Archive for December, 2008

Very Good Customer Service

December 29, 2008

Target Pharmacy, at least the one in Apple Valley, is terrific.  They have often gone above and beyond the call of duty to help esp. my wife with insurance issues.

But even for me, the head pharmasist knows me by name (and asks about my wife); he a personable and knowledgeable guy and we deeply appreciate the work they do.

That is all.  (Isn’t that enough?)


  • a company should hire and retain employees with people-skills, and train everyone in that area
  • one positive person makes a difference in any environment
  • good reviews don’t get re-told nearly often enough, so I’m trying to do my part
  • in a day and age when switching stores/brands/anything is very easy, a smile goes as far as any “rewards program” in creating loyalty
  • even when it is not possible to resolve problems (and some things can’t be fixed), at least a sympathetic reply is nicer than cold hard policy;  “a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down…”

Customer Service — good and bad

December 29, 2008

Update! 04-Dec-09 I wrote this almost a year ago, now, and it gets the most visits (I’ve written more: about functional programming, and even another customer service story); maybe I need to mention high profiles search keywords more often to generate more traffic to my blog…

I don’t mean to make this blog just a cathartic experience for me, so I’m actually going to offer “advice” on customer service, but first the story.  This is a long post, so if you want to just scan down to the underlined points, and the bullet list, feel free.

Over the holidays, I was involved with the following incident: my mother placed an order with Current, Inc.  [I’m thinking check blanks, or cards or some such, but I don’t even know what it was for certain — it doesn’t matter.]

At some point (after the 19th, but before Christmas Eve), she called to check on the status.  Where was it?  When would it arrive?  She was told it was at the Brooklyn Parks processing center on the 19th, so she was expecting it “any day now.”  That’s all well and good, but it never came — she checked the mail on Christmas Eve and found nothing, then she called the post office on Friday, the 26th, to see if she needed to come in the one hour they were open.  They didn’t have it, but could find out where it was if she had a tracking number.  She called back with the order number from Current — which didn’t help.  At this point, I intervened, seeing what was going on, I had her call Current and get a USPS tracking number (after confirming that, yes, it was sent thru the postal service).  Using that, and going to their web site, we found that it never started, much less that it was due to arrive on any date.

Track and Confirm screenshot

Track and Confirm screenshot

I’ve seen this before.  It basically means that the Post Office was told it would receive a package, but never did (Or at least, won’t confirm it).

So now, we called Current back, but after getting nowhere, mom was going to hang up; at that point, I said, “let me talk to them.”

This is where the story goes south.  The agent I spoke to didn’t know there was a USPS tracking number; it took me a while to understand (I thought) that she was using the internal [to Current] tracking program and it was saying it “left Brooklyn Park on the 19th.”  After I quoted to her the tracking number that the previous agent gave us, she realized that the “shipping number” (or some such tag) was really the USPS tracking number!  Get that?  I told her, about their own system.

God bless my wife, she sat down beside me before I completely lost my temper and just suggested that I ask for a supervisor.  Those are magic words, usually, and typically you get to talk to someone who understands or can do something, but at least has some authority.  Well, before you know it, the agent came back and said that the supervisor authorized her to refund the money or re-ship the order.  Interestingly, she didn’t seem to want to let me talk to that supervisor, but I persisted.

I pointed out to Pam (the supervisor) that customer service isn’t doing a good job when I understand more than the agent (at least about tracking numbers), but she made the point that (and I’m trying to be accurate here, but I don’t understand) they use a Fed Ex program (??) to track USPS shipping, and they can determine that our shipment actually made it to a Postal Service drop center [in Brooklyn Park] (would that I had known that!).  Also, Pam seemed unaware (or didn’t care) that the post office web site was giving me incomplete information, or info that I understood to mean they never got the package.  This she could have determined herself by five seconds on the Internet (doing the same Track & Confirm request that I did).

Finally, Pam seemed to express understanding, and offered to have the package express shipped.  (Win!  Nice save by a supervisor — that’s what they should alway do.)  Now, if I find out they’re going to try and charge us for that service, I’m going to be PO’ed all over again.

At the end of the day, there are three lessons to learn

  1. Customer Service should be well-trained.  The customer should not know more than anyone at the company.(*)
  2. Since they’re going to be dealing with frustrated people to begin with, a little training in relational skills would go a long way — this is not just for Current, Inc. but a lot of companies that make the mistake of thinking they can save a few bucks by outsourcing customer service.  The ill will created outweighs any “benefit” of money-saving.
  3. You’d better have your relationship with external vendors (shippers, or whatever) down to a science, and know what to do when there’s a snafu long before anything goes wrong.  When talking to a customer, I recommend taking the blame yourself, or at least admitting someone goofed, then dealing with that third-party separately/privately.

(*) I got a call at my desk the other week from someone looking to buy the [services] of [my company].   It doesn’t matter who I work for, or what they were seeking.  Now, I work in IT, not business, not customer service, not public relations.  But I was at least smart enough to answer, politely, “I don’t have that info, but I will track down what you want and have someone call you back [today].”  Usually, it’s just the typical, “I’m looking for so-and-so [who may have been at this extension previously, or I mis-dialed, or don’t know their number].”  And I’m quick to say, “if you give me a callback number, or some contact, I will track that down.”  But this was a first.

Point is, although I didn’t know the answer, I was pretty sure someone (inside the company) would, and I didn’t have to say, “I dunno!”  And that is not what I should answer anyway.  If I don’t know, I could at least make an effort to find out, before giving up.  And I’m in IT, for crying out loud.  This is not part of my usual job description.  Even so, I knew better than to give the I-don’t-give-a-rip,  It’s-not-my-job answer, because as soon as I’m talking to someone outside the company (and, in reality, even if I’m talking to someone inside), I’m presenting an image and re-presenting a corporate entity that has a reputation that I’d like to enhance, not tarnish.  Would that everyone remember that, and act accordingly!

A final lesson (and this not to Current, who redeemed themselves somewhat, but more to other companies, that people have told me stories about): in this day and age, when anyone can express their opinion to the world without much difficulty, it would be wise of any company to consider the ramifications of angering customers, or potential customers.

But even if it were not the case that blogs and social media web-sites can spread sour stories around the globe and amplify reputations, both positive and negative, a positive corporate image is a valuable thing, and a company would do well to teach all their employees to treat every customer as if they would bring in or drive out a hundred people.  I once heard the statistic that a positive experience gets told to one other person, and a negative experience [with a company] gets told to eleven!

Starting Blogging

December 29, 2008

A friend shared this link.

I’m not sure blogging is so much a commitment as an addiction — for me, it’s just an extension of FaceBook, and Twitter (hence the name: you can write longer “notes” in facebook, but this forum gives me more liberty).

Blogging, for me, for now, is just writing, if enough people comment and reply and respond, then it may be more, but if you don’t say anything to me, I’ll just say what I feel like…

As for a “crowded space” — well, yeah, but I’m only writing for a few, and those who don’t read every blog out there (I don’t and can’t either, but I have decided to pick and choose; if you pick my blog to read, I thank you.)

I’m not blogging, yet, for profit, but that may come later (and I hope I don’t lose or gain readers because of that), but it is a starting point — for what all, I’m not sure, but I’ll let you know when I get there.

I started blogging because I listened to this podcast of Six Pixels of Separation, (here is the archived “story”) which referenced this video, which was pretty motivating.

P.S.  This is not the entry I meant to write: I have three more others.
First/next: Customer Service — the good and the bad;
Then: “Writing Without Adverbs”;
and finally: a response to the functional programming video and more comp. sci. stuff

… and a bio. for my facebook friends (some of whom I have not spoken to in about a decade!)

Bible Literacy

December 24, 2008

I ordered Eggs Benedict and they served it on a hubcab — I guess it’s true: there’s no plate like chrome for the hollandaise

Okay, that’s not what I set out to write.  Here are a few lines to follow up on the last post (these are from the NIV, and I confess I looked them up):

  1. In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted
    (not from the beginning, but still unique to a book, and perhaps more well known, at least to me)
  2. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth
  3. An oracle: the word of the Lord to Israel thru [my messenger]
  4. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
  5. A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
  6. Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us….  Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus,
  7. In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God
  8. In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was _____.  This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.
  9. In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son
  10. (extra credit.  the hardest, I think)  The elder,
    To the children, who I love in the truth—and not I only, but also all who know the truth—because of the truth, which lives in us and will be with us forever:
  11. The Lord spoke to Moses in the Tent of Meeting in the Desert of Sinai on the first day of the second month of the second year after the Israelites came out of Egypt.  He said: “Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one.” 

(Note: I don’t know that I would have gotten all of these; do you know others that you think should be known chapter and verse?)

Literary Lines

December 23, 2008

This idea is from an old Reader’s Digest quiz — I don’t remember when, but the concept stuck with me.

How many first lines or last lines (or “middle lines” for that matter) of good literature can you recognize and name (and continue)? Not all of them are books, but should be known.

  1. “Call me Ishmael.”
  2. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
  3. “Four score and seven years ago…”
  4. “Arms I sing, and a man.”
  5. “We hold these truths to be self evident.”  (bonus — this is not the first line, do you know it?)

I will be adding to this off and on over Christmas and thru the New Year — post comments of lines you think should be here, and some more difficult ones, if you know them (these I just did off the top of my head, or “from the front of my face” as my highschool math teacher would say.)

Update: What got me thinking about this again, was my brother, who used the second half of this line:

“Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore

And I don’t think there’s any line of this that isn’t recognizable, but the least known may be this: “more rapid than eagles, his coursers they flew // he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name”  [“Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen”]

A Blog for Christmas

December 19, 2008

Here is a blog for the Christmas holiday, to remember what the season is all about.  

Be sure to read the posts for the entire month!

Functional Programming

December 19, 2008

Dr. Dobb’s Journal this month features an article about functional programming.  I haven’t read it all, but this is the third reference at least to learning such.

Besides the news article I can’t find now, there the info below (from Microsoft) (the basic premise of the news story was this: chipmakers now say it’s up to software to continue the progress of Moore’s law.  Not quite, since that refers specifically to transistor size/cost, but the advantages of such won’t be available until programs get better at utilizing them.  And the best way to do that is a paradigm shift: functional programming.)

I haven’t yet defined functional programming; for now, go along with me (I might explain at the end).  I watched this video (the first twenty minutes, anyway — I know, I know, that’s a long time, but I think it pays off about fifteen minutes in, really) and then I was hooked, so I had to investigate other things.  (I should probably respond to a few aspects of the video abve that I agree and disagree with, check back later to see if I do.)

Turns out that F# is Microsoft’s version of ML, like C# is MS Java.

I downloaded and installed OCaml, and started learning, but I was trying to figure out a good, non-trivial demo/sample program.  If you have any good ideas, let me know.

Definition of Functional Programming

This is as good as any I’ve seen.  It’s more in-depth and historical than I would’ve been.  The summary is this: functional programming involves only “final” variables (once set, a value never changes; everything is constant [i.e. x = x+1 is as meaningless as it is to a mathematician]; functions have no side-effects, etc.)

Debugging is easy, algorithms are more difficult to design, but can be more efficient, and implemented more easily on a parallel architecture, and there are other benefits (see the post for details).

Secondly, I found a paper that, in the conclusion, says that functional programming provides benefits by two key aspects: higher-order functions and lazy evaluation.

I invite comments, and I will incorporate them as appropriate and respond to any interesting or significant issues raised.


December 18, 2008

I’m late to the game, as always. (“I’ll probably be late to my own funeral!  St. Peter is going to have to hold open the Pearly Gates.”)

But to start with, here is the “top ten” links that I always check:

My Earthlink — “original” ISP, now just my e-mail provider, but this is my “first” homepage

iGoogle, Reader — my 2ndary “homepage”, and my preferred RSS aggregator.

Backflip Daily Routine — nothing even approaching “daily” but BackFlip is a nice bookmarking site. I used it long before (they changed their domain name — now no longer the interesting URL it was…)

My Mensa page — basically just a short-cut to Hotmail to check the Grammar Police e-mail list., twitter and facebook (see my about page to find me there!)

I will get to posting about subjects shortly (maybe tomorrow).  First up: functional programming!

Hello, world!

December 17, 2008

I’m just starting a blog for all those things that take more than 140 characters (ala twitter, or plurk, or several other sites) to express myself…

I have too many interests to declare a focus here, but I intend to write about the English language, computer programming, (astro-)physics, psychology (under the influence of my wife) and anything else that I find interesting (hope you do, too).