Thursday, October 27, 2011

Please visit my other blog: Live Your Love Out Loud

Thank you so much for reading this blog. It has been an awesome way to turn a professional back ground and my pet peeve into something positive and constructive. Please read my other blatherings at my Live Your Love Out Loud blog, where I post daily often.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Help Found: Kashi Foods

My dog Steve was decidedly pleased when I got the mail today. This is a picture of him with a Kashi TLC Pita Crisp. We got a WHOLE BOX OF CRACKERS in the mail today!!! Yippee! (Note: some of my friends get free beds, trips, cards and clothes....but I have to say I am pretty stoked with free snack foods! (My caboose isn't this...*ahem*...luxurious from salads y'all!)

I LOVE all things Kashi. We have eaten most every cereal, cracker and cereal bar they put out. We signed up online to get the newsletter and any freebie surprises. I have received free coupons for anything they offer a coupon for, along with four or five additional $1.50 coupons for my friends. I always sometimes share them with my actual friends. Never have I received a whole real full size box in the mail from them. (Perfect with a Three Floyd's beer!) I don't know if they are all that different from their awesome TLC "Tasty Little Cracker" line, but they sure are awesome. Of course, they should come in cheddar.

Kashi offers excellent customer service in both their culture and marketing campaigns. Their website, packaging and branding is very clear in what they are offering and how much they value their customers. For example, I already buy their food and they keep sending me generous coupons. Their products are not only (truly) healthy and made of real food, but they feel friendly too. Can a cracker or cereal feel friendly? You betcha. My pita crackers are a'smilin' at me right now, gotta go eat 'em now...Steve the dog only gets that one. I wonder if I can hide them from should share them with my husband and daughters?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Help WANTED & FOUND: Hormel vs. Tyson Pot Roast

We do not buy much processed food. I'm a big fan of Michael Pollan's book Food Rules and so we strive to eat real food and cook most of it ourselves. Except when we go for fast food naughtiness too often. (Ahem, I digress.)

At any rate, one night when my brain was scrambled and dinner was NOT going to happen without some help from my husband John, he went to the grocery store for us. John chose a pot roast from the refrigerated section. A POT ROAST! You know, the food item your Grandma makes on Sunday afternoons because it takes hours to do it right? Well this one took a few minutes in the microwave, and was so delicious we scraped our plates and I was a little angry there was not more of it. I was THRILLED, mortified and stunned about how easy it was. Since the ingriedient label wasn't as long, complicated and gross as one might imagine, I decided we would buy this again sometime as soon as possible.

A few days later we were in the grocery store and I was looking for the pot roast. I was a woman on a mission. We got it home and when I cooked it, it didn't smell as good as I remembered and didn't look very appealing. I asked my husband if he'd shredded it or something to make it look so yummy the other time, and he said "Not really". I tried shredding it a bit but it wasn't real tender like I remembered and didn't smell like pot roast in my food fantasies. When I plated it and we sat down to eat I took one bite and was grossed out. It tasted like wet chunk dog food smells. I was mortified. I didn't eat it. I rarely let food sit idle around me, so you must understand this was A BIG DEAL. I was so disappointed. My husband did eat his, but he sure didn't come after my serving. We talked at length and figured it must have been a different brand of pot roast we bought the first time.

I actually got online after dinner and we figured out the pot roast my husband bought was HORMEL Pot roast with au jus. The nasty pot roast that was everything you would expect from a microwavable meat item was Tyson. I'm remembering the difference by the "T" T is for terrible, and the Tyson pot roast was TERRIBLE.

I was so disgruntled I called Tyson ("dinner made easy") to complain. I talked to David on 6/14/11 at 4:19 EST. I asked if they had an au jus version of their pot roast, he said they did not. I explained that we rarely buy processed food but my husband had brought home a packaged roast beef in au jus and we LOVED it and meant to buy it again. I said we bought a Tyson roast which was packaged similarly but was unappealing to look at and was so nasty tasting I didn't even eat, and I am not a girl who misses meals. He asked what exactly was wrong with it. I said it tasted like dog food. Which it did. He thanked me curtly for my feedback and said "I appreciate your feedback and will report it." End of call! No apology, no refund, nada. I guess they aren't just missing quality and flavor, but customer service as well.

I went to the Hormel web site and was pleased to find the right pot roast. I was also happy to read this:

"From microwave to plate in just four minutes and now with no preservatives, Hormel® refrigerated entrees are the centerpiece of a hearty, nutritious family meal! Just combine one of our entrees with your favorite side dish to help build a convenient meal in minutes."

This information made me feel pretty good about using Hormel brand of processed food in a pinch.
I emailed Hormel ("Life better served") through their website right after my Terrible Tyson phone call. Here it is:

"I LOOOOVED your beef roast, we rarely buy packaged food and my husband bought this. Meant to buy it AGAIN the NEXT WEEK but accidentally bought Tyson's beef roast. It was ugly looking and so nasty I didn't even eat it. When I called to complain I was curtly thanked and that was the end of the offer for refund or apology etc. I am a customer service blogger and cannot WAIT to write this one."

I got kind of a blase form letter reply in my email the next day. For as fabulous as their pot roast is, I would like to see a little more personality in their customer service interactions. Here is their response:

Mrs Novak,

We appreciate your taking the time to contact us with your compliment on HORMEL® Beef Roast Au Jus.

We continually strive to achieve the highest quality possible in our products. It is nice to hear from consumers who feel we have met this goal and appreciate our efforts.

Thank you for your comments.


Consumer Response Representative

Ref # 2061120

I guess when your pot roast is that good what more do you need? Well, I would have loved a coupon or something. Especially since I wasted seven or eight dollars on their competitor's 'meat'. I would have been over the moon with a measly little coupon. Great customer service is about more than just responding quickly or having a solid, desirable product. Having a satisfied customer isn't enough, you want to have Raving Fans! Hormel could have made me a raving fan of their COMPANY not just their one food item. It was a missed opportunity to do a little more and gain a lot in the way of brand loyalty from a customer. I still like them, but I'm not in love. (It's not you, it's me.) We will buy the Hormel Beef Roast Au Jus again, but we aren't running to the store this time. Even though their seductive meaty deliciousness still calls me. Mmmm. I'm once again gun shy of processed foods and look forward to attempting to make my own grass fed pot roast in the crock pot at home. I sure hope I earn Raving Fans!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Help WANTED: The Apple Store, University Park Mall

The Apple Computer Store: Heaven or Hell?

Some of you see this modern technology store as a holy place worthy of a pilgrimage. Well let me tell you, I pilgrimaged and it isn't Heaven. Maybe Hell is a bit harsh...but let me share the customer service experience I had this week.

My husband has turned me into a Mac person more because he knows a lot more about these sorts of things than I do. I think the branding of Mac as hip and cool is super effective. As a Mac user I feel ten years younger and twenty pounds thinner not to mention MUCH smarter just because I use a Mac. But here is where I am not thrilled: The customer service at the telephone level.

I had called a few days earlier and set an appointment at the Apple store at University Park Mall in Mishawaka, Indiana for 12:15pm Thursday June 30th to have our iMac G5 looked at. It was NOT performing whatsoever despite my hubs efforts to do all the stuff we can do to make it work usually. They asked my name and maybe my telephone number. I was surprised they didn't ask what was wrong with it, but I think I prattled about that to them anyway even if they didn't ask.

This was my Thursday: Pack up and load my six month old baby and two and half year old daughter into the car at 9:30am (right after taking the baby to the doctor for her six month visit and shots, I may add.) Drive one hour and some on the toll road spending three bucks to get to the store. I had spent considerable conversational effort with my friend Maggie who was going to watch my kidlets while I dragged the computer into the mall. The time change meant after arriving I was an hour behind which made everything trickier. We decided she would meet me in the mall and I would wear the baby to the store while her toddler played with mine in the mall play area.

As I put the baby on, got the boxed computer out of the car (my fabu husband kept the original box, not sure what I would have done otherwise!) and balanced the toddler out of her car seat with one hand I realized I could not carry the computer through the mall...too heavy and bulky. So I got the tiny folding umbrella stroller out which the toddler cried to ride in, balanced the computer box on it and proceeded into the mall at an embarrassing and traffic stoppingly slow pace. I was sweating, the toddler was crying, and the baby spit up all over me and the carrier. We had not even entered the mall yet.

We finally made it to the Apple store...all five of us after hooking up with my pal and her son. What I really liked about the store and the employees is they had a kid level table and chairs and computer stations right by the front which our tots ran to. I was greeted right away, they took the computer from me (WHEW!) and when I asked if I had time to find a bathroom, they offered theirs....which was hidden behind super cool stainless steel doors next to the service counter. I asked if all of us could go, the hip computerista said "Do whatever you have to do!" So we all went into the secret hallway and used the facilities happily. When we came out it was just a few more minutes before I was called up to the computer bar. The baby threw up on me again. It hit the floor with a wet splat and I apologized to Katie who had called me to the counter. She was gracious and kind about it which I really appreciated. It is gross enough to wear baby hurl like perfume, worse still to have it dispensed on private property.

Katie looked at our computer's serial number and plugged it into her system. She frowned and turned to me with a genuinely concerned look on her face. "I am so sorry to tell you this, but your G5 is six years old, and we are not allowed to work on anything that is older than five years, it is considered vintage."


You know the slow motion montage you see in some movies where the protagonist climbs over the counter and throttles someone as a fantasy but in real life they just stand there dumbfounded and some shade of irate? That was me. Katie was so kind and concerned about it I wasn't irate, but I was super unhappy. I said to her, "Katie, I know this is not your fault...but I have just driven over an hour with two tiny babies, had a friend come with her small child to meet me and help, dragged this computer in here and now you cannot help me?" She gave me a card (Katie Holt: Genius) and jotted down the info for a computer place in town that could work on my machine, Pixel Creek Technologies. It was all the way across town by the airport. My plan had been to hang out waiting for the computer if need be with my girlfriend who lives near the mall and nowhere near the airport. I turned, near tears and fuming, towards the door.

Katie then did the best thing ever: she offered to have Azeem carry the computer back out to the car for me! "ABSOLUTELY!" I said. Now THAT was excellent customer service. It only partially redeemed the situation for me, however. As I left the store with my entourage I realized one basic, simple, obvious question could have averted this awful experience. One simple question that seems would be standard for any person calling Apple with technology issues. One question would have saved us all: What kind of Mac are you bringing in?

I hope Apple adds this no brainer question into their telephone exchanges in the future. My Mac may make me thinner, younger and smarter, but I expect more too. I expect not to have the day I had again. I won't sell off my kids, so my only hope to never have this happen again is that Apple learns to ask more questions before my young, skinny, smart self straggles into their store again.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Help FOUND: Menard's, Valparaiso

Help FOUND through Assistant General Manager Ron Potter at Menard's in Valparaiso, IN

We bought this grill with some yard sale proceeds and were excited to return to our charcoal grilling foodie heaven!

It was on sale, nice sized and good lookin'! My dear Husband battled with some shlocky hole alignments in putting it together, but other than family entanglements expected with two tiny kidlets, assembly was timely. We used it for the first time on Father's Day. (If you must know, we grilled onion burgers. Yup, they were tasty.) What left a bad taste in our mouths was the top of the grill on which the paint peeled up. We are not idiots, we didn't light a huge fire and close the grill or anything...this was just a shoddy product. A shoddy product that we paid cash for since we live debt free. A shoddy product for which we threw away the receipt, not expecting this would need to be returned.

The booklet for "The Original Outdoor Cooker" charcoal grill insisted that "Should you encounter any problem(such as the top of the grill peeling up after one use) or obtain replacement parts CONTACT US FIRST Do not return product to the store."

I called the company phone number and left two different messages along with my story and contact information on Friday June 24 and Tuesday June 28. Surprisingly, have not heard back from the company.

After reading grilling recipe articles in our local NWI Times newspaper I began to resent the fact we would not be grilling this fine Fourth of July weekend. I thought even without a receipt and even though we paid in cash (Menard's will happily look up and replace a lost receipt from a credit or debit card transaction) I would at least call and see if they could help.

I usually find better help for sticky customer service situations when I talk to an employee or manager in person. Unfortunately with two babies and the large item in question I didn't think I was up for the challenge. I called Menard's and asked to speak with the manager on duty. I spoke with Ro-- I tried to clarify, Rob or Rod? He said RON! I think we both laughed. Maybe it was just me? I explained the whole evil grill saga and Ron (Ron Potter, I found out later) not only said they could offer store credit at sale price without a receipt, but he took the time to look up all grill transactions under the SKU I gave him, found ours and even told me we bought the grill at 3:43pm Saturday June 4th!

Ron said Menard's could give us our full purchase price with the "Transaction Inquiry" he printed out. We established that he would leave it at the Office Manger's desk up front and I could get it anytime today to do a return. I was so happy with this result that I told him I was a customer service blogger and I could feel a blog coming on. Ron laughed and said "This is what I get paid to do, I don't need accolades!" I asked if I could send the blog link to anyone and he did say on the Menard's website there was a customer comments area, so I will send this there too.

So many employees can help their customers like Ron Potter helped me, but they choose not to. They either do not care or aren't empowered enough in their work to make the extra effort that makes a difference. It may be true Mr. Potter just didn't want to see a crazy lady with two babies screaming and crying and dragging a big broken grill through the store...but I'd prefer to think he just likes to do everything he can to help people in ay situation he is in. Thank you Ron Potter, because of you my husband thinks I am awesome and we will be grilling this weekend...wanna stop by?

(Of course the full story will continue after I bring the behemoth of a grill into the store...stay posted for updates!)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Help FOUND: Michael's Craft Store

Help Found: Michael's Craft Store
By Heather Curlee Novak

We moved to Valparaiso a year ago, but the basement and garage look like we have yet to unpack. Among the little often overlooked chores were several art pieces I had purchased over the years but never framed or hung up. One inspired morning (After six years or longer per piece.) I finally drug out all that needed to be framed in our home.

My previous professional framing experience was Hobby Lobby, which I love, but everything always cost fifty dollars. Three small things framed: fifty dollars. One poster framed: fifty dollars. And it took two trips because I had to go back and pick up my completed pieces a week or two later. Which now meant hauling tiny tots in with me and carrying them and my work out again. So you may see my reluctance to take four items in to Michael's to get them framed. I towed along my sleeping infant and charming two year old to finally get this nagging "to do" TO DONE!

Megan S. whom I later discovered is the Frame Department Manager helped me. I explained that cost was a concern, but shared what I was looking for in terms of style and size. She deftly escorted me to several locations to find their selection of frames that would fit my pieces without needing a custom fit or the cost of a custom fit. She also showed the frames that were on sale...cha ching! When I found a rustic wood frame and asked her to help me find glass and backing for it, She came through again. Megan showed me a comparable frame for much less and everything was together already. This was much better for me, because let's be honest, when am I going to find or make time to piece the frame parts together myself?

Megan even trimmed two pictures down for me to help fit them better in the pre made frames for a couple of bucks. All in all I spent less than thirty minutes and less than $45 for all four items. I complimented Megan and told her I planned to write about her awesome customer service. That is when she said she was the department manager. I can see she earns her position there, and I won't be surprised when someone tries to hire her to even bigger and better work. Thank you Megan, for caring about me, and for caring about what your work says about you. Frame on!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Help FOUND: Sally's Beauty Supply

I am a fake redhead. I've been a fake redhead for about 20 years and most every month of those years I have colored it red my very own self. I love salon color and know it is better in every way, but I just rarely have the budget for it when I know I can do a fair second for so much less. I have even tried beauty school color but it is just too hit or miss for me. Besides, I can color my hair in my own bathroom as my two bitty kidlets sleep instead of hiring a sitter and scheduling everything to go to have it colored by professionals. So I slack.

Recently I gawked at a beauteous head of red red red hair as we dropped our kids off at the YMCA to go work out. I said, "Please tell me that is not natural, and then tell me where you get it done!" The pretty lady laughed and said, "Actually I work at a salon, Vanis, here in Valparaiso." We talked and I struggled not to ask to touch her red hair like I did before when I had hair lust."

I plan to check Vanis out for my next haircut, but I still cannot seem to budget fifty bucks or more for color. For some reason this exchange with the firey faux redhead jogged my memory that I could buy professional hair color to use at home at Sally Beauty Supply! I also remember the only other time I bought hair color from Sally Beauty Supply I ended up with purple hair my first year in college! I now know not to do the violet reds. I was young then. I got very excited and couldn't wait to get in there and see what they had to offer.

On June 6 about 6:00pm a friend dropped me off to pick my car up from the mechanic and I decided to run a "quick kid free" errand to Target since my husband was home with the kids. Then of course I decided to "quickly" pop into Sally's and look at their color. I was trying to hurry and wasn't sure if I would get what I needed before my husband had to call to see if I was ever coming home.

The clerk Kirsten greeted me and asked if I needed help. Did I ever! I quickly babbled all of my information out and she easily and happily helped me find everything I needed in a super fast amount of time. I also asked about color depositing shampoos since red fades quickly and we have hard water to boot. She guided me to the shampoos but then mentioned her boss used a hair glaze when she was a redhead. She went to wherever that was and grabbed a tube to show me...I have no idea where she got it from because she did all the questing. It looked perfect (and cheaper than the shampoo & conditioner I would have purchased)

Shopping at Sally's and being helped by Kirsten actually felt like my gal pal and I were shopping together, not a clerk offering customer service! I was very pleased with Kirsten's customer service...she helped me with everything I needed and did it FAST. As you can see from my hair color drama I needed help, and I found it!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Help WANTED: Buck's Shoe Repair, Valparaiso, IN PART TWO

NOTE: This is a review of the OLD BUCK"S Shoe Repair. As of Fall 2011 new owners have taken over and the store looks great and the folks are attentive and personal...I cannot wait to have a reason to go in there again!

Help WANTED: Buck's Shoe Repair, Valparaiso, IN PART TWO
By Guest Blogger Sharon Angelina

(If you missed part one of this hilarious and harrowing tale of terrible service please check out yesterdays' Part One!)

(continued from yesterday)
I would have interrupted, but never did find a polite pause in their important conversation to do so. I coughed, cleared my throat, insinuated myself in FRONT of Mr. Customer, and plopped my bag of boots on the counter. Finally, in one grand irritated gesture, Mr. Buck gave me a quick scowl, swished a customer repair ticket out of his chest pocket, growled, "Fill this out," and resumed his deep conversation.

That was enough. I said "NO, I just want to know if these can be fixed." I reached in and grabbed the broken heeled boot, and handed it to him, as I began to explain I only wanted an opinion. My explanation was cut short. He took, literally, less than three seconds, flexed the heel quickly, and said "Nope, busted, can't do it. Supports gone, 'll never hold," and tossed it back at me across the counter.

This infuriated me. And surprised and confused me. I didn't know which to feel first, or to feel more. I was the only other customer...I had a question... Was this even a shop? Had I invaded someone's home? I grabbed the boot, turned, and marched out, trying to slam the door behind me, but at the last instant I decided to preserve my dignity. I only slammed the door in my mind. Really hard. I wanted to open it again and yell "This shop sucks!" and then slam the door. But again, dignity. In my mind.

And the sad thing is, I got the boots fixed--they were totally fixable, and they were fine, I wore them, I think, twice-- but I can't remember where I got them fixed. Whoever it was did a great job. And they were polite to me. But ironically, I only remember that crap service I got at Bucks. Buck's rhymes with sucks. And they do.

WOW! I couldn't believe this story. Sharon tells it with a humorous bent, but I believe this is what happened and yet...I cannot believe this is what happened. I know the draw to small shops of any flavour is the folksiness of the service and conversation. The personal relationships with the owners and employees vs. the stereotypical name tagged zombie masses of the big box stores. Can there be too much relationship and not enough customer service? Apparently so. Like any good cocktail party guest, a small business owner or employee engaged in a more personal conversation should always seek to acknowledge and draw in the newcomer. Even quick eye contact, a smile and a "Hello!" would have increased Sharon's threshold for service immensely. I have not heard anything good about this shop, there was even an uncomplimentary article in the Times. This is disappointing since it is a short walk from my house and our family definitely used a shoe repair shop in our last town.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Help WANTED: Buck's Shoe Repair, Valparaiso IN (PART ONE)

NOTE: This is a review of the OLD BUCK"S Shoe Repair. As of Fall 2011 new owners have taken over and the store looks great and the folks are attentive and personal...I cannot wait to have a reason to go in there again!

Help WANTED: Buck's Shoe Repair, Valparaiso IN
Sharon Angelina, Guest Blogger & commentary by Heather Curlee Novak

This one came in to me loooong but so good and painfully bad I just have to keep it intact. Enjoy PART TWO tomorrow!

It all started in fall of 2003 with the fake snakeskin boots. They were trashy, had chunky 5 inch heels, and were found in a bin at a resale shop. I couldn't pass them up. They spoke to me. What can I say, I was going through a phase, that's another story.

But after I got them home and snuck upstairs past my kids to try them on in private with my plaid mini skirt, I discovered the heel on the left boot was wobbly. I knew they were too good to be true. I immediately regretted the six bucks I had spent on them, thinking they were too cheap to be worth fixing. But I had to try. After hobbling around thinking maybe I could just walk on the tiptoe of my left foot and fake it, I decided that kind of "cheap behavior" would likely get me some even more expensive medical bills, and I decided to put them aside.

Chesterton used to have a nice shoe repair shop, which had closed just the year before. It was called Franks Shoe Repair, and no matter what you brought to Frank, and no matter what day of the week it was, he always said they'd be done next Tuesday. If you came in next Tuesday and they weren't done, he'd mutter an apology and tell you to come in next Tuesday. He did good work and was super cheap. I missed him.

So I decided to try Buck's Shoe Repair in Valparaiso. On Lincolnway, just off the square. Any Porter County resident can probably tell you where it is if you know Valpo well enough. It's been there forever. In fact, I had just read a story in the newspaper that Buck's had been a family owned business for three generations and was still going strong. So I took a ride out of town, over to Valparaiso, found some nearby off street parking, and walked into Buck's Shoe Repair with my fake snakeskin boots in a bag under my arm. (I figured they should come in as a pair for some reason. I don't know why. Like the broken one might need moral support from its mate or something.) I wasn't even sure they could be fixed. I just wanted to have an expert opinion tell me to either come back next Tuesday or take them out and shoot them.

Cute shop, I thought as the bell on the door jingled cheerfully behind me. A lady was showing a pair of Birkenstock's to a customer. I didn't know they carried those. But I was here on business, so I approached the counter, from behind which a rather stout man was talking to a customer. I was the only other person in the store besides these four herein mentioned. I stood, positioned myself in "line" and waited. The stout man, presumably the store owner from the way he spoke and bantered with this familiar customer, did not cast me so much as a glance. I noted rather quickly they weren't in any particularly urgent conversation. Just "how's the family" kind of chit chat. I shifted from foot to foot, and repositioned my boots more firmly under my arm.

"So then he says to me, he says, it doesn't matter what, I still think often of that kind of thing, and it just won't do. I says yeah, that's what happens."

The other man nodded. "Well, you can always tell, that's what they say."

I stared at the man behind the counter and coughed. Then I brought the bag out from under my arm and rustled it loudly, and scooted closer to the counter. I was now invading the space of the "customer" in front of me by several inches. Still not a word or glance from the owner, although the "customer" did shoot me a quick sideways look, confirming that I was indeed not completely invisible. "Buck," however, maintained his insistence of my non existence. He continued to converse with his buddy, Mr. Customer, with the same effort and enthusiasm you exert on relatives who sit near you at, say, a funeral, or perhaps the kind of small talk you toss out there to relieve the awkwardness of that first five minutes next to a stranger on a short airline flight. It went on like this:

"So yeah, that's about the long and short of it. But here's the thing, when you come right down to it, it's just about all there is to it, and that's what I say. Heck, my wife would agree with me."

"Well, sure, sure. You can't always tell, but if you can, well then. That's that."

"Exactly. My point exactly. And that is that, if you know what I mean. There is always that."

I began to feel my face flush with anger. And then I instantly got angry for having to get angry at this ludicrous situation. I was in a shoe repair shop, for Pete's sake. Not in a customer service line. Not at an ATM. Not even in a long line at the White Castle. I looked around with an air of obvious irony, searching the store for other customers. And for other sales people. Finding neither, I inched closer to the counter and stared a hole in the owner's head.

(ENTERTAINED? Curious about what happens next? Check out Part Two tomorrow!)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Help Wanted: Hines Plumbing

Hines Plumbing ...these guys are like a good (not great) relationship; the end result is satisfying but you might be doing most of the calling! Jack the owner is very upfront about cost which is helpful if you are on a tight budget like we are. We have called them for a number of issues from a leaking sink to a flooding basement. I have had to call a few times to confirm appointment times or even get them to come out but since we have a relationship already I haven't given up and called someone else. Persistence here seems to get me the guy in the end, right? But I'm paying, lots of joke potential there right?

My only true disappointment was when they assessed the front water and sewer lines needed to be replaced they didn't warn us what the yard would look like when they were through. Destroyed. War torn. Embarrassing. Sure, they tried to do a bit with the dirt pile and spread some grass seed after I asked, but they sure aren't landscapers! I almost cried and I'm not a crier. I would suggest they thoroughly prepare homeowners so they can budget in the cost of fixing the yard afterwards...maybe even link up with a landscaper to pass businesses on to.

One of the Hines guys also told me my water delivery pipe from the city water was still lead but wasn't supposed to be. I was so grateful he let me know. He suggested I call the city and ask them to replace it. Since lead is most harmful to children and pregnant women you can imagine I might have considered getting hysterical. I stayed cool and called the city and they said they were treating the water to protect it from lead pipes. I said I didn't care and was still uncomfortable with that. They were in front of my house within a week tearing up the street to replace the pipes...THAT was great customer service and I didn't pay a dime!

Interesting note-Hines Plumbing is only three guys! The shiny trucks and excellent marketing (have you seen the toilet signs???) make it look like a large company so I was very impressed with the marketing campaign.

To carry on with the relationship analogy; using Hines Plumbing is kind of like dating a snappy dresser who sometimes brings you dinner ingredients but then you still have to cook it yourself! Hines Plumbing....I like 'em, just be ready to keep calling them.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Help Wanted:
By Heather Curlee Novak with Lee Burdorf, Guest Blogger

My friend Lee sent me this story about his experience with Borders Books online:

I ordered a book online from I feel badly about their closing the store here and having problems. So, I thought I would give them some business.
When you order things online you usually get an instant confirmation by email. When I hadn't received the email confirmation after several hours, I decided to call Borders to see if there was a problem. After sifting through several recorded messages, I got a live human. But he obviously was in a foreign country, probably India.* I could barely understand him and it took forever to explain to him my problem. I was on the phone with him for an agonizing 20- to 30 minutes and he was still unable to find my order. Finally, I asked if I could speak to his Supervisor. A woman came on the line and told me they had my order but for some reason it hadn't been processed yet.

I decided to be patient and wait 24 hours and see what happened. After 24 hours, I still hadn't received any confirmation so I called again. Again, I got a foreigner, this time a woman. Again, it was almost impossible to understand her and it took her about 15 minutes to find my order. Finally, I just told her to cancel the order and she said she would.

I then ordered the book from and the book arrived in the mail a few days later. The next day, the same book arrived from Borders. I have been charged twice for the book despite asking for the order to be canceled. There was no way I was going through the India phone calls again, so I emailed them and basically wrote the same story I just recounted here. It's been three days now and I have received no reply.

It's only 18 dollars and I think it's worth that not to have to deal with them again. But I will never order anything from Borders again and I suppose it is justice that they're going out of business with service like this.

NOTE: Lee sent me an email the next day. "They may have spoiled the whole thing. They sent me an email with a form to take to FedEx to return the book and get my money back."

Ordering online can be fabulously expedient or brain numbingly frustrating depending on the situation. Lee's second email that "they may have spoiled the whole (customer service report) thing" by finally taking care of the problem is inaccurate. They took care of the problem too late and the onus is still on him as the customer to fix their problem. Frankly I see the most customer friendly response is for them to tell him to keep the book, credit his account and send him a gorgeous credit to try them again for something in the future. That would likely impress him into trying them again.

From a business standpoint, his last sentence is very telling. "It's only 18 dollars and I think it's worth that not to have to deal with them again." Not only is he annoyed, but he thinks it is valuable enough to NEVER deal with them again he is close to HAPPY TO PAY to GET RID OF THEM!

Business owners beware, most of your disgruntled customers will not only never return, but they will tell everyone they know at the same time how unhappy they are--never breathing a word to you. In order to offer excellent customer service a business must be on the offensive. They must look for opportunities to seduce and woo all customers--especially those who are unhappy with any step in the process.

* I think it is important to note something about comments in this blog about call centers in foreign countries, particularly India. These comments are NOT intended to belittle the people of India or anyone for whom English is a second (or third or fourth) language. It is a known method in business to save dollars though overseas call centers. This unfortunately often leads to a frustrating and complicated communication process which in turn increases customer dissatisfaction with the experience.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Help FOUND: Bayerischer Hof, Germany

This story is from my friend Sara from her trip to Germany. This is real "Raving Fan' service.

As a matter of fact I do have a Customer Service story. While in Munich earlier this month I stayed at the BAYERISCHER HOF. I slept in the first morning. When I finally got down to the lobby it was beyond the breakfast hours. I asked the Concierge where we might find a coffee at this time of day. He named a coffee house on the town square. As I looked blank he whipped out at map to show me where to go, Then he said "No. It is too complicated. My colleague will show you. Also, as they might be busy at this time, I'll call to get you a table." So he called and his colleague,Tina, took us to the door. I thought she would point us on our way. But NO. She began walking with us, down the street for two blocks, then across a sweet little park, turned right, across this new street and on a few buildings, in the door, into the elevator, up to the "first" floor and in the door. Tina took us the the hostess and introduced us as the hotel's American guests. When the hostess greeted us, Darling Tina wished us a good coffee and took off back to the hotel.

That is good German service. PS, We had our coffee and then delayed over it and a delicious pastry until it was lunch time. Lunch was superb.

Oh Sara! What a wonderful story and customer service experience. Finding people who truly care about the customer is so rare and priceless. What I love most about this story is that you would have been satisfied at any point during your interactions, even if the concierge giving you the coffee shop's name was the end of the story. The fact that both employees went so far to ensure your satisfaction in someone else's product reflects well on them as employees of the hotel and as good hearted people in their daily lives. Thank you so much for sharing Sara.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Help WANTED: Sears Store, Tool Department (California)

This customer service experience story is from my friend Dana. She is a web savvy and customer service oriented woman I met eons ago in Chicago who runs "Words To Sweat By" out of San Jose California. Find her funny motivational workout gear here.

This is the story in Dana's words:
What should have been a quick trip to Sears turned into a two-hour long debacle. We went into the tool section to buy (you guessed it) a tool chest for my DH. He knew what he wanted but also needed to fiddle for a couple of minutes to confirm.

After 20 minutes someone finally came to help him, but then once he had decided (10 minutes after that) it took another hour and half to complete a transaction. Because we had started working with one sales person, it appeared we couldn't be helped by another and the one who had helped us kept helping others and telling us "one more minute".

When he was finally ready to help us, he took the numbers that we wrote down, but didn't double check them and it turns out I had gotten one of the items wrong. Regardless, the set we wanted was OUT OF STOCK, oh, and discontinued as well. They should have had a sign up saying no longer available or only the floor model available at this store.

The sales person checked only 1 store in the area (because he had to call them, it wasn't available online) and they too were out.

We started to leave and I began to rant to another sales person because I was extremely frustrated so he started talking to us.

So with this new guy, we offered to buy the floor model, but they couldn't find the keys and the manager wasn't willing to figure out a way to sell us that one by giving us new key mechanisms.

Since the floor model wasn't an option, the new sales person finally decided to check different store in the area and lo and behold, they had a new set in stock that we could pick up.

So, we spent 2 hours on something that should have taken (tops) 30 minutes - most of which should have been my DH fiddling with each of the chests picking out the one he wanted.

Needless to say, we will not be giving our money to that specific Sears store again.

I think this is a great example of powerlessness in a person, let alone an employee.

Dana is right, this is a classic example of the powerless and demotivated employee. Powerlessness in an employee comes from one of two places; the employee or the employer. The employee may play helpless to avoid putting out an effort or to communicate their disdain for the work, company or customer. Many times an employer fails to fully utilize the intelligence and ability of their employees by exerting too much control. This also occurs when employers fail to hire and train their teams to make the best choices available. I believe that even when the problem begins with the employer, the employee is responsible for how they react to and translate the results.

With the current economic situation and the dismal job market many people take a job in order to just get by. They are not invested in their work and do not care about anything past punching in and then punching out again. I see this at every level from fast food counter all the way up to professionals in salaried positions. This demotivation stems from the individual's belief that the job they are currently in is below them. The job may be beneath their skill or experience level, it may be boring or embarrassing or humbling. HOWEVER--I will always expect someone in this position to be AWESOME in this job. I expect to see them excel in every way and then to be noticed by employers and customers alike for their said awesomeness. Each of us is fully responsible for how we react to the cards we are dealt...the winner keeps playing fair and smiling no matter how the game is going. When we make the best of the situation we are in, it opens up better opportunities for our future.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Help Found and Wanted: Blackbird Cafe, Valparaiso IN

We moved to Valparaiso, IN almost one year ago and have delighted in checking out a variety of edibles available here. We live downtown so walking is our favorite option to access the charming and delicious downtown square's abundance of foodie indulgences. Last night my hubby and I had a walking date night. We strolled all over looking at houses, talking about our two Peeps and life in general.

We ended up at Blackbird Cafe on Lincolnway for a cup of the black stuff and a sugar indulgence. It was not my first visit. The first few times I went for anything from a breakfast sandwich to a piece of pie for breakfast. I was always pleased with the results but grew to expect SLOW service if I ordered anything that needed to be made. I realized the service wasn't slow because they thought a lot of themselves, so I was OK with it. All staff was pleasant and helpful and the quality of the food made it worth the wait. The shining gem of this place I learned while on the phone with the owner is that they make everything there. What a satisfying bit of knowledge! Of course, I could also have read the "Made from scratch" note on their website...duh!

I've noshed on vegetable pot pie that had thick buttery crust, snarfed the best pumpkin pie EVER(for breakfast...I was prego at the time) chewed through a juicy chicken pesto panini and as of last night, food orgasmed my way through a butter cookie dipped in chocolate that was everything I ever wanted in a cookie. And I want A LOT out of my cookies since I am not eating sugar very often lately. I'd love to see food delivered a bit faster for meals, but I'll be smiling as I wait. Thank you, Thank you Blackbird Cafe.