Archive | January, 2009

A Simple Joy

16 Jan

I just had to describe the beautiful but brief joy I felt when I happened upon a family walking down the street – a mom, a grandpa, and a little girl who couldn’t have been older than three.

I was passing the drugstore here in downtown La Jolla at lunchtime; outside was a four-foot cardboard advertisement for Dreyer’s ice cream.  As I walked past, the mother was telling the grandpa that she’d take care of something inside while he watched the little one.  Her daughter broke away from them and ran toward the advertisement, skidding to a stop in front of the ice cream bar that was taller than she was.

She stared for a minute, considering.  Then, as I came up next to her, I watched her embrace the cardboard ice cream bar and take a lick.  Her head cocked to the side with obvious confusion as to why she didn’t taste chocolate, and I couldn’t help but giggle.

How beautiful a simple thing like that can be; I wished I’d had a camera with me to capture the sweet innocence of the moment!

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A Theory…

15 Jan

After all the stuff that’s been going on at my house lately – the plumbing finally getting so bad the entire backyard’s being ripped out today, the washing machine dying and the new one either being a lemon or getting installed wrong, the heater being “fixed” but burning dangerously high, etc. – I’m finding myself dealing an awful lot with service representatives, technicians, salespeople, and schedulers.

And I have a theory.

“Service” people aren’t there to serve the customer.  They’re there to get the customer so exhausted and frustrated that he or she stops fighting.

Take for example the conversation I had two days ago with Sears.  Mind you, our brand new fancy-schmancy $750 washing machine (that we ended up buying because Sears’ and the water authority’s rebates made it just slightly more expensive than the one we’d actually planned on getting, in the end) was delivered at 8:15 the night before, when we’d been told to wait around because it was scheduled to be delivered at 2:30.  And the very first load of laundry we tried out in the darn thing flooded our laundry room.  So after staying up until all hours mopping up the floor, getting up early and sitting through two hours of meetings at work, I finally gathered up my courage to call.  I mean, the machine was installed by Sears – we didn’t even touch it – so it was obviously their boo-boo.  How hard could it be to get it reinstalled or replaced?

An hour and a half and five reps later, I had my answer.  Very hard.

The first number I called – the “repair” line – said I needed the warantee center.  The warantee center said I needed to schedule a repair technician.  The first repair technician scheduler (in India, I’m certain – not to knock people in India and I sure as heck can’t speak any language from the area at all, but when you can’t make yourself understood to the person trying to “help” you, it’s a lost cause… plus, with my bad experience with Microsoft’s overseas support, I’m in no mood to go through the scripted support channels anymore) I spoke with said they couldn’t have anyone to my house for a week – and that I’d have a nine hour window in which the repair person might (or might not, given my experience the night before) show up.  From eight am to five pm, I was supposed to sit around and twiddle my thumbs, waiting for Sears to get their act together.

When I said it was completely unacceptable and I needed to talk to a manager, the woman on the other end of the phone argued with me for about five minutes.  “The manager is on the same system as I am, ma’am.  He won’t be able to do anything different…”

I lost it for a minute, and then just started repeating in a “calm” voice, “I need to talk to your manager.  I need to talk to your manager.”  She finally transferred me – back to the end of the main queue for the repair tech schedulers.  ARGH!!!

When I finally got ahold of the manager, he was, if anything, worse.  “Well, what do you want me to do, ma’am?” he asked.  “We don’t have anyone till next week.”

“I want you to FIX MY WASHER,” I said.  “Do you understand that Sears installed the washer LAST NIGHT and I can’t use it?  If I wanted to wait until next week to use my new washing machine, I’d have gotten the one that wasn’t going to be in stock until then!!!”

He said he couldn’t help.  So I said fine – send me to someone who can.

I was immediately put on hold again.  The person who picked up mercifully didn’t have an accent.  And she said she could help.  She said her department was the only one that could “force” a repair call.  Not for today, but for tomorrow.  And she’d make sure it would be for when one of us was home – after 2:30 – not for an all-day window (which, by the way, she said is actually illegal in California…  Just in case you’re ever in a situation like that, they can’t make you wait more than 5 hours in this state).  She got me calmed down and thinking it would be okay.

Fast forward one day, to yesterday.  Now, mind you, I’d already been woken up at 5 am by a smoke alarm that has decided that steam is it’s number-one enemy (yesterday was the first day that this happened, but it went off again this morning after I took a shower).  I’d already received a frantic phone call from my husband that he’d gotten an automated phone call that said the gas company tech was “on his way”, two hours early, and sped home at 85 miles per hour only to find that despite my nearly-impossible arrival at home in 12 minutes, I’d missed the gas company tech by 15 minutes.  I’d already spent ten minutes on hold with the gas company and another ten minutes getting increasingly annoyed by the rep on the phone there who kept telling me things like “well, this is the way we do things and if you don’t like it you can hire a heating and air conditioning company” (their policy is to schedule you for a half-day slot, “call” you to tell you they’re on their way but not give an ETA, and, if the key isn’t under the mat, leave within a minute with no “hey, call us back if you want us to swing by today”…  we now have no heater for another week).

I was stressed out and burned out.  But at least our new washing machine was supposed to be checked out.

Or not.

I called my husband at 5 after 5 to ask whether the repair person (who was apparently scheduled from 2:30-5) had called yet.  No, he said, but he’d call Sears to check.  Five minutes later he called me back.  We weren’t on the books until the 15th.  No, I said, the rep I talked to yesterday swore to me that it was for today.

I called back Sears when I got home.  “No, ma’am,” the rep told me (after telling me there was no way she could transfer me to the original rep I had), “you’re not scheduled until tomorrow.”  No explanation, no apology.  Just a bump.

Makes a girl feel awfully special.

So why is it that companies get away with telling us they can’t send anyone out for another week – or two – and that we’ll obviously have to take the day off to wait for their technician?  I’ve asked every company I’ve talked to this week HOW they think a person who actually works all day can possibly make this four- or five- or nine-hour window work.  “I’m sorry, ma’am, that’s the way we do it,” is all the answer I can get.

If a company truly wanted to give me excellent customer service, they would do the following:

  1. Schedule me ASAP.  I know it’s hard sometimes.  But give me credit; I’m either calling you with an emergency or, in the case of Sears, because you screwed up big time.  If it’s an emergency, HELP!  If you screwed up, FIX IT.  I don’t want any whining.  Pay someone overtime if you have to.  Just get it done.  And if you can’t?  Don’t lie to me and say I’ve been scheduled when I’ll find out eventually that I’m not.
  2. Give me a better window.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve waited for four or five hours for a tech, only to have them show up one or two hours outside the window of time they were scheduled for.  Rarely do you get anyone who arrives at the beginning of the window (except for my rotten luck yesterday).  Tell me someone will be at my house between 12  and 1.  Or even 12 and 2.  But don’t make me sit there for hours, on a day I could be earning money.
  3. Communicate with me.  Give your driver my cell phone number.  I gave it to you for a reason.  If they’re going to be late – or early – have them call me.  Have them call me anyway when they’re 20 minutes from my house.  So I can meet them.  You know, like a normal person.  The gas company told us yesterday that their techs have no company cell phones, so they can’t call.  To me, that sounds like a case where a little investment would go a long way; if the tech had had a cell, my husband could have told him I’d be there shortly.  If the gas company could have called him for us, even, he could have saved us all the hassle of waiting until next week.  What an assinine policy, not to equip someone out in the field with the ability to communicate.  Personally, I think they have cell phones, but their policy is to not use them.  Regardless, it’s laziness and carelessness.  And it’s rude.
  4. Don’t transfer me to another department just to get rid of me.  Seriously?  It makes me crazy to get transferred around willy-nilly.  I understand if I somehow didn’t manage to get the right department, since navigating your maze of poorly-described departments in the impossibly slow automated phone system is a crap shoot at best.  But if you can’t help me, find out who can.  Put me on hold for a second and figure it out.  Don’t just transfer me without insuring that you’re transferring me to the right place.
  5. On that note, when you transfer me, kindly give my information to the next person.  Don’t make me repeat myself twenty times.  I’ve already given you my name, my phone number, the description of my problem, and everything else relevant to my case (sometimes it feels like I’ve given you everything short of a Social Security Number and my mother’s maiden name).  Please don’t make me tell it to the next person, and the next person, and the next person.  And a note to the Sears rep: don’t ask me for my zip code three separate times.  It doesn’t make me a happy camper.
  6. Don’t tell me I should leave a key under the mat.  Or leave the door open.  Or whine at me that you can’t reach my fuse box or some such if I don’t.  The plumber who will be at my house for the next two days was none too pleased when I said I’d put a heavy-duty extension cord through my mail slot for him (personally, I feel that if he’s going to need electricity outside my home, he can bring a generator, but that’s neither here nor there).  We don’t have any outlets outside.  He wanted access to my house when I was not there to use the bathroom and to trip the breaker if it ended up blowing.  I told him (truthfully) that with all that’s been going on in the house, he couldn’t get to the breaker if he tried (I’d have to climb over and on top of things) and that I knew the neighbor would be home all day (sorry Brooke!) in case there was a major problem.  The gas company said we should have left a key under the mat – but isn’t that where every thief would look first?  And what about me being uncomfortable with a strange person having my key, even for a short amount of time?  The gas company wouldn’t be liable if he didn’t return it, made a copy of it, made off with some of my posessions, destroyed some of my posessions, violated my privacy in some other disgusting way, or simply forgot to lock the door on his way out.  So why should I put myself in that kind of position?
  7. Be nice.  The appliance repair company we called for the old washing machine did a good job a couple of years ago.  But this time they sent out a very green, very brash tech.  He argued with us – and then when we wouldn’t just GIVE him the old machine so he could use it for parts (he could have easily had it for $20 – and made $100 on the parts alone), he got angry.  Not to mention the woman who answered the phone there – talk about rude and abrasive.  All the people I seem to talk to at these places can’t be bothered to be nice.  Now, I acknowledge that I would do poorly at a customer service rep job, with people angry at me.  BUT that doesn’t excuse the fact that the people who are paid to help customers should be as pleasant as possible.
  8. Clean up after yourself.  The washing machine repair man removed a hose during the middle of a drain cycle and flooded the laundry room.  My husband used every towel we own to sop up the mess, which would have been easily avoided if the repairman had paid attention to the cycle or at least brought a bucket or some shams with him.  Last year, a plumber hired by the landlord was let in by the landlord during the middle of the day to take care of an inexplicably, disgustingly, stopped up kitchen sink drain.  I came home to a rerouted drain and a kitchen covered in dirty water.  Every single repair man I’ve ever had in my house tracks in dirt (and in the case of several plumbers, I’m not sure what else).  The handyman my landlord uses has often left a pile of sawdust next to a baseboard he’s replaced.  Simply cleaning up after yourself shouldn’t be something I even need to ask for – but it never happens.
  9. If you screw up, compensate me.  The washing machine repairman misdiagnosed the problem, replaced the wrong part, and made a mess.  Yet, in the end, we paid him $50 for coming out.  I don’t care that it’s your standard fee for coming out to someone’s house and not fixing anything.  Waive it.  You seriously inconvenienced me.  The same thing goes for Sears.  I don’t see why I should have to be put out for days when I’ve paid for an expensive machine.  At least if you offer me some money back or a free repair later or something, I’d be more inclined to forgive the massive inconvenience.  And my landlord?  He’s known for seven years that the plumbing in the backyard needed to be pulled up and replaced.  But he’s been trying to cheap out (it’s a $1500 job), and made ME feel badly the first time it backed up (it’s old, full of roots, and has a couple of issues with leveling and fall), and never once offered to pay for a hotel room when I’ve waited overnight with no usable toilet; or to compensate me for the disgusting end my towels have come to, time and time again, sopping up sewer water from the bathroom floor or the floor of the shower, or for the ruined shower curtains.
  10. For God’s sakes, don’t ever try to sell me something extra.  Once you’ve eaten up my time, my money, and my sanity, if I hear you say the words “extended warranty” or “preventative maintenace package” I swear I’ll bite your head off.  The same goes for any additional repairs, services, or other JUNK you want me to buy so you can make a little extra dough.  I know the tricks – make the idiot who needs the repair feel scared that this will happen again so she’ll pay you more money to “fix” it in the future.  Trust me, I’d rather eat the appliance before I let your technician near it again.

In summation of this incredibly long post, I’ll say this: If customer service were really customer service, we’d get treated a lot better and have a lot less headaches.  Instead, I’m convinced customer service is really customer diversion.  It’s a frustrating world in which we live, but at least with this kind of customer service around we know one thing for certain: the customer is always screwed.

A Few Words on Self Esteem

8 Jan

I wrote up this whole post about self esteem and deleted it.  I sounded really preachy.  I just wanted to say this, because I’ve had four separate groups of friends discuss this with me lately, how horrible they feel about having gained weight, or put on weight that they didn’t have before.  So in case you are one of the people who have been talking to me about this, please don’t feel weird – I just have to say it to all of you.

Love yourself.  Remember when you were a little kid and they gave you that self esteem talk?  The one about no matter what other people say, you’re special and unique and beautiful, like each delicate snowflake that falls?  Give it to yourself today.  When you feel the pressure to be perfect – which is a given in our society – remember how uniquely beautiful you are, already.

Guilt and shame are no way to live, especially about something as integral to our beings as our bodies.  Instead, pride and confidence should be our answer, and the feeling that we are special and sexy and wonderful.  Being “perfect” won’t make anyone happy – it’ll just lay on a whole new set of rules and regulations and things to feel badly about.

Look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself how beautiful you are.  Even if you don’t feel it – fake it till you make it, if you have to.  Nurture that little part of yourself that remembers the delicate snowflake.  Don’t abuse your body with crash diets and years in the gym.  Enjoy it in every way you can (one of my favorite things in the world?  the feeling after I finish a long walk…  and I’m no big exerciser).  Feed it in every way you can – from beautiful fresh wholesome food to excellent wine to pampered spa days to lots and lots of sleep…  And love yourself.  You’re the only “self” you’ll ever get.

My New Year’s Resolution? Ignore Weight Loss Commercials.

5 Jan

Have you ever noticed how many weight loss commercials show up right around the New Year?  We’re being innundated with everyone’s favorite New Year’s resolution: losing weight.

But don’t be fooled – these people are making money off of you.  They want you to buy their fake food (“it’s so easy!”), or join their club (“for just a dollar a day!”) or try this brand new (read: the same as it ever was, with a new name) weight loss program.  In one day of watching television (stuck at home with the flu), I’ve seen commercials for Nutri-System, Weight Watchers (both online and in-person), Curves, Bally, 24 Hour Fitness, SlimFast, and SlimQuick Hoodia, to name just a few.

I’ve also noticed something that distresses me: every single person they feature in these commercials is either: a) not the same person featured in before-and-after photos or b) NOT in need of a weight loss program.  I think it’s the commercial makers’ way of guilting those of us who could stand to lose a few pounds into thinking we’re really porky.  I mean, if this little skinny thing needs to use this product to lose weight, how could I possibly be healthy doing anything else?

So I’ve decided that there’s a resolution I need to make this year.  I refuse to be guilted into thinking I need some expensive product.  I am not a skinny thing – but I guess that means that I can be healthy myself.  I’ve got a plan: ignore weight loss commercials, eat as healthy as I can, and walk with friends.  I think it’s far better than any fancy plan or gym or “supplement” or “lifestyle program”.  And it’s all me.

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