Thursday, March 08, 2007

Living in DC - Some snippets of good customer service
I've complained for awhile about the lousy customer service I've gotten over the past few months. Now it's time for me to talk about some good experiences I've had recently.

It Was Easy: My cordless phone broke, and the manufacturer seemed to think it was the battery. I wasn't so sure. I went to Staples south of Dupont Circle and asked an employee what he thought the problem might be. "You know," he said, "if you buy the battery and that's not the problem, you have 14 days to bring it back." I didn't even have to ask. It turned out the phone was broken - and the new battery didn't help. I took it back and they immediately refunded my money. It was easy.

Invisible to the Customer: I'm Wi-Fi-ing my laptop. My awesome computer guy at work suggested some routers and where to purchase them online. I went to Pricegrabber and ordered one from TigerDirect. I didn't put any special rush on it. That was Monday night. It got to my condo yesterday afternoon!

...and one that's not really "customer service" but just a message from a really nice guy:

Personal Training: I got an email last night from PD, my personal trainer at Gold's for most of last year. He was transferred to another gym near the end of August. Something had reminded him of me and he wanted to know if I was still hitting the gym and hoped everything was going well.

Now I'm just hoping that the Gods of Marketing and Other Disasters don't feel the need to rain down misery on me for the next few weeks. Especially since I'm currently getting enough of that at work!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

What Else Happened At Walter Reed?
The current "Walter Reed" scandal has spurred me to post about what happened at the Walter Reed Annex, about a mile north of DC, during WWII. Wounded military made up the patient list back then, rounded out with a population of soldiers being treated in the psych ward. Also in the psych ward were soldiers waiting to be dishonorably discharged for being gay.

I grew up about a mile away from the Annex, and it wasn't until my late 30's that I heard about this. I saw a PBS documentary - locally produced - about the Annex. A former nurse was interviewed, and I remember her words:

"They used to help us on our rounds, giving out medicine, that kind of thing. They were being discharged, and there was nothing wrong with them."

That quote stayed with me for a long time.

I ended up writing a play about it, set in the Annex - "Dearboy's War." It received an awesome premiere production in Los Angeles a few years back. Chad Allen starred (pictured, with Dave Fofi), along with my cousin. Also in the large, incredibly talented cast was Bruce Solomon, the guy who gets murdered in the first ten minutes of "Foul Play."

I've tried to get it produced again, but the backers stayed away in droves. I ran out of ideas for plays after "Dearboy's War," so I've turned to screenplays, which are a whole lot tougher to get produced. My dream would be to have it done at the Annex itself...

My gut feeling for writing the play - the overriding urge that propelled the words and characters? I thought of those guys in 1942, yanked out of their units, forced to trade their uniforms and status for hospital outfits, trying to keep their hopes up, and no resources to help them out. Not much different from the stories these days coming from the Walter Reed hospital just a few miles away.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Enough About You - What About Me?
Some thoughts on customer satisfaction surveys...
Gold's Gym emailed me a customer satisfaction survey at the end of January. I was getting ready to go on vacation, so I ignored it. The other day, I saw a banner in the gym advertising a new contest they're running with Men's Fitness. I flashed back to the previous contest I entered - "Win a Gold's Gym Workout with John Cena" - and remembered "they never let me know if anybody won that."

Then I thought of the survey, and reasoned "I can at least fill it out BEFORE I start complaining."

I took a look at it a few minutes ago. It's about 12-15 Web pages of questions about what I thought of the facility, the machines, the weights, the staff. I kept clicking through it, not choosing any of the ratings, looking for a question about ME. About 8 pages in, and a couple of pages before the end, I got to those questions. "What part of your body do you most work on," with a list of body parts/muscle groups, and "what are your overall fitness goals. Then the end page, with a box to write in additional feedback.

When I tried to go back to actually fill out the survey, I got the "Thanks for answering the questions" page.

I didn't answer any questions! But I do have these thoughts:

1. Any staff member can walk through the gym and point out the things that work and those needing improvement. You're asking me to do what is basically your job - keep track of the establishment's upkeep. Don't you have standards of operation? If the elliptical machines are squeaking, do you have to wait for a member to let you know about it via email? Can't you walk around at 12 noon and 6pm and see if the two benches have lines of people waiting to use them?

2. The questions about me you're asking via the survey - isn't it a little late for those? I remember a trainer asked them when I joined in early 2005. As did all the other trainers I worked with. I'm not sure what you're going to do with the answers I give online - probably compile them with all the others and draw a chart to show the board of directors: "As you can see by this PowerPoint graph, 87% of our members join to lose weight. That's in keeping with the overall estimation for the years 2005-2009. We recommend that staff continue to ignore members unless they want to sign up for personal training."

3. You ask on one page about personal training - mainly, have I had any experience with trainers there. Um, I spent about $5,000 in 2006 on personal training at your gym, which you kept track of in your computer database - AND YOU DON'T KNOW THIS?!?!?!

4. I may have gotten the exact wording of some of these questions I cite above wrong.
I'd like to go back and make sure I understood them correctly. But, I can't, because I'm now locked out of the survey. (This also goes for if I wanted to go back and change any of my answers.)

5. The final page of the survey states:
Thank you for taking a moment to provide us with feedback regarding your Gold’s Gym membership. Your answers will allow us the opportunity to consider possible enhancements to our facilities, as well as ensure that the service you receive from Gold’s Gym continues to exceed your expectations.
At this point, I'm reading "possible enhancements" as "we have to write the word possible because we can't promise anything," and "exceed your expectations," as "we haven't got a clue as to what your expectations are."

Sorry to be so negative, but I'm reading all this customer service information and I see what the Web is capable of and I spend all this money and still I'm A) expected to do the staff's work, and B) not worthy of any staff member asking me any of those questions in person.

I guess it's because I'm not on the A-List.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Lure of the List
From Erte of Reho comes the question:
Why would anyone want to be an A-Lister?

Money. Power. Fame. But those are the boring reasons. Let's look a little deeper. I think it's because:

1. who doesn't like attention?
2. who doesn't like attention from someone with high (positive) visibility?
3. who doesn't like to feel as the fellow does in the Gaping Void cartoon (above)?

I think that way down deep inside, those of us who dream of the A-List have some very specific wants and needs in mind. Let's take some examples from, let's see - how about the gay community? Entry into the A-List there means:

1. you instantly morph into a "body of death."
2. you acquire a perfect and stunning boyfriend.
3. whatever is currently making you miserable (Saturday nights spent alone, walking into a bar and not knowing a single soul, personal invisibility) is irrevocably banished from your existence.
4. you become haphazardly and irreversibly happy.

Of course, alcohol can mimic a number of the items above, except for #2.

How can you tell if you are desperate to gain entry to the A-List?
1. you suffer from "I want what I can't have" syndrome.
2. you feel "there's a party going on and I'm not invited."
3. you watch E!
4. you're juicing.

But, like all lures, once you're actually caught by the A-List hook, you find yourself pulled in another environment altogether...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Customer Anti-Evangelists
I've been reading some of the fascinating stuff online about Starbuck's Coffee and CEO Howard Schultz's memo in which he states that the "cafes" he's spawned no longer offer the experience they once did.

Commentary on this that has floated to the top of my latte: that there's no place to sit nowadays at a Starbuck's since it's so crowded, and afficianados have to stand in line with soccer moms and teenagers hooked on frappucinos.

And I wonder: all this "Customer Evangelism" stuff, where we who love a product supposedly set out on missions to gain converts to the brand - what happens to the missionary when the company goes off without them?

Do we think twice about going gaga over the next cool thing? Do we emulate the once loyal parishioners who now hate the Catholic Church after they hid the pedophile priest problem and botched communications when the scandal broke?

Do I, as a loyal alumni of Atlantis cruises, cut way back on my influencing others to come along for the ride, for fear of the experience becoming too huge to handle, as the recent Freedom of the Seas cruise threatened to be? (although I did have a fantastic time this year and I've signed up for South America next year...)

Do we become Anti-Evangelists, like the Maestro:

KRAMER: Yeah, ya know you haven't been around for a while.
MAESTRO: Oh yeah, I've been at my house in Tuscany.
KRAMER: Oh Tuscany huh? Hear that Jerry? That's in Italy.
JERRY: I hear it's beautiful there.
MAESTRO: Well if you're thinking of getting a place there don't bother. There's really nothing available.