Faces of Customer Satisfaction

Collecting, Analyzing, and Acting on Customer Satisfaction Data with Salesforce Visual Flow

I recently worked with a team that had to share news with their customers and partners that could negatively impact the customer’s satisfaction with the company’s products and, ultimately, their relationship.

While the team spent a lot of time preparing the talking points and prepping their sales team on how to share the news, I realized that a key component was missing:

How would the customers feel or respond to this news?

I thought these were important reactions that we should try to collect and analyze, which would then give the team insight as to what to do next.

Requirements

My requirements were as follows:

  1. Make the data collection process standardized. While we wanted to be able to gather actual comments from customers, I also knew we would need to provide the sales team with a simple scale to categorize the customer’s response to the news. This would give us a way to interpret whether the reactions were favorable or negative.
  2. Make the data collection process actionable. Whenever you collect data, you always want to keep in mind how you can make the data actionable. At the very least, this means the ability to use the data to create reports, charts, and dashboards for the leadership team to stay informed and make decisions. Taking it a step further, would there be “triggers” in this process that might call for some type of timely follow up?
  3. Make the data collection process simple. As much as possible, we wanted this to be part of the sales team’s regular workflow that would take just a minute or two of their time.
  4. Make the data collection process mobile. We realized that many of the discussions would be handled face-to-face, so the salesperson would need to be able to provide a quick update on their smartphone or tablet.

The first two requirements — standardized and actionable — were the most important. The last two requirements — simple and mobile — could be optional requirements under certain circumstances, but in this case, I knew we had the tools available to make these requirements possible.

First, I wanted to address the most important requirements. To make the data standardized, I wanted to provide the sales team with a simple scale to categorize the customer’s response to the news. It had to have just a few options that would be easy for the sales team to select from.

The simple scale we settled on was:

  • Positive
  • Neutral
  • Negative

To make the data actionable, I knew we would be able to take the responses from this very basic scale and develop a simple chart that would show the percentages responding to each option: positive, neutral, or negative. We would also want to be able to connect each response to an individual salesperson and to an individual contact at a customer, so that we could pull in other information for our dashboards — percent of customers contacted; percent of key customers contacted; number of customer contacts by salesperson; etc.

But beyond charts and dashboards, there were other actionable triggers we could consider.

If someone had a negative response to the news, we should flag them for follow-up by someone on the leadership team. To simplify the follow-up, we would assign it to the salesperson’s manager. They could then review the information and decide if they would follow up on their own, or send it on to another member of the leadership team.

If someone had a positive response to the news, we should flag them for follow-up for a customer testimonial. We could then assign this to a member of the marketing team.

Now, with these requirements and ideas in mind, I could turn to the tool that would make all of this possible: Salesforce.com Visual Flow.

Developing the Solution

To make the process simple for the salesperson, I created a custom button on the Contact page in Salesforce, called “Relationship Update.” Clicking this button would start the Visual Flow, which would present the salesperson with the data collection process. Placing the button on the Contact record in Salesforce made it easy for a salesperson to access during their interaction with the customer.

And because it’s built in Salesforce, it automatically checks the box of making the process mobile.

I wanted to present a simple data collection form for the salesperson to fill out, collecting the following data:

  1. Date of Contact (defaulting to today’s date, but changeable if they need to add older information)
  2. Three radio buttons to classify the Relationship Status:
    • Positive
    • Neutral
    • Negative
  3. A large text box to collect any additional Comments

Now to the “fun stuff” of what the Visual Flow would automatically do in the background with that data:

  1. Update a Relationship Picklist field that I had created on the Account record, which would in turn update a Formula Text field on the Account record that would display a text version of a stoplight image:
    • a green Positive
    • a yellow Neutral
    • a red Negative
  2. Create an Activity History record with:
    • A standard Subject line (making reporting easier)
    • The selected Status in the Subject line
    • The Comments in the Description
    • The Date and User
    • Link to the Related Contact and Account records
  3. Post the Comments to the Account’s Chatter feed with a Topic of #RelationshipStatus so that users can subscribe to the Topic and receive updates as they happen.
  4. If a Status of Negative is selected, send an email to the user’s manager, including the Comments, so that the manager is aware and can follow-up or escalate as appropriate.
  5. If a Status of Positive is selected, present the user with a second screen, asking if this Contact might provide us with a good testimonial. If the user selects the Yes radio button, a Task is created for a member of the marketing team. If the user selects the No radio button, no Task is created.

Implementing the Solution

Thankfully, with the tools that Salesforce provides, implementing this solution was quick and relatively simple. I presented the idea to the sales leadership team and got their approval on Wednesday afternoon, I developed and tested the tools in Salesforce on Thursday, and we trained the sales team on how to use it on Friday morning.

And because simplicity was a key focus of the solution, it was easy for the sales team to understand the process and use it — we spent about 15 minutes providing them with a demonstration, and then allowing them to enter sample records into a Sandbox environment.

Results of the Solution

Overwhelmingly, this was a positive solution for the company. I say this not for my own benefit as the person who developed and implemented it, but because it would have been useless had not the sales team done such a great job of contacting their customers and using this process to provide valuable information to the company.

We quickly started to see the benefits of gathering this information:

  • Thanks to the reports and dashboards, we were able to monitor the positive/neutral/negative feedback scale, and realize that just over 90% of the customers contacted had a positive or neutral reaction to the news and feeling about the future of the company.
  • Thanks to the reports and dashboards, we were able to create a contest among the sales team regarding who could make the most customer contacts within given time periods. It’s amazing how an inexpensive gift card or coffee mug can bring out the competitiveness among a good sales team.
  • Thanks to the triggers, we were able to flag any negative responses for follow-up by the management team, helping to alleviate some of the fears that customers had and assuring them of the company’s plan to manage the situation. This also helped the leadership team understand the areas that most bothered customers or led to misinformation, so they could be sure to clarify those in press releases or FAQs.
  • Thanks to the triggers, we were able to flag any positive responses for follow-up by the marketing team, and received some very encouraging comments from customers who were committed to remaining customers of the company.
  • Thanks to the comments and hashtag being added to the Chatter feed, we were able to “at-mention” other users (@username) and bring them into conversations about feedback from specific customers. For example, one customer mentioned some negative information their employees had received from a third-party vendor. We were able to bring the company employee who managed that vendor relationship into the discussion on the Chatter feed, they were able to follow up with the vendor to provide them with correct information, and helped resolve an issue that we would otherwise not been aware of.
  • Thanks to all of the information coming in, we were able to work with the marketing team to create posters that were then posted around the company’s building — near employee entrances, in the elevators, etc. The poster included the customer sentiment chart (positive/neutral/negative), as well as some of the testimonials we were able to gather. This allowed employees who didn’t regularly interact with key customers to see the overwhelmingly positive response to the information, and helped boost morale across the company at a dark time.

Takeaway

Even when managing a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool, it can be easy to lose sight of capturing more than customer demographic or purchase data. But with the right mindset, priorities, and tools, you can also capture customer sentiment and feedback, which can add a new level of insight into your company’s performance and the strength of your customer relationship.

Customer and Contractor

Improving Your Company’s Brand Through Customer and Contractor Communications

We recently had some improvements made to our house, and after going through the experience, there were some things I noticed about the process that I thought could be improved. I shared my observations via letter with the president of the company, but I’d like to share them publicly, too.

To be clear, I won’t share the name of the company we used for these home improvements, for their own sake, but I am happy with their work — I would use them again, and would recommend them to friends or family who were looking for similar work to be done.

However, there were two main areas where I thought they could improve:

  1. Communication — We received more consistent and more informative communications from this company when we were still a prospect than after we became an actual customer. That’s not the right balance.
  2. Decision-Making — When there was a problem with our order, the lines of communication and decision-making between the company employees and subcontractors was unclear, so my wife and I felt pressured to make a decision that shouldn’t have been ours to make. That’s unfair to the customer.

Let me provide the story here, and I’ll make observations as I go, and then summarize at the end.

Pre-Sale

My wife and I had been discussing, off and on, the idea of making some improvements to our house. So one day in early October 2016, we were pleasantly surprised to return home and find some men from a company we had been researching who were canvassing our neighborhood, providing basic information and setting up appointments. We talked with them and set up an appointment for a salesperson to come to our house.

I was impressed with their pre-sales process automation:

  • October 13 — We received an Appointment Confirmation email. It was well designed, branded for the company (including a photo of the company president), and contained helpful information.
  • October 14 — We received a second Appointment Confirmation email. This email was a plain text message, but it was still helpful in reminding us of our pending appointment.
  • October 15 — The day of our actual appointment, we received another plain text email, but it provided our salesperson’s name. This is marketing genius — whenever a customer or potential customer invites your company and your employee into their home, put the customer at ease by identifying your employee by name before they arrive. Include a photo, if you can.
  • Throughout this time period, we also received a few text messages that helped keep us informed of when exactly our salesperson would arrive.

On Saturday, October 15, the salesperson arrived at our house for the sales appointment. He was immediately likable, which at least for many people, also makes him immediately trustworthy. He was very professional in touring our home, making notes of what work we wanted done, and explaining the process to us. He explained the different options that were available, and how they may or may not benefit us as a family. He provided lots of good information, and gave us a good, no-pressure quote. We were pleased with the price he gave us, and had no issue with immediately becoming a customer.

At this point, I was impressed with this company. They had a good lead generation system, they followed up on leads in a timely manner with a defined process that was obviously automated, and their salesperson was top notch. The danger here was that they had set high expectations from me as a customer regarding their communications ability, and the quality of their employees.

(There was one issue I had at this point — I was surprised that their sales process was still paper based. The salesperson had an iPad, but used it only to show us some marketing material. He didn’t use it to record the measurements, develop the price, or complete the sale. In an industry that relies on accurate measurements and communication of those measurements, why not develop a mobile app that simplifies the process for your salesperson and for the customer? This discussion will have to be a separate post.)

Measurement

Our measuring appointment was set for Thursday, October 20 at 10:00 AM. We were pleased that the measuring appointment was set so soon after our sales appointment. This was the appointment when a different representative from the company would come out to double check the measurements made by the salesperson, and verify that all of the information was correct.

For this appointment, we received only one email before the appointment — we received it the day before, on Wednesday, October 19, but it didn’t provide the name of the person who would be coming to the appointment. This seemed strange to me, that they could provide the name of the salesperson when we were not a customer, but now they could not provide the name of the person who would be coming to perform the final measurement.

To be honest, I couldn’t tell you the name of the person who came to measure our windows — not because I didn’t receive it in an email, but because he was completely unremarkable. I don’t expect everyone to be as likable and charismatic as our salesperson was, but I did expect the person who was coming to this appointment to be highly trained and knowledgeable. If anything, I expected him to know even more about the work we were having done. However, I remember having the distinct feeling that he wasn’t as informed or as fully trained as he should have been. I have confirmed with my wife that she had the same impression. This would be verified later in the process.

Post-Sale, Pre-Work

That email we received on October 19 was the last email we received from the company. Again, it seemed strange to me that now that we had agreed to have the work done, and were paying several thousand dollars for the work, we were receiving less information than we had received when we were simply a prospect. This is completely backwards.

We knew that the process would take a while after the measuring appointment — supplies had to be ordered, and parts had to be custom made for our home, and then of course we would need to schedule the time when the actual work would take place. However, we received no information during this time period. To me, this is a key time to maintain communication with your customer — keep them up to date on the status of their order. Reassure them that actual work is taking place on their behalf. This is where a relatively simple communication process and/or automation could go a long way.

Here are some examples of information that I as a customer would find extremely helpful during this time period, reinforcing the soundness of my decision to hire this company to work on my home.

Let the customer know:

  • When the measurements have been received and confirmed
  • Who has been assigned to oversee the order or project, and provide contact information
  • When the materials have been ordered
  • When the materials have been received by your company
  • When the project manager will be contacting me to schedule installation
  • Who will be coming to my home to complete the work

We received none of this information. We had placed our order on October 15, so when it came to December 1 and I still had heard nothing, I called the company. I finally was able to speak with an employee who confirmed that the materials had been delivered to them the day before (on November 30), and that “someone else” would be contacting me to schedule the installation. If a good communication process had been defined and implemented, I would have received that information via email, saving me the phone call, and saving the company the time that a representative spent on the phone.

After a week went by with no further communication from the company, I texted the salesperson, whom we had not spoken with since mid-October. He responded immediately, and later that day, another employee called to schedule the work on our home for Tuesday, December 20 and Wednesday, December 21.

Once again, we received no further communication from the company until Monday, December 19 — the day before work was scheduled to begin — to state that our installation would need to be pushed back a day, to Wednesday, December 21 and Thursday, December 22, because the installers were delayed at their current project.

This was a major inconvenience, as we then had to shift other things in our schedule to accommodate the work that would be done on our home. I was also frustrated by the lack of information — I didn’t know who to expect at our home (Are they employees or contractors? What are their names? How many will there be?), or what to expect when they arrived (Is there prep work we need to do? What will they do when they arrive?).

Installation

The morning of Wednesday, December 21, I received a phone call from a company employee who identified herself as our project manager. I was grateful for the call, but was surprised that this was the first time I had heard from her. As our project manager, I would have expected some communication from her much earlier in the process.

She confirmed that the installation crew would be arriving that morning between 9:00 and 10:00 AM, and provided the crew leader’s name. The installation crew arrived on time, their vehicle and trailer looked clean and professional, the installers looked cleaned and professional, and one crew member was even wearing a sweatshirt with the company’s logo on it, which I thought was reassuring.

But the crew leader introduced himself by a different name. It’s a minor thing, but it threw me off a little bit. I asked him about it, and he answered, “Oh, my first name is [the name the project manager gave me], but I go by [the name he gave me].” If that’s the name that the crew leader goes by and likes to be called, then that’s how the company needs to introduce him.

From the beginning, the installation seemed to go off-track. The crew leader began his walk around of our house, and noted that the measurements for one of the rooms — the room that represented just over half of the entire project — were wrong, and so the materials he had were the wrong size. This was not reassuring. Even worse for me, he didn’t seem to know what would or could be done about it — he needed to call his manager.

In the meantime, the rest of his crew started work on another room in our house. I didn’t know what to expect, and was surprised by how much demolition was involved to prepare for the new work and materials. Because we had received very little communication after we placed our order, and because the installers provided no information when they arrived, I struggled to envision what the finished product would look like, and my confidence level was low because of the wrong measurements in the other room.

When you are a contractor, you are accustomed to the work you do and what is involved. Do not assume that the customer has the same experience or knowledge that you do. Take a few minutes before you start work to explain the process of what will happen and what the customer can expect. This is their home, after all.

While the installers started working, I called our project manager to see what she could do to help. She didn’t know yet about the wrong measurements, and said she would have to call the installation manager for more information.

This is one area where I really became frustrated that day. In this type of work, I can’t imagine that this is the first time they’ve encountered this scenario where some information was wrong, or something would need to be fixed. I expected them to have a clear process of how to resolve the problem and communicate that resolution to me as the homeowner. I obviously expected wrong.

The crew finished the first part of the project, and I was very pleased with their work. They did good quality work with high quality materials, and everything looked nice when they finished.

As they continued working, the unremarkable measurer showed up at our house, apparently to be educated by the installation crew leader regarding his inaccurate measurements. The crew leader explained the problem to him, but the measurer was adamant that the crew leader’s method did not match with how he was trained to measure, and he seemed very self-defensive.

Even worse for me, there was discussion between the two of them of whether or not the installation crew could “make it work” — perhaps my least favorite phrase in home improvement — and both seemed to be looking to me to make a decision regarding whether I wanted to use the materials that had been ordered to “make it work,” or if I wanted to pursue ordering materials that would be the right size.

This seemed like a completely inappropriate expectation of me as the homeowner — I strongly believe that someone from the company should have stepped in to say, “[X] is the right way to do it, so we will make sure that [X] gets done, and here is what we will do to make it happen.”

I called the project manager once again to fill her in on what was happening — notice her lack of proactive communication when she knew there was a problem at our house — and she said she once again would need to contact the installation manager for more information.

Thankfully, in the afternoon, the salesperson stopped by to check on the installation progress. He confirmed that the measurements for the room in question were wrong, and that the right way to handle it would be to order new materials for that room. This meant that there would be a delay in that room, but I was perfectly fine with that — I would much rather have a delay and get the right materials than to try and “make it work.” I cannot begin to express how reassuring it was to finally have someone step in and make the decision on behalf of the company so that everything would be done right.

The installation crew finished the work in the other rooms, and we are very happy with their work and the quality of the materials that they used.

The next morning (Thursday, December 22), I received a phone call from our project manager to confirm that new materials had been ordered for the remaining room in our house, and that she would contact us again once the materials were received and ready for installation. I’m slightly troubled, based on our track record so far, that I have no idea how long we will have to wait for our new materials to be ready. We should be receiving regular updates as to the status of our order.

Takeaways for Improvement

Here are the areas where I think this company could greatly improve:

  • The post-sale communication process needs to be as polished (or more polished) than the pre-sale communication process. If the company can put that much effort into communicating with me before I spend a single penny with them, they can put that much effort into communicating with me once I’m a customer who has spent several thousand dollars.
  • All team members need adequate training, especially when accuracy is the key component of their job. Sending out a person to perform final measurements when they don’t fully understand how to measure all scenarios is a mistake that only compounds itself once the installation work begins.
  • A clear line of communication and decision making needs to be established, documented, and understood by all members of the team, including employees and contractors. The customer should never feel like they’re being asked to make a decision about a mistake your company has made — your company policy should be clear about how to make it right, and what that means for the customer.

Remember, each employee or contractor is representing your company, and providing the customer with an experience that is either positive or negative. Make sure you’re not overlooking key areas that can lead to your customers having a negative experience.


How did I keep track of these details? Evernote

iOS’ little-known Text Replacement tool

One of my favorite tricks when using my iPhone or iPad — an iOS device — is the little-known Text Replacement tool.

There are times when I’m sending a text message or an email to someone, and I’ve got a long word or phrase to include. I generally prefer to avoid a lot of the common texting acronyms — I would rather spell something out completely. This is where the Text Replacement tool comes in handy.

For instance, my favorite restaurant is P.F. Chang’s. But the restaurant name is a bit cumbersome and time consuming to type out on a small keyboard:

capital-P period capital-F period space capital-C h a n g apostrophe s

So I have a Text Replacement shortcut set up so that whenever I type “PFC” on my iOS device, it’s automatically replaced with “P.F. Chang’s.”

Setting Up Text Replacement Options

To set up Text Replacement options on your iOS device:

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. iPhone Settings

  3. Select General
  4. iPhone Settings General

  5. Scroll down and select Keyboard
  6. iPhone Settings Keyboard

  7. Select Text Replacement
  8. iPhone Settings Text Replacement

  9. Click the + (plus) icon in the upper right corner
  10. iPhone Settings Create New Shortcut

  11. The Phrase is the full phrase that you want displayed in your message (from my example, “P.F. Chang’s”)
  12. The Shortcut is what you want to type on the keyboard (from my example, “PFC”)
  13. Select Save
  14. iPhone Text Replacement Example

  15. Repeat as necessary for any additional shortcuts you want to set up

Sample Text Replacement Shortcuts

Here are some of the Text Replacement shortcuts that I have set up for myself:

Shortcut Phrase
appt appointment
btw By the way,
CFA Chick-fil-A
cmas Christmas
ily I love you!
myaddr 123 Main Street, City, State Zip
mygmail myemailaddress@gmail.com
omw On my way!
PFC P.F. Chang’s
wifi Wi-Fi

What do you think? What shortcuts would you set up for yourself?

Christmas piano

Favorite Christmas Recordings

A friend recently asked me about some of my favorite Christmas recordings, to help them find new music, so I’ll list them here. I’ve decided to at least sort these into “vocal” and “instrumental” categories, in case you’re unfamiliar with the artists.

Instrumental

Beegie Adair (jazz piano)

The Canadian Brass

Chris Botti (trumpet)

Eric Nordhoff (piano)

Jack Jezzro (jazz guitar)

Jim Brickman (piano)

Kenny G (saxophone)

London Festival Orchestra

Mannheim Steamroller

New York Philharmonic

The Piano Guys

SMS Orchestra

  • Christmas Meditations for Orchestra

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Vince Guaraldi Trio

Vocal

Alvin & The Chipmunks

Andrea Bocelli

Andy Williams

Barlow Girl

Bing Crosby

The Carpenters

Casting Crowns

Céline Dion

Chanticleer

Chris Tomlin

David Phelps

Frank Sinatra

Gaither Vocal Band

Harry Connick, Jr.

Home Free

Il Divo

Jane Monheit

Johnny Mathis

Jordan Smith

Josh Groban

Julie Andrews

The King’s Singers

Larnelle Harris

Libera

Luciano Pavarotti

Mary J. Blige

Matthew West

Mercy Me

Michael Bolton

Michael Bublé

Michael W. Smith

Nat King Cole

Neil Diamond

Pentatonix

Perry Como

Rosemary Clooney

SMS Men’s Chorus

Sons of Serendip

Steve Green

Steven Curtis Chapman

Straight No Chaser

Tony Bennett

Voctave

What do you think? If I’ve missed anything really good, please let me know in the comments! Thanks, and Merry Christmas!

Eagle Soaring

Those who trust in the LORD will find new strength

O Jacob, how can you say the LORD does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?

Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of His understanding.

He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.

Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion.

But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31 (NLT)

Career Transition

Why I left a new job after one week

Those who know me will know that I’ve been sharing recently about a new job that I accepted as the CRM Business Manager for the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan. In many ways, the job seemed like a great fit for me. I would once again be working for the University of Michigan, a university that I greatly admire, whose teams I cheer for, and who is a tremendous employer. I would be working on a team, supporting the Salesforce.com platform, and spreading the use of it beyond the Alumni Association to other departments, schools, and campuses within the university.

Starting the job seemed positively surreal. After receiving the job offer, I was able to negotiate with the HR representative on a few key items, and she was patient in answering all of my benefit questions. The Friday before I started, they sent me a 2-page “onboarding plan” that included a list of key contacts, as well as a schedule of important meetings I would need to attend in my first six months. On the morning of my first day, I attended a well-prepared and well-executed orientation program that provided me with good information regarding the university as a whole, and also answered my specific questions. After lunch on my first day, I went to my office, where I was given the type of computer I had requested (Mac vs. PC), other relevant hardware (keyboard, mouse, large monitor), and even a powered desk that would allow me to stand or sit while working! I was impressed.

However, days 2 and 3 started to reveal some factors I hadn’t considered.

I had commuted to Ann Arbor from my home in Flint before this, but it had been under different circumstances. First, I was much younger, my wife was younger, and we didn’t yet have any children. Second, the other companies I worked for were all on the outer edges of Ann Arbor, near US‑23 and I‑94, and had their own free parking lots near the building. Now, for this new job, I was working in downtown Ann Arbor — referred to as “Central Campus” — where I would need to find parking in a parking garage, and either pay for it through a monthly payroll deduction by parking in a university parking garage, or pay cash for a public parking garage. There were a couple of days when I had to go to more than one parking garage to try and find a parking space. I never realized before this what a perk it is to have free and ample parking.

Traffic was also an issue. We’ve been fortunate here in early November to have some mild weather, but even something as simple as fog can drastically slow down the flow of traffic into the Ann Arbor area. On a good day, including driving, finding a place to park, and walking to my office, my total commute was at least an hour and a half. And this is before the weather turns and the snow begins to fall. I began to ask myself, “Do I really want to spend three hours a day commuting? More importantly, is this a good fit for my family right now?”

The answer to me was immediately clear — this was not a good fit for me and my family. It would definitely have been a good job under other circumstances, and the fault was not with the university, the alumni team, or anything else. It came down to a decision of what is best for my family.

Now that I had made the decision that this job wasn’t a good fit, the next question was what to do about it. I could “grin and bear it,” and continue in this job for some period of time while I looked for other employment. Although resigning meant foregoing a steady paycheck, staying in the job didn’t seem to be a good option for my family, and would only reduce the time and energy I could spend on looking for a job that would be a better fit.

But it also occurred to me that remaining in that job wouldn’t be fair to the university and to the leadership team at the Alumni Association. They had hired me with the expectation that they would be able to transfer certain responsibilities to me, and that I would take on certain roles within the team. It didn’t seem right to me to allow that to happen while I was looking for other work, only to suddenly resign within a month or two, and put them back at square one. It seemed more honorable to me to resign immediately, before any transition took place, so they could continue in their current setup, and begin to look for a new candidate to fill that position.

So that’s what I did — I met with my director on Friday and explained the situation to him. He agreed that the type of remote work and flexibility that I would need would not fit the university’s needs for that job. And so I submitted to him my letter of resignation, and left that job the same week I had started.

Was that easy to do? Definitely not.

Are there aspects of that decision that scare me still? Most definitely. I don’t have a “next job” lined up, nor do I have any idea what it will look like, when it will come, what it will pay, etc.

Do I have confidence that I made the right decision and pursued the right course of action? Yes, I do. I believe I acted in the best of interests of my family and with integrity toward my employer.

Above all, do I have confidence that God is in control and has good things planned for me and my family? Yes, definitely. God has demonstrated in the past His ability to provide for my family, both through my employment and through other means, and I am confident He will continue to do so in the future.

So I am back in the job market, with a better idea of what I’m looking for — not necessarily a prestigious employer with an ego-building job title, but a solid job that is local to Flint so I can be near my family and support them in all ways, not just financially.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and thanks to those who have already voiced their support. I appreciate each one of you.

The Glorious Unfolding

Take Another Step

A little over a year ago, two good friends introduced me to Steven Curtis Chapman’s song, “Take Another Step.” I was even privileged to be part of a group that performed this song as a special for my church. This song has meant a lot to me in the past few weeks and months as I’ve tried to follow God’s leading for me and my family.

Listen as Steven explains the meaning and significance behind the song:

Here are the lyrics and the song:

Well the band was playing, the flags were waving,
And there you were
In the middle of a sunny day parade.
The crowds were cheering, the sky was clear,
Not a worry in the world,
Marching on, sure and steady, strong and straight.
Take another step and another step and another step.

Then the lightning flashed, the thunder crashed,
And suddenly it began to rain
And everybody ran.
Then the sky went black as midnight
And you couldn’t see,
Paralyzed by what you just can’t understand.
And now here you are, you’re afraid to move,
You don’t know where to go, you don’t know what to do.

Take another step, take another step.
When the road ahead is dark,
And you don’t know where to go,
Take another step, take another step,
Trust God and take another step,
And another step, and another step,
Take another step, and another step, and another step.

“We walk by faith and not by sight,”
We know it’s true.
We say it and sing it and love the way it sounds.
But none of us can even begin to truly understand
What it really means ’til all the lights go out.
And there we are, nothing to hold on to
But the promises God’s made to me and you.

Take another step, take another step.
When the road ahead is dark,
And you don’t know where to go,
Take another step, take another step,
Trust God and take another step.

If there’s an ocean in front of you,
You know what you’ve gotta do:
Take another step, and another step.
Maybe He’ll turn the water into land,
And maybe He’ll take your hand and say,
“Let’s take a walk on the waves.
Will you trust Me either way?”
And take another step.
Take another step.

Take another step, take another step.
Trust God and take another step.
Take another step,
When the road ahead is dark,
And you don’t know where to go,
Take another step, take another step,
Trust God and take another step,
And another step, and another step, and another step.
Take another step, and another step, and another step.
Take another step, and another step, and another step.
Take another step, and another step, and another step.

Night

My Song in the Night

While I was in college, I had the privilege of singing in a collegiate choir. This choir introduced me to many excellent songs, many new experiences, and many wonderful people who are still friends today.

One of the first songs that I learned — perhaps the very first song that I learned — as a freshman was “My Song In The Night.” It was immediately one of my favorite songs, and still is one of my favorites today.

O Jesus, my Saviour, my song in the night,
Come to us with Thy tender love, my soul’s delight.
Unto Thee, O Lord, in affliction I call,
My comfort by day, and my song in the night.

O why should I wander, an alien from Thee,
Or cry in the desert Thy face to see?
My comfort and joy, my soul’s delight,
O Jesus, my Saviour, my song in the night.

My song in the night,
My song in the night.

O Jesus, my Saviour, my song in the night,
Come to us with Thy tender love, my soul’s delight.
My comfort and joy, my soul’s delight,
O Jesus, my Saviour, my song in the night.

My song in the night,
My song in the night,
My comfort and joy, my soul’s delight,
O Jesus, my Saviour, my song in the night,
My song in the night.

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou – Human Family

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we were unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

Listen to Maya Angelou recite the poem here:

Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx: “Music took me everywhere.”

Tim Ferriss is well known for his top-selling books, including The 4-Hour Work Week, The 4-Hour Body, and The 4-Hour Chef. Tim also hosts a very successful podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show, where he regularly interviews successful, interesting, and knowledgeable people. In December 2015, Tim posted his first interview with Jamie Foxx.

Ferriss and Foxx spent two and a half hours together in this interview, covering a wide range of topics. One of the most interesting topics to me was Foxx’s musical background, how he got started, and how it helped him become who he is today. I’ve transcribed this portion of their interview here:

Tim: Now, you mentioned getting into music, but it seems like, from what I’ve read of you, that music, in some ways, came first.

Jamie: Music did. Music did. When I was a kid, my grandmother made sure that I took piano lessons. And, you know, that’s tough for a little boy in Texas — you know, play Für Elise, and Chopin, and Mozart

Tim: And we’re not talking about Houston…

Jamie: No, we’re talking Terrell, Texas. And I love my city. My city was dope because it was only twelve thousand people, so it was, like, literally, twelve to fifteen families. So we all knew each other.

But you know, for a little boy playing at that time, the other kids didn’t understand.

“Yo, man, why you doin’ that?”

“My grandma want me to do this,” you know. So I — there were sometimes I was belligerent, like, “Why you want me to do this?”

She said, “The reason I want you to learn classical piano is because I want you to be able to go across the tracks and play your music.”

So people listening across the tracks, or on the other side of the tracks, for a southern city, was — the tracks in a southern city separates the city. One side is black; the other side is white. So in our city, the south side, the south side of town was where all the black folks lived. The north side of town is where the white folks lived.

So she said, “I want you to be able to go on the white side of town and play classical music.”

So she taught me how to play classical music — a lady by the name of Lanita Hodge taught me how to play classical piano, and I literally would go on the other side of the tracks and, you know, like start playing for wine and cheese parties, and things like that.

But my grandmother took it a step further, too, because she was able to see the future. Here’s a lady with an eighth grade education, she had her own business for thirty years — she had her own nursery school business.

She says, “When I say ‘across the tracks,’ I don’t just mean in Terrell and those people over there — I mean the metaphoric. Like, ‘across the tracks,’ like meaning everywhere in the world.”

See, she said, “Because music connects you to the whole world.

So in doing that, I would connect with other people on the other side of the tracks who, you know, in a southern city, in Terrell, we were a little behind the curve when it came to race relations. Let’s just say it that way without, you know — I don’t want to demonize my home town.

But there was that, “Who’s the little black kid?”

And my grandmother would be like, “Don’t…” You know, “Just play…”

Tim: Do your thing.

Jamie: And when I would play, you know, a lot of that, you know, broke up. I remember even, like, being armed with just my music in sort of that racial setting, sometimes. Like there was a time when there was a Christmas party…

Tim: Were these paid gigs?

Jamie: Yeah, I’d make like ten, fifteen dollars. You know what I’m saying? At that time, it was a lot of money. And I played for the church. So, playing for the church, I would make, like, $75 a week. So, if you count that up, that’s like $300 a month…

Tim: Real money.

Jamie: That’s real money at thirteen, fourteen. My grandmother would take the money, though.

[Southern grandmother voice] “Hey, give me this money.”

[Normal voice] “What you doin’ with my money?”

She said, [Southern grandmother voice] “You ain’t payin’ no rent, you gonna give me this money.”

So, but I remember at that time, being armed with just my music. And there was a Christmas party that I was supposed to play for — myself and my best friend, who was seventeen, and I was sixteen at the time. And here’s a little bit of the racial misunderstanding, shall we say.

I went to play for the guy at Christmas time, maybe it’s like December 17th. And we show up — it’s two little black kids on the white side of town. And when he opens his door, and he sees two little black kids, he says, [male Texas accent] “What’s goin’ on here?”

[Normal voice] I said, “Well, I’m here to play for your Christmas party.”

He said, [male Texas accent] “Well then why are there two of you here at the same time?”

[Normal voice] I said, “Well… [clears throat] …I don’t have a license, so he drove me. Uh, is there a problem?”

[Male Texas accent] “Yeah, there’s a problem — I can’t have two n*****s in my house at the same time.”

[Normal voice] And I was like, “Ah, well…”

You know, I was sort of used to the racial misunderstandings…

And I said, “Well, is there any way he could wait outside or wait…”

[Male Texas accent] “He can’t wait on the street. Starts at 6:30. Now you’ve gotta make your mind up, man.”

[Normal voice] So I told my boy, “Listen, just come get me at 8:30.” Which was pretty late for kids at that time.

So I go in, and he says, [male Texas accent] “Where’s your tuxedo?”

[Normal voice] And I said, “Well, you didn’t tell me to have a tuxedo.”

So we go into this room which looks like a bedroom, and I’m looking like, “Why does he have clothes hanging up in his bedroom?” But it was a walk-in closet. I ain’t never seen anything like that. I was like, “Man, we can make a split-level condo out of this!”

So he gives me a Brooks Brothers jacket that has patches on the elbows. I’m like, “Oh, shoot! High falutin’!”

Well now I’m really playing. But as I’m playing, uh, they were doing, the grownups there, they were doing, uh, racially misunderstanding jokes. I’ll say it like that.

And my grandmother taught me something at that time. She said, “When you’re in a setting like that, there’s a word I want you to remember — it’s called, ‘furniture’.”

I said, “What’s that?”

She said, “You’re part of the furniture. So you don’t comment on what’s being said. You play. That’s what you’re there for, and you let these people enjoy their…”

And the lady of the house felt bad. She said, [female Texas accident] “I just wanna apologize to you for what they’re saying.”

[Normal voice] I said, “Oh, no problem.”

She said, [female Texas accident] “Can you sing something for us?”

[Normal voice] And I was like, “Sure, I can sing something for us.”

And this was the song that I sung…

[Starts playing piano and singing]
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose.
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.
Everybody…”

Anyway, so as I’m singing, I remember watching those white guys — old men — some of them faculty at my school, that had just said something, you know, probably not — I don’t think it was that they meant harm harm, but it was…

Tim: They’d have to resign today.

Jamie: Yeah. And they look, and they go, they immediately change. “Wow, man, that’s good. You know any other songs?”

And I sat and did about maybe like a six song set. And I saw what my grandmother talked about — that music cracked them in half. They saw a different me.

And then afterwards, he gave me a hundred bucks! And I’m like, “Shoot, call me n***** every day! I got a hundred dollars! I’m rich!”

And what was interesting was, I went to give him the jacket back, and he was like, “No, I, I, I can’t take it back.” So there was still a little bit of residue left over.

But I saw what the music did, and I remember when my boy showed back up, I said, “Listen, it was a cool gig, I got paid, but I gotta get out of here.”

I said, “Because I’m too smart for this. I need to go elsewhere.”

And I did. I changed my major — well, I changed the college that I was going to go to. I was going to go to another college in Texas and study music. Instead, I came to California — San Diego — to study music at International University.

What was interesting about that was that — being in Texas, it was blacks, whites, and Mexicans. When I got to International University, it was 81 different countries represented at that school. All connected by music and other things. Music and sports.

And the music arena at that time was high-end, strict child prodigies from Japan, child prodigies from China. I had a Russian music teacher, and I had a Yugoslavian music theory teacher, so it was — it was really “across the tracks.”

But because of that, and because of Estelle Talley, and Mark Talley, you know, picking me up every weekend to go play music, man, it set me on a, like I said, a crazy, wonderful journey.

And so the music was first.

And, you know, my college was interesting. I didn’t know anything about Jewish, Palestinian — I had no idea. I was at the student center, and there was this argument going on, you know.

I said, “What are they arguing about?”

[Middle Eastern accent] “Oh, my brother, they are talking about the Gaza Strip.”

[Normal voice] I said, “What is that?”

And they said, “You know, the Jewish occupation, the this, the that,” and I got a quick history lesson on that.

I got a quick history lesson on people from Argentina.

Or I would see a person who looked black, and I would be like, “Hey! What’s up, brother?”

And they would, [French accent][Foreign garble].”

And I’d be like, “Oh, where you from?”

And they’d say, [French accent] “Paris.”

And I was like, “Wow, they got black people from…?”

So, that music gave me not only an opportunity to share, but I was able to be educated about other people, because we studied Texas history. And studying Texas history is interesting. Like, if you study Texas history, if it didn’t happen in Texas, it didn’t happen. So when you look at, like — if this is your society bar, but when you think about politics, and what they know about across the sea, and what they know even about on the next block, or what they know is different in Texas from New York — that’s the reason that politics is so interesting, is because the people don’t necessarily have educations of other people.

Which is why I think that once we start opening up a little more, and traveling a little more, because — what is it, less than how many percent, less than five percent of Americans have passports and things?

Tim: A small number, yeah.

Jamie: So, anyway, that music, like I said, took me, took me everywhere.