What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Things from the Before Time. People are returning to the office. What I’ve noticed, particularly among a certain set of semi-senior or management types, is a quiet, unspoken determination to do things the way they were done in the Before Time. There’s a willful effort at suspending disbelief and denying the reality of the Great Plague. The fact that people aren’t quietly going along with their fervent wish to roll the clock back to February 2020 almost hits them as a surprise… as if they want to wish away the fact that over the last 30 months, the people didn’t find a better way to work and arguably a more rewarding way to live. But here they are, shocked and surprised that most of their colleagues aren’t thrilled and excited to commute, spend eight hours a day siting in florescent hell, or pile into a charter bus packed elbow to asshole with 53 of their new closest friends to take a two-hour ride. The powers at echelons higher than reality can make people return to cubicle land, but their expectation that anyone will do it with a smile in their heart is going to be sorely disappointed. 

Hurricane coverage. I’ve never really understood why networks make their anchors stand in the rain looking like drowned rats for their newscast. I know television is a visual medium, but I think everyone watching has had enough experience with rain to know what it looks like when you get caught in a downpour. Sure, show the aftermath. That’s probably newsworthy at some level. During the storm itself, though, there’s honestly just not that much to see that can’t be caught through a window or from under some minimal level of shelter. Sending grown ass adults to stand outside to demonstrate that it’s raining and windy, doesn’t feel particularly useful to my understanding of the coverage.

Being a dollar short and three months late. The plumbing company I had originally planned to use to install and new and improved water filtration system (more than two months ago) called rather sheepishly on Monday morning. The voicemail went a little something like “Oh, hey Mr. Tharp… We, uh, have a plan here for your filter system… We, uh, must have put it in someone else’s file and, uh, wanted to schedule a time to come out and get started on that work.” I appreciate the level of audacity it must take to make that call, particularly after I spent a month calling weekly to see where the plan was and when they were going to get started, before giving up and handing the project to a company that came out, drafted the plan, and did the work all within a week’s time. Mistakes, I’m told, happen. This, however, is one that could have been avoided at any of five or six points along the way if they had responded to a customer’s efforts to make contact. I encourage this company to go, and I can’t emphasize this enough, fuck themselves. 

The Starbucks Entitlement, or Give Me Free Shit…

The internet (or at least Twitter) lit up briefly this morning when Starbucks announced that they are going to change the way customers earn loyalty program points. Customers were outraged that the company was changing how various “elite” status levels are reached and how much money they would have to spend before they qualified to “get something free.”

Since I moved to the sticks and don’t drive past half a dozen Starbucks locations on my daily commute maybe I feel this change a little less acutely than the average overpriced coffee drinker. Or maybe it’s just a beautifully wrapped case-in-point of everything that is wrong with America today… because customers, presumably regular customers who enjoy Starbucks products and services, are now up in arms because the company is making it just a little bit harder to get free shit.

Let that idea sit with you for a while. Starbucks, a business that exists for the purpose of making money through the sale of coffee and related ephemera, actually wants its customers to spend a little more money before getting something for nothing. I’ll even take it a step further and directly question when we as a society decided that it was our God given right to expect people and business to give their products away. Somehow we’ve managed to take a gesture of goodwill and thanks – a free cup of coffee – and twist it into some kind of entitlement.

I learned from a young age that sometimes life is tough. The world doesn’t owe you a damned thing besides the chance to work hard, scrape, and make something for and of yourself. Past that, you’re not entitled to a thin dime – or a $5 cup of coffee – from anyone else. So when you do get something for nothing, be appreciative instead of immediately taking to the internet to cry that it’s just not enough.

If you think you’re getting a raw deal from Starbucks take your business elsewhere. There are hundreds of businesses that would be happy enough to take your money. Better yet, go get yourself a nice Italian coffee machine so you can cut out the middle man and *gasp* learn to brew your very own java. You’ll save a lot more money doing that than you’ll earn back through any customer loyalty program.

As always, not a sermon, just a though.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Business Hours. If your posted hours of operation are 10AM-5PM and I pull into your parking lot at 4:30 on a beautiful sunny Thursday afternoon and find your lights off and door locked, there’s a fair chance that I’m going to drive down the street to the next best alternative and give them my money. I totally understand that you’re a small business and sometimes things come up, but at least once in every four stops, I pull in to find you’re not open. I like you. I like doing business in the community when I can. But my ability to do that depends largely on it being convenient. No matter how much I like you, I’m not making three trips to your shop when I can order from a major online retailer and just have the damned item sitting on my doorstep tomorrow. You might be the only game in this two stoplight town, but you’re not the only game on the planet. You’d have at least one more satisfied customer if you behaved accordingly.

2. Imaginary Saturday. I woke up a few minutes before my alarm went off this morning. In the fog between being asleep and being awake, I managed to convince myself that today was actually Saturday. As many of you may have notice, it wasn’t. Now that I think back on it that didn’t so much annoy me as it pissed me off beyond the level that could be strictly considered reasonable.

3. Heroes of Labour. This week, the president of the Russian Federation handed out Soviet era awards during a revived May Day rally in Red Square. I’m as big a fan of the “good old days” as anyone, but I’m starting to wonder if anyone in the wheelhouse is paying any damned attention to what’s actually happening in Russia. Look, I know raising a generation of Middle East experts has left us a little thin on Cold War know how, but surely there are a few crusty old guys in the belly of the Pentagon who we can dust off to give us a read on the situation. I’m not saying it’s time to re-garrison Germany, but I do wish we were paying just a bit more attention to what’s banging around that part of the world.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Priorities. So here’s a little friendly advice from your kindly Uncle Jeff: When everything is the most important, absolutely nothing is important. All claims of being able to multi-task aside, it’s been my professional experience that when you’re trying to give equal attention to three things at once, all there of them are going to end up being half-assed at best. Want to do a good job on something? Go ahead and focus on that one thing until it’s finished or at least until it’s at a logical place to pause and then go work on something else. Repeat this process as needed until everything is done. Jumping randomly from this to that with no actual planning or thought behind why you’re doing what you’re doing is mostly guaranteed to end badly for everyone involved. In those cases where you can’t take this advice, be prepared to apply a large helping of “I told you so” when things go to hell in a handbag.

2. The happy customer… 12 hours later. About 12 hours after singing the praises of Amazon Prime and Amazon customer service, an email landed in my inbox informing me that the price of membership is going up $20 a year. Sure, it’s probably just a fluke, but it feels an awful lot like this Amazon just decided that since I like them so much, I won’t mind paying an additional 25% premium for it. This is clearly what happens when you say something nice. Therefore in the future, I’ll try to remember to only raise criticism and keep the kudos to myself. From here on out everything sucks and is bad, regardless of how much I like it.

3. Situational awareness. Snap judgements aren’t always right, but I’ve got a pretty decent talent for looking at where things stand and knowing when there’s a bad moon rising. I almost wish I didn’t. I’d probably be a happier human being if I wandered around not particularly aware of what’s likely to be over that next rise. Some days having decent judgement is a gift, but lately it’s felt like a real curse.

The happy customer…

As much as I know they’re just another example of Big Data distilling me down to bits and bits based on my shopping, I generally like the service they provide. Having been a Prime member longer than I can remember, I’ve gotten use to my deliveries showing up amazon-prime-logono more than two days after I click the “buy it now” button.

My latest order was an exception. It’s guaranteed delivery date was yesterday, but the package was a no show. It wasn’t anything particularly important, but a guarantee is a guarantee in my simple mind. Mostly, I logged in to Amazon’s customer support chat feature this morning to let them know that I’m watching them while they’re busy watching me. I wanted to at least let them know that I was paying attention.

Without being asked anything more than the order number, the CSR immediately apologized for the inconvenience on behalf of the company and credited my account with a free month of Prime. No questions asked, they addressed the issue by providing compensation that I felt was more than fair. They didn’t make me chase my tail to feel satisfied with the experience.

By giving me something that effectively is no cost to them, Amazon left this customer happy. Other retailers, both online and brick and mortar, would be well served to take a lesson. Even if they are Big Data bent on controlling the universe, I’m once again a happy Amazon customer. Job well done.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Customer service. On Tuesday morning, I drove an hour towards Baltimore expecting to transact a not insignificant amount of business with a well reviewed small local retailer. I originally planned to go in on Monday, but noted on their website that they were closed Sundays and Mondays. No harm no foul. Of course their site didn’t make any mention of the fact that they were also going to be closed on Tuesday this week. So I wasted two hours and burned half a tank of gas driving around north eastern Maryland on Tuesday for no apparent reason. As much as I’ll be the first to tell you that keeping up with a website is a pain in the ass, it seems to me if you’re going to bother to have one, it’s probably worth keeping the information up to date. Otherwise, as in this case, you’ve thoroughly annoyed a cash customer before they even walk through the door. I’ll probably still do business with this outfit because they’ve been recommended to me so highly, but it wouldn’t take much in the way of less than excellent service at this point to send me down the road to the next closest competitor.

2. Email. If anyone is wondering how I spent my first day at work after almost two weeks off, it was largely dedicated to reading, responding to, filing, or deleting 127 emails that rolled in over the Christmas-to-New-Years window. That’s not an exceptionally heavy load – it would have been far worse if I had taken off two weeks in say the middle of the spring. Look, I think it’s cute that there were a few people out there trying to get something done over the last two weeks, but since I wasn’t one of them, it’s going to take me a day or two to get back up to speed. Especially since I wasn’t exactly spending a lot of time pondering what important bit of email I was missing while I was away. Trust me when I tell you that sending me a follow up email the day I get back isn’t going to improve the response you’ll get. In fact it’s just going to make the process work more slowly for both of us. Now that I’m back in the saddle, it’s safe to assume I’ll work your issue in whatever priority it’s given by those elevated to positions higher than mine. In the meantime, have a cookie and get off my ass.

3. Attention span. I don’t know if it’s me or my surroundings, but lately my attention span feels like it’s all of about 37 seconds. That’s great for some things, I suppose, but I’d have a hard time listing what any of those might be. For purposes of reading, writing, or really trying to get anything done with any semblance of speed, it’s really kind of a hassle. I’d hoped that the new year would bring some kind of renewed focus. Unfortunately, it feels a lot like 2013: Part Two in that regard. As always, I’ll muddle through until the glitch works itself out.