Monday, April 20, 2009

Obama's Foreign Policy-The Need For a Bigger Banana

I was a skinny, shy, introverted, asthmatic, wheezy wimp of a kid. Perhaps that is why John Cybulski saw fit to terrorize me. He wasn’t a bully like bullies you hear about today; I don’t remember him stealing my lunch or locking me in the bathroom. He picked on me though. Picked on my friends. Inspired fear, somehow.

When I read this article about Obama changing the way we do foreign policy, I thought back to John Cybulski.

As I remember it, two events leveled the playing field.

Forced off of my Royce Union bicycle, he threw me down onto the grass. I probably prompted the attack-“Hey Cybulski where do the Polish keep their armies? In their sleevies!” I remember the struggle, the flying fists, the anger and frustration. No blood was drawn, no clear-cut winner established. I’d fought back though, and held my own.

The second event came at lunch time. Picture the school cafeteria, rows of benches and tables. I remember the scene exactly. I don’t remember what Cybulski did to make me so angry. Angry enough so that I temporarily lost my mind.

There he stands two tables over, chatting with his friends. There I sit, half-eaten lunch, no appetite for more. I grab hold of my leftover banana with peel, and fling it as hard as I possibly can, nailing John Cybulski dead center in the middle of his back.

I had no trouble with him after that. Ever.

As I reflect upon my childhood, I believe that Obama should focus less on breaking bread and shaking hands with the enemy, and focus more on growing bigger bananas.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

10 Tips for Excellent Customer Service

Giving form to some customer service guidelines I’ve developed in my thirty-plus years of working with the public. Currently I manage a team of baristas.

1) Acknowledge the customer. Even if you and your surroundings are on fire. You can say something to them such as, “I will be with you as soon as I finish this drop and roll. Please feel free to grab a stick and some marshmellows until I can wait on you.”

2) Remember their name and something about them. Most folks have trouble with this one, and state poor memory as an excuse. The same people have no difficulty remembering what songs got Allison, Anoop and Adam into the final spots on American Idol or what Simon Cowell said to get them there.

Corollary 1) Care. I was challenged early on that the reason I didn’t remember names was not a problem with memory, but a problem about caring.
Use memory gimmicks. I knew a girl named Bridgett that had braces. I paired her name with the bridge across her teeth, hence, Bridge-it.

3) Chat it up. You’ve got maybe two to three minutes with them. Incorporate Step 2: "How was the vacation? Did your daughter see the doctor for those ugly warts yet?"

4) Be upbeat. Remember the Cheers theme song and pretend you are Sam. People want to talk about their problems, not yours.

5) Pick up the pace. People usually have someplace else to go. Aggressively consider ways to move them out the door (or off the phone). I often see the Baristas doing one job at a time-for instance, standing idle while the machine generates expresso. Multi-tasking would mean they could help another customer during that window of time, or prep for the next customer.

6) Direct and educate. Set parameters. Teaching them to help you do your job will improve their overall time and experience. I consistently chat and direct people, “It’ll take me two minutes to steam your milk. I’ll have it for you at the end of the bar.”
7) Clarify. Find out what they want, not what they think they should want or say. “So, if I understand you correctly, you need to see a Dr. today because of the airplane in your living room?”

8) If you screw up, fix it. Buy them a drink. I often give away cups of coffee because a wait was too long, or because we messed up a drink. This moves the customer from being annoyed and never returning to-being pleasantly surprised at getting free stuff, and returning for more.

9) Do it right the first time. Integrity is important.

10) Take deep breaths. There will always be a struggle between quality and quantity. There will never be enough manpower to do the job right. Other people will consistently fudge on their responsibility to the customer, making you look bad. See numbers one through 8.

Your turn. What tips have you picked up, either as a customer or from working with people?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

My New Neigbor

He loves darkness more than light. He's killed once already. I fully expect him to take another life soon. I only hope that the neighbor on the other side escapes his hunger.

I've not heard him, but I saw him today. Right outside my window. He hid when I tried to take his picture. The internet information on him describes him as anti-social, a loner, living alone, setting his own path.

My landlord will not be pleased; him having moved in under my house-my shelter being his cover.

My new neighbor. I must watch my step as I walk across my yard.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Death and Red Tape

I can feel my blood pressure escalating, and I just cussed out the gentlemen in the Arrangements Department at the mortuary. Like many Americans, my mom had her Social Security check deposited into her checking account. She had most of her bills electronically debited from the same account. So, I spent a good portion of the afternoon today making phone calls like this:

(After 3 minute wait on hold)
“Hello, this is Charlotte, how may I help you?”
“Yes, my mom passed away on the 20th. She has a home equity account that gets pulled out of her checking account. What will happen if there is no money in that account?”
“Well, Dillo, I wish I could tell you that, but I need a death certificate to give you that information.”
“Well, generally, Charlotte (How often do you get to use General Lee and the name of a southern city in the same sentence?), what would happen?”
“We’ll debt the account, and since there’s no money in there, you will be hit with millions of dollars in fees, and the mortgage payment will still be owed.”

After getting off the phone with Charlotte, I called the Mortuary. I was told: the County of Los Angeles doesn’t even think about issuing the death certificate until ten to fifteen working days (and the gentlemen put the emphasis on working days) after the burial, which will be in another two weeks. Swell, just swell.

Update: I received the death certificates two days after writing the draft for this post. On Tuesday, I went into the Wells Fargo office by my mom’s house and had them note her death. However, the Death Verification Department was closed (okay, it’s really the Deceased Processing Department, which, I think, it was also called in the movie, Soylent Green).

I went into my local branch yesterday, and had the Banker at the branch call them. Closed again. I found myself getting angry, both with the Banker, and with the entire process.

Life is full of red tape. Seeing red and being red are not the answers.

1) I must remember to be a blessing to the folks on the other end of my situation, and not a curse. My cussing them out, spitting at them and hitting them with large, leather bound manuscripts doesn’t help them through their day at all. All the folks I have to deal with have to deal with other folks in my situation, and with more red tape. I must pray more, bless more, be less self-centered.
2) Remember those going through difficult circumstances; the death of a loved one, sickness, or even normal day atrocities like the DMV. Life is hard. Give them hope, not hell.