Why, yes – Chicagoboyz shop at Costco or Sam’s Club. It is always more economical to purchase the staples you know you will need in bulk.
Archive for the 'Customer Service' Category
(Ran into this 2006 post while searching for an old Photon Courier post, and realized it had never been posted on Chicago Boyz. It is unfortunately still quite relevant.)
Almost every day, one encounters some business that is attempting to micromanage the interactions between its employees and its customers.
At lunchtime a couple of weeks ago, I was in the mood for bacon & eggs, so I went to a restaurant (part of a local chain) that has breakfast items all day long. The interaction went something like this:
Waitperson: Welcome to Snarfers-by-the-Lake, my name is Linda, I’ll be your server today.
Me: Hi, Linda. I’m kind of in a breakfast mood, so I think I’ll have the bacon & eggs.
WP (looks confused, as if she’d never heard of this dish before): Bacon & eggs? I don’t think…Oh, that would be our “eggs any style.”
Me: OK…style I like ‘em is over medium, with the bacon pretty crisp.
WP: Over medium…and would you like bacon or sausage with that?
Me: Bacon…pretty crisp.
WP: And our soup today is cream of broccoli.
Me: Soup with breakfast? That would be something different!
WP: I know it’s silly, but they make me say it.
I know it’s silly, but they make me say it. In how many consumer-oriented businesses could employees say the same thing?
Also a couple of weeks ago, I had to call my local telco, always a dreaded experience. After I had finally gotten through the levels of the voice response menu and got a person, it was:
CS Agent: Thank you for calling, how may I provide you with exceptional service today?
How may I provide you with exceptional service today? You can bet the agent didn’t come up with this phrase all by herself. And I doubt if her management came up with it all on their own. No, I detect the fine hand of a consultant here–maybe the pointy-haired guy in Dilbert went into the CS consulting business.
What imaginable purpose is there in requiring this phrase to be used in thousands of calls per day? Customers will decide if the service is “exceptional” or not based on what gets done or not done. You’re not going to convince them by using the word. And from the standpoint of the CS agents, this kind of thing can only breed cynicism.
Just this week and thanks to gaining a new book-publishing client, I was able to complete the purchase of a new refrigerator-freezer. Oh, the old one was staggering along OK, still keeping the refrigerated foods cold and the frozen food frozen … but there were so many dissatisfactions with it, including the fact that it had such deep shelves that in cleaning it out we discovered an embarrassingly large number of jars of condiments whose best-if-sold-by-date were well into the previous decade … not to mention a couple of Rubbermaid containers with leftovers in them that we had quite forgotten about. Well, out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. Truly, I don’t like to waste leftovers, but in this case, we had a good clean-out and as of now are resolved to do better, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die. The new and larger refrigerator-freezer has relatively shallow and many adjustable shelves in its various compartments; so that we dearly hope that the buried-at-the-back-of-a-deep-shelf-and-totally-forgotten-about syndrome will be banished entirely.
Anyway – enough of my failings as a thrifty housekeeper; the thing that I was marveling on this afternoon was that the new refrigerator-freezer has an automatic ice-maker. Better than that – an automatic ice-maker and ice-water dispenser in the door, and a small light which winks on when depressing the lever which administers ice (in cubes or crushed) and ice-water and then gradually dims once released. And if all that is a small luxury compared to the previous refrigerator-freezer, it is a huge luxury compared to the electric ice-box that made my Granny Jessie’s work and food-storage capabilities somewhat lighter than those of her own mother. It’s monumental, even – and no one thinks anything of it today, unless the electricity goes off.
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My profession is much in the news at the moment, so I thought I would pass along such insights as I have from my career, mostly from a multibillion-dollar debacle which I and several thousand others worked on for a few years around the turn of the millennium. I will not name my employer, not that anyone with a passing familiarity with me doesn’t know who it is; nor will I name the project, although knowing the employer and the general timeframe will give you that pretty quickly too.
We spent, I believe, $4 billion, and garnered a total of 4,000 customers over the lifetime of the product, which was not aimed at large organizations which would be likely to spend millions on it, but at consumers and small businesses which would spend thousands on it, and that amount spread out over a period of several years. From an economic transparency standpoint, therefore, it would have been better to select 4,000 people at random around the country and cut them checks for $1 million apiece. Also much faster. But that wouldn’t have kept me and lots of others employed, learning whatever it is we learn from a colossally failed project.
So, a few things to keep in mind about a certain spectacularly problematic and topical IT effort:
- Large numbers of reasonably bright and very hard-working people, who have up until that point been creating significant wealth, can unite in a complete flop. Past performance is no guarantee, and all that. Because even reasonably bright, hard-working people can suffer from failures of imagination, tendencies to wishful thinking, and cultural failure in general.
- Morale has got to be rock-bottom for anybody with any degree of self-awareness working on this thing. My relevant moment was around the end of ’99 when it was announced, with great fanfare, at a large (200+ in attendance) meeting to review progress and next steps, that we had gotten a single order through the system. It had taken various people eight hours to finish the order. As of that date, we were projecting that we would be doing 1,600 orders a day in eight months. To get an idea of our actual peak rate, note the abovementioned cumulative figure of 4,000 over the multi-year lifespan of the project.
- Root cause analysis is all very well, but there are probably at least three or four fundamental problems, any one of which would have crippled the effort. As you may infer from the previous bullet point, back-office systems was one of them on that project. Others which were equally problematic included exposure to the software upgrade schedule of an irreplaceable vendor who was not at all beholden to us to produce anything by any particular date, and physical access to certain of our competitors’ facilities, which they were legally required to allow us into exactly two (2) days per year. See also “cultural failure,” above; most of us were residing and working in what is one of the most livable cities in the world in many ways, but Silicon Valley it ain’t.
- Not to overlook the obvious, there is a significant danger that the well-advertised difficulties of the website in question will become a smokescreen for the fundamental contradictions of the legislation itself. The overall program cannot work unless large numbers of people act in a counter-incentived (possibly not a word, but I’m groping for something analogous to “counterintuitive”) fashion which might politely be termed “selfless” – and do so in the near future. What we seem likely to hear, however, is that it would have worked if only certain IT architectural decisions had been better made.
This thing would be a case study for the next couple of decades if it weren’t going to be overshadowed by physically calamitous events, which I frankly expect. In another decade, Gen-X managers and Millennial line workers, inspired by Boomers, all of them much better at things than they are now, “will be in a position to guide the nation, and perhaps the world, across several painful thresholds,” to quote a relevant passage from Strauss and Howe. But getting there is going to be a matter of selection pressures, with plenty of casualties. The day will come when we long for a challenge as easy as reorganizing health care with a deadline a few weeks away.
Posted in Big Government, Book Notes, Commiserations, Current Events, Customer Service, Health Care, Internet, Law, Medicine, Personal Narrative, Politics, Predictions, Systems Analysis, Tech, USA | 6 Comments »
For all the times that this federal government shutdown repeated fiscal game of chicken has been played – and I have been through this rodeo a number of times – it’s the sheer, petty spitefulness of this iteration which has raised my hackles. Barrycading off the open-air monuments along the Mall – including the WWII and Vietnam War monuments – blocking off scenic overlooks and the parking lots at Mt. Vernon, and forcing the closure of a number of otherwise self-supporting attractions which have the ill-luck to be on federally-owned property. I am glad to know that the governor of Wisconsin is telling the feds to go pound sand, and suspect that the governor of Arizona may be coming close to doing so, likewise. Meanwhile, the commissary at Andrews AFB is closed, and the golf course is open. Yes, I know that they are under different funding organizations, but the optics of this are really, really bad. If this were a Republican administration, I suspect we’d be hearing all about it, with video and stills of tearful and hungry military dependents all over the news, but then if my aunt had testicles, she would be my uncle. For all I know the junior enlisted troops are happily shopping at Wally-world and the generic shelves at the local grocery stores and not missing the commissary very much at all … but knowing that President Barrycade likes to golf there and takes every opportunity to do so … really, as I said – bad optics.
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(An archive post from [gasp] 2004, wherein I attempted to explain and demystify certain military practices and establishments to a strictly civilian readership. I was reminded of this series, as one of the chief effects of the fed-gov shut-down is that just about all of the military commissaries at stateside bases will be closed from about midday today. The resulting effect on the retiree and active duty population at stateside bases probably will be rather minor, especially for those bases in or near larger cities, since Walmart, Target, Costco, Sam’s Club and local grocery chains provide alternative sources.)
The main attraction of these privileges – access to the military base Commissary and Exchange – lies mostly in the fact that such access is forbidden to the usual run of civilians, and so they tend to think of them as vast Aladdin’s caves of riches and materiel things, to which they do not have the magic key! Alas, while I am fairly sure that the gold-plated bases in the military pantheon probably are pretty well stocked with the luxury goods, and may very well resemble Aladdin’s cave, at the ordinary level they are as Cpl. Blondie observed “full of stuff you don’t need.”
When I was giving the school-kiddy tours at Mather AFB, to kids who had never been on a military base before, I would have the school-bus driver take a circuitous loop around the base, and point out the various establishments: “A base is just like a city or a town– this is the Headquarters building, it’s like the Mayor’s office and the City Hall, over there is the housing area, where everyone lives with their families. There is even an elementary school for the kids. That is our grocery store, only we call it the commissary. We even have our own gas station… this is the Exchange, it is just like a small department store, with a little bit of everything…”
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How very interesting that über-celeb (and possibly former über-celeb) Oprah Winfrey has now tried to walk back a very publically-made accusation of being treated with racial bias in an expensive Swiss handbag shop in Zurich with one of those lame apologies which aren’t really apologies, more of that sniveling, ‘I’m sorry that you were offended,’ statements which are framed so as to throw blame on the offended party merely for being offended. At least, she has skipped over the second part of the pro-forma excuse and non-apology, which is usually some variant of, ‘gosh, don’t you have a sense of humor?’ Both statements of which, I am obliged to confirm, do not remove the sting that a party thus abused takes away from the experience. Or even that that such an apology has been honestly and fully rendered to the aggrieved party.
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iTunes was always crap. I run the Windows version. It has inconsistent menus, disappearing menus, a different user interface on each page, a sync button here, an important checkbox there — overall an outstanding example of poor UI design.
My iTunes got corrupted and for years the text labels on most of the buttons and menu items were invisible. Some kind of font issue, I guess. I tried uninstalling, reinstalling, fiddling with Windows fonts, nothing helped. Fortunately, I remembered where the sync button was. That was all I needed, most of the time.
Then the computer that I had iTunes installed on conked out. I fixed the computer and installed a new hard drive and reinstalled Win 7 and iTunes. Works great but now it turns out that syncing doesn’t really mean syncing. I’m not sure what it means. All I know is that after I do it the file libraries on my iPod and iTunes don’t match. You can get them to match but only at the cost of deleting all of the files on your device. You cannot download files from your device to iTunes and add them to any new files you’ve acquired. It’s obvious why this is the case: Apple wants to keep people from busting the DRM on purchased files by downloading them to unauthorized computers. But Apple’s system makes life difficult for anyone who has a significant file library and replaces or upgrades his computer. There are workarounds but they are mostly a PITA for the user, and particularly for the non-tech-savvy user who replaces his hard drive or computer. This is a case where the customer doesn’t come first (though, to be fair, Apple is far from the only company that does things in this way).
(An archive post from … umm, a bit ago. I am putting together an eBook of my own posts about the military, and thought that the Boyz and fans might find this reminiscence of interest.)
Our local public radio station (which full disclosure impels me to mention that I was employed by their 24-hour classical sister station on a part-time basis until about May, 2008 although now I am so pissed at their general drift that I coldheartedly refuse to support them in their current pledge drive) aired a special some time ago ago about “border radio”— that is, a collection of radio outlets located just over the Mexican border which during the 1950ies and 1960ies— joyfully free of FCC restrictions on power restrictions, or indeed any other kind of restriction— blasted the very latest rock, and the most daring DJ commentary, on stations so high-powered they could be heard all the way into the deep mid-West and probably on peoples’ fillings as well. Read the rest of this entry »
-Internet service not working.
-Call Comcast toll-free number to find out if there’s systemic problem. Press 2 for high-speed Internet. Ignore recorded sales pitch for pay-per-view boxing match. No mention of systemic problems. Ignore recorded suggestion to press 1 to send refresh signal to modem (tried a few days ago, ineffective). Press another button to speak to a human.
-Complain about no signal.
-Comcast rep “checks your modem” and says it’s fine (subtext: you idiot).
-Optional: Point out to Comcast rep that there are many Comcast outages, outages always Comcast’s fault, everyone knows Comcast has lousy service, tired of being lied to by Comcast, etc.
-Optional: Comcast rep’s vaguely insulting non-apology apology — “I’m sorry you feel that way, sir” etc. (subtext: Comcast’s lousy service isn’t rep’s fault, you idiot).
-Check computer. Modem works, probably because something is misconfigured in Comcast network and Comcast rep’s action refreshed dropped connection.
-Repeat every few days until Comcast fixes problem.
Connor, the middle-aged Malti-poo is at the veterinarians office today, to sort out why he has been throwing up for the last day and a half, has no appetite and is terribly lethargic. The bill for his treatment will be an unexpected expense for me … so anyone going to my book blog and purchasing copies of To Truckee’s Trail, Daughter of Texas, Deep in the Heart, or the Adelsverein Trilogy in the separate volumes will help me to square matters with the vet, and put Connor back where he belongs, sleeping peacefully under my desk. Read the rest of this entry »
In the foundation-legend of the Swiss confederacy, Alberect Gessler was a cruel and tyrannical overlord installed by the Austrians, who installed his hat atop a pole in the public marketplace and decreed that all should bow to it … to his hat, not merely his person. Such a declaration was, I think, a way of rubbing in his authority over the common citizens – indeed, rubbing their noses in the fact that he could make them do so, and do so in front of everyone else.
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That is what somebody told me after I told him about an experience I had with AT&T. It fits.
I wanted to upgrade our backup AT&T DSL line, so that I could cancel our unreliable Comcast cable Internet service. The AT&T rep said that DSL is outmoded, that what I wanted was U-Verse, which has many more features and is cheaper than DSL. I was about to sign up, but I was googling around while talking to him and started to realize that U-Verse means replacing our old-style, robust, power-outage-resistant landline phone service with some kind of VOIP. This would be unacceptable. So I told the AT&T guy to cancel our U-Verse order until I could learn more.
Since then we’ve gotten three calls from AT&T seeking to schedule our U-Verse installation. Telling them that we didn’t order U-Verse and were slammed by their sales rep results in punishment by being put on hold for large fractions of an hour while the clueless AT&T people try to find out what’s going on. We may not know for sure until we see our next phone bill.
It strongly appears that AT&T’s system is set up with bad incentives. I would bet that the sales rep gets compensated based on how many U-Verse accounts he opens, and that he isn’t penalized for having a high ratio of cancellations. So it’s probably in his interest to open as many new accounts as he can. And it’s in AT&T’s interest to look the other way if he signs people up who don’t really want it. They can always cancel later, right? Since some of them won’t cancel, everyone on the AT&T side comes out ahead from this strategy. It’s like when companies require customers to mail in rebate forms in order to get a discount. To the extent possible, I try to avoid companies that operate like this.
Romeo, the tuxedo kitten, with an arrangement of pumpkins, at the Sisterdale Market.
Uptown Luckenbach, as opposed to downtown Luckenbach, with the famed dance-hall and concert venue. There wasn’t anything happening, much, that we could see.
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I’ve been thinking for a while – based on my own use of the service – that the good old US Post Office is something well past its best-if-used-by date. Oh, no – not that it should be done away with as a government service entirely. But I can contemplate delivery of the mail only two or three times a week with perfect equanimity … which is at least a little tragic for there were times when the daily arrival of the mail was a much-looked-forward-to thing. When I was overseas, or in a remote location – like Greenland (and in military outposts today I am certain) the arrival of the mail (three times a week) was anticipated with keen interest, since it was our lifeline to the outside world. There were letters from family, loved ones, magazines, catalogues and packages with goodies in them – sometimes gifts, sometimes items ordered … the whole world, crammed into a tiny box with a locking door in the central post office; the magical envelopes, the catalogues and magazines in a tight-packed roll, the little pink slips that meant a package … and then, between one or two decades, it all changed.
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This week in the neighborhood where I live was designated for the annual bulk-trash pickup – so residents were notified a week or more ago. Once a year we can put out on the curb … well, just about anything except concrete rubble and chunks of stone. The city sends out a couple of long open-topped trailer trucks, and a special truck with a large mechanized claw that reaches down and gathers up the bulk items.
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And here comes the next spectacular ruckus regarding indy-writers and the (relatively) non-elected, totally bureaucratic and ham-fisted powers of our universe. This one, for a marvel, does not involve Amazon.com, at whose door can be laid the last couple or three of these shindigs. This one involves Paypal, that pearl of great price … and fairly substantial fees on transactions although not too onerous as these things go, certainly better than pawn shops and payday check cashing establishments without a particle of the stigma and it usually makes up for the convenience of the transaction and who am I to object, actually?
Posted by Michael Kennedy on 12th January 2011 (All posts by Michael Kennedy)
I live in the mountains east and north of Los Angeles. Last summer, when I bought my house, I ordered Direct TV for television service as the cable company wouldn’t even schedule an installation until the escrow closed. I had no complaints about the TV service until the first snowfall. I had no service for two days. I called Direct TV and was told that snow interferes with the signal (duh !) and there was nothing I could do. I had a satellite dish in New Hampshire in 1994 and 95 and never had this problem. The next time it happened I called and finally got to a technical advisor who told me there was such a thing as a dish heater but Direct TV had nothing to do with them. He did give the URL of several web sites where I could get more information. I found that I would have to install the heater myself and the dish is nearly 20 feet above my upper deck.
Last weekend, when we had more snow, Cindy was atop a seven foot ladder trying to reach the dish with a broom but with no luck. The angle of the dish, which catches more snow, makes it impossible to brush the dish off. It seems to be a pretty common problem and one would think that Direct TV would anticipate these problems in areas with substantial snowfall. Maybe they could supply the dish heaters as an option, especially when the dish is mounted so high. Then the technician could install both. The new dishes also seem to be of a deeper chord and the location may determine the angle of elevation to the satellite. New Hampshire is a higher latitude, as is Chicago, and that dish seemed to be flatter in my recollection.
Does anybody in Greater Chicago use these dishes and do they have problems like this ? I got nowhere with them, and am not about to try to install a heater on the dish, so I finally canceled and will have to pay a substantial early cancellation charge.
Next summer I am going to France to ride my bike in the Pyrenees on some famous mountains that are featured in the Tour de France from time to time. Also on the agenda is a race. It has been a long time since I have been out of the country; my passport was expired so it had to be renewed. I decided to do it by mail.
The government was pretty efficient! I sent my old one in on October 21 with the required forms (and $110!) and received my new passport yesterday, November 5. Exactly 15 days door to door. I think that is pretty damned good for a government agency. If you need to renew a passport, perhaps this is not a busy time of year for them. On a sad note, the dollar is getting killed right now and this vacation is getting more expensive by the day – I bought some euros a few months ago, but apparently not enough. But currency markets are funny, we will see how it goes.
On another note, I have jacked up my workout regimen (more) so I can be competitive in the race (165 km with a finish atop the Plateau de Beille) and I have been looking into post workout recovery supplements/drinks. I have read conflicting information that says I should take these drinks immediately after working out and also that I should wait until the next day. Any info you have on this subject would be appreciated as to what and when I should be doing after my workouts to supplement my muscle development.
Cross posted at LITGM.
Well, the talk is that my oldest will be getting braces soon. She needs them. Her mother and father both went through it so it was pretty much expected. She also has an overbite which will need to be corrected. Back to this in a minute or two.
Have you ever had a person in your life that seemed to drop out of the blue, but affected you in an interesting way? Henry Rollins did. In his essay Iron, he speaks of Mr. Pepperman, who took pity on a scrawny, dorky kid, and taught Rollins how to lift weights. This gave Rollins a sense of accomplishment. It is a great essay and very motivational. I carry a copy of Iron in my briefcase and read it when I need a swift kick in the pants. Whenever I am sore or tired and don’t feel like going to the gym or running or biking or whatever training I need, I read Iron, strap it on, and get to work.
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Four customer service stories:
1)Telephoning a restaurant. Call a restaurant on the phone–to make a reservation, check on the specials, whatever..and you will likely hear something like this:
Thank you for calling Snarfer’s Steakhouse, where the elite meet to eat. My name is Tiffany…how may I be of assistance to you today?
You can bet Tiffany didn’t come up with this string of words herself. She has been told exactly what to say, has to say it 100 times a day, and is so tired of saying it that she often slurs the words together:
Often, the message is so slurred and incomprehensible that I’m not sure I’ve called the right number, resulting in a question:
Is this Snarfer’s Steakhouse?
This kind of thing originated with chain restaurants but can now often be found at many independent restaurants as well.
I made a mistake several years ago, but I didn’t know it at the time. It wasn’t a dreadful mistake, but one which I thought I would share with you to perhaps give some guidance and solicit some comments.
About 5 years or so I was sold on purchasing some shares (are they really shares?) of a fund of hedge funds. I will admit right off the bat that I didn’t know what it does, what it did, or how it works. I trusted my financial advisor as he told me that it was a great way to diversify my portfolio.
Last October/November I decided to look at every single one of my investments and decide if I needed to sell the position and rebuy (to take the tax loss) or to hold, or to simply sell. I decided that this fund of funds needed some investigation.
Under the heading of “we’re all in this together” and “there are heroes among us”:
Tonight I phoned MasterCard; they hear from me quite a lot since I’m pretty incompetent. (I lost my purse for about a week; Target wouldn’t tell me they had it even though I kept phoning; when I dropped by they said, sure, and immediately gave it to me.). So tonight I’m pointing out that I can’t figure out a couple of bills I probably got suckered into by filling out something on the net.
The woman was quite helpful and consistently apologetic though I’m pretty sure it was my fault and told her so. As we were about to hang up, I asked her where she was. She said Mumbai. I gasped and offered my condolences. She told me about a friend trapped in an office during the seige. She said they had learned from the incident – learned to be more vigilant, to be more careful. And that people had reached out to others in warm ways. Still, the destruction of the beautiful landmark was disturbing. And, she hoped all of us (I doubt she mean America hadn’t) would take a consistent stand against the terrorists. We spoke of the stories of heroism. She said I made her feel better – certainly, she made me feel better. The virtue of a world economy is that it brings together people like us, over the telephone very early in her morning and in my evening. We share much; of course, we can share much because we speak English. Her Indian accent and my Mid-western one give no trouble. And it is yet another argument that no matter how tragic the loss of languages may be (and I agree, the more we “save” the better), the sooner and more broadly we have a strong, common language the more moments like this will happen.