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Archive for the category “Customer Service or Lack of”

Tangled In A Computer Maze!

It’s so easy to check out of the mega-store we have in town.  You can go to the line that is self-checkout and scan your own items.  During the transaction the computer voice will tell you what to do next as in “place the item in the bag”,  and when to put your money or card into the machine.  When I am done it actually kicks out the change to me and thanks me in it’s computer animated voice.  I realize that there are many people who love this non personal way of doing business, but I am not one of them.  I like to actually have a person to talk to in the checkout line.  I like to make small talk about how their day is going or items I am buying.  I like to hand my cash or scan my card to or in front of a real person.  I like having my change counted back to me, which by the way is another lost art.  I like to see a smile on the cashiers face when they tell me to have a nice day!  Of course I don’t always get what I like.  There are times that the line is so long and slow that walking through the impersonal machine line is the quickest way. 

Self Service lines offer quick non-personal checkouts

Self Service lines offer quick non-personal checkouts

I suppose the hundreds of companies that use the impersonal computer generated answering devices to answer their phones think they are providing good service also.  I’m sure that they think that people don’t mind listening to a machine if it can get the job done.  I for one find it very annoying.  First of all the machine wants me to type into the phone key pad my account number or phone number.  It seems to me that the computer wants to know everything about me and yet the company cares so little that they want to filter me into a standard answer to get me off of the phone.  Too many times I have got trapped in the computer maze.  Somehow by not clicking the right button I get whisked away into a different program altogether.  It is like getting on a plane and thinking you are going to one destination only to be hijacked to another. 

What about the times that the choice as to why I am calling are not stated?  It may give me four options and none of them are really what I want.  Then to add insult to injury it tries to hurry me along.  “I did not hear a response”, it will say to me in a helpful voice.  The thing may sound helpful, but it is clearly not meeting my needs.  It clearly is trying to push me into the easy out.    The computers job is to get me off of the phone without directly talking to anyone.  Since the companies feel that time is money and the human element uses more time, they try to eleminate the personal, time consuming touch.

Somewhere back there I have learned that the computer has the real people way back in the background.  It’s almost like the old Wizard of Oz thing where I am not supposed to pay attention to the man behind the curtain.  I know he is back there and of course I want to talk to him.  The trick is to trick the computer into letting me talk to a real person.  As long as I am pushing the phone buttons after every question, I find myself falling into the stand pat answer world the computer is pushing me into.  Sometimes I have found that the best way to get someone on the line is to not push any buttons on the phone keypad or utter a single word.  However I have also found at times that this little trick of acting dumb has had the computer hang up on me because I’m not cooperating. 

A couple of days ago we had a big storm come through our section of town.  It was one of the oddest storms I have ever seen.  I would say it lasted at most 15 minutes.  The fifteen minutes though was very intense with high winds, thunder, lightening, and hail.  When the storm was over we discovered a big tree branch was down in the back yard.  It actually came down right around our Direct TV dish and luckily we haven’t had any problems with it.  The front yard had a big tree branch down also.  It would have damaged my sons car except luckily he was away.  My neighbor across the street had a giant tree branch come down and it had damaged his fence.  All around our area we have seen damages.  This was not a tornado and yet the neighbor around the block had a whole large tree totally uprooted!  I have never seen anything quite like it.  Our power flickered but stayed on.  The landline telephone went completely dead. 

The storm created tree damage and telephone problems

The storm created tree damage and telephone problems

The next morning I discovered what to me seemed to be the problem.  A branch was stuck on the wire down by the road.  I assumed that it was the telephone wire.  Calling the phone company I suddenly found myself trapped in the computer answering machine maze.  My son took the phone from me after awhile and said “Agent”, thinking that would get someone on the line.  Unfortunately it didn’t and he started pushing bottons.  Luckily he was able to untangle me from the maze and a customer service rep came on the phone.  It was so nice to be actually talking to a live person.  So many times you get to this point and the computer comes back with the message “all of our customer service agents are busy with other calls”.  “Leave a message or wait for the next available agent”.  This case was different because the lady was on the line ready to help.  I explained to her that I think I knew why our phone was out of service and I told her about the branch on the wire.  She said that she would put the report in.  She told me they could fix the wire but they could not remove any branches on it.  She then stated very emphatically, “if the problem is on the outside there will be no charge, however if it is on the inside you will be billed.  Later that night the phone came back on and someone removed the branch after I called the power company.  The only option that was close to my problem on the power companies computer generated answering machine was option #1 a downed wire.  That seemed to immediately get a customer service representative on the phone as that problem was more of an emergency.  When I mentioned that the wire wasn’t down the sense of urgency faded.  The representative couldn’t promise when the branch would be removed.   “Honestly”, she said, “it may take two or three days”.  Luckily for us her two or three days was just a few hours.

The next morning the phone was out again.  Of course this time my only option was to punch our phone number in and report the trouble via the phone pad.  A few hours later we found that the phone was working again.  Then we received a phone call from the phone company.  It was a service man who said that he would be by in about twenty minutes.  I told him the phone was working again, but he wanted to test the line out.  He showed up and we talked for a little while about the problem.  It seems that I was completely mistaken.  The phone line actually runs underground.  The branch was on the power line only.  His explanation was a simple one and made sense.  Somewhere about three miles from my house is the main outlet for our area.  With the power outage a generator backup was used.  My phone was out while the generator was hooked up originally and it was out when the power came back and they hooked my phone line back to the main power again.  He gave me his number in case anything else came up but he was almost positive that the problem was as he stated.

Talking to this expert confirmed my feelings again of how much I liked personal service! I do like to feel important enough to have things explained to me.  I do like the feeling that someone actually cares and is there to help.  It was nice to have someone explain some of the things I didn’t understand, making me feel wiser and important, while using some old time customer service that companies are forgetting these days!

He hears them all!

He hears them all!

Years ago the pastor of the church I was attending said something that I have never forgotten.  “On any given Sunday there are thousands of church services going on at the same time and in each one people are praying at the same time. Amazingly God can hear every one of those prayers, now that is a pretty big God”!  I’m reminded that God is always there through the good times and bad.  When the storms of life hit us isn’t it nice that we are not put through a computer maze when we call God for assistance?  Isn’t it wonderful that our “small problems” aren’t deflected while God is in the background listening to only the giant problems?  Aren’t you glad that because God is helping someone else at the present time, we don’t have to wait for the next available representative?  Companies these days get so big that they can’t handle individual needs without using the non-caring means of computer technology.  Isn’t it nice to know that your God and mine is so big that he can hear and meet every need individually and at the same time?  These are comforting thoughts when the storms of life have damaged our world!

Representing Christianity

They say the customer is always right.  In reality the customer is often wrong.  Yet somebody way back made a policy for his business that tried to follow this principle.  The principle really breaks down like this.  No matter how far off base or totally wrong the customer is, they are always right.  Why is such an absurd statement treated like gold?  Well in business they determined that it is better to agree with the customer instead of ruffling feathers.  It is better to leave the customer with a favorable impression of your company even if you have to bow to their demands.

I got in trouble one time because of the customer always being right.  As I mentioned before I worked in a famous department store selling clothing for men.  One day I was working the floor alone.  I don’t know if it was thought to be a slow day or what, but here I was an 18 year old kid working the whole department by myself.  As it turned out the place got extremely busy.  Customers were lined up at my register and I was helping one after another.  There was a lady that was interested in buying a suit.  She wanted my help immediately or someone to assist her in finding the right suit.  Since I was the only one there and obviously the policy was to tend to the paying customers first, I couldn’t.  I smiled and told her that unfortunately I couldn’t help her right now.  As I was helping my long line of paying customers this lady apparently ran upstairs to the store managers to offer her complaint of not being helped.  The lady was right.  She deserved to be assisted in her effort to buy a suit.  Why did management only have one person on the floor? The answer to that question didn’t matter and was never answered.  The customer blamed me for not helping her.  In this case an 18 year old kid making close to minimum wage and doing the best that he could took the full hit for the customers dissatisfaction, because as we all know the customer is always right.

Telemarketing can be very annoying as you know.  The call usually goes something like this.  You pick up the phone “Hello”.  There is silence for a few seconds then someone comes on the line.  Mr. Hamilton, yes…and then the sales pitch begins.  My name is so and so from blah blah blah, and on and on they go.  I think the person takes a deep breath and doesn’t breath again until they have at least got through most of their talk.  I know it is a thankless job and most people hang up on them I would imagine.  I realize too that they are playing a numbers game.  They figure if they call so many people one person will say yes to whatever they are selling.  Yet to me this kind of marketing does not leave a favorable impression of their company.

I’ve been considering buying some business cards for this site.  I’m thinking it would be easier to give someone my card instead of always writing down the website.  The first place I checked was a place I could order them online.  I thought their prices seemed very reasonable, but I thought I would try a local place or two where I could meet someone in person.  The first place I visited a middle aged man helped me and he represented his company well.  He basically told me that he could not compete with the online business in price but wished me well.  I visited one more place and a guy in his twenties helped me.  He seemed to have the attitude that I couldn’t get a better deal than what his company offered.  I honestly told him that the prices he was quoting were not in the ball park with the online prices.  He responded by giving me the amount of business cards that his company sold every month.  To be honest that fact did not make any difference to me.  I was interested in a quality product at a price savings!  I didn’t care what everyone else was doing.  If he would have said “I can’t touch their prices, but if you want a quality product and don’t want to go through the internet to order I can help you,” I think I would have left with a better feeling about his company.  In fact I don’t really like the inconvenience of going through the internet.  If he could have made me a competitive offer even if it was a bit more along with his personal service, I probably would have been interested.  Instead I left feeling like i was talked down to.

This past weekend we had to have our car serviced.  Since we were told it might take an hour and a half we decided to walk over to a Burger King close by.  I have to say that this particular Burger King made me smile!  Their employees were very friendly and helpful.  I know it helped that the place wasn’t very busy when we came in.  The girl that rang us up actually stopped back a couple of times to see how we liked our food.  Along with other things we ordered one of their new shakes.  The manager was very friendly and actually sold me on getting the larger size!  It was a pleasant experience to feel that they really cared in a business where so many times it is very impersonal.  Often I’ve found when ordering fast food people are running around trying to fill my order without giving much thought to treating me like a unique person.  This experience was different and it caught my attention and made a very favorable impression of them and Burger King for hiring them!!

I see commercials all of the time promoting  large companies that are in our town.  Millions of dollars are spent for advertising to give their place of business a favorable name.  Yet, you and I have had experiences where one employee of that large multimillion dollar company has either made the company better or worse in our eyes.  My Burger King experience  was brought about by the people who worked in one location that day.  It had nothing to do with the millions of dollars they put out for advertising.  The extra time those employees took  made me feel special and important.  My experience with the second business card company made me feel small.  The salesperson made me feel like I didn’t know what I was talking about and that  he knew it all.  Maybe it was just me but that perception from five minutes in his store left me with a bad taste in my mouth.  It doesn’t matter if his company throws a million dollars into advertising to get me to come back, I won’t.  My experiences and yours are far more powerful than any advertisement.  When we think of doing business with a company, we think about how we were treated by that company in the past.  That one person represented their company in a good or bad way and makes  or breaks how we think about their company.

There are times when I have had a legitimate complaint about a company and the representative knew it.  Yet, they are trained in the felt, found, feel theory.  Their canned statement goes like this.  You know I felt the same way, until I found this and now I feel this way.  In theory it sounds like it should solve every problem.  It also sounds like they are agreeing with you.  After all the customer is always right so agree.  However I’ve found that people can be so fake saying the line that they are trained to say that it comes across as totally fake.  When they say “I know how you feel”, are they saying it with feeling or is it just words?  Do you really believe they know how you feel?  Then there is always the word “but”, as in I know how you feel, but this is company policy.  Somewhere back there the customer is always right has been replaced by the felt, found, feel statement.  It comes down to caring  not just words.  If I feel that someone really cares and are not just sputtering words, I am apt to start or keep a business relationship with their company.  If not I will look somewhere else and recommend that my friends and family go elsewhere too.

As Christians we are representatives for our Lord Jesus Christ.  As his representative I want to shine the best light on who I am representing.  This is not a case of “the customer is always right.”   Many times the people that are looking at how we live are not right.  They realize that there is something missing in their life and are looking for answers.  They are looking for people who are not fake and who walk the talk. They are looking for someone who cares about them and truly loves them.  I may be the only Christian somebody comes into contact with.  With that in mind I can either make Christianity an attractive way to live or I can turn people off.  I am only one person but as we’ve seen one person does make a difference.  The person examining me may be at the turning point of their life.  How I represent may either make or break their decision to accept Jesus.  Do I make them feel small or important?  Do I show that I truly love them and want to give them what I have or does the words I say have no feelings?  It’s very critical that I represent Christianity well because the stakes for my examiners are very high.  They are much higher than what fast food restaurant they will eat at or what business card they will buy.

I’m The Only Jesus They Will See

by Lewis Hamilton
from the book “The Gardener and My Garden” c1997

They will not read the Bible
they’ll go through life their way,
turning off all the preachers
and what they have to say

They will not go to church,
it’s all fake anyhow
Just out to get their money
there’s bills to pay right now

So how then can we reach them
and see a change of heart?
How can they get total freedom
to make a brand new start?

The responsibility is mine,
it’s entirely up to me
Lord help me shed your light today

for I’m the only Jesus they will see.

Join with others in following my
example, brothers, and take note of
those who live according to the
pattern we gave you.

Philippians 3:17

Swipe that Blessing!

Years ago when I was a senior in high school I got a job in a men’s clothing department at a popular department store..  This was before they were doing the scanning like they do today.  The stock number of the item purchased was carefully put into the cash register.  The manager would get a long computer printout once a month.  He would let each employee know how many bad numbers they were responsible for.  The computer cash register at the time would take most of the numbers entered.  If the number was entered wrong it appeared on his end of the month list.  We also entered the customer’s credit cards on the computer cash register.  Sometimes the credit department number would show up on the screen after we entered their number.  At that point we called upstairs and a person actually talked to the customer.

In my corresponding high school class our teacher taught us the skill of counting back money.  The cash register would tell us how much to give the customer back, but we were trained to count the money back to them.  Suppose the amount was $6.65 and the customer gave me a twenty dollar bill.  I would say 6.65 out of 20.  They put their hand out and I counted back the change first.  $6.75 as I handed them a dime, $7.00 with a quarter.  Then the bills 8, 9, 10 as one by one I gave them dollar bills and finally and 20 as I finished the counting with a ten dollar bill.  The customer was always glad to have the money counted back.  It was a friendly service that took a little bit more time but made them feel like they were appreciated.  It also left a good feeling with them that they got back what they were supposed to.

Customer service is a lost art today.  Your change is normally slammed back to you.  “Your change is $13.62 and clump you have all of it change and everything.  Sometimes a machine will kick out your coin change while the cashier is handing you a pile of bills.  I guess it’s right. Her cash register said so.  Off you go with your purchases and a quite impersonal transaction.  I went to an auto parts store last week.  I was looking for one particular item.  I walked up and down most of the aisles and not a soul was there to help me.   The day before Easter I called the bank.  I just wanted to see if they were open and for how long?  Instead of a person who could answer my question in a second I got the dreaded machine.  The first thing it wanted to know was my account number.  When I didn’t comply it tried to get other information.  I thought I would just not say anything and maybe the machine would switch me to a real person.  Not so, the machine actually hung up on me.  This is a sample of high tech customer service we receive today.

Many companies confuse customer service with high tech service today.  As credit and debit cards abound these days it is so much easier to leave the cash behind.  Swiping a card is so much easier and convenient.  It’s also less painful.  There is something about giving that money away even if you are receiving things.  You think about how much you are spending.  With a credit card you just swipe and presto.  It is like in the casinos when you buy chips.  You start spending chips and forget that those chips are actually money.

Credit cards offer convenience, simplicity, and speed.  Other cards that we carry may help us with our memberships, health care, and discounts.  I received a discount offer from a national convenience store that sells gas.  If I didn’t use my card to pay for gas and paid cash I would get 5 cents per gallon off.  I had to decline the offer because the bank was paying me 3% in rewards to use my credit card.  At $4.00 per gallon that comes to 12 cents.  Convenience and savings, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Years ago I wrote a poem called Bless Me Lord.  It symbolizes the card swipe attitude we have in our world today.  Now the symbolic card is used in our relationship with God.  It is impersonal, speedy, and convenient.  Somehow we are surprised when our card doesn’t work.

Bless Me Lord

by Lewis Hamilton

from the book “The Gardener and My Garden” c1997

I have my membership card today
as I come to talk to you
The bless me club has benefits
so here’s my list for you

Lord give me of prosperity,
let troubles pass me by
so things run nice and smooth
until the day I die

I ask you Lord, bless my ideas,
my request here I will lay
so you will see my reasoning
and stamp it A-OK.

Bless also all my family
I know this is legit
It’s right here in this policy
that it’s a benefit

Now I’ll coast through the rest of life
then drive up to your gate,
having my card all ready
there shouldn’t be a wait

I discovered as the days went by
there were problems with my card,
for instead of being nice and smooth
my life was bouncing hard

I called up to the Lord real loud,
Lord, things aren’t getting through
Send someone down to make it right
so I am blessed by you

The Lord spoke to me gently,
In this life you have a choice
You can be in the bless me club
or listen to my voice

I want so badly to use you
but your thinking is in the way
Become an empty vessel
that I can use today

As you listen to my voice today
right here on bended knee
you’ll hear me pleading with you
take up your cross and follow me.

Then he said to them all: “If
anyone would come after me, he
must deny himself and take up
his cross daily and follow me.”

Luke 9:23

Paying the Price for ?

A price to pay

Last night I went to the gym. As I was driving home I realized that I didn’t have my membership identification card. I frantically called the place just as they were closing. The guy put me on hold and came back a few minutes later with news that he wasn’t able to find my I.D. I will go back when they open and re-trace my steps and hopefully find it. If not I will have to pay $25 for replacement costs. Replacing an I.D. is easy. You fill out a form,they take your picture, and you have a new I.D. Doesn’t seem like $25 worth of work.

Some things should be free

This experience has got me thinking about things that aren’t worth what we pay for them. Some things just don’t seem like we should be paying for them at all. Things like water for instance. Yet bottled water is the second most bought beverage behind pop. Another thing that bugs me is buying air at the gas station. Even though it is usually only 25 cents, if anything should be free it should be air!

Overpriced and still going strong

The following items seem overpriced and should be avoided if at all possible. College textbooks, theater popcorn, greeting cards, printer ink, razor blades, brand name clothing, event parking, ATM fees, hidden fees for investments (the ones you see as you scan your monthly account statement), weddings, funerals, and cigarettes (you can’t even die or kill yourself cheaply).

When you don’t get what you deserve

Years ago we hired a lawn service. Our next door neighbors lawn and ours comprised a golf course look. The problem was he had the nice fairway and we had the rough. One day the lawn service came by to spray their monthly chemicals and we weren’t home. The neighbor across the street told me that the guy sprayed the front yard and left. We were paying for both the front and the back yards. When I confronted the company about it they said that their guy couldn’t figure out how to get to the back yard. If our neighbor had not been paying attention, we would have never known that only half of the job was completed. After that inept service we decided to not renew and have never had their service again.

They think you won’t know

Another time we were taking advantage of a coupon deal from a local garage. Free tire balancing and rotation with the purchase of an oil change. When we got the car home we noticed that the tires were not rotated or balanced. The reason we could tell was that one tire on the back was very low going in. We noticed that the same tire was still low and it had not been rotated.  I have also been told that labor charges on cars are sometimes charged from the time the car is on the rack, not the amount of time your car is actually getting worked on!

The price of my time

We had an incident last year with an oil changing from a different company. We took the car in and the attendant looked over his schedule. “We can have you done in an hour”, he stated. It seemed like a long wait, but we decided we would walk to the local coffee place. After over an hour we came back and our car was still sitting where we parked it. We went to a store within walking distance and came back another hour later. Still our car was sitting right where we parked it.  At that point we were thinking about leaving.  However, after all of the time invested we decided to wait. We waited another hour until finally they pulled our car in. Ten minutes later we had our car back in maybe the longest wait for an oil change in history.  Afterwards the guy was trying to apologize as we were walking out the door. “Sorry about the wait”, he said. “We had a brake job that took more time than we thought and your car was delayed”.  No mention of a coupon for next time, nor a statement like “this one is on us”.  I was speechless as we left and decided never to give that place our business again!

A company actually outsmarted itself!

One time I think a company outsmarted itself! I discovered on a hot summer day that my windows would not go down. As you can imagine it was a major problem for a car whose air conditioner wasn’t working either. I took it into this business and three hours later I received a call. “Your wiring is all messed up. There are broken wires and tangled wires etc.” You are going to need a complete wiring overhaul. He quoted me a price of $525.00. I told him that I would pick up the car without repair. I headed over without hesitation and took the car home. Later I had to go to the store. I got so hot that instinctively I pushed on the button for the window. To my happy surprise the window went down. I tried the other windows and they all worked! I figure that the business must have repaired my wires (one might have become disconnected) and decided to charge me big time. The only thing that saved me was that I didn’t opt for their repair. At that point it was probably too late to undo what they did.

Here is my wallet

A couple of weeks ago I saw a commercial from a phone company. I don’t remember the name of the phone company, so the commercial failed.  I do remember  a mystery person taking a guys wallet and emptying it for expenses he owed a generic rival phone company.  It was filled with big bills and he took most of them! Actually taking is not the word I should use.  The victim was on the phone and just casually handed the mystery person his wallet.  He wasn’t surprised or startled at all, when he was handed an almost empty wallet back. We have become so conditioned to higher prices that we don’t flinch either.  We just figuratively hand over our wallets!

You will count the cost

You may wonder how you can avoid these expensive expenses?  The answer is you can’t avoid all of them.  There are times that you will need an item on the list or other expensive items I failed to mention.  You will need to pay a premium price!  You will pay it because you will have counted the cost and decided that having the item at that price is worthwhile.

God’s price wasn’t free

When Jesus came and died for our sins he made salvation free to us.  The free part creates a problem in our thinking, because of how we are conditioned. We are taught that if it is free it is cheap.  Yet, we have to realize that the price was not free!  Jesus paid an enormous price, his life.  The gift to us is free, like someone buying a mansion and telling you that they put it in your name!

He counted the cost and gave his gift anyway

Jesus fills in the question mark in my title because he paid the price for us!  We wonder at times, where is our money going? Jesus knew exactly what he was paying for!  He counted the cost and decided to pay it!  His gift is more valuable and precious than any gift we have or ever will receive! It is a gift we should embrace, accept, and be thankful for because it was bought with his blood.  Although the gift is free to us, it is very valuable, worth more than all of the money in the world!

Found: Missing I.D

As a footnote to this story I went back to the gym today and found my I.D.  I guess everything happens for a reason and the reason for my temporarily lost I.D  seems to be the story you just read!

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