A review of Blue Vinyl

It would be nice if some day we could say, "great, now we know about ALL of the human-made products and processes that can give us cancer and harm the planet, now let's start doing something about them." But alas, it seems that everywhere you look, there's a new story about a chemical or drug or food or way of raising your children that can endanger our lives. Some of it is fear-mongering, but some of it is an honest and long-overdue look at the products and practices that we take for granted, examining them for harm they might cause and seeking healthier alternatives. And in her award winning film Blue Vinyl, that's just what Judith Hefland has done with...get ready for it...vinyl siding.
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Customer service done right by Fazoli's

E8AEFF9E1A8811DA.jpgOver the weekend I visited the Fazoli's drive through on my way out of town - it's the closest thing we've got to an Italian restaurant (though maybe not for long) and I have a certain affinity for it after having worked at one as a teenager for one of my first real jobs (it did take me a 10 year hiatus to wash all of the garlic butter out of my clothes before I could go back, but hey...). This particular visit to the restaurant was horrible - garbled drive through communication, messed up order, improper packaging that led to messes and burning of skin, etc.

As I tend to do, I used Fazoli's web-based comment system last night to describe my experience in hopes of helping them make things better. I was really impressed that today, I got a calls from the store manager and the regional manager, both telling me how devastated (their word) they were about my experience. When I talked to the store manager further, she went into detail about the specific things they should have done differently, and mentioned what steps she was taking to prevent it from happening again. And of course, she said "it would make her feel better" if she could send me some coupons. I really appreciate that.

So from a customer service perspective, despite the negative initial experience, they did everything else right:

  1. They made it really easy to contact them with my comments and concerns
  2. They quickly and sincerely acknowledged my concerns, and showed me that it was important to them to take action
  3. They addressed the specifics of my comments and what should have been done differently, without making excuses
  4. They offered to make it right in a tangible way

Nicely done.

When people driving cars kill people riding bikes

IMG_0031.JPGWhile I was in Chicago this past week for the professional technical conference some of us from Summersault were attending, we were walking to dinner one night and witnessed the driver of an SUV come within inches of hitting a cyclist. Despite the fact that the driver was rushing to turn through a yellow light, in typical big-city style, the driver of the SUV had the additional gall to yell at the cyclist to look out where she was going and then speed off. The biker was shaken up a bit but carried on fine, and we went on our way.

Not the most positive exchange, but at least the cyclist wasn't actually hit and hurt or killed. Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the death of Earlham graduate Jessica Bullen after being struck by a driver in Madison, Wisconsin - her story and memorial fund are described here. Even more sadly, Jessica was a strong advocate (in a town that I consider quite biker-friendly already) for cyclists and worked to raise awareness for motorists that inattentive driving could result in a preventable injury or death. My life has been impacted in other ways by similar deaths - a good friend of my family started Fernside, a now internationally known center for grieving children, after her son was killed on his bike as a result of being struck by a car.
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More credit card offers...from Miami University?

Sound the rant alert. I've written here before about how much I don't like getting credit card offers in the mail, but I've learned to deal with it. Or, I thought I had. Then came the onslaught of offers from the Miami University Alumni Association for a card branded by Miami - "support us and save with our low introductory rate!" Groan. One of those mailings I could have dealt with...but I've gotten four identical offers in the last two months alone - and I didn't even attend Miami. So, that means that not only does Miami (and JPMorgan Chase & Co., the organization they're working with to make this offer) not observe the national "do not contact" lists I've subscribed to, but that unless they are *trying* to tick people off, their mailing list management also stinks. Apparently they have some data privacy issues to work through, too.
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Bring Your Own Bags, Save Money

Plastic grocery bags. Some people throw them away. Some people ball them up and keep them forever. Some people crochet them into wreaths, rugs, purses and other beautiful things. I definitely fall into the "keep them forever" camp, or at least I did until I learned that some grocery stores around the nation are getting smart about re-using these pervasive pabulum pouches, and offering you a discount on your purchase if you bring your own bags instead of using new ones. If done right, the result can be a leveling-off of the rate at which you acquire new bags, cost savings, and no extra hassle - a blessing for pack-rats everywhere.
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Whiny insights about local cable internet provider

If you read through my weblog, you might get the impression that I find joy in whining and complaining about the poor customer service practices of companies I deal with. Really, I tend to be a pretty positive person, and don't go out looking to pick people/places/things apart just for fun. But sometimes I just gotta share.

So there's a local cable internet provider, which I won't identify here by name, that I wish had better Insight into its own local network operations. Based on my experience, they have downtime / problems and my connection goes down when any of the following occur:
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The Customer Can Always Write

I get the sense that I tend to spend an unusual amount of time exercising my "right" as a consumer to provide feedback to the companies and organizations from which I buy products and services. The general trend in "consumer action" these days when a company is providing poor customer service or substandard products seems to be cursing a bit under one's breath, perhaps having a tense exchange with The Manager, but otherwise letting it go...and usually returning again soon to patronize the same business without a memory of frustrating experiences of the past. Whatever the reason might be for this trend - reduction of our shopping choices, general consumer apathy, or something else - it's exactly what many businesses are counting on from all of us so they can keep their bottom line where they like it. I have a different sense about how we should act in the face of poor service and products.
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Stopping Credit Card Offers

I had come to accept that possessing and using a credit card necessitated the related evil of receiving pre-approved credit card offers, and similar junk like insurance quotes. But just today I read the fine print on the back of one of these offers, and found reference to a new service that allows you to opt out (permanently, or for five years) of the databases used by the major credit card companies to generate these offers. You can either go to www.optoutprescreen.com, or just call 1-888-5-OPTOUT. It's worth noting that you can also call 1-888-LOST-NUT or 1-888-LOST-OUT to reach the same service.

OfficeMax responds to customer service letter

I had a nice call this morning from Nick, the local store manager of the OfficeMax in Richmond. I'd recently had some really poor customer service experiences in that store with them and had submitted a narrative of those experiences for their review. I usually don't bother going back to a place after such occurrences - especially not a big box store - but in Richmond they are uniquely suited to sell a few products that I and/or Summersault consume, so I thought it worth at least trying to share my observations in hopes of improvement. Indeed, Nick mentioned that they'd "huddled" about/around the letter this morning as a staff, and that they'd be researching the issues I brought up. So I guess that means either (A) I'll be mugged in a dark alley by a bunch of disgruntled OfficeMax employees wielding letter-openers, or (B) I might actually have a better experience next time.

Instead of sitting on hold, get a call back

I called Vectren Energy Delivery (a.k.a. the gas company) the other day with a question about my bill, and was pleasantly surprised by a customer service measure they've implemented. When I had made my way through the phone tree to the point where I start to sit on hold, the system said "we'll call you back within the same period of time you might wait on hold - 47 minutes." Then they let me enter a phone number and record my name. Indeed, about 30 minutes later, I got a call back from an automated voice saying "please press 1 when Chris Hardie is on the line", and was then connected to a real person who promptly addressed my concern.

While I sort of question 47 minutes as a reasonable hold time (there was no known natural disaster occurring at the time of my call), I really appreciated having the option of making it their responsibility to follow up, instead of my responsibility to sit on hold. It also means they don't have to keep as many phone lines and support staff active, which theoretically reduces costs. I hope other call centers consider similar measures!