’s The Prime Rib.

( I was selected for one of the “Excellent Customer Service” awards less than 3 months after joining CompuCom, and felt like I had found a home, a place where I could help people and be recognized for my service )

However – all CompuCom stock was bought up in 2004 by Platinum Equity.

That’s when the fun began.

They laid off employees and cut expenses to the bone (hey – somebody had to pay for the acquisition costs, amirite?).

Then, as corporate raiders often do, they sold the picked-over bones to Court Square Capital Partners in 2007.

Then, our newest corporate overlords had a smashing new idea.

Start offering tech support from India and Mexico.

Good idea, on paper.

The Fortune 50 companies who had comprised the lion’s share of our customer base stopped renewing contracts.

After all, if they had wanted tech support from people with limited English communication skills, there are plenty of other Bangalore IT service providers, right?

The new contracts were over-promised and under-delivered, since making the sale was secondary to anything that might happen a year down the line when that contract came up for renewal,

Call times soared. Managers and employees left. Big Clients left.

So – the corpse is still tottering along, kept animated by long-term hardware contracts, but it’s dead already, and just hasn’t realized it yet..

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.”

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Edited to add:

And now the dismemberment is complete. The Dallas help desk has been closed down, and moved to Bangalore and Mexico City. What was once a three-level parking lot is empty with weeds growing up through the tarmac, and the buildings I spent 13 years in are scheduled for demolition.

Abyssus abyssum invocat!

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4 thoughts on “Today on Tommy T’s Random Ruminations – “A sale of two shitties” edition

  1. christflora says:

    Nice write-up. Your life tales interest and entertain. Thanks.

    • Tommy T says:

      I was 62 when I was canned. Had intended to retire from there at 65. I spent two years trying to find an IT job at 62 for close to what I had been making at Compucom. No takers. I finally gave up and applied for Social Security early, which reduced my benifits substantially.
      Oh, well.

  2. Snarki, child of Loki says:

    MBAs will be the death of western technological civilization.
    Fortunately, they’re all on LinkedIn for the computer-driven automatic drone-strikes that will final rid us of this pestilence.

    Soon?

  3. bidrec says:

    When in the service in Great Lakes I would visit Marshall Fields to use the phone. They had a mezzanine with phonebooks from all over the country and telephones. You could call long distance and then pay the cashier. This was in ’74.

    In ’81 our company’s operations were moved from Ann Arbor to Dallas (Richardson) by the acquirer Northern Telecom. One of the things Northern Telecom did spend money on was changing the livery on their equipment. When we replaced Data 100 branded equipment with NT branded equipment at customer Xerox Credit the customer suddenly became animated, “Northern Telecom!!! You owe us money.”

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