Saturday, July 23, 2011

Customer Service Craziness Magnet

Some people are magnets for bad boy/girlfriends.  Others are magnets for "trouble".  I'm a magnet for poor customer service.

I don't know why that is, exactly.  Generally speaking, I'm friendly and I get along well with others who show me some modest level of respect.  So why is it that I tend to find the people who don't know what they're doing, don't know how to help me and don't ever seem to satisfy what I've asked for?

Part of it, I think, is that I DO know what I'm doing, most of the time.  So by the time I call for help, or by the time I look for additional information, I'm not a newbie.  I don't need to be walked through the basics.  I don't need to be told to "make sure it's plugged in" or to "check to verify xyz".  I've done those things long ago.  I've also tried about a dozen potential solutions.  I've spent an hour or more on the internet looking to see if other people have had the same difficulty and how they resolved the issue.  I've done my homework and now I'm calling "the expert" for assistance.

Oh, and need I mention that at one point in my life, I was a first-line tech support guy, too?  So I've seen it all from both sides of the fence.  Take it from me, customer service is lacking across the board.  But I hear the complaints about stupid customers, stupid management and god-awful policies.  I understand that you are constrained.  You have limits to your abilities to help.  You can only do so much with what you're given.

So, customer service experts, here are some suggestions on how to satisfy your next customer without going crazy yourself, but still meeting the needs of the person coming to you for help (because even in sales-related customer service, you're still providing "help" of some sort):

  1. Assume that I know what I'm talking about.  You can use a few base questions to figure out if I really do or if I've only got a surface-level knowledge about the topic at issue.  But don't start from the "you don't know anything" position.  This shows respect and you might find out that I actually DO know what I'm talking about.  Heck, you might even learn something about your area of expertise as a result.
  2. Listen.  I know, I know.  Trite.  But yet so true.  You have to listen to me.  Which means that you can't be talking at the same time or trying to tell me something about anything other than what I am asking you to address.  It's kinda' funny that I'm saying this, for with legal-related issues, I know that I tend to ask questions about what appear to be unrelated topics.  But if you have to ask a question that makes it sound like you've not been listening and are just going through a checklist, explain the reason for the question.
  3. Respond to what I'm asking.  If I ask "What's your lowest APR available today?" - don't tell me the benefits of your company.  Tell me the lowest APR.  If I say "I want to buy THIS computer." please don't try to sell me something different.  And if I ask "Can I use any receptacle for my outdoor plugs or do I need a GFCI plug?" don't provide me with the history of the discovery of electricity.  Answer the friggin' question.
  4. I don't need to know how smart you are.  I'm already coming to you for your knowledge.  You don't need to prove that you know more about the topic than I do.  You simply need to apply that knowledge to solve my problem.  I admit that I stumble on this one as a consultant all the time.  I forget that they already know I'm an expert and I sometimes feel the need to prove it.  Don't.
  5. Answering "I don't know" to my question is fine - so long as you follow it with "but I'll go find out for you."  Nuff said.
Anything I've left out?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Copyright Oddities

Copyright is a weird animal.  It's one of the few constitutionally-mandated personal rights and it serves as the basis for the vast majority of the things people do online and in their daily lives (everything from this blog to your tweets and FB status postings to anything you write as a result of your job.... to photos you take while on vacation).  Yet it's so fundamentally misunderstood that it's almost a joke.

Which is interesting given that the penalties for violating copyright are pretty severe.  Forgetting the civil penalties (those that can be levied against you by the actual person you harmed), the criminal penalties can go up to $250,000/copy + 5 years in Club Fed.

One of the nuances of copyright is that in order to have a copyright in something, you have to have created the work covered by copyright (and it has to be a work that can be granted a copyright) ... or you have to have acquired the copyright rights from the person who created the work.

Which makes the situation around the photographer who had his camera lifted by a monkey ... and who then proceeded to snap a wonderful self-portrait .... so damn interesting, especially to those of us interested in copyrights.

In fact, as soon as I saw this image, I went to make it my Facebook profile photo.  Which, of course, I shouldn't do - I don't own the image.  And it took Facebook reminding me of this fact for me to actually stop from doing it.  But the question is:  who holds the copyright to the image?

The ownership of the photograph itself is clear: it's the photographer (and perhaps the wire news service that paid the photographer for the photo).  But copyright doesn't automatically transfer with the ownership of the tangible item - again, copyright is a weird creature and unless you're willing to dive down the moral rights rabbit hole with me tonight, just accept what I tell you as fact and look it up later.

Copyright, however, requires an "author" ... and per US law (17 USC), an author can only be a "natural person" or a "juridicial person" (a corporation, etc).  A monkey (or other animal) doesn't fit into either category and is thus unable to hold copyright.  The result is that there now exists a legal quandary.  Who (if anyone) holds copyright?

The law is pretty clear at the moment (and, in fact, is being used as yet another example of how copyright law is outdated and needs to be revised for the 21st century - but really, do picture-taking monkeys only exist in the 21st century?).  However, the news agency seems to assert that copying is at least uncool if not illegal.  Which is going to prompt someone to eventually sue.

This is one to watch, folks.  The outcome could get interesting.

Monday, July 04, 2011

House Dating

In case you haven't seen my posts on the topic before, Tina and I are looking for a new home.  Cam's getting to the age where he needs more space (and I would like an office that isn't also a bedroom).  So we've spent the better part of a year fixing the things that needed fixing... and making the house a curb-appeal rockstar.

Meanwhile, we're sorta' looking, too (no, we're not dumb enough to want to try to have two mortgages - no thank you).  But if we get an offer, we need to be prepared.  So we've keep a running list of a few potential properties that we'd like to go see in the event things work out for us.  A few days ago, things started to look like they would.

So we took 3 hours out of our realtor's Fourth of July weekend to go house hunting yesterday.  I have to say that I'm pretty disappointed overall... and I think it has to do with some central tenants/laws/rules about selling homes that really closely pair with rules for dating.

1. Set expectations properly.  When you're dating, especially online, the first thing most people show is their photo.  As a guy, I can tell you that if you are looking through a screen of women and all you see is a head, the first question you have is about the body.

Homes are the same.  If you show the inside, but no exterior shots - my first thought is that there's something wrong with the outside.  Additionally, when you DO show photos of the outside, don't take a photo from a weird angle to use some form of forced perspective to make it no longer appear that you have a 200' vertical elevation drop from the street to your garage.  The minute I see that in real life, I'm not even going to look inside your home (which will become more important to you, the seller, in a minute).

Also - if you post a sign or have a request that I take of my shoes when entering, you'd better well have your place looking like a "no shoes" home.  By that, I mean:

  • you'd better not be a smoker and have cigarette butts outside or smoke smell inside
  • your floors had better be immaculately clean (my white socks will tell me the story in a minute)
  • you probably shouldn't have a dog - especially one that requires food and water bowls in the kitchen AND in your master bathroom... and where you've picked up the slopped food around the bowls, too
All in all, if you ask me to remove my shoes, I will have enough respect for you to do it - even though I don't know you.  But if you've wasted my time AND I've felt just a little weird walking bare or stocking-footed through your home, you can bet I'm not putting an offer on your place.

So, set expectations properly.

2.  Know your price range.  Look, I know that nobody wants to admit when someone is "out of their league" but the truth of the matter is that not everyone fits well with everyone else romantically.  Try as hard as you might, but Penny and Leonard just aren't meant to be together long term (besides, Pria is a better match).  Granted, I have NOTHING against Penny.  She's just not going to be able to hang with Leonard's crowd (or vice versa for that matter - even though Leonard really wants to).

For houses, if you price your home based on what you feel it's worth, and not based on what it's actually worth given its location and condition, don't expect to get what you want out of it.  Real estate is already incredibly volatile and fickle.  Our current home was headed on a 5+%/year increase trajectory at the point when we bought it.  Which means that today, I should be able to get 128% of what I paid for it.  Wanna' guess if that's what the housing market says it's worth?  Of course it's not.  The market took a header and down went my hopes of ever seeing the 100% increase prior owners of this same house did.

When you price your home and then scoff at the offers that come in, take a moment to think about whether the home is worth what you're asking.  What makes it worth that?  Is it immaculate?  Does it have a big backyard with a fence?  Is it on a quiet street in a good neighborhood?  Does it still have any builder brass or builder slab fixtures?

I'm not going to pay for potential.  I'm going to pay for what is.

3.  The corollary to #2 is: Don't believe your own hype.  Yes, I know you're awesome and your mother thinks you're awesome, too.  What does your ex-girlfriend/boyfriend think?  Would they start your personal ad with all caps: "STUNNING HOME (guy/girl) IN & IS PICTURE PERFECT"?


Right.  Why?  Well, first, all caps is shouting.  But beyond that, people won't describe themselves as perfect (and usually not stunning).  Which is why, in real estate, we have agents.  House Pimps.  They're there to market the heck out of something that isn't all that.  And, like lawyers, we tend to dislike all of them other than our own.  [Speaking of which, our agent is awesome.  If you ever need someone in Raleigh, let us know and we'll connect you.]

But when you believe the House Pimp Hype, you're forgetting that there's a reason why you no longer want to live there.  Part of that forgetting allows you to move... the other part makes you want to sell for more than it's worth (See #2 above).  More importantly, however, it creates a disconnect between reality and fantasy.  At the end of the day, I'm buying a house and I'm going to have to work to turn it into a home.  Drop your hype and figure out what it is about the house that lends itself to becoming a home.

The same, of course, is true for dating - you become a great catch when you realize what you have that's useful to someone else.  But this is really the subject of a whole other post (and a book that I'm working on).

4.  Don't waste my time.  Actually, all of these rules come together to support this final rule.  If you waste my time, you're never going to get my interest.  If I have to figure out the "real you" in dating or the "real deal" on the house, that's wasting my time.  And given the amount of technology at our disposal these days to find out a lot of the story early on in the "relationship", don't be surprised that if you try to fool me to get me close and when I am and see you for what you are ... that I run.

Yesterday, we saw the 200' vertical drop house in person.  Photos made it look great, but there was no way that we would ever make it up and onto the street in a Raleigh winter with a little ice or freezing rain.  So we didn't bother to even look inside the house.  There was no way to fix this issue.

Some people probably don't care about things like that (heck, the house isn't brand new, so theoretically, several people haven't been bothered by it).  But deceiving me enough to drive out to BFE to see it in person just pissed me off.  So I cancelled my showing slot.  Which, if you're like me, meant that you had been forced out of your house during my slot and now have nothing to show for it.

On the flip side... don't make a showing appointment with me and then cancel mid-way through the time.  I've had to pack Cam into the car... maybe even wake him from a nap a little early.  All told, a huge inconvenience.  I've been completely honest in my listing and photos so there's nothing unexpected about what you'll see when you arrive.  So don't bail on me now.  Because, as with dating, I can find out who you are (or who your House Pimp is)... and I can promise that if you call back later, I won't be pleasant to deal with.  :)

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Fear Factor

I like writing about funny things.  Recalling the moment of humor and the setup for how it all transpired is incredibly satisfying when I can do it so that others find the funny, too.  Life, of course, isn't always fun and games.  As a parent, the feeling I feel when looking at Cameron more often then anything else, second only to unbridled joy is abject terror.

Which, if you know me, isn't like me.  I'm not really afraid of anything.  Snakes, spiders, the dark... even buying feminine hygiene products alone.  Nothing bothers me that much.  But I worry about Cameron.  I worry about him getting sick or injured.  I worry about his life and his future.  I worry about whether he'll have good friends.  I worry about whether he'll want to have a family of his own and whether, once he's grown up, he'll look back on his childhood with fondness.

I suppose these are the worries any parent has with regards to their children.  But with only a 16mo old, I don't really hear anyone else talking about it.  Granted, that could be because I work out of my house and all of my coworkers are hundreds or thousands of miles away.  It could also be because Cam's just too young for me to stress out about these things quite yet.

However, I don't think I'm really stressing.  There's a difference between stressing and worrying.  I don't lay awake at night.  I don't get cold sweats.  I don't hyperventilate.  At least not yet.

I don't stress because I know that he's got a loving home.  He's got 2 parents who will do anything for him.  He's got 6 grandparents that love him, too.  He's got a nanny who smiles as big as he does every morning she walks in the door.  And he's got a large family and friend network that he doesn't even yet realize is there, too.

On the other hand, I worry because I want to be a good dad.  Sure, I want to be the cool dad.  But I also want to be the dad that he can come to with serious questions and discuss deep topics without fear of judgement or ridicule.  I want to be the dad he wants to bring to show and tell.  I want to be the dad he wants to play with.  I want to be the dad and man he wants to eventually be.

When Cam was born, his grandma gave me a laminated poem.  It was written by John Wooden, late coach of the UCLA Bruins.  It's a wonderful reminder for both dad's and mom's and sets a great expectation.  I hope I can meet it.

The Little Chap Who Follows Me
A careful man I ought to be,
A little fellow follows me,
I do not dare to go astray
For fear he'll go the selfsame way.

I cannot once escape his eyes,
Whate'er he sees me do, he tries;
Like me, he says, he's going to be,
The little chap who follows me.

He thinks that I am good and fine,
Believes in every word of mine
The base in me he must not see,
The little chap who follows me.

I must remember as I go,
Through summer's fun and winter's snow,
In building for the years to be
The little chap who follows me!