Kyle @ IBM: An Untraditional Approach

By Kyle Wang, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

“Sir, I’m here to talk to you about the squirrels!”

With no small amount of relief, I saw the angry waves on his forehead recede into curious ripples.  A couple seconds later, after the customer learned that his invaluable cable services teetered precariously atop these furry beasts whose teeth endangered the copper wire lines, his face become clouded with concern.  Got him.

This was the summer of 2012.  The mission of my first internship was to persuade customers to agree to a free upgrade, while my only weapon was my limited supply of charm and razor-sharp wit.  Ever since Verizon built out its FiOS fiber network, the company desperately wanted to migrate its customers off the old, redundant copper cable service.  Since copper wire is sensitive and susceptible to everything from weather to wildlife, this meant cost-savings for Verizon and speedier, more reliable service for customers.  I thought that customers would embrace such an opportunity, but I could not have been more wrong.

People are generally resistant to change, but my ‘chronic list’ was worse.  Chronic customers were angry, having to put up with particularly bad copper service for years while generating the highest maintenance fees.  Some customers, especially the older ones, stubbornly demanded that the company “just fix it” instead of introducing something new and unknown.  Many more suspected I had ulterior motives.  I quickly learned wearing business casual was often the nail in the coffin.  Over those first two weeks, I became well acquainted with the sound of a slamming door.  I had to get creative.

After some persuasion, my manager agreed to requisition a neon safety vest and Verizon hardhat for me.  As an intern play-acting a technician, I brainstormed ideas, opening lines, and methods to get customers to suspend their disbelief.  Unbelievably, by donning my hardhat, pacing around their houses with a clipboard, and pretending to study utility poles, I was able to convince customers to give me the benefit of the doubt, increasing my success rate from 10 percent to around 80 percent!  Despite an elderly woman threatening to set her miniature poodle on me and more of the like, I realized that I actually enjoyed the challenge of working with ‘chronic’ customers.

The Verizon internship was quite a departure from my finance track toward investment banking.    As my boss told me during my interview, “I don’t know yet what you’ll be doing as the pilot intern, but I can promise you that it will be A LOT.”  These were the words that thoroughly intrigued my inner thrill-seeker.  After returning to my college’s trading room after that summer, I realized that I just could not find the same dynamic challenges or excitement in my cocoon of excel spreadsheets during my part-time work at an investment fund.  While the fund granted me a wealth of analytical experience, I learned that summer at Verizon that working with people is dreadfully exciting.

I have always been fascinated by how we can change people’s attitudes simply by being observant of ourselves, through our gestures, words, and even choice of clothing.  As an IBMer, the opportunity to work with teams of dynamic talent in a company that has survived by constantly adapting and “changing its clothes” was invigorating to me.  Verizon’s credo challenges its employees to “see crisis and change as opportunities, not threats” and to “run to a crisis, not away”.  Interestingly enough, this is something that IBM has achieved for over a century to the benefit of its stakeholders.  This why IBM has become – and why I hope to one day be – essential.

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