What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Oat meal. I’ll admit it. I’m a fan of hot breakfast cereals as a group. Oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits, corn meal are all perfectly pleasing breakfast foods in my kitchen. Running unnaturally late one morning this week, I opted to try breakfast in the little coffee shop / doughnut place in the office. That was a mistake. I saw oatmeal on their menu and thought to myself “self, how badly could a place screw up oatmeal?” The answer to that was a watery mess that had far more in common with the average soup than any kind of oatmeal one might expect to be served. That’s going to be a hard no from me, thanks. When the response from the manager is “yeah, that’s the new recipe we’re supposed to use. Nobody likes it,” I feel like you could have warned a guy ahead of time. Personally I’m 100% open to employee recommendations that warn me not to order something on the menu because it sucks. Not great business perhaps, but it would have been top notch customer service.

2. Telling me to smile more. Mostly I smile when I’m happy… not when I’m focusing in on the 13th revision of a PowerPoint slide or enduring the 3rd hour of a meeting that should have been an email. The fact that my face tends to go rather blank and the corners of my mouth draw towards a scowl in front of my computer terminal aren’t necessarily a commentary on anyone… Though I suppose it could be if it’s someone who tells me to “just smile” one more time. I’ll reserve those clear eyed, happy looks for times that don’t involve spending eight hour clips tethered to a cubicle. Otherwise I just end up walking around with a fake smile plastered right below my dead eyes like so many other drones who don’t seem to know what a smile is actually meant to convey.

3. Responsibility. I want another dog. I also want another cat. I also want to go to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer convention in London this fall. I want a new truck and maybe a plunge pool in the back yard. I want a remodeled master bathroom and new kitchen countertops too. I am, however, not currently getting any of these things because I’m making at least a passing effort at behaving responsibly and in a mostly adult manner. This leads me to believe that responsibility and behaving in an adult manner is stupid, largely unfulfilling, and generally annoying. In a world where the penalty for behaving utterly irresponsibly seems fairly low, I feel like I’m getting the worst end of this bargain.

Two out of three…

I have a standing order with Amazon to deliver dog food, cat food, and litter on a monthly basis. It hasn’t been an altogether satisfying relationship thus far. Two out of the last three orders have been what I’ll just call “defective.” Today’s order included a bag of cat food in fine shape, a box of cat litter in fine condition, and a bag of dog food with a blown out corner that emptied half the bag’s contents out into the shipping box.

Look, the dogs loved the fact that I schlepped this 50 pound box through the middle of the house trailing kibble behind me, but it wasn’t the kind of experience I’d have paid for if given the opportunity. I’m a simple guy who just wants things to arrive undamaged. I don’t feel like that’s really an unreasonable position on my part as the consumer.

I dutifully fired up Amazon’s customer service chat and to their credit they immediately offered to ship out another bag of food or give me a refund. The Amazon business model is a real wonder of the modern – as it seems it’s cheaper for them to replace every fourth or fifth thing I buy than it is to spend a few extra cents on proper packaging for their products.

Amazon isn’t the only game in town, but they are generally the most convenient for setting up recurring orders so I’ll keep using them. They’ll keep sending out items in piss poor packaging. I’ll keep sending for replacements. And the whole machine will keep on working. Somehow, though, it feels like there could be a better way.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Good ideas. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with good ideas. There is, however, a point in every project when your thoughts need to turn away from adding bells and whistles and focus in on executing the damned mission. Some guy with a bunch of stars on his collar and a shit ton of fruit salad on his chest once said “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” Words that we’d be well served to keep in mind.

2. Voicemail. Calling a designated customer service number and having to wait a few minutes is standard operating procedure. I got it. Calling the customer service line for a major business and then getting shunted to voicemail isn’t going to get the job done. I’m trying to give your company a not insufficient amount of money. I’m calling you at a time that is convenient for me to talk. Chances are you’ll return my call at a time that is not convenient. Then I’ll call you and leave a message. Then you’ll call me and leave a message and so on. Instead of that, I’ll just go ahead and call the next closest registered dealer that handles the same product and spend my money at their location. Thanks for playing, though.

3. Confusion. Job: “a paid position of regular employment.” Holy Quest: “a chivalric journey undertaken by a knight in order to procure or achieve a particular object or end.” More people should know the difference.

Almost a fiasco…

Saturday morning I discovered that my local Apple Store had in stock availability of their new flagship, iPhone X. I wouldn’t usually venture anywhere near a mall two days after Thanksgiving, but the desire for new and shiny tech got the better of me. Stunningly, I arrived five minutes after the mall opened and parked within 20 yards of the door. It seems that their “holiday hours” are poorly advertised and almost no one realized they were opening an hour early. Fine by me.

I was an AT&T cellular customer since back in the mists of time when they were known as Cingular. I was generally a satisfied customer, too – until I moved to Fortress Jeff, which is located in a black hole of their coverage map. I could make and receive calls over wifi, but when wifi was down, my cell was pretty much an expensive paperweight. Unacceptable. With this change of phone, I wanted to make the jump to Verizon, who neighbors promised had at least a bar or two of coverage even the local power and cable is out. It happens more often than you’d imagine out here at the end of the transmission line.

Without going into details, I’ll just say that AT&T, Verizon, and Apple corporate policies all threw up roadblocks to converting from the Apple Upgrade Program under AT&T to the same program under Verizon. The guy I was working with, though, was an absolute bulldog and took the problems first to the floor manager, who was as confounded as we were. The floor manager then elevated the issues through two layers of management “in the back.” Finally they decided there was actually no way to get from Point A to Point B using existing policy and procedures. That’s they point where one of them decided “we’re going to break the rules” to make the sale.

I can’t say for sure if any rules were broken, but if the number of Apple employees standing around looking concerned while they fiddled with various entries on their tablet is any sign, they were certainly doing something unusual. In the end it took six people and almost an hour to make the sale.

It wasn’t quick and it wasn’t seamless, but in the end I walked away with exactly what I wanted. I appreciate that level of tenacity when the easy answer was “we can’t.” I appreciate it even more when I’ve got two bars of service when the wifi’s off. Well done, Apple. It’s a wonderful lesson for other business out there that customer services really, truly doesn’t have to suck.

How to get a tip…

It’s a weekday. The regularly scheduled shuttle between the hotel where I’m staying and the concert venue I’ll be at tonight stops running at 9:00. No good for my plan. A quick trip to the concierge, a few mumbled words, a bit of special paper changing hands and within two minutes, it’s “No problem, Mr. Tharp. Call my cell when you’re ready to leave and I’ll send down one of the hotel drivers.” Motel 6 would have been cheaper, but it’s hard to beat the overall value I’m feeling just now. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Appointments. Look, I’m the customer. I’m calling your business for an appointment. When I tell you that I don’t want an appointment after 4:00 the next three times you try to give me should not be after 4:00. When I tell you Thursdays are not a good day for me, how about not offering up times on Thursday. I’m trying to give you a not insignificant amount of money to provide a service. The least you could reasonably be expected to do is make the transaction slightly less onerous.

2. Being a square peg fitted into a round hole. There are many subject matter experts in my building. I’m not one of them. My skills don’t lie in my technical expertise. They do, however, lie in making sure the people with the right skill sets all show up to the same place in the often vain hope that something might get accomplished by the time it’s over. I’m a facilitator. When Person A has a problem, I make the appropriate introduction to Person B and then stand back and let the magic happen. I know just enough about the details for my opinions on them to be wrong at least as often as they’re right. That’s why I don’t sell myself as the resident expert… so when you try to cram me into that role because I happen to be available in the moment, don’t be surprised when things don’t go exactly how you planned.

3. Acceptance. I’m an Anglophile from way back. If it weren’t for their ridiculously high taxation and periodic dalliances with socialism, I’d strongly consider England a strong contender as a place I wouldn’t mind ending up in retirement. I follow a number of official UK government social media feeds which have been filled in the recent days with pictures of Her Majesty The Queen and assorted members of the Royal Family distributing knighthoods. I’m starting to come to the grim acceptance that the clock may be running out on my chance to ever make it onto the Honours List.

Customer service…

Often enough I’ll put companies that fail to deliver even basic customer service on blast here online. More rarely I get to give the good word when a company does something right. Tonight, fortunately, is the latter.

Last week I stopped by Wawa for a sandwich. That’s not unusual. It happens about once a week. Their consistency is one of the biggest reasons I like the place. I know what to expect when I open the wrapper. Creature of habit that I am, that means a lot. Last week’s sandwich was an outlier, which was why I ended up Tweeting at them in the first place. I didn’t expect anything to come from it other than making myself feel a little better about the lunch I threw away because it reeked of banana peppers.

Thirty minutes later though, I got a note from one of Wawa’s social media team who quickly gathered up my information, appologized, and offered me a sandwich on the house. Again, I didn’t think much about it and didn’t expect anything to come if it. Sure enough, though, this evening there was a letter containing a Wawa gift card in my mail box and they were good to their word.

It’s the one bad experience I’ve had with Wawa in four years of being a regular customer and they made it right without arguing, or elevating it to a manager, or making it seem like the hardest thing in the world. They’re doing customer service right and I just wanted to take this chance to say so.