Saturday, November 14, 2009

Customer Service

Customer Service. The term has become somewhat of an oxymoron, like "Military Intelligence" or "boneless ribs".

Some businesses just don't get it, or more likely, figure there's little you will do after you voice your displeasure. We've all gone through "voicemail" hell just to speak with an actual human being. I don't bother listening to the menu any longer, I just pound on the "O" key until I get someone to answer. This way, I feel like I'm venting while exercising my index finger. My middle finger seems to be overworked these days.

Typically, after waiting 30 minutes before trying to explain the problem to customer service, the agent will put me on hold for another 15 minutes and then wrap up the conversation with a "thank you for calling" and ask "is there's anything else I can do"? I'll usually respond with a simple "thanks for your help". I'm told "no problem and have a nice day". I don't let them get away with that. I've spent 45 minutes on the phone because their company screwed something up; it IS a problem.

My wife goes nuts when a waiter says "no problem" when we ask for water, or an extra napkin. I don't blame her. I would hope it isn't a problem, I think it's their job. Last night, we joined our good friends and neighbors for dinner at a local Mexican Restaurant. Our friends ordered frozen margaritas. They got a melted down slushy. My friend showed the waitress the watery concoction and she offered to bring another. "Sure, if they're frozen", replied my friend. The waitress dutifully trudged to the bar and returned empty handed. "I'm sorry, they just started a new batch and they aren't very frozen". Then, she asked if he wanted a margarita on the rocks. "No," said my friend, "I'd like it frozen". The waitress replied with a "sorry 'bout that" and went on with her duties. She couldn't have been too sorry, she charged him for both watered down drinks. I'm willing to bet the manager of the restaurant would have removed the drinks from the bill; but the waitress who comes into the most contact with clients either didn't have the authority or the wits to figure out the proper solution. Think my friend will return to the restaurant soon? They lost a customer over a a $4.95 house margarita. Silly. No, stupid.

On the other side of the story, my wife gave me a gift last March for our anniversary. A beautiful desk clock set in a wooden box with a compass. Why, I don't know, but when I reset the clock back an hour for standard time, the clock died. A new battery didn't solve the situation. So, I went to the store where she bought the clock, Ann's Fine Gifts in Houston, and asked if I could order a replacement for the clock insert. They wouldn't think of it. Nope, they came out and replaced the entire mechanism and sent me on my way. How much goodwill did that gesture create? While I can't yet put a dollar figure to that thought, I will tell you Ann's is where I'll be doing the majority of my Christmas shopping this year.

Customer Service. Ann's has proven it' s not an oxymoron. Apparently, at this store, it's a policy. And the restaurant? Well, let's just say it's something to "Chuy" on for a while.
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Pink Slip

While it no longer makes the headlines, every day thousands of people across America are losing their jobs. Some get the news by an email, others in a mass conference, or, a breaking news story may alert them of impending doom. I imagine a few companies still use the proverbial "pink slip".

For the benefit of unemployment benefits, none of us in the field of broadcasting have ever been fired. We have, however, been laid off. We've been laid off because of the budget, declining revenue, a change in direction or whatever cliche is in vogue at the time.

Once, when a manager told me he was "changing direction", I asked if I could change with him. "No" he replied, "I don't think so". I wondered how he could know without giving me a try. After all, I'd been with the station for 7 years; he'd been with it for two weeks.

It seems telling people they've lost their job has become a lost art. Not that I'd ever want to be proficient in this skill-set. I've seen managers walk the hallways after a dismissal telling remaining employees how difficult it was to make the decision, only to invite the staff to a reception that evening for a new employee. I've seen memos wishing the former employee "all the best" while in the next paragraph announcing his/her replacement. Saving a tree, I suppose.

Some companies don't like to fire people. They "re-purpose" them. Personally, I hate that expression. Maybe if management used the "F" word they would be more reluctant to use it. Years ago, I saw a fellow employee leave the boss's office looking confused. When I asked if everything was alright, he said "I think I just got fired". I'm guessing that manager didn't spend much time thinking about how to handle the conversation. Probably too busy planning the reception.

Over the years I've had to fire people. I usually spent the night before our conversation trying to find words that would leave the employee with some dignity and hope. I would take 30 minutes to explain why a change was being made, how he or she could be successful elsewhere, and suggest a few places to call to enquire about openings. Losing your job is tough enough. There's no reason to lose your dignity, as well. I was actually reprimanded for that. My manager told me I spent too much time on the dismissal. He wasn't worried about my productivity, he was worried about me saying something that could expose the company to a lawsuit. I was pretty sure our mission statement said that "people were the company's most important asset". Apparently, the statute of limitation on the asset ends prior to dismissal.

Years ago, after working with a fabulous manager for more than six years, he was transferred and a new manager was hired. Three weeks later, due to budget issues, I was laid off. The manager and I spent about 30 minutes together. It was the longest conversation we had in those three weeks. The last time I was laid off the conversation lasted 30 seconds. Maybe the boss was late for a meeting.

It could be worse. I remember the story of a manager walking into someones office with a Polaroid camera (anyone remember those?). He took a picture of the worker, handed it to him and said, "I thought you'd like a picture of your last day with the company". I think Polaroids took about 60 seconds to develop.

Apparently, that was long enough to say what needed to be said.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

Practice Makes Perfect

There's the old joke about a patient who asks his doctor how long he'd been practicing. The doctor replies "more than twenty years". "So," the patient asks, "when are you going to get it right?"

Image representing Microsoft as depicted in Cr...Image via CrunchBase

It seems we have no problem with doctors and lawyers who build a "practice'. After all "practice makes perfect". Although I think I might have a problem with a surgeon who is still "practicing" a complicated surgery. I think I'd prefer if he or she practices on someone else, before I get into the operating room.

I'm beginning to feel this way about Microsoft. They keep "practicing" their operating system and I'm thinking they're still practicing on me. We went from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 and 98, to Windows ME, to Windows XP, to Windows Vista to Windows 7. Where's the logic to this? Why switch from a numbering system to a year system to an initial system to a name system back to a number system? Are they trying to confuse us?

So what's really bugging me? It's not the name. It's not the bugs. And frankly, most of the articles I read complaining of what Windows 7 doesn't do are beyond my understanding. What bugs me is the way Microsoft moves functionality in and out of their operating systems. For example, "scan and fax" has been an integrated part of their operating systems since Windows 95. Then, quietly, some brilliant functionality team decided Vista Home users won't need this function and only put the program in Vista Business. C'mon, what would it have cost Microsoft to put 25 more bytes of programming into their CD?

So, if I want to "scan and fax" in Vista, I have to upgrade to a Vista Ultimate or downgrade to Vista Business and lose the multi-media stuff. So that's not happening. The good news is that Microsoft, again, quietly, has put "Scan and Fax" back into all versions of Windows 7. Problem solved. All I have to do is reward Microsoft with $120 and everything is right with the world of Microsoft. This will clean my Windows problem better than Windex.

Not so fast. Here comes the next brilliant decision by Microsoft. Kiss goodbye Outlook Express. Actually, Microsoft replaced Outlook Express with Vista Mail. And Vista Mail will be replaced in Windows 7 with, uh, nothing. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a fan of Vista Mail, but since Outlook 2002 doesn't work well with Vista, I've been stuck using their "Express" version. So, if I want the "scan and fax" I have to upgrade to Windows 7. Then, I'll have to reward Microsoft again with the purchase of Outlook 2007 or Office 2007 to get an email program.

So, I'm bugged. I don't care about Windows viruses. I've got antibiotics for those. I'm bugged about my "relationship" with Microsoft. I've been faithful. They haven't. Microsoft has taken, given and taken.

But then, isn't every relationship "give and take"?

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Hello World

For someone who has made a living with words, I find it ironic that I've concentrated on the spoken word more than the written. Now, as I watch technology continue to evolve, I thought it was time to jump into the blogosphere.

OK, truth is, I read someones' blog the other day and it really hit home. But after I responded to the commentary, I realized I had referred to the content as an "article" rather than a blog. I'll be damned if I'm going to allow myself to become a dinosaur. After all, I still set the electronic clocks on my ovens, radios, and timers, although it would appear I'm no longer needed to provide those tasks with my DVR and clock radios. I've got the lawn sprinkler timer down, but I'm still trying to figure out the digital light timer for my porch. Maybe that's because I need a magnifying glass to read the display.

I'm pretty hung up on time. I still get annoyed because 60 minutes isn't really 60 minutes. And when an announcer says, "we'll be right back" in 60 seconds, you better believe I'm watching the second hand. I won't buy a watch without one.

Last weekend, a friend was showing me his fancy hot water setup and noted, to conserve energy, the system was on a timer. Apparently after 1am and until 5:30am, the system is "off" and no hot water is available. First thing I wondered was what happens if he has a really early morning meeting and needs hot water at 5am? Will he have to climb in the attic and reset the timer? And if there's a power failure in the middle of the night, the hot water won't be available well into the day. That, too, could be a problem. I probably need more important things to worry about. I mean, it's not like it's MY house. And I'm not the one getting a cold shower. Although if he reads this article, uh, blog, I'll probably get the cold shoulder.

Now that I'm part of the 10% of unemployed Americans, I seem to have more time to worry about time. I worry about putting in a full day's effort in seeking my next "opportunity" (don't you hate that word?). I worry about when my savings will be drained. I worry if I can make a decent dollar at whatever job I land. I seem to do a lot of worrying, so imagine my surprise when my doctor told me my blood pressure had fallen twenty points! Maybe I should have been more worried when I was working and didn't have so much time to worry. Now that's irony.

Brevity has never been my strong suit. I can make a point and beat it into the ground. But with the time left in this day, it might be better spent looking for that "opportunity." And your time might be better spent working at keeping the job you have so you don't find yourself with time on your hands. Although you may find it good for your health, you might also be taking a lot of cold showers because of bad timing.