Archive for June, 2011

The customer’s sometimes right

My co-worker Rob (who reads this blog, so watch what you say) sometimes handles things a little differently than I do.  I hear him arguing with people on the phone from time to time, and he likes using phrases like, “Wait wait wait, let me get this straight,” “Hold on, let me make sure I understand what you’re saying here,” and a very sarcastic, “Thanks, you’ve been a great help.”  He now knows that I’m listening when he starts getting that tone, so he said something specifically for me while arguing with someone on the phone last week: “Hold on hold on, are you in customer service?  Then how ’bout you try SERVICING THE CUSTOMER?!”  He knew I’d like that one, and he was right.  That little exchange leads me to two recent incidents involving customer service and people actually servicing the customer…whether they should’ve or not.

In December, my parents bought a two-seater wagon for our adorable twins.  They weren’t yet a year old at the time, so I didn’t open it to try putting it together for months.  When I did, the box appeared to be missing the giant (and very necessary) handle that pushes or pulls the wagon when the kids are in it.  I’m historically bad at seeing things when they’re right in front of my face, so I went back to the box two more times over the next couple of weeks to confirm that it was really missing.  Once assured that I wasn’t situationaly blind, I went to the website of the company that makes the wagon.

The site had an online form for customer service requests, including a space specifically for missing parts.  I wrote a nice email and made sure to mention how we couldn’t wait to use their great product.  They replied the next day with an email saying that if the product was under warranty, they’d send me a replacement one.  I asked my lovely wife about that and she said, “Your parents bought it from Amazon, so I’ll just contact them and see if they can help us.”  After a lengthy online chat with Amazon’s customer service department, we were set.  The only way it could work was for us to send back the whole wagon (on their dime, nicely) and get a new, complete box in return.   That seemed fair enough (since they didn’t carry replacement parts for everything sold on their site), and we went about the process.  As expected, a brand new wagon came in the mail with all of the necessary pieces.  What I didn’t expect was a separate box on another day addressed to me.  I opened it up and found a long plastic handle.  “Per email inquiry,” said the note inside from the wagon company.  My first thought was, “Well that was nice of them!”  Then I thought about it a little longer and had two more thoughts.  First, “They said it needed to be under warranty and I never wrote them back at all.  They took that to mean…it was?”  Second, “Why couldn’t they just tell me that they were sending me a new handle so we wouldn’t have to do the whole Amazon process and have me lug a big box into a UPS Store for no reason?”  Despite those questions, it was refreshing to see a company try to do right by their customers.

The thing about that story as compared to the next one is that I actually deserved the assistance I received.  I can’t say the same for the main character of this next tale.

That same co-worker Rob and I went to the Coffee Bean right near our office a little while ago.  I’m normally a pretty good eavesdropper, but I had missed a lot of the conversation between a customer and an employee, both women in their early 20s.  There was something about an iced drink melting and the employee eventually (but begrudgingly) saying she would remake the drink but “only this one time.”  After we walked out, Rob asked me if I’d heard the conversation.  “Kinda,” I said.  “My best guess from contextual clues was that they called her name to say her iced drink was ready, but she didn’t come in and get it for ten minutes.  Then she complained that it was melted.”  “Oh no,” Rob said, “You missed the best part of the whole thing.”  He went on to recap the whole story (which he’d paid close attention to instead of whatever I’d been saying to him at the time).  The employee made the iced drink, called the customer’s name, and the customer picked it up before sitting down at a table with her friends.  Ten minutes later, she went up to complain that it had melted.  Why had it melted?  Because she sat there holding it for ten minutes outside while talking with her friends instead of, ya know, drinking the damn thing.  It’s the exact equivalent of someone ordering a hot coffee, waiting until it got cold, and then complaining that s/he wanted a new one made because it’s supposed to be hot.  It’s that ridiculous, and yet the employee knew that the end result should always be having a happy customer, so she did her job.

I can’t help but wonder what I would do in those customer service positions when faced with the same situations.  When I think about it honestly, I end up being more of an asshole in both scenarios.  If the wagon owner never replied to say that it was indeed under warranty, I would never think to just go ahead and send the handle anyway.  And if I were that Coffee Bean employee, I would definitely have thrown in some more sarcastic lines about how “actually drinking your drink is where most of the enjoyment comes from.”  One thing is for sure: I would’ve enjoyed hearing Rob play the Coffee Bean employee role.  “Hold on, let me get this straight…”

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The (re)search for truth

I think I’ve recovered from the (totally deserved) shaming I received from my last post.  In fact, I’ve recovered and learned my lesson enough that I’m going to do at least a wee bit of research before concluding this post to shelter myself from more ridicule.  Here goes:

I frequently get lunch from one of the various gourmet food trucks that park on the street right by my office.  They’re great, and I’ve tried a large number of them since this trend started a little while back.  Last week, I was happy to see a Brazilian one that I’ve gone to before.  I’m a creature of habit, so I didn’t even look at the menu as I strolled up and placed my order (a carne asada burrito, por supuesto).  I stepped back as my co-workers ordered.  “What did you get?” I asked one of them.  “I’m trying that new sandwich they have,” she said pointing to the menu on the side of the truck.  Having bypassed the whole menu-looking part of the process before, I followed her finger and read the description of the meal aloud.  “That sounds good,” I said.  I was about to move onto something else when a little spark fired in my brain.  “Wait a minute – it says it comes with ‘pickled cucumbers.’ Aren’t those just called ‘pickles?'”  She cocked her head a little before saying, “Yeah…right?”  “I guess we’ll see,” I said.  Her sandwich came, and sure enough, it was topped with what you and I would just call “pickles.”  The funny thing (to me at least) is that when I first read the description, I had the quick thought that I would order it without those pickled cucumbers.  I pictured them as shredded for some reason and not tasting like something I’d like.  As soon as I realized that they were probably just regular pickles, the sandwich sounded even better to me.  That begs the question: why wouldn’t they just say “pickles?”

Funny you should ask.  I did a little research (old dog, new tricks, yadda yadda yadda) with the always-accurate Wikipedia, and I learned two very important things.  I found an entry for “pickled cucumber,” which said that it is “commonly known as a pickle in Australia, Canada, and the United States or generically as gherkins in the UK.”  I can’t help but notice that Brazil is not on that list, thereby making their menu item of “pickled cucumbers” not only permissible, but downright authentic.  My apologies to the yummy burrito makers.

The second thing I learned made me contort my face and shake my head in a very specific way.  Let’s see if you do the same.  Under types of pickled cucumbers, the last one on the list is “Kool-Aid pickles.”  The description: “Kool-Aid pickles or ‘koolickles,’ enjoyed by children in parts of the Southern United States, are created by soaking dill pickles in a mixture of Kool-Aid and pickle brine.”  Maybe I’m an uninformed Yank making a snap decision here, but that sounds fucking disgusting.  I was doing just fine not knowing about that.  In fact, I might have to rethink this whole “actually looking things up before I write about them” thing.

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Mining for goals

It’s been a week since I last posted something, so I feel like I should again even though I don’t have anything specific to write about.  One goal I had regarding the creation of this blog with a few friends was to avoid that “should” feeling, but here it is again. (If they chipped in here and there, it would probably help.  I’m just sayin’.)  Another goal was to write some shorter, quick-hitting posts so that the activation energy I needed to sit and write was considerably lower than what I needed for my opuses (opi?) on my former blog.  Alas, I’ve fallen into that same trap as well.   I’m gonna try to fix the latter broken goal, as I have random little thoughts from time to time that I abandon because I don’t see how to expand them into larger stories.  Some make their way into my inbox (when I email myself), and those are the ones I’m going to share today.

I found a Blockbuster Video card in my wallet, dated May of 1999.  I threw it out but couldn’t help wondering how many times I’d switched wallets since last using it.  I keep wallets for a while, but there have to have been at least two times that I purposely put that card into a new wallet, thinking it still held some value.  It really wasn’t that long ago that I used it on a semi-frequent basis, but it looked so ancient to me and such a relic of a past life that I might as well have pulled out an abacus.

Someone recently used the phrase “a dime a dozen,” and I actually thought about it for the first time.  If I’m not mistaken, it technically means “ten out of twelve,” denoting a high frequency of occurrence.  Reducing that to five out of six and then doing a little division, I see that’s about 83%.  That got me wondering whether people generally over- or under-estimate when they use that phrase.  My gut says that most people use it when the true percentage is way lower than that.  For example, in the poorly-named high school movie, “Can’t Hardly Wait,” there’s a scene with Jerry O’Connell (known to my mom as Cush from “Jerry Maguire”) in which he says, “Guys like us…we are a dime a dozen.”  He’s referring to the alpha male jock kind of guy rather than the ones who talk about feelings and “ecolomological” crap.  It’s a good scene, but his math is way off.  There’s no way those guys amount for 83% of the male population – not in high school, not in college, and certainly not in the world.  Now that I’ve given it some thought, I think I’d be hard-pressed to find an example in which that phrase wasn’t hyperbolic.  If you disagree or can cite more instances of the phrase, comment away.

When aiming at a target, have you ever pictured the center of it as a real bull’s eye?  Not only did I think about that term in detail for the first time and get a little horrified by the visual, but I’m also confused.  Let’s say I’m hunting with my bow and arrow and a bull comes out of nowhere.  While the real me would shit his pants and run crying like a little girl, the pretend me would load an arrow and fire at its…eye?  That doesn’t seem right to me.  Would that be the magic place to take it down in one shot?  And how did the bull get the “honor” of being singled out for this term?  It seems rather arbitrary, and we could just as easily be calling the center of a target the “duck’s neck” or “bison heart.”  (Also, every time I see it written as “bullseye” from now on, the lack of apostrophe is going to bug the shit out of me.)

Ya know, I think I’ll stop there.  I have more small ones, but maybe I’ll save those for stand-alone posts and get into the habit of mixing long and short ones in here.  Fixing one out of two broken goals is enough for me.  (A dime a score?)

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My troubling inbox

I received an email earlier this week in which the sender wrote, “Hope you had a nice weekend!”  That’s nice of her…except she sent it to me on Thursday.  Thursday!  I feel a bit like an ass if I ask about someone’s weekend when it’s only Tuesday.  I think Wednesday is bordering on ridiculous, but Thursday is undeniably much closer to the next weekend than the previous one.  That said, it was only the third most troubling work email I received all week.

Coming in second place is an email from a company trying to pitch their business.  I opened the attached PDF and noticed a typo in the first sentence…then another in the same sentence.  The second sentence didn’t help matters as it changed from the third-person to the first and then back again.  Two sentences later, I was hit with this gem: “…(company name) is one of the largest independently owned agency’s is a member of the trade organizations…”  Wow.  Hard to say where to begin with that.  The incorrect pluralization probably bugs me the most, followed by the lack of “and” right after it.  I’m also big on hyphenating compound modifiers like “independently-owned,” but I’ve grown accustomed to not seeing that as often as I’d like.  Overall, I was troubled by the way this company put itself out there and felt compelled to alert them to the errors.  I think I did it nicely, but even if I came off as a bit of a jerk, I’m ok with that since someone had to point their shoddy marketing copy out.  It’s all about quality control, folks.  (And just in case you were wondering, the company is indeed a domestic one with native English speakers.)

And this week’s winner comes from an e-newsletter I received.  I haven’t worked with the company that sent this to me before, but I somehow got on their mailing list (probably from attending a conference).  I gave it a quick look and got excited when I saw a section called “Fun Facts.”  Then I read it: “7-11% of the world is Left Handed are you one of those special folks?  Left handed is more common in men then women. Folks that can utilize both hands are called ambidextrous. Only one out of hundred people are able to write with both hands. Raise your hand if you like fun facts!”  I’m going to do something uncharacteristic and gloss over the horrible grammar in every single sentence.  It hurts, but I have bigger fish to fry.  Specifically, the definition of “ambidextrous” is not a fun fact.  It’s a fact – a common, known, and utterly funless fact.  Why not just put that the capital of California is Sacramento or that the square root of four is two?  Those are equally as fun in my book.  You want a fun fact about left-handedness?  Go with the origin of the term “southpaw” and its baseball roots or how Rafael Nadal plays tennis left-handed even though he isn’t a lefty because it can be an advantage on the court.  Write something about how the unflattering words “sinister” and “gauche” are related to lefties.  But for the love of fact-lovers everywhere, don’t just list a common definition.  That’s the opposite of fun for me.

Ok, I’m done ranting for now.  Have a great two weekends ago.

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