EIGHT IN THE MORNING – WHY IS THE PHONE RINGING?

There’s a myth circulating about senior citizens, that we are up with the birds and asleep before sunset. An entire culture has been built on “Early Bird Specials.” Because old people purportedly eat dinner by 4pm.

I eat around four, but I call it lunch. Dinner is around eight. Please call before you show up.

72-Mobile and Regular Phones_07

In my experience older people, especially retired ones, are up when they feel like getting up. They go to bed when they feel ready to sleep. For us, that’s around one in the morning or later (earlier?). Even when we should go to bed earlier (because we have something we need to do in the morning), “Just one more show?” always wins over “Are you ready to go in yet?”

Thus when the phone rang at eight this morning, I wasn’t happy. I’ve recently changed my phone. At least my new ring tone — a Mozart sonata — is pleasant. Not like the old one which had all the grace of a nail gun to the head.

It took me a few moments to reconnoiter, to recognize the source of the sound. The phone, Marilyn. It’s the phone.

When I’m awake and focused, I don’t answer calls from “Unknown Callers,” survey companies, or 800 numbers. None of them are people to whom I want to speak. Most of them aren’t people. They are recorded messages (talk about annoying).

I can’t see the caller ID from the bed. It’s easier to snake my hand around the lamp and grab the phone.

I see an unfamiliar name on the caller ID.

“Hello?” Big improvement on my usually hostility-tinged “Yes?”

“Good morning, this is Rita from the Milford Daily Telegram.”

72-Phones_02

Speechless, I stared at the receiver in my hand, trying to get through the clouds in my brain to remember what to do next.

“Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?”

I was there, sort of. Shortly, I remembered what to do. I clicked “End.” Put the phone down. Plumped the pillow and went back to sleep. I was pissed, though well short of a killing frenzy. I save murderous rages for back-stabbing former friends and moronic customer disservice personnel. I’ve outlived most of the back-stabbers — in which there is some weird consolation — and no matter how frothing at the mouth crazed I may get at customer service drones, I recover almost immediately. I may not even remember the details an hour later.

Actual solicitation calls, of which this was one, should not be coming at all. I’m on the “DO NOT CALL” list. Nonetheless, I get up to a dozen or more such calls every day. If I’m alert, I don’t answer them. When I don’t recognize the name but doubt it’s anyone I know, I respond with a hostility-laden “Yes?”

Note: Putting yourself on a “Do Not Call” list seems the perfect way to distribute your phone number to organizations who want to sell your data to spammers.

Why eight in the morning? Anytime they call me will be annoying, but do they believe they can sell me something if they call before I have time to drink my coffee? Or my defenses down because I’m not fully awake?

What they accomplish is to rob me of a couple of hours of badly needed sleep. I curse them for that. Sleep is precious. Nobody should attempt to solicit anything from anybody before eleven. Or ever, if it were up to me.

I’m sorry about not having a criminal rampage to report. I promise to write about it as soon as something appropriate triggers one.


 

MAD AS A HATTER

But why is the hatter mad? Did his hats not sell? Is he mentally unbalanced or merely angry? Inquiring minds want to know.

DON’T LET THEM NEAR A COMPUTER

Today, ignoring everything going on in the world, the Daily Prompt is “Five a DayYou’ve being exiled to a private island, and your captors will only supply you with five foods. What do you pick?

It’s a pretty dull prompt. Unlikely to inspire anyone. Trivial. Not funny. Dull, flat, and forlorn. So, instead, I’m going to tell you a true story. The names have been not been changed to protect the guilty.

Just before Christmas this past year, I treated myself to a long-deferred gift: a premium theme. It is/was not WordPress’s most expensive theme. At $49, it was on the low-end, but it was the first one I liked enough to consider buying.

It wasn’t cutesy. Blogly is tidy, squared off. Black on white text, with a choice of background colors. Flexible layout. Many post styles (which, it turned out, never worked).

A left-hand sidebar for widgets. Pictures feel cramped when hedged in by a right-hand sidebar.

Looks good, doesn't it? Caveat emptor!!

Looks good, doesn’t it? Caveat emptor!!

The more I looked at it, the better I liked it. I gave it several test runs. Finally, I bought it. I figured, hey, I’m a blogger. I can have a nice theme. It’s a one-time purchase I can use forever.

It turned out that forever was not long. In January, WordPress decided including an “Edit” link in the “My Sites” drop-down menu would ruin their design. This made no sense. Regardless of any other consideration, the ability to conveniently edit your blog is critical for all of us.

It was particularly important to me, because Blogly, unlike most themes, had no built-in “edit” link. Without its own link — and after removing the Edit function of the drop-down menu — making even a simple correction became nearly impossible. I was not the only one who got upset. A lot of furious bloggers later, WordPress restored the edit function to the “My Sites” menu.

But — they weren’t through messing with me. They decided to “fix” Blogly because, they explained, it should have its own internal edit link. All themes should have an edit link. So the talented development team (they keep telling me how great they are) put an edit link in Blogly. Not where it belongs, in individual posts, but only when you are looking at posts in “home” and scrolling. So if you had an individual post open to read it, there was still no edit link. I consoled myself that at least they’d restored the link on the drop-down.

Thing is, half the things it says it does don't work. But you won't know that until you already own it. There's only so much you can test in their trial mode.

Thing is, half the things it says it does don’t work. But you won’t know that until you already own it. There’s only so much you can test in their trial mode.

Then they did something else to Blogly. I don’t know what they did, or any idea why , but suddenly, when you clicked a comment, you went to the comment. The rest of the post — the rest of the site — became inaccessible.

You could not scroll up past the start of comments. Getting home was daunting. Complaints from readers poured in. I checked the function in Safari. IE. Chrome. I checked on my laptop, desktop, Kindle and iPad. I had the same problems across all platforms and browsers.

Blogly was dead. I could not re-size graphics. Text got weird. I was never sure what margins I would get — or what size titles would be. So many issues. A couple of nights ago, when all my text got pushed to the far right into an ugly narrow column with pictures glued together in a solid lump, I gave up.

I was pissed. The next time the annoying “How can we help you” box popped up, I asked for my money back. Barring that, I suggested they let me select a different theme that actually worked.

They said it was too late to get my money back -- you only have 30 
days to change your mind.

I pointed out that I hadn’t changed my mind. They had trashed my theme. They broke it and they owed me. They called in the infamous “Happiness engineering” development team. They were sure it would be a simple fix. Not.

Today I got my money back. Apparently it was not simple.

The good news? They did the right thing. Somewhere, somehow, someone in WordPress stopped spouting the party line and acted like a professional.

The bad news? How could this mess happen? And why are they still offering the theme for sale?

It was not always like this. Those of us who have been blogging on WordPress for more than a few months remember when it was a happy place with support, encouragement, and sometimes, inspiration.

They’ve taken all the good stuff away and left us with warmed over prompts and what has got to be the most incompetent crew of developers and customer disservice people anywhere. They are worse than my cable company and I don’t say that lightly.

It doesn’t have to be this way. They have taken a good thing and are destroying it, piece by piece. Bad choices, a determination to create a platform for a market that doesn’t exist. Despite their firm belief that the future of blogging is on small devices, it’s not true. People may view blogs on small devices, but no one writes or creates them that way. All of us use a computer. With a keyboard, mouse, or other pointing device.

The success of WordPress depends on having bloggers who attract readers. That means content creators. Writers, photographers, artists. Chefs, craftspeople. All if whom need professional tools to do their thing — and that thing is never going to be done on a phone or tablet.

We are their customers. We generate revenue for WordPress in exchange for a platform. At which WordPress keeps chipping, making it harder and harder to do what we do. Making it easier to view blogs on cell phones while taking away critical tools bloggers need to produce content is stupid. Short-sighted. It will eventually bring down the house.

So I say, send them all to their favorite desert island. Give them just five foods to eat forever. Most important, don’t let them near a computer.

DON’T MAKE ME CRAZY

As I was coming back from my doctor’s office today, I got to thinking what could be done to improve the customer service experience, especially regarding voice mail systems. This is what I came up with.

LET ME SELECT WHAT I NEED

Your options have not recently changed if you can’t remember the last time you redid your message. If I know I need number 2, 3, 1, or 0, let me press it. Do not make me sit there while you rattle on. It’s an inexcusable imposition on my time and patience.

Moreover, everyone is familiar with voice mail. It’s not new technology. We know to listen until we hear the option we need. We are not stupid.

My time is as valuable to me as yours is to you. Don’t waste it.

DON’T BURY THE LEAD

Whatever your organization does, make sure the first choice in your list is the thing most of your customers want. It probably is not your address, business hours, website address, or the opportunity to hear about your new services — or take a survey.

CustomerSvcFallonQuote

If you are a personal service provider — doctor, dentist, veterinarian, massage therapist, hired assassin — scheduling should be on top. At least half your calls will be people who need to make, change, or cancel (or some combination of these) an appointment. Don’t send us to a sub menu with more options. Answer the damned phone.

If you are a utility — cell service, telephone company, ISP, power company, water — why do think most people call? Because your service isn’t working. No power, no water, no cell service, no dial tone. No WiFi. No cable. Do not tell us to use the website. If we could get to the website, we would not be calling you.

customer-service

Whoever picks up the call must be able to reply to this: “Is this a general outage or is it me?”

  1. If the former: When do you expect service to be restored?
  2. If the latter, transfer the caller to tech support. Don’t ask us to make another call.

IT DOESN’T WORK

Number 2 should be Technical support. Of course. Something isn’t working or isn’t working as it should. Have a human being answer the phone. Even if it involves waiting, don’t make your already upset and angry customer wade through another set of prompts. Take responsibility. Be a person.

ABOUT THAT BILL

Number 3? They want to talk about the bill. Which they already paid, can’t pay, shouldn’t have to pay, is actually someone else’s. If you put them into another voice mail system, it will might make them angry enough to dump you for another provider.

They do not want to leave a message for someone to ignore and never call back. They want to straighten out what they hope is a simple misunderstanding. If you send them to more voice mail or an answering machine — and you don’t return the call immediately — expect to never get your money or lose our business. I have dumped providers at the first opportunity many times and I will do it again. If you aggravate me enough, I will hold it against you. Forever. And I will tell everyone why.

This is business. I am a paying customer. Act like you care.

96-Waiting-Worcester_13

A CAUTIONARY TALE

I hear so many companies complaining how bad business is. Never do I hear them wonder if their own action (or inaction) might have something to do with it. Maybe the problem is how badly you treat your customers.

Consider this: Maltreating customers does not endear you to them. If they can, they will go elsewhere. At the first opportunity, they will drop you so fast you won’t have a chance to say “Hey wait, I’ve got a deal for you.”

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine got the option of using FIOS instead of Warner Cable. FIOS was a bit more expensive and had a slightly smaller offering, at least back then. She changed services anyway. She said: “I hate Warner so much, I’d happily pay more to anyone else just to be rid of them.”

I feel that same way about our cable provider. They think they are invulnerable because we currently have no choice, but eventually, we will have a choice. It’s only a matter of time. The ill-will they are amassing now will ultimately bury them. It’s a cautionary tale for all corporations who think they “own” the market — and the customers.

Talk to your customers. Be nice to them. Make them feel valued. Calm them down rather than throwing gasoline on the fire. If you are in a service industry, provide service. It’s what we are paying for.

YOUR BUSINESS IS IMPORTANT TO US

It’s an epidemic, a pandemic  — of bad service.

Do you remember when the customer was always right? I do. It wasn’t that long ago.

Customer satisfaction and service was the norm until approximately 2002, at which point everyone — more or less simultaneously — decided to save money by “automating” customer service, eliminating it entirely, or shipping it overseas to be handled by people who speak heavily accented English and don’t know anything about the products they are supposed to be supporting. That was when you and me, the customers, the ones who spend our limited, disposable income on their products or services, became unimportant.

outofserviceThat was the year when we all became not worth the effort of answering a question, or supplying documentation. The gold standard for customer service became … nothing. These days, after slightly more than a decade of working out the details, most organizations do not offer any service to their customers. At all.

The overall attitude is “do the least you can — nothing, if you can get away with it. All customers are liars and thieves. Treat them as such.”

Customer disservice. I think I’m permanently pissed off. Even thinking about calling a customer service department gets my blood boiling. I’m shocked if I’m treated well. Delighted, but shocked.

SO WHAT DO I HATE?

Recorded phone solicitations that interrupt your sleep, meals, conversations, and the show you’re watching. Calls that display on caller ID as familiar phone numbers, but they’ve hacked your data or bought it from someone from whom you bought something.

waiting

Fake charitable organizations, many supposedly in support of breast cancer research or some other form of advocacy. Who take your money and use it to line their own pockets.

“Surveys” that are nothing but scams to collect your private data for sale and misuse.

“Discount cards” for every shop you go to, all of which are a way to collect your personal information so they can sell it. Because you may not be worth much as a customer, but your buying habits sell for big bucks.

Voice-mail systems at doctor’s offices with so many options you can’t recall the first option halfway through the message. The recordings go on and on, until you are ready to scream. Worse, you have to listen to the entire spiel every time you call. The message starts with “Please listen to this entire message before making your selection. Our menu choices have recently changed …” Recently was 10 months ago … or a year or more. You can sing along with the recording because you’ve heard it so many times.

CustServCartoon

Many places no longer offer any option of speaking to a live person. Try to find a live human being at your electric company, cable provider, or credit card company.

Our electric company had customer service. Today, if you can find their phone number, a recorded message will tell you to visit the website. Online. Not quite what you need when the power’s off. Make sure you have their actual phone number on your device. You can’t look it up online when there’s no electricity because if there’s no electricity, there’s also no cable or WiFi.

If your whole life is online, it’s over when the power goes out.

Death cust serv

Assuming you can worm your way through voice mail and finally push the magic number to connect you to a live agent, you hear: “Your business is important to us …” followed by Muzak and a 40-minute wait on hold. Better yet, it’s the long wait, followed by a disconnect and dial tone.

96-Waiting-Worcester

Bad (automated) service is particular noxious when it’s a local company. You know both office workers are probably playing games on Facebook while you listen to their 5-minute voice-mail message. All you wanted to do was ask on which night they are open late. By the end of the message, you no longer care.

THERE ARE STILL SOME GOOD ONES OUT THERE 

Amazon and Audible. Audible is an Amazon company now, but they always had terrific customer service. The more I deal with Amazon, the less I want to deal with anyone else. They are proof getting service does not have to be a nightmare. Trauma need not part of all interactions with vendors, medical facilities, utilities, or other corporations.

AT&T is good. Not as good as Amazon, but you can eventually get a real live person who knows what they are doing. And oddly enough, Medicare and Social Security. Though you may need to wait on hold for a while, you will get a live person in the end — and they will speak your language. They will stay on line with you as long as it takes. Credit where it’s due. These underpaid public servants try hard to help you.

L.L. Bean has wonderful customer service. Land’s End is good too.

To everyone else, I offer a big raspberry and a Bah Humbug in honor of the season.

RECENTLY ACQUIRED KNOWLEDGE WITH FLOWERS

Recently Acquired – What’s the most important (or interesting, or unexpected) thing about blogging you know today that you didn’t know a month ago?


That when it gets right down to it, WordPress treats its customers  as if they are ever so slightly contemptible, as if there is something a bit shameful about following the prompts they provide.

December bouquet

They prefer insulting their customers (and/or making fun of them) to fixing problems they themselves created. Service is not their “thing.”

december bouquet 2

Apparently things like the daily prompt, which I and many other like to write to for the challenge of writing about something we didn’t think up ourselves, according to WordPress is entirely designed to get more people to read our blogs, because people like me couldn’t survive without their help.

december bouquet 3

While there may have been a time when these prompts boosted readership, the way they have handled the prompts (and us) for the past year has cut the participation by at least half. It has so reduced the following for the prompts that of all the things I post, the Daily Prompts get the smallest response.

Probably that also has to do with the frequent reruns of the same prompts and prompts so dull and unimaginative, it’s hard to figure out anything to say.

December Bouquet 4

But no matter. It has become a kind of social network for those of us who have stuck with it. It is fun being in touch with a group who enjoys giving it a try, even when it’s stupid and seeing what other people can do, given the same starting point.

And just to brighten this Sunday morning — the first day in the past week that hasn’t been darkly overcast — enjoy the latest bouquet from my romantic husband who felt I needed new flowers.

He was right!

Have a great Sunday.

Share Your World – 2014 Week 37

List three pet peeves.

Slow drivers.

Voice mail with so many selections I can’t remember the beginning of the list by the time I get to the middle.

CustServCartoon

Customer service voice mail robots designed to prevent you from ever speaking with a live human being.

Live customer service representatives who know less than I do about their product.

Death cust serv

Junk mail faxes and texts.

People who make pronouncements when they know nothing about the subject under discussion.

Have I listed too many? Oops.

96-Waiting-Worcester

What makes you unique?

We are all unique. I’m no more unique than anyone else. Except, of course, those of you who are one of a pair (or more) of identical siblings. I suppose that would reduce your uniqueness. Otherwise? To be human is (usually) to be unique.

Would be your ideal birthday present, and why?

A surprise vacation to someplace I’ve always wanted to go. Prepaid with all the arrangements taken care of. I mean all arrangements. Nothing left for me to do but enjoy! Okay, I’ll settle for dinner out at a really great restaurant. Maybe with some good friends. I’m easy. I just want to do something fun in which I get to be the guest — not the organizer, cleanup crew, schedule manager, or any role beyond that of pampered guest.

Which way does the toilet paper roll go? Over or under?

Over. Absolutely over. And out.

THANK YOU FOR CALLING OUR HOTLINE

DAY IS DONE. ME TOO

It was one of Those Days. Started out normal. We had to get up a bit early because I had a doctor appointment and even though we left plenty of time, we got out of the house a bit late. Time slipped away.

My appointment went fine. Next stop? Grocery store.

We couldn’t get to the store. There had been a fire. Or something. The street was closed. Not the whole street, just the couple of hundred feet in front of the parking lot. Other than the fire engine with the flashing lights, there was no hint of a fire, or any evidence of anything. No smoke. No injuries. No water on the street. No crime scene tape. A blocked street where we needed to go. They were allowing cars to drive through from the other direction. So there was no legitimate reason we couldn’t go a few dozen feet to Hannaford’s parking lot. But nope, we had to take the detour.

75-MainStreetCR

Uxbridge not being a real city, a detour isn’t a quick trip around a city block. We were in Douglas before we could start looping back to town. By which time they had parked the fire truck and there were no official obstructions.

Shopping concluded, leaving town was our next trial. Civic excitement is rare in our little town, so everyone had to take a long look at the … what? Fire? Crime scene? False alarm? One of the rubberneckers was riding a bicycle. We were behind him, trying to drive at 1 mph. As soon as we (finally) got around him, someone pulled out of a side street, slowed down to about 10 mph. Directly in front of us. We crawled home. Karma is.

72-HannafordParking_004

Groceries unpacked. Television turned on. Surprise! Half our premium channels aren’t working. “Temporarily Off the Air. Try Again Later.” I call Charter. They’ve been having a bad week too and this is my third call in two days. Any day I have to call Charter is not a great day.

After a long hold, the agent assures me they are merely doing (more) repair work, but hope it will be finished any day now. They’ll call when it’s finished. Maybe even today. I go to make dinner and step in a pool of dog pee. I don’t know which of the little furry menaces did it, but I don’t get it. Why? They’ve got their own door and it isn’t even raining.

Eventually, dinner having been served, eaten, and cleared, the phone rings. Charter (recorded message) says “Repairs are complete, thank you for your patience.” But it is not fixed. Half the hi-def channels are “Temporarily Off the Air. Try Again Later.”

Any day on which I have to call Charter once is not great. Twice? Very bad. They tell me to reboot. They send a repair signal. My channels do not come back. They can’t get a tech here until Thursday.  I am grumpy, but make the appointment. I need to write it down, so I turn on the light.

The bulb explodes.

My day is done.

I LOVE YOU, AUDIBLE.COM

I joined Audible.com in 2002.

I had a long commute and I’d been buying audiobooks for a few years from Books On Tape and Recorded Books.

Books On Tape had recently announced they were discontinuing non-institutional services. Bummer. Recorded Books didn’t have much of a selection and were expensive.

Audible was a relatively new concept. Downloading was slow, but the price was good. For $16.95, I could have two books a month. I would own them, but wouldn’t have to store them. They were digital files and would be stored in my library on Audible’s server.

audible home page

Twelve years later, I have close to a thousand books in my Audible library. A few have disappeared. They may be there somewhere, but the search engine can’t find them and I don’t remember what they were. It doesn’t matter. There are so many.

A few years ago, Amazon bought Audible. For once, I was unperturbed by the acquisition. Amazon and I have had a great relationship since Amazon was an online bookstore selling real books. Kindles and e-books didn’t exist. The closest thing to an e-book was a PDF file.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

Audible is bigger and better. Higher quality audio files, many more books. Famous actors and brilliant narrators. Almost every book from any publisher has an audio version. You can buy twinned Kindle and Audible books that synchronize. That’s overkill for me, but I often own both versions because listening and reading are different experiences. I listen, then read, then listen again. My eyes are increasingly reluctant to focus on print, so I listen more, read less. Audible has become primary and reading is now an alternative to listening.

Times change. I’ve changed.

Late the other night, already tucked in bed, I decided to select this month’s audiobooks. I still have the original plan I subscribed to. New subscribers pay more, but I’m “grandfathered.” The only thing I don’t have that newer plans include are “rollover” credits. I have to use my credits within the month or lose them. Technically, anyhow. The only time I didn’t use them — I didn’t forget, but I was in the hospital — they gave the credits back and threw in a couple of extra because I’d been sick.

audible2

This month, I wanted two books, both not yet released. Pre-orders. The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey, Book Six in the Sandman Slim series, to be released on August 26th. And The Witch With No Name by Kim Harrison, the 13th and final book in The Hollows series, to be released September 9th. I ordered the books using this month’s credits. Except when I completed the order, I had a credit left. I figured that meant they would charge the book to my credit card on delivery. I cancelled the order and redid it. Same thing happened.

It was 1:30 in the morning, but I knew I could call Audible and get this fixed. Unlike other customer service, I like calling Audible. Even before they become part of the Amazon family, they were friendly folks who wanted to make you happy.

A nice lady answered. I explained what happened. She said: “Let’s make this simple. I’ll just put the Kim Harrison book in your library. You keep the extra credit. Have a nice night. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

I double-checked: “You mean, I actually have an extra credit?”

“Yes, you do. I put The Witch With No Name into your library. When it’s released, you will automatically receive it. You can use your other credit for whatever you like.” Indeed, the book was already in my library. I ordered another book.

I was smiling. How often do you smile after talking to customer service?

I love you, Audible.com.