Steve Ferrante's High Performance Blog for Sales/Customer Service/Leadership Champs and Progressive Professionals!

Posts tagged ‘Customer Service’

Are You The Smartest Sales Person In The Room?

There’s this popular quote, “If you’re the smartest person in the room you’re in the wrong room”. This quote has always struck a nerve with me. More on that shortly. First, a brief (remarkably relevant) story..

About a year or so ago, I was speaking with a business owner who had just decided to hire me to train his sales and service team. His primary reason for hiring me had nothing really to do with anything I had done or said personally, we had never met in person and had only spoken on the phone once. Instead, his reason for hiring me was something another client had said about me to him. “He said you’re crazy smart and had a really positive impact on his whole team”. “Crazy smart”, those were his exact words. Sounds like an oxymoron to me and, besides, being a New Englander with Bostonian DNA, I prefer Wicked Smaaht.

At that time, I didn’t say much of anything other than “great” or similar as we proceeded to formalize our training plans. But that label.. it stuck with me. I knew where it came from but why? In my 12+ years as a trainer, I certainly don’t recall ever referring to myself as “Crazy Smart”. 

So please allow me to set the record straight..

I am far from smart, crazy or otherwise, on most things. So are you and all the people you know. Take carpentry for instance. I have a good friend who’s a fantastic carpenter. The kind of guy that didn’t have an addition built on his house so he could do it. And now it looks at least as good as the house!  By comparison, my smarts on carpentry are right around dummy level.  If I built an addition on your house it would, at best, be an abomination. 

Same goes for chemistry and agricultural. I’m not the best choice to mix your meds or tend to your crops. In fact, there’s a very long list of things that I really have no business in. And that’s the whole point.

Everybody is a Genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid. – Albert Einstein

Being an expert at carpentry, chemistry or agricultural would do absolutely nothing to further my chosen profession as a sales/customer service/leadership trainer. Accordingly, I spend exactly no time on furthering my rather limited education on these subjects.

On the other hand, if you want to know about sales, customer service and/or leadership well now we’re talking! Business, customer engagement, human relations, creating a winning corporate culture? I’ll ace that test! After all, I’m a trainer/speaker/consultant on those subjects.

Be The Smartest Person In The Room?

Back to the quote; “If you’re the smartest person in the room you’re in the wrong room”.

What’s wrong with being the smartest person in any room? If you’re the dumbest person in the room, are you now in the right room? Actually, that thought is more aligned with the true meaning of the quote. If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re prohibiting your growth as you can’t learn anything (that you don’t already know) to further your development.  That makes sense.

As an example, if you’re the President of the United States, it would not be most advantageous, and potentially dangerous, to be the smartest person in the room. Accordingly, the President has a Cabinet with the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments including  Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, to name a few. The Cabinet’s role is to advise the President on any subject he may require relating to the duties of each member’s respective office. With that vital appointment, Cabinet members should certainly be the ‘smartest person in the room’ as they are relied upon as the President’s go-to source for expertise in their department. With the health of the country at stake, it makes perfect sense that the ‘smartest’ people are appointed to the President’s cabinet.

The same goes for corporations. Successful CEO’s recognize they can’t do it all and need to hire and surround themselves with the best and brightest people in each department to effectively grow the business. Conversely, many small businesses fail when the CEO takes on too much themselves and/or fails to hire the best people.

However, imagine being sick and not having the smartest doctor in the room treating you? Or a lawyer who’s not sure  what to do about your legal matter until he speaks with a smarter attorney than himself. In both cases, you would want to deal with that smartest person directly. Be that smartest person.

Napoleon’s “Specialized Knowledge”

Successful people, in all callings, never stop acquiring specialized knowledge related to their major purpose, business, or profession. — Napoleon Hill

I wholeheartedly agree with the Napoleon Hill’s principle of “Specialized Knowledge”.  Napoleon asserted that knowledge is not power, it is only potential power. It only becomes power when, and if, it is organized into a definite plan of action, and directed towards a purpose.

In simple terms, if you want to succeed at anything than you don’t need to know everything. Only what is necessary to succeed at your “major purpose” truly matters. 

As I wrote in The Truth about “Born Salesman”, top performers don’t rely on fate/destiny, they decide and commit to being a student of their profession, learning all they can and working to master their craft over time.

So I absolutely agree and totally disagree with the quote, depending on the position it’s based on. If you’re a sales and service professional seeking peak performance (and all the rewards that comes with), you should certainly strive to be ‘the smartest person in the room’, not only an expert in your business/industry/products but also a master at your craft (selling and customer service).


Customer Disservice Lesson from American Airlines Seat 36F

When Your Business Fails At Customer Service

I’m typing this latest case of customer disservice from seat 36F on American Airlines flight 226 from Boston’s Logan Airport to Dallas en route to Tulsa.

For those of you not familiar with this seat on AA 757 I can tell you first hand that this is the proverbial “back of the bus”, the very last seat in the very last row.

AA Back Row

Of course, on a full flight (like this one) someone needs to sit way back here in the corner but, given my situation, should that someone be me? You decide…

Let me start by saying I try and avoid American Airlines and usually fly one of my recommended “customer service champs” like Jet Blue, Southwest or Virgin Atlantic but, on this trip, none of those options were available.

Besides it’s been awhile since I’ve flown with American… maybe they’ve improved since the last time when my flight was delayed an hour and 45 minutes and no one seemed to care or even acknowledge that I then missed my connecting flight and spent about four extra hours at Chicago Midway waiting for the next flight.

Or maybe it’s just business as usual…

My saga began at the ticketing check-in kiosk when I attempted to print my boarding pass but instead received a slip that read “no seat assignment available”. Taking this slip to the ticket counter to check my garment bag, the agent informed, “they’ll assign your seat at the gate.. let them know you have a connecting flight and they’ll try and sit you close to the front”.

Shouldn’t they know (at the gate) that a customer with no seat (me) has a connecting flight and make the appropriate seating arrangement without that customer having to provide instructions?

In any event, I left the ticket counter feeling like I didn’t have a ticket to ride because, at this point, I didn’t. Instead of the sit down lunch I had envisioned I now made my way from security straight to the gate where I stood in line behind 10 or so other customers, presumably some also dealing with the same situation as me.

15 or so minutes later I was face-to-face with the gate agent explaining my presence there. The woman, let’s call her Mabel, told me in a very matter of fact way, “we’re overbooked.. still can’t assign you a seat.. I’ll call you before we board with something”.

Remembering my message, I responded “I have a connecting flight in Dallas to Tulsa.. the ticket agent told me to let you know so you could try and sit me close to the front”.

“I’ll do my best Mr. Ferrante”, Mabel said as she read my name off the slip.

So I left the gate counter still with no ticket to ride and thinking about what Mabel’s “best” would be as I stood in line to grab a Tuscan Pesto Chicken sandwich to take on board.

It’s worth noting that this is not the first time this has happened to me and surely many frequent flyers (perhaps you) have experienced this “no seat” dilemma as well.

Not long ago, this happened on an Air Canada flight from Toronto back home to Boston. On that flight they upgraded me to Business Class and I enjoyed priority boarding, a complimentary cocktail and a moist warm hand towel. Quite a difference, eh? (purposeful Canadian reference). Indeed. Air Canada turned an inconvenience into a most pleasurable and rewarding experience.

I returned to the gate ( sandwich in tow) as they were calling out names with seating assignments. Sure enough, five or so names in they called me. Mabel handed me the boarding pass nonchalantly saying “36F”.

I took the ticket and the seat location didn’t fully register as I walked away. Then they started boarding… Priority seating, families with small children, first class, business, ruby, gold then Group 1, Group 2, people who love wind chimes, then me in Group 3.

Midway through Group 2 boarding they made an announcement that the flight was sold out and on board storage space was limited so folks with carry-ons (like me) should check them at the gate. So I stood back in line again… this time determined to ask Mabel about my curious seating assignment.

Maintaining professional composure, I questioned Mabel “You had told me that you would do your best to get a seat towards the front of the plane so I could get off quickly to catch my connecting flight… I think I’m at the back?”

No reply.. Mabel just stuck her hand out like she was receiving a summons to appear in court. Looking at the boarding pass she said, “this should be fine.. we’re only running about 9 minutes late”.

As we prepared for take-off the captain came on and announced, “we’re running about 20 minutes late”.

Sure enough, we touched down 22 minutes late. By the time I deboarded as the very last passenger I had to scurry through the terminal to make it to my connecting gate just as they were beginning to board. 

Does AA have to provide a first class experience for inconvenienced customers (in this case, me) to be happy? Not necessarily, but several options presented themselves during my flight.

They showed a movie on the flight and announced “as always our in-flight entertainment is free”. Moments later, they came down the aisle selling headsets for $6.00. Apparently, it’s the watching part that’s “free”, hearing is $6.00. Then there’s that “enjoy WiFi on this flight” announcement. They left out the $15.00 an hour part I discovered trying to connect.

This would be a great value-add for all but, to stay on point, what if they made exceptions and gave passes to folks that have, up to this point, had a less than a pleasurable experience?

How about a free cocktail or, better yet, a voucher for a discount towards a future flight?? Surely that would help alleviate the pain, something my non-reclining up-against-the-back-wall seat failed miserably at doing.

One thing is clear, American Airlines does not effectively train customer service or understand that the customer experience is not getting a passenger from point A to B. Any airline can do that. It’s what happens from point A to point B that matters most. Until they figure that out and make customer service/customer experience part of their culture, they will continue to alienate customers and lose business to the airlines that do. 


* On LinkedIn @ Customer Disservice Lesson from American Airlines Seat 36F

Steve Ferrante is the CEO & Trainer of Champions of Sale Away LLC., providing Pinnacle Performance Sales, Customer Service and Winning Team Culture training, speaking and professional development services to success-driven businesses throughout North America. For more information on Steve and Pinnacle Performance services for your team visit

Served Without Service


In my recent article, Rise of the Machines: Competing With Robots and Other Automated Adversaries, I wrote about the challenges traditional retailers face against businesses that rely on automation as their primary customer interface. 

Well now a new restaurant in San Francisco, Eatsa, is embracing the machines revolution with their almost fully automated eating establishment. 

As shown in this nifty The Robo Restaurant slideshow customers order, pay and receive their food all without any human interaction. There are no counters or servers present. Orders are taken on an iPad and food appears in a cubby located behind transparent LCD screens. 

The end of the world as we know it? No, there are plenty of restaurants doing just fine with their old-fashioned human-to-human service. 

But this is another eye-opening example of how technology is replacing the human interface and changing the face of customer service.

Humanly Yours,

Steve 🙂

Using a SWOT Analysis to Improve Sales and Customer Service Performance


As I train all my Pinnacle Performance clients, effectively improving an organizations sales and customer service effort should begin with an honest evaluation of the organizations current performance to establish a baseline from which improvements can be addressed.

One of the best ways to to gain a clear understanding of how your organization is currently performing is to conduct a SWOT analysis.

As a strategic-planning management tool, a SWOT analysis evaluates the 4 areas represented by the letters of the name:

S = Strengths
W = Weaknesses
O = Opportunities
T = Threats

Who Should Participate?

Many businesses will only have the senior executives participate in a SWOT analysis process. While that can be worthwhile for an operational analysis, a SWOT that focuses on sales and customer service should absolutely involve all employees that regularly interface with customers. These staff members have first-hand knowledge of the company’s strengths and weaknesses and can provide valuable insight as to what is happening at the critical point-of-sale on a day-to-day basis.


The SWOT analysis process is straight-forward – objectively consider each of those four key areas. In addition, think about what the customer’s perspective might be in each of those areas, and consider how what you do aligns with that outlook.


What sales/customer service strengths exist in your business now?

To help determine this, focus on the perspective of what customers and the market (competitors, the industry) consider as your organizations primary sales/customer service strengths.

In addition, you should determine what competitive differentiators exist? These are areas that your organization is unique (faster, better, more cost-effective) than the competing business’s your potential customers may also shop.

Top strengths typically include:

  • People/Staff
  • Reputation (Longevity in Market)
  • Customer service
  • Product Availability
  • Speedy Service
  • Knowledge of products and services
  • Trustworthy

Customer Perspective:

I am the greatest strength in your organization for without me there is no business to be had.  If you take really good care of me I will help your business thrive and grow. If you don’t, I’ll be more than willing to take my business to one of your competitors that will.  


What sales/customer service weaknesses exist in your business now?

It’s critical to be honest in assessing this area. Again, focus should be from the viewpoint of what customers and the market consider as your organizations primary customer service short-comings. These are your competitive disadvantages.

Top weaknesses typically include:

  • Some employees (weak performers)
  • Employee turnover
  • Communication and Phone Skills
  • ‘Winging It’ – lack of professional systems and processes
  • Communication between service and sales teams
  • Too quick to discount to save sale
  • Inconsistency

Customer Perspective:

I can be the greatest weakness in your organization. I prefer to do business with a strong organization and your weaknesses are damaging my confidence.  It only takes one weak performance for me to consider alternatives for my future needs. If I’m merely satisfied by your service, I’ll swiftly depart as soon as I find someone who exceeds them.


What sales/customer service opportunities exist in your business now?

Opportunities are potential future strengths. What opportunities does your company have to use its strengths to increase sales and market share? How does your strategy address capturing these opportunities?

Top opportunities typically include:

  • Recruiting/Attracting quality employees (replacing weak performers)
  • Training; Improving Sales/Customer Service Skills
  • Exceeding customer expectations
  • Improving corporate culture
  • Institutionalizing processes to create consistency

Customer Perspective:

I can be the greatest opportunity in your organization. I cost far less to keep than it does for you to secure a new customer. But you must truly value me and consistently demonstrate your value to me through your actions. If you’re effective, your opportunity extends beyond just me and I’ll be sure to tell my friends and family how well I’ve been treated. If you fail, I will become one of your competitors opportunities.


What sales/customer service threats exist?

Threats are potential future weaknesses. What threats imposed by competitors and/or the market does your organization face? What are the consequences if your customer service effort does not effectively combat these threats?

Top threats typically include:

  • Increased competition (online, national chains, etc.)
  • Poor Customer Service (Wait times, etc.)
  • Losing good employees
  • Losing customers
  • Social Media
  • Complacency

Customer Perspective:

I can be the greatest threat in your organization. I have plenty of alternatives for your products and services. If I feel undervalued, I will leave for somewhere I feel valued. If you’re trying to sell me with your best interest in mind, I’ll take my business to someone who helps me buy with my best interest in mind. If you cannot resolve a concern/problem to my satisfaction not only will you lose my business but I will tell my friends and family not to do business with you.

Action Plan

There’s a popular quote,  a goal without a plan is just a wish. This view certainly applies here and there’s no sense in conducting a SWOT analysis unless you plan to take deliberate action with your findings. Many SWOT analysis end up being nothing more than a bunch of ‘findings’ as the partaking business fails at this last critical step of creating a clear action plan.

The ‘Big Picture’ objectives:

  • Strengths need to be effectively maintained, built upon and maximized.
  • Weaknesses need to be effectively remedied or eliminated.
  • Opportunities need to be effectively prioritized and optimized.
  • Threats need to be effectively countered or minimized.

As a strategic meeting facilitator, I recommend these steps to successfully develop your action plan:

1) Review each area of your SWOT matrix and prioritize your findings into two lists: one that is short-term with issues you plan to address within the next 6 months and one that is longer term of 6 months and beyond.

2) Set the specific actions you will take to achieve the objectives. This will take some brain-storming and strategic thinking and should be the longest part of your planning process. Remember the ‘action’ part of the action plan matters most so don’t rush this step!

3) Attach a time-frame to each of the objectives with ‘benchmark’ dates to check on your progress along the way. Shorter, ’round-table’ meetings should be planned in accordance with these dates.

4) Assign an employee or employees to be in charge of each action area. This is another major reasons SWOT analysis fail; everyone has good intentions but no one ‘owns’ anything so ultimately little gets accomplished.

Follow these steps, and keep the customers perspective in mind at all times,  and you will have a successful action plan to increase your sales and customer service efforts!

Make a Great Day!

Steve 🙂

Steve Ferrante is the CEO & Trainer of Champions of Sale Away LLC., providing Pinnacle Performance Sales, Customer Service and Winning Team Culture training, speaking and professional development services to success-driven businesses throughout North America. For more information on Steve and Pinnacle Performance services visit Sale Away LLC. Steve can be reached @

The Spirit of Giving and Self-Less Customer Service

With the Christmas season upon us, most of us are in shopping mode and taking the time and effort to purchase gifts for the significant others in our lives.  Invested in that spirit of giving, we put aside the focus on ourselves and concentrate on how we can provide something of value to others.

This same self-less behavior is the very essence of customer service.

Proper customer service is a self-less act. Selflessness is defined as the act of sacrificing one’s own interest for the greater good.  This is what we tend to do at Christmas time and, as professional service-providers, this is precisely the attitude and conduct we should maintain on a day-to-day basis.

When we practice self-less service we put the power of reciprocity to work. Just as we feel obligated to return gifts to those that have given us one, the same is true of our customer relationships. When customers feel they have received something of value they typically return the occasion with their loyalty and possibly even their recommendation of your service to others.

So while the spirit of giving may be most evident during Christmas time, it can benefit both customers and your business performance year-round!



Make a Great Day!


The Uncomfortable Suites Customer Experience

Being a customer service trainer I pay particular attention to the ‘experiences’ I and other customers are having as we do business with a wide variety of service businesses.  Over the years, I have personally experienced and/or witnessed plenty good and many great acts of customer service.  The following true account of my recent hotel stay is not one of them.



As is often the case in my travels, I arrived at the hotel with a reservation made by my client. I explained to the front desk employee that, in addition to my stay, we also had reserved the meeting room for the training I would be conducting there all week. Knowing the magnitude and expense of this, I was anticipating some sort of warm welcome but instead received no acknowledgement whatsoever.

Having a clearly visible hurt hand (in a brace) I was given the room key cards and labored my 3 bags up to my assigned room. The cards (both of them) did not work and neither would register the ‘go’ green or ‘no go’ red signal. So I made my way back down to the lobby and informed the front desk girl, “I don’t think my cards are programmed”. She replied, “I programmed them”. A wonderful response I would later use in my training as a “what not to do” example.

Watching her program new cards, I had every confidence in my successful entry as I again labored my bags up to the assigned room. Again, nothing from either card.  Now, back at the front desk and quite hot (about 95 degrees this day) I advised that these cards were also not working. “I’ll have to get you another room then”, said in a manner that would make most folks feel they were the problem.

Nonetheless, I now made my way up to room 310. A place I will not soon forget. I entered without issue as the key card now worked as advertised. Walking two steps into the room I reached in the bathroom and clicked on the light. Darkness. Not completely as the 2 mini candle-type lights that flanked the mirror were working but the main light above was out completely.

As I was beyond hungry (it was 7:30pm or so) I just dropped my bags off and left. Walking past the front desk I informed “I’m in my room but the bathroom light is out”. “I’ll have maintenance come up and change it for you”, she responded. “Great, I’m heading out for dinner, if you could change it before I get back that would be much appreciated”.

When I returned I saw no one at the front desk but walked into the dining area and right past the front desk girl in conversation with another employee eating potato chips. I was the only other person in the room. The front desk girl certainly saw me but said nothing. Not wanting to interrupt her “I’m going to iHop” banter I assumed all was set and I would see the light in my bathroom. I was wrong.

With no light and no one contacting me with an explanation, I reluctantly called the front desk. The potato chip employee answered and I explained that someone was supposedly coming up (a couple hours ago) to change the light. “Oh, maintenance left at 7 but she has you on the list for tomorrow morning”.  Of course, that news would have been fantastic to know earlier along with a proper offer to move rooms but apparently it was more convenient (for her) to defer my situation to the morning crew.

At this point, their PRIDE score = 0

Unfortunately, it gets worse. Much worse. I had been sitting on top of the bed working on my laptop until about 11:15pm when I decided to call it a day. When I first pulled down the bed covers I thought there were a bunch (couple dozen or so) of tiny pebbles on the top sheet… then I noticed… THEY WERE MOVING! Horrified beyond the capacity for rational thought and having exactly zero faith in the front desk support and their ability to be responsive to my now dire needs, I decided to violently shake the sheet, brush like crazy, inspect, re-inspect, final inspect and sleep (sort of) in the bed.

I have severely regretted that decision since.

The next morning I noticed several small blood stains on the sheets… I later learned courtesy of another employee who was chemical-treating the room that bed bugs are translucent and when they bite you they turn red and then get squashed producing those stains. If there was one thing I didn’t need to know that was it.

After shaving and showering by candlelight I went to find the manager. I explained the situation and he could not have been nicer. In fact, both managers I spoke with then were most accommodating, ultimately transferring my belongings and leaving a handwritten apology note with a courtesy bag of chips and two soft drinks in what was then my 3rd room since check-in.

It’s a shame that this same spirit of winning customer service was not felt before there was a crisis situation.

Regardless of the gifts (that I was thankful for) it was a small token in light of the aftermath. After returning home the small bite bumps I had developed after my week at The Uncomfortable Suites turned into an incredibly itchy, welty rash covering my arms, neck and various other body parts. Most unpleasant and certainly not the sort of lasting impression I had hoped for.


The complete story above was sent to the parent company of the offending hotel, Choice Hotels International. I had hoped to end this story with their ‘Customer Relations’ response but, after their original auto-reply shown below, no further response was received despite my 3 follow-up attempts to receive one.

From: “Customer Relations” <>
Sent: Tuesday, September 24, 2013 1:12:28 PM
Subject: Hotel Concerns

Dear Steve Ferrante,

Thank you for contacting Choice Hotels International.  Please feel free to contact our corporate office at any of the following:

Choice Hotels International

6811 E Mayo Blvd

Suite 100

Phoenix, AZ 85054-3119                


Customer Relations Specialist

Choice Hotels International

While seemingly ignoring critical communications, they have successfully added insult to injury by continuing to send me special email offers as a “Choice Privileges” rewards member.

There’s a lesson in here… I’m sure of it.


Steve Ferrante is the Grand PooBah & Trainer of Champions of Sale Away LLC., providing Pinnacle Performance Sales, Customer Service and Winning Team Culture training, speaking and professional development services to success-driven businesses throughout North America. For detailed information visit Sale Away. Steve can be reached directly at 866-721-6086 ext. 701 or via email at

Southwest Airlines Customer Service Recovery In Action!

As I train my Pinnacle Performance clients and wrote about in this Winning and Losing with Customer Complaints article…

The True Test Of Customer Service

One ‘Pinnacle Performance’ company that sets the standard for managing customer service problems effectively is Southwest Airlines.

Here’s a great example of this:

A loyal Southwest Airlines passenger was upset that his luggage had been damaged on a flight.  When the agent he initially reported the problem was less than helpful, he sent Southwest customer care this witty diddy:


Of course, this would have been best managed if the first Southwest employee he encountered assumed ownership and pro-actively resolved the issue.  Fortunately, after that initial misstep, Southwest recovered nicely by taking care of the customer in equally stylish fashion:


In summary, Southwest Airlines passed the ‘test’, recovered what could have been a lost customer with a ‘bad service’ story to tell,  and set a great example for other customer-focused business’s to follow.

Make a Great Day!

Steve 🙂

How To Avoid Being Punched In The Face

Here’s my practical, 10-step guide to avoid being punched in the face by way of improved human relations at work and life in general

Contribute positively to society by sharing this presentation with your friends and professional network.

Steve 🙂

Link In With Me @ Steve Ferrante on LinkedIn


Work Break

With Summer upon us, many employees have a hard time focusing on their jobs and find themselves on an extended mental (if not physical) break. Below is a witty sign a crafty company posted to remind their employees of their mission. Would this be a suitable addition to your workplace?

Work Break

Have a Happy 4th of July break (tomorrow)

Steve 🙂


Monday Morning Motivation: New Beginning

Hard to believe 2013 is now half-way to done. Time flies when you’re on the run!

This mid-year point is the perfect time to evaluate your sales performance year-to-date. Have you hit your performance goals thus far? Are you on track to achieve your 2013 goal? If not, why not? What do you need to do to get on track, elevate your performance and finish strong in the second half of the year now here?

My 25+ years of sales/sales management experience has revealed that under-performing salespeople are typically not getting themselves in front of enough qualified prospects or, if they are, they’re not as effective as they should (and could) be. Often it’s a combination of both deficiencies.

One thing is certain; you cannot change the past. You can, however, control your future. What you do (and how you do it) from this day forward will determine where you end up at the end of the year. It is your new beginning…

New Beginning

Vitallity Ability

Power Your StoryMake a Great Day!


Need help with what you do and how you do it to achieve and exceed your sales goals? Visit Sale Away LLC.

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