THE DAY I (PERSONALLY) TOOK THE MACHINES DOWN

ADVENTURES IN UPGRADES, PART WHATEVER

Garry wrote how the patrons of our local grocery store went into shock when the debit and credit card readers stopped working. The lost, hopeless, dead eyes. Cash? Checks? What? I don’t understand?

Read it here: THE DAY THE MACHINES WENT DOWN

Yesterday was even more special because I personally took the machines down. With a lot of help from Bank of America. Our bank. Probably the biggest bank in the country, whose local Uxbridge branch is where we conduct business. It’s across the parking lot from our favorite grocery store.

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Hannaford is not the biggest local supermarket. Its selection tends to be a bit whimsical. Just because you could find the Asian Sesame dressing last week does not mean you will ever see it on the shelves again. We have adjusted. I think of it the way I used to think of seasonal vegetables when I lived in Israel. You could get anything — in season. Otherwise, you ate something else. Adjusting ones life and eating habits to the rhythm of the earth and its crops. Or, in this case, to whoever stocks the grocery shelves.

I awoke yesterday to the realization we were out of food and this is Labor Day weekend. If we didn’t shop today, the shelves would be empty. On Monday, the store would be closed.

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So, after the clock’s hand had slid past three o’clock when road construction in town ends, we took to the road. It’s just about 3 miles to town. Two lanes. No wider than it has to be.

I have to backtrack briefly. BOA has been “upgrading” debit cards to include a security chip. They notify you they are going to replace your card. When you receive it in the mail, you must activate it, sign it, and cut up the old one because it will no longer work.

I’m as geeky as the next techno-junkie yet I am highly dubious about “security enhancements” by banks. I have seen how very wrong they can go. Regardless, I had no choice. My card arrived a week. I followed instructions.

Garry has been spared this “upgrade.” Overlooked? Whatever the reason, he is happy to do what he has always done. It works, no problems. Bank of America has had its servers hacked several times (it was on the news, everywhere). The bank is more of a security risk than we are. But I digress (again).

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Going into town took a long time. Although the road repair guys had gone home, the people building the new fire station had not stopped work. And the school buses are back, too.

Worst of all, a cop was directing traffic. Apparently in cop school, they teach them to let every single car going one way through the construction zone until finally, when not a single car can be seen, they let the other lane start moving. By this time, there’s a mile of backed up cars to clear. When there’s no cop, drivers work it out for themselves and while it may slow down, there is no massive traffic jam.

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We finally got to the store. Parked. Went in. Fresh, local corn has arrived. Oh yum. I bought some. Bought stuff for dinner. Got some fresh veggies. Got some swordfish. Frozen shrimp. Did not buy lobster, even though they were on sale. Picked up everything on the list except frozen pizza. And headed for the checkout.

Not bad for a Friday afternoon before a holiday weekend. And then, it was time to pay. I took out my brand, new chip-enabled secure debit card and pushed it into the reader … which immediately cancelled the transaction and told me I had removed my card too quickly. My card was still IN the machine.

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The young woman at the register took a deep breath, reinstated the transaction, and in went my new, secure debit card. Again. This time, it cancelled the transaction, said there’d been an error and I had removed my card (still in the machine) too fast. The register froze. The folks behind me in line were pretty nice about it. No one pulled a gun.

They got other registers working and everyone migrated to other aisles. Except us. Because we were already in this register and they had to reboot it to get it unfrozen.

“It’s not my fault,” I whimpered. “They said I had to get this new card with the chip.” Which was true, so I don’t know why everyone was mad at me.

“Feel free to get mad at Bank of America. They’re just over there,” I said, pointing to the other side of the parking lot. “Tell them!”

When the machines came back up, Garry used his card, the one without the chip.

Finally, we went home. I called the bank and was put on hold. I put the phone on speaker and left it to its own devices expecting I’d eventually hear a “How can we help you.” An hour later, it was still playing drippy muzak.

I tried a different number. Same message, but different muzak. I tried the local bank site. All the chat people were engaged. They suggested I try later. Their email was also down. By now, I was getting a feeling there was more going wrong at Bank of America than a bad chip in my debit card.

Finally … almost three hours after I first called, I got a “live chat” person on line. Bianca. Hello Bianca. My new debit card with the fancy chip technology isn’t working.

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“We have a note that you entered an incorrect PIN earlier today.”

“I was never asked for my PIN. It cancelled my transaction and told me my card had been removed too fast, but the card was still in the machine.”

“I can send you a PIN reminder.”

“I know my PIN. It’s the  card. It also froze the store register. Everyone on line had to go somewhere else to check out. Take responsibility. This is a bank problem.”

“Chip technology is going to be everywhere. We are no longer issuing debit cards without chips.”

“Then send me a card with a chip that works. Like test it before sending it to me?”

We went back and forth for a while. They are sending me a new card. With a new chip. Which, presumably, will work. Given that not only did the chip fail, but BOA was unavailable for hours, I bet BOA had a system failure. Since they’ll never tell you what’s really going on, all of this was a smokescreen to avoid having to say “the bank is experiencing server problems.”

Their server problems turned this into the day I took down the machines at Hannaford. Just because I live in a small town, doesn’t mean we don’t have adventures.

I’m probably going to become a local legend.


POSTSCRIPT: Bank Of America’s servers were in fact down pretty much all day yesterday. Not the first time, by any means and very likely, not the last time, either. Why do they persist in lying about it? It doesn’t make the problem go away. Would it really make the situation worse to admit the bank’s servers are being “upgraded” (or whatever they are doing) and tell us our cards aren’t working because they are effectively offline?

IT’S OBVIOUS … ISN’T IT?

It ought to be obvious. If you deluge potential customers or contributors with email, whether imploring them for donations or reminding them of your products, eventually they will run away. Unsubscribe. Detach.

The first time this happened, I had made the near-fatal error of donating $3 to Obama’s 2008 campaign. From that moment on, each day I was buried in fundraising letters from what appeared to be every single member of the Democratic party and their affiliates.

I approved of the causes and at first, I just deleted the extra emails. It seemed the more I deleted, the more arrived. Wave after wave of causes, the DNC, pols in states I’ve never visited, much less lived.

One day I sat down at my computer and began unsubscribing. I continued through the day until finally, none were left. I will never donate again. Note to DNC: Don’t make contributors feel that giving you a bit of money was their worst-ever life decision.

Now, there’s “The New Yorker.” This is a great magazine, one of the very few I still read. The cartoons alone are worth it because  no publication has better cartoons than “The New Yorker.” I even went so far as to subscribe to it. Not only do I get their online stuff and access to their archive, I get the physical, paper magazine. The mailman delivers it.

Yet, every single day, my email is full of subscription offers from the New Yorker, and now, from affiliated news publications. They send me articles — which I mostly read or at least skim. But then, they send me the same articles three more times. I delete them. Followed by half a dozen reminders to subscribe — which I’ve already done. Why do they do this? I feel like I’m under siege by my own troops.

Amazon, from whom I buy a lot of stuff, doesn’t spam me. Nor does LL Bean. Or Audible or Zappos. To these companies, I remain loyal. They treat me as if they value my business and I spread the good word about them.

All of these companies also have great service when things go wrong. They don’t make it difficult to return items. They don’t charge “re-stocking” fees. They deliver quickly at no charge. They stand behind their products and suppliers and if something goes wrong, the customer does not wind up at the short end of the transaction.

This is basic marketing. It boils down to one golden rule for marketing:


Treat your customer the way you’d like to be treated if
you were the customer. 


I should think this would be obvious. As time goes on, I find myself eliminating companies and organizations from my world because they don’t get it.

Obvious, isn’t it?

OBVIOUS | THE DAILY POST

CUSTOMER — EMPHASIS ON — SERVICE

Our internet connection went down today. I figured it was a routine need to reboot the router and modem, which I did. Still no connection. A few more tries … and still no internet. And no telephone, since our telephone is VOIP and won’t function without WiFi.

Finally, I had to face the horrible reality. I had to call Charter, get through their voicemail system, get a human being on the phone. Without the internet, we are isolated. Everything requires WiFi. Our cell signal is weak, unstable, with frequent dropped calls. WiFi is like electricity these days. A necessity, not a luxury.

I did it. I won’t review the whole day except to say I burned through the entire cell phone battery and finally got someone who understood the problem. And then … as inexplicably as the problem arose … it fixed itself. I then had to navigate the system again to tell them to cancel the service call. I should have just let them come.

I have reached the end of my patience with voice mail systems.

It got me thinking about the whole “customer service experience.” They always want you to do a survey after a call, but they never ask the right questions. They want to know how the person you (finally) spoke did. Which is usually fine.

What no one asks is “how hard did we make work to get a live person on the phone?” “How many times you were disconnected?” “Are you mad enough to dump our service at the earliest opportunity?” That last one should matter.

No matter how many times I go through this, I always come out of it tired, cranky, and frustrated.

VOICE MAIL: LET ME CHOOSE WHAT I NEED

Every voice mail system starts out saying “Our options have recently changed.”

Your options have not recently changed. “Recently” is a few days or weeks ago. After that, it’s not recent. Change your message!

If I know the number I need, let me press it. Don’t make me sit there while you explain in stultifying detail every permutation of your voice mail system. Everyone is familiar with voice mail. It’s not news. I am not stupid. My time is valuable, just like yours. Don’t waste it.

NUMBER 1 – BURY YE NOT THE LEAD

Whatever your organization does, make sure the first choice in your list is the thing most customers want. Probably 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 thereof) an appointment. Don’t send me 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 our service isn’t working. No power, no water, no cell service, no dial tone. No WiFi. No cable. Do not tell me to use the website. If I could get to the website, I would not be calling you.

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Do not force me to spend half an hour listening to a robot tell me to do stuff I’ve already done (and didn’t work), or misunderstand what I’m saying.

Whoever picks up the call must immediately tell me: “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 me to tech support. Don’t ask me to make another call. Don’t give me that damned robot again.

Today’s outage was their issue, but they assured me they didn’t know it. Really? Seriously? You couldn’t ping the line and know there was a problem? You couldn’t figure out that the phone and modem weren’t working from your state-of-the-art central facility?

NUMBER 2 – IT DOESN’T WORK

Option 2 must be Technical Support. Something isn’t working or not working as it ought. Have a human being answer the phone. Even if it involves waiting, don’t make your already upset, angry customer wade through another set of prompts. Take responsibility. Be a person.

NUMBER 3: ABOUT THAT BILL

Option 3: The bill. Which we already paid, can’t pay, shouldn’t have to pay, is actually someone else’s. If you put us into another voice mail system, it will make us angry.

We do not want to leave a message for someone to ignore and never call back. We want to straighten out what we hope is a simple misunderstanding. If you send us 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 dropped providers many times and will do it again.

If you annoy me, I will hold a grudge. I am a paying customer. Act like you want my business.

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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. Blowing off customers does not endear you to us. If we can, we will go elsewhere. At the first opportunity, we 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 (finally) got FIOS as an alternative to Comcast. FIOS was (a bit) more expensive and had a smaller offering. She changed services anyway. She said: “I hate Comcast so much, I’d happily pay more to anyone just to be rid of them.”

I feel that way about our cable provider, Charter Communications. They think they are invulnerable because we have no choice, but WiFi based services are coming of age. There are more choices today … and more coming soon. It’s a matter of time. The ill-will you are amassing today will ultimately bury you as it has buried providers before you. The good-will of your customer is your only long-term asset. 

It’s a cautionary tale for corporations who think they “own” the market and the customers.

BE NICE TO US. DON’T BE A STRANGER

Talk to me. Be friendly. Make me feel valued. Calm me down. Avoid throwing gasoline on my fire. If you are in a service industry, provide service. That is why I pay you.

THE ADVENTURES OF TOM STRANGER, INTERDIMENSIONAL INSURANCE AGENT

“What’s that?” you cry. “What’s an interdimensional insurance agent and who is Tom Stranger?”

From the official blurb on Audible. com:

“Have you ever seen a planet invaded by rampaging space mutants from another dimension or Nazi dinosaurs from the future? Don’t let this happen to you! Rifts happen, so you should be ready when universes collide. A policy with Stranger & Stranger can cover all of your interdimensional insurance needs. Rated “Number One in Customer Satisfaction” for three years running, no claim is too big or too weird for Tom Stranger to handle. The Adventures of Tom Stranger is free until June 21, 2016.”

I don’t work for Audible, so all I can tell you is that this is one of the funniest things I’ve ever listened to in my listening life. It was obviously written for audio. The author is part of the story as is the narrator (Adam Baldwin).

tom stranger

If you like science fiction and you’ve got a weird sense of humor, this is laugh-out-loud funny. It’s just over 2 hours long. I probably will listen to it at least twice, just to pick up on all the humor and wit. It makes fun of science fiction as a genre, and sci fi writers. It also does a great take-down on insurance companies, their agents, and customer service as well as those people who won’t stop calling and trying to sell you something.

As a side note, we’ve been getting a deluge of calls from a company that comes up on Caller ID as “Burial Insurance” … so maybe they know something we don’t know? Or maybe it’s TOM STRANGER!

The price (free) is right. It’s also available on from Amazon. It won’t be free after June 21st, so grab a copy while you can. It’s really very good and hilarious.

IT’S THE PHONE …

There’s a myth circulating that senior citizens are up with the birds and asleep before sunset. An entire culture has been built on “Early Bird Specials,” because old people supposedly eat dinner by 4 pm. I eat around four, but I call it lunch. Dinner is later. Much later.

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

Thus when the phone rang at eight this morning, I wasn’t happy. I got a new phone that plays Beethoven. Loudly. I’ve turned off the ringer in the bedroom, but I’m a light sleeper, so I can hear the phone ringing from three rooms away. At least my new ring tone is musical.

It took me a while to reconnoiter, to recognize the source of the noise. The phone. It’s the phone.

When I’m awake and focused, I only answer calls from people with names I recognize … or which come from a number that looks like a real person’s number. I don’t answer calls from 800 numbers because they aren’t people. They are recorded messages (talk about annoying) or hired solicitors. I know everyone’s got to make a living, but not by calling me.

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

“What?” I say. It would be a snarl, but I’m not awake enough to snarl. I can barely mumble.

From the receiver comes: “Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?”

I was there, but not for long. I clicked “End.” Put the phone back into the cradle. Plumped the pillow and went back to sleep. I was merely annoyed … until the phone rang again. I didn’t answer it. I just clicked it on, then off, so it would stop ringing.

It was Quicken Loans. Again. Twice before 9 in the morning. Wow.

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I knew why. Late last night I accidentally hit one of their ads on Facebook. It was late. I was clumsy. I aimed poorly and awakened a monster.

Quicken loans. I don’t want a loan. I don’t want to refinance my mortgage. I want to sleep. They called a total of 9 times today and sent me half a dozen emails. Be careful what you click. Be very, very careful.

Why 8 in the morning? Any time would be annoying, but earlier is much more annoying.

For anyone who reads this: I will never, ever buy anything at eight in the morning. Nor will I ever buy anything from a blind solicitation on the phone.

But I know, you’ll keep trying. You will never give up.

PRESS ONE FOR INSANITY

Garry got his “Microsoft is ready for your download to Windows 10” notification. It came in yesterday — less than 24 hours after we got the upgrade flag. This must be a record for speedy responses from Microsoft.

I haven’t gotten mine. I haven’t checked the two desk tops. I’m not sure I want to “upgrade.” I fervently wish I could call Microsoft and talk to a person. Ask a few questions.

Microsoft has no customer service, at least not for folks like me. Maybe for big corporate customers who own thousands of licenses. Perhaps then you get the magic phone number that routes you to a live person who answers questions.

Not me, though. I still don’t know if upgrading to Windows 10 will work on this computer. Or will make Garry’s laptop work better — or not at all. I’ve heard from people who had great experiences and those who had serious problems. I’ve heard of disasters with the new OS.

I’d just like to talk to someone, know someone has my back. Our computers are critical. Central. Our connection to the world. Upgrading an operating system is not a small thing.

This got me thinking about the whole “customer-provider” relationship. Here are some thoughts. (They don’t apply to Microsoft because they are far too lofty to bother with customer service. They don’t deal with humans.)

VOICE MAIL: LET ME CHOOSE WHAT I NEED

Every voice mail system starts out saying “Our options have recently changed.” Your options have not recently changed. “Recently” is no more than three months. After that, it’s not recent. Change your message already!

If I know the number I need, let me press it. Don’t make me sit there while you explain in stultifying detail every permutation of your voice mail system.

Accept this as axiomatic. Everyone is familiar with voice mail. It’s not new technology. We know to listen until we hear the option we need. I am not stupid. My time is valuable. Don’t waste it.

NUMBER 1 – BURY NOT THE LEAD

Whatever your organization does, make sure the first choice in your list is the thing most customers want. Probably 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) 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.

NUMBER 2 – IT DOESN’T WORK

Option 2 must be Technical Support. Something isn’t working or not working as it ought. Have a human being answer the phone. Even if it involves waiting, don’t make your already upset, angry customer wade through another set of prompts. Take responsibility. Be a person.

NUMBER 3: ABOUT THAT BILL

Option 3? The bill. Which we already paid, can’t pay, shouldn’t have to pay, is actually someone else’s. If you put us into another voice mail system, it will might us angry enough to dump you for another provider.

We do not want to leave a message for someone to ignore and never call back. We want to straighten out what we hope is a simple misunderstanding. If you send us 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 dropped providers many times and will do it again.

If you annoy me, I will hold a grudge. I am a paying customer. Act like you want my business.

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. Blowing off customers does not endear you to us. If we can, we will go elsewhere. At the first opportunity, we 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 (finally) got FIOS as an alternative to ComCast. FIOS was (a bit) more expensive and had a smaller offering. She changed services anyway. She said: “I hate ComCast so much, I’d happily pay more to anyone just to be rid of them.”

I feel that way about our cable provider, Charter Communications. They think they are invulnerable because we have no choice, but WiFi based services are coming of age. There are more choices today … and more coming soon. It’s a matter of time. The ill-will you are amassing today will ultimately bury you as it has buried providers before you. The good-will of your customer is your primary asset. 

It’s a cautionary tale for corporations who think they “own” the market and the customers.

BE NICE TO US. DON’T BE A STRANGER

Talk to us. Be nice . Make us feel valued. Calm us down rather than throwing gasoline on the fire. If you are in a service industry, provide service. That is why we pay you.

AND THEN HE SAID …

I’m on the phone with CVS. My husband’s prescription had never made it to wherever it needs to be to become a bottle of pills he can purchase and take home. It started when we went to see the doctor about the spider bite, a week ago tomorrow.

His doctor wanted to give him a stronger muscle relaxant because the leg is troubling him. And anyway, the one she usually prescribes, Medicare will only cover half the amount he needs. But, it turned out they wouldn’t cover the substitute at all. So, it was back to the original script.

Which never (apparently) made it to the pharmacy. The doctor’s front office forgot to send it. Again. Or CVS lost it in a pile of faxes from a zillion doctors. Again.

It turned out to be even simpler and more bizarre. What really happened? The doctor’s office faxed the prescription, but the fax telephone line at CVS was overloaded. The prescription, stuck on the electronic waiting list, timed out. When I called this morning, they said they hadn’t received it. They hadn’t because they never clear their lines or empty out the memory of the machine.

Eventually, the manager called me. I had not complained, but I probably had that “unhappy customer sound” in my voice, a tone they have come to know and love.

I said: “The problem seems to be that your fax line is overloaded and the doctor can’t get through. Have you considered adding another line and another machine? It wouldn’t cost you hardly any money and it would improve your relationship with customers and doctors too.”

lightbulb idea

“That’s a good idea,” he said. “I could run that past corporate. It would be inexpensive and solve a lot of problems.”

Right. This being a longstanding and well-known problem, why do they need me to tell them? Isn’t this something the manager could figure out?

As in “Duh!! Our fax line is so busy doctors can’t get through and patients don’t get their prescriptions in a timely fashion. We need another line! Another fax machine!

Personally, I’ve gone back to getting paper scripts. I hand them to the pharmacist, just like I used to in the old days. Ninety-nine out of a hundred times, I actually get my prescription. It’s a miracle!

Progress doesn’t always move forward. Sometimes, it means going backwards and taking technology out of the loop.