3 Keys to Good Customer Service

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3 Keys to Good Customer Service

Good customer service is the heart of every business. It flows from employees who engage internal and external customers, meet their needs, and exceed their expectations. Good customer service creates a "wow" experience for your customers, leaves a positive impression, encourages repeat business, and ideally refers other customers to your organization. So how do you get your employees on-board? Here are 3 critical elements of good customer service.

1. Good customer service starts with the right attitude and mindset.

Customer service starts with having the right underlying attitudes and motivations. This means not only hiring people with the right customer service mentality and who want to help and satisfy their customers, but also encouraging the right focus and attitudes by talking positively about customers in the organization, repeatedly communicating the importance of customer service to your business' success, training employees on the customer service practices your organization has decided to emphasize, and recognizing employees who serve the customer extraordinarily well.

Key employee attitudes that drive good customer service include viewing customers positively, understanding that customer service is important to the organization's success, feeling motivated and accountable for providing good customer service, having the information and tools needed to provide good customer service, viewing leaders as enthusiastic and supportive of good customer service, and believing that they can take initiative to do what is best for the customer.

2. Good customer service requires effective communication.

Exceptional customer service requires mastering communication with internal customers (other employees) and external customers (those outside of your organization) as well as with difficult customers. Without both quality communication through a variety of channels such as face-to-face, over the phone, or via email, as well as effective communication in a diverse range of situations both internal, within the organization, and external, outside the organization with a diverse group of customers, service can suffer.

Customer service issues almost always arise from a failure to communicate properly.

For example, customers may not know what to expect or may not be accurately informed of changes and schedules. Customers also could perceive a lack of responsiveness or courtesy. A customer's tone may unleash an emotional reaction from your representative. The underlying problem in all of these issues (and most customer service dilemmas) is a failure to communicate well.

Effective communication with customers involves listening and understanding your customer's viewpoint or problem, handling emotions, organizing and preparing one's thoughts, speaking clearly and succinctly, responding to or following up on questions directly and in a timely manner, watching non-verbal cues like tone and body language, problem solving, and closing conversations or interactions to keep the door open for an ongoing positive relationship with the customer.

Communication is as much an art as a science and takes practice. Building self-awareness of communication strengths and weaknesses and teaching skills through training, role-playing, scripts, and conversation coaching are just a few methods to use to drive better customer service. But beware: not all customer service training and skill-building is created equal. Traditional lectures or "guides" simply won't cut it. Employees must practice, engage in the changed behaviors, and obtain feedback as they are doing so by a trained professional.

3. Good customer service is practiced on your internal customers.

Practice good service with your internal customers. Employees generally don't provide good customer service to their customers if they aren't serving one another in a consistent, reliable, friendly, and timely manner.

Good customer service is the result of positive, supportive interactions between staff members who are interdependent on one another for information, especially when multiple people and departments are involved in the process of delivering a product or service to the customer.

Organizations that provide good internal customer service:

  • Have collaborative cultures that recognize and reward teamwork
  • Freely and efficiently share information with one another; create processes that enable free-flow of information
  • Respect each others' time; respond and resolve internal inquiries in a timely manner
  • Listen and try to understand the concerns and demands of one another
  • Have clear communication channels for communicating product and business process information
  • Speak to one another courteously and respectfully

If you expect and want good customer service from your employees, the best way to achieve it is by modeling the attitudes, behaviors, and communication practices you seek inside your organization and creating a workplace that lives, breathes, and teaches what it means to put the customer first.

Customer Service Skills Training

Customer Service Skills Training

This training helps you build better relationships with your customers.

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Salaries for IT Professionals in Northeast Ohio

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The table below offers a glimpse into the IT salary growth seen in the Northeast Ohio region from 2010-2012 as reported by the ERC Salary Surveys. Among the highest paying jobs reported by the 2012 Survey, a Systems Analyst Lead saw a steady salary increase of only about 3% annually since 2010. However, as a higher level position, this position pays well above the national median- reported at $77,740 by the Spring 2012 edition of Occupational Outlook Quarterly. In contrast, System/Software Engineers have expereinced a net salary growth rate of 9% over the same time period, but still falls over $10,000 short of the national median for Software Developers, reported at $90,530.

Network Administrator and Web Developer median salaries from the 2012 Salary Survey are similarly low when compared to national data. Interestingly, these slightly lower salaries are reported for positions with the strongest job outlook projections, a trend suggesting that filling these positions with top talent may require employers to increase their salary offerings to prospective job candidates in Northeast Ohio.

In terms of educational requirements, the vast majority of IT positions require a minimum of a Bachelor’s Degree. The notable exceptions are job titles within the U.S Department of Labor’s “Computer Support Specialist” category. The PC Specialist position falls into this category and as such offers a notably lower median salary than the other IT positions reported in the survey.

For more information, including trends and forecasts, visit our Salary For IT site.

4 Questions Every Manager Needs to Answer

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Successful, effective performance management by managers essentially boils down to simply answering 4 key questions for your employees.

What is expected of me?

Managers have an obligation to tell employees what is expected of them in terms of job responsibilities, projects, and goals or objectives. After all, how can you hold employees accountable without telling them exactly what you need and clearly defining what they are supposed to be doing? This question should be answered at the beginning of the performance management process each year and whenever expectations or responsibilities change. Specifically, managers should clarify and define three types of expectations:

  • what employees should do on the job (responsibilities, duties, key projects, etc.)
  • how employees should do the job (behaviors, attitudes, competencies, etc.)
  • results to be achieved over a specific timeframe (such as deadlines, goals, levels of performance, etc.)

How am I doing?

Throughout the year, managers must provide honest and accurate feedback and coaching to help employees understand how they are doing and progressing, as well as to assist them in staying on track with their performance. Feedback should include an honest assessment of employees' strengths and weaknesses and could be achieved through regular one-on-one meetings with their supervisor, formal mid-year or quarterly check-point meetings, and a final end-of-year evaluation discussion.

Although informal feedback is crucial, over the course of the year, managers should meet formally with employees a few times (at least twice) to revisit their progress on key projects and goals, address performance problems, and create conditions that help motivate employees in achieving their goals.

Don't expect your managers to take the initiative on coaching and feedback without some structure. Some managers can thrive with this informality, but many others can't. Teach them coaching and feedback methods and require structured interactions to ensure that employees receive the support they need.

Where can I improve?

Where organizations often miss the mark with performance management is viewing the process as merely a judgment and administrative record of employees' performance. While evaluation is fundamental to the process, performance management also seeks to develop employees' performance and potential to increasingly higher levels.

Based on their on-going assessment of performance, managers should identify opportunities for employees to develop their potential and discuss those periodically with employees. These opportunities may be improving performance deficiencies, attending training, focusing on skill development, or taking on new projects/assignments.

At times, the performance management process also involves answering the question "Where am I going?" in terms of discussing potential career paths and internal mobility and the requirements for moving into higher and different roles in the organization, particularly if these opportunities are tied to performance in their current job.

What’s the big picture?

Incorporating your mission, vision, values, and strategy into the performance management process helps focus your employees on the tasks, projects, and behaviors that matter most to the organization and its growth - especially if your performance management process is aimed at helping your organization meet its objectives and furthering its mission. Equally as important is to discuss how these components link to employees' performance and why certain tasks and goals are important to the organization's success. Consider...

  • integrating your mission, vision, values, and strategy into the performance review form
  • cascading goals from the top of the organization to individuals
  • continually discussing how employees' goals and responsibilities are tied to the organization's goals and objectives

When viewing performance management through the lens of these important questions, your managers can answer the questions that matter most to your employees and that are most important to their success.

View ERC's Performance Management Survey Results

This report explores performance management practices specifically related to performance reviews, performance criteria, role of the supervisor, and other issues.

View the Results

ERC Wins Healthiest Employer Award

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ERC is proud to announce it has been awarded a 2012 Health Care Heroes Award in the category of Wellness: The Healthiest Employer. The award honors champions of corporate wellness and is hosted by Crain’s Cleveland.

“We’re humbled to be receiving this honor among so many other great organizations,” said Pat Perry, President of ERC. “We are very proud of the ‘family first’ culture we’ve developed at ERC; work-life balance is critical to having a happy, healthy workforce. Our employees have really embraced the healthy culture that we created here. And it is important to us to lead by example, as we sponsor the ERC Health program throughout the State of Ohio.”

Drug Testing Policies in the Workplace

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Drug testing has become a hot button political issue with the 2012 report by the  National Conference of State Legislatures that 28 states across the country have either considered or passed legislation establishing drug testing requirements for individuals enrolled in various types of public assistance programs, including unemployment benefits. The constitutionality of many of these laws is currently in question, but what do drug testing policies look like outside of the realm of the State?

While some limited data on drug testing policies and practices in the workplace does exist, ERC’s 2012 Drug Testing Policies and Practices Survey provides data about drug testing policies for 163 organizations right here in Ohio. In addition, the report offers a detailed look into the frequency with which organizations have encountered failed drug tests, many of which result in rescinded job offers to otherwise qualified job applicants or even termination for existing employees.

Drug testing policies were common, with 78% of employers reporting that they would not hire an otherwise qualified applicant based on a failed drug test. This policy was applied to hourly positions (78.6%) slightly more often than to salaried positions (77.5%), a trend that continued across all breakouts regardless of industry or organizational size.

Although these hiring polices around drug testing were slightly more common for hourly than salaried positions, the survey found much larger differences in the reported testing failure rates among the hourly (33.5%) than the salaried group (13.2%). By and large, employers reported that their failure rates have remained the same from 2011, both for pre-employment testing as well as for drug tests performed on existing employees.

To download the full survey report of 163 participating Ohio organizations, please click here.

Additional Resources

ERC members save on drug testing with Preferred Partners.

10-Step Guide for Your Company Summer Picnic

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10-Step Guide for Your Company Summer Picnic

The annual company summer picnic or outing is a tradition for many organizations and a time to get creative to give your staff and their families a memorable experience. We’ve compiled a 10-step guide to creating a fun and unforgettable summer picnic for your employees which includes suggestions for possible local venues, entertainment, activities, food, and tips for managing the logistics.

1. Determine who to invite.

Choosing who to invite impacts many of your other decisions about the event. Will you invite just staff, their spouses/significant others, or their families? You'll need to know how many people you need to accommodate and your prospective audience in order to plan a successful picnic.

2. Choose a time.

When choosing a time for your organization's picnic, consider your organization's work schedule, employees' vacation schedules, and who you are inviting to the picnic. If the picnic involves other family members and children, after work or on a weekend may be best; whereas if you are only inviting staff, a weekday picnic may be more appropriate. Saturday around lunchtime and early-mid afternoon is usually the most common day/time to host a family picnic.

3. Pick an attractive local venue.

Selecting a new location for your summer picnic each year adds some excitement. Depending on your budget, local park pavilions, amusement or water parks, dinner cruises, outdoor festivals, or even the company premises (if conducive) are all good options for company summer picnic venues.

4. Plan fun, appealing activities that suit your audience.

Rides, inflatables, carnival games, sports, craft-making, paddle boats, pony rides, and karaoke are just a few of many activities that you could offer. Whatever activities you choose, make sure they fit your audience and the ages in attendance. Also, if your picnic involves activities, it's best to provide an agenda for the day.

5. Hire an entertainer.

Caricature artists, clowns, balloon artists, event artists, trapeze artists, gymnasts, stunt men, magicians, DJs, acrobats, face painters, jugglers, ventriloquists, comedians, fortune tellers, puppeteers, bands, soloists, dancers, and impersonators are different types of entertainers you could hire for the event.

6. Add new prizes to your raffle.

A raffle or drawing is often an anticipated highlight of the company picnic for employees and their families – especially if you give away great prizes. Skip giving away the extra PTO day this year or company logo gear. Rather, include employees’ kids and offer exciting prizes like new technology, money, gift cards and certificates, and the latest toys – all things most people love to win.

7. Theme your event.

It helps change the atmosphere and adds a fun twist. Insert your theme into your activities, food, decorations (tablecloths, center-pieces, etc.), and even communications about the event (invitations, reminders, response cards, etc.). Possible themes could include a beach party, safari, wild-west, casino, circus, Olympics, luau, field day, etc.

8. Brand your event and make it special.

Communications about the company picnic should include more than just a company-wide email or inclusion in a newsletter. Send out personal invitations to each employee and their family. Brand the picnic and display posters and communications around the workplace. Consider creating a special website or intranet site for the picnic. This helps generate excitement about it and makes your employees feel special and valued.

9. Change up the menu.

Providing “picnic staples” (hot dogs, hamburgers, salads, etc.) is important, but consider trying something different this year (see “Picnic Menu FAQs”). Trying new food options can liven up a traditional summer picnic. Additionally, while choosing a good corporate caterer is important, when management gets involved in preparing the food, this can be quite meaningful to employees.

Picnic Menu

Picnic Menu FAQs

  1. What are some popular choices this summer that companies seem to be ordering?
    Items that can be grilled on site, such as marinated chicken accompanied by some unusual side dishes such as a grilled sweet potato salad or a quinoa salad.
  2. What’s good guidance on amount of food and beverage per person?
    If grilling and offering a choice of entrees, make sure to have at least 1 to 2 pieces per person (i.e. one piece of chicken and one hot dog). By offering beverages in dispensers you are sure to have a nice variety and plenty to go around. If it is hot you want to make sure your guests stay hydrated with plenty of cold water (try infusing it with basil and cucumber for something a bit different), iced tea or lemonade.
  3. Best advice you would give a corporate summer picnic planner?
    Make sure that you are setup to keep your cold food cold and your hot food hot on your buffet line. Depending on the size of your event the logistics can overwhelming consider having either a portion or the entire event catered so you can take care of the entertainment details. Give us a call we would love to be part of your corporate celebrations this year no matter how big or how small.

Answers courtesy of Bonnie Matthew, Owner/President of ERC’s Preferred Partner Food for Thought

10. Don’t forget the classics.

Popcorn and cotton candy machines, ice cream and snow cone stands, or the annual company baseball game – the classics and traditions of company picnics – should also be included. Don’t get rid of the traditions and classic elements of a company picnic that your guests love and that are unique to your company culture.

Last but not least – don’t fail to consider the logistics – like contingency plans for rainy weather. These aren’t necessarily the most fun to plan for, but are important for a successful event.

The company summer picnic should make your guests have a great time, connect with one another, meet each other’s families, build relationships and camaraderie, and take pride in your organization. Using the tips in this guide, make your company summer picnic one that employees remember and look forward to all year.

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Employers Eager to Hire Interns and Recent Graduates

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The results of the 2012 Intern & Recent Grad Pay Rates & Practices Survey, conducted by ERC and NOCHE, showed that an overwhelming majority (83%) of 117 participating Northeast Ohio employers were either maintaining or increasing their internship programs, while almost two-thirds (64%) were in the process of hiring or planning to hire new graduates for positions in their organizations. These organizations look for candidates with relevant majors in their field, high levels of professionalism, strong interpersonal and communication skills, and past work or internship/co-op experience.

Recruitment Trends

Despite a strong online recruiting presence, organizations are primarily using job boards/websites focused on interns or recent graduates to pursue candidates, social media remains low on the list of recruitment methods at for both interns and recent graduates. Interestingly, 2012's survey does mark a small increase in social media recruitment for recent graduates from the preceding years, up 9% from 20% in 2011. However, when compared to more traditional recruitment methods such as job postings on college career center websites or relationships with professors, social media recruitment methods appear to remain a largely untapped recruitment resource. This trend suggests that for tech savvy Millenials searching for an internship or first job, LinkedIn or Facebook may not be the most effective platform through which to reach potential employers.

Benefits of Interns & Recent Graduates

While the overall lack of interest in social media recruiting is consistent with trends in the world of Human Resources, it sits in stark contrast to one of the top emerging benefits of hiring interns and recent graduates, i.e. familiarity with the latest technological advances. Both groups continue to be seen as a key element for injecting organizations with fresh, innovative ideas, particularly in the realm of technology.

Employers commonly express a high level of confidence in the expertise of interns and recent graduates as employees. By coupling this high skill level with a strong financial incentive to hire from within these groups, pursuing interns and recent graduates as future employees is largely viewed as a positive investment in an organization’s future. 

The 2012 survey also reports average starting salaries for recent graduates, which vary significantly depending on the type of degree. Similar to the 2011 data, an engineering degree showed the highest average starting salary for a Bachelors degree.

Average starting salaries for college degrees

Degree Obtained

Average Starting Salary

Masters, Business Administration

$62,500

Bachelors, Engineering

$51,455

Bachelors, Computer Science

$50,000

Bachelors, Finance

$45,750

Bachelors, Information Technology

$44,000

Bachelors, Chemistry

$39,833

Associates, Information Technologies

$37,000

Bachelors, Accounting

$36,912

Bachelors, Business Administration

$35,880

Bachelors, Marketing

$34,687

Associates, Business/Marketing

$31,093

View the Intern & Recent Graduate Pay Rates & Practices Survey

This survey reports data from Northeast Ohio employers about their internship and recent graduate employment and pay practices.

View the Results

How Employers Can Fill the Skill Gap

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Organizations across the region continue to face challenges in finding the right employees and talent. What's the solution to this dilemma? We weigh in on the skill-gap problem facing many employers and several practical things you can do to obtain the skills you need.

Is your offer competitive?

You've likely changed and tweaked your sourcing strategies several times to find the right talent, but have you changed your offer - the pay, benefits, and perks of working at your organization? People with the most in-demand skills know what they are worth and are drawn to the most lucrative opportunities, with higher salaries, better benefits, more advancement opportunities, and unique perks.

You must have the right package to draw the talent you need. If you haven't taken a look at what starting salaries and benefits packages are in the market currently, and how employers are communicating this information to applicants to draw them into their organizations, it may be best to start there. Your pay rates may not be competitive anymore.

Do you need to redefine what talent means?

The perception of a skill gap sometimes is created by our unrealistic expectations of everything talent should be. Talent is more or less a set of characteristics and abilities which predict success on the job. Talent is not necessarily an exact match of all the skills and experiences you need, however hiring processes often seek this precise match.

Consider how employers define top talent - usually in terms of attitude, integrity, work ethic, passion for the work, and motivation to succeed. These are talents worth seeking, but more often than not, interviews, assessments, and other hiring methods focus heavily on concrete skills and experiences - the easiest of which to teach prospective employees. That being said, keep these things in mind when hiring talent:

  • Be careful what you are screening out in the hiring process. Don't needlessly turn down candidates because they don't meet an unnecessary skill requirement.
  • Focus interview questions on relevant behaviors and experiences needed to be successful on the job, not necessarily exact experiences that the job will entail. Target abilities and transferable skills.
  • Consider hiring inexperienced employees to build and grow talent from the ground, up. They are a blank slate with fresh perspectives. This strategy has been highly successful for many organizations, particularly entrepreneurial firms.

Who's already on your bench?

Companies often don't realize their bench strength in that many of the technical skills and capabilities they need either already exist in their organizations or have the potential to be learned. Frequently, they don't take the time to understand what each of their employees has to offer, and consequently overlook talent that already exists in their organizations as well as opportunities to engage and develop their current staff who desire growth.

Don't assume that employees don't want to learn a new skill, take on a challenge, go to a training, or that you know an employee's full potential. Regularly inventory employees' skills, document their education and training, and ask employees what skills they would like to attain. Skills can be learned, and our guess is that you have plenty of employees eager for a new challenge.

Can they be grown?

More employers are realizing that in order to gain the skills and talent they need to grow and advance their businesses, they will have to start growing those skills internally with training, coaching, and development. Hiring talent externally may seem easier as well as less costly and time-consuming, but the cost of operating with vacancies, wasting time unsuccessfully sourcing talent, and paying a premium for external hires can outweigh the cost of investing in your current employees.

An added bonus of growing talent internally is that doing so engages and retains current employees, who often will leave for greener pastures and new opportunities that aren't afforded to them. In our experience, too much external hiring can cause a great deal of disengagement, eliminating possible opportunities for your current employees. Here are some tips to grow your own:

  • Conduct a training needs assessment to understand what skill gaps exist.
  • Determine what skill gaps can be filled internally and which employees have the ability to learn.
  • Identify opportunities for cross-training - can employees be trained by current employees?
  • Where skills can't be cross-trained and outside expertise is needed, seek external training.
  • Prioritize training and development opportunities based on the most critical skill gaps to manage costs and time away from work.

ERC's Director of Technical Training weighs in on the importance of development to retaining employees and closing the skill gap. He says, "To help maintain their competitive edge, organizations will need to continually invest in workforce development. Contrary to a popular myth, companies who invest in developing the technical skills of their people are more likely to retain those people--- not lose them to a competitor for an extra 25 cents an hour. Studies have shown that when employees develop new technical skills, they are more loyal, productive and motivated to do an even better job…for the company who invested in them."

The skill gap is here to stay and employers will be tasked with coming up with creative solutions to fill the gap in the months and years to come. Employers that are able to fill their skill gaps more creatively and thoughtfully, while retaining their best people in the process, will end up gaining a competitive advantage.

Additional Resources

Training at ERC
Hundreds of companies turn to ERC every year to develop and enhance the skills of their managers, supervisors, leaders and professionals at all levels. We offer a variety of technical skills, workplace/soft skills, supervisory/management/leadership skills, computer skills, and legal/compliance training on-site as well as at our Workplace Center.

2012 ERC Local Salary Data Published
For more information or to purchase our most recent ERC Salary Survey and ERC Wage Survey which provide local salary and hourly wage data from Northeast Ohio employers on over 300 jobs, please click here. Not an ERC member? Join today and receive free access to our newly published survey results!

Make a Difference in Productivity and Your Bottom Line!

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ERC encourages you to select CareWorks as your new MCO. CareWorks can help make a difference in the health and productivity of your employees and your bottom line. There are no direct costs for an MCO, fees are already included with your BWC premium. As Ohio’s most selected MCO,* CareWorks:

  • Medically manages nearly one out of every three workplace injuries in Ohio.*
  • Had the #1 return to work performance on the 2012 BWC MCO Report Card*and over a nine-year period.**

Even if you already have a TPA, your MCO choice matters! Learn more about CareWorks here.

(*Source: BWC’s 2012 MCO Report Card).
(**Source: Average of BWC’s Quarterly MCO DoDM Results from 1st Quarter 2003 through 4th Quarter 2011.)

To Text or Not to Text - There is No Question

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By Pat Perry

In 2012 the Ohio Senate passed House Bill 99 (vote of 25-8) which would make it a secondary offense (for adults) and a primary offense for minors to text while driving. In addition House Bill 99 would prohibit drivers under 18 from using any electronic device while driving (with the exception of a GPS). Regardless of your political persuasion or your thoughts about the Bill, I hope you can agree that if you are texting while driving versus looking at the road, you increase the probability that bad things can happen. In addition to texting while driving, here are a couple of other offenses that seem to only be getting worse:

  • Texting while interviewing (yes, believe it or not…this is happening with some of our member companies).
  • Texting while attending seminars or business events. Instructors and keynote presenters tell us that they are seeing more and more of this behavior.
  • Texting while in a meeting. Equally as rude as texting at a seminar – but apparently much more challenging as the individual texting has a harder time hiding their mobile device while seemingly paying attention to the meeting.
  • Texting while engaged in a one-on-one conversation. I have seen this happen several times and consider it the crème de la crème of texting addiction.
  • Texting Receptionists. The “best” is when a Receptionist greets you and then asks you to hold on for a minute so they can finish their text “conversation”.

The text addiction does not discriminate based on age…seems like everyone is in the game. Next time you are at a stoplight, count the number of cars where the drivers are either texting or not using hands free technology to talk on the phone. Scary stuff.

If you text or call while driving, do us all a favor - please turn the phone off until you get to your destination. If you are one of those that believes that you can text/call without incident while driving, just check out the local, regional or national stats relative to accidents/deaths related caused by texting/cell phone usage – it’s sobering. 

It’s one thing to be rude texting in a business environment…it’s another to kill or hurt someone because of it.