Customer Service: Doing it Wrong

I have recently changed one of my utilities from one option to another, meaning that I signed up with company A, and cancelled service with company B. Company A has been great. Personable, professional, punctual. The guy who came in to install my new equipment even took time to start interesting conversation as he worked.

Company B has left something to be desired. A quick timeline.

D (Decision) Day: I call company B and tell them to shut of my service in two days. They describe the process, which includes shutoff on D+2, and them shipping me a box to send them back their modem.

D+1: Company A’s chatty representative comes to my house and sets up my new service.

D+9: A sales rep from company B calls and asks if I really intend to shut down service with them (note that this is a week after the day they were instructed to). I say no thank you.

D+13: I get a call from the collections department of company A, asking — I’ll admit politely — why I haven’t turned in the modem. I tell them I was waiting for the box, which the rep says they never said they’d send. They arrange to send a courier out to pick it up in two days.

D+14: Courier shows up in the middle of my day, a day early. I give him the modem and collect my receipt.

D+16 (yesterday): I get another collections call asking where their modem is. I read them the receipt number from the courier.

I’m not just writing this to vent. Learning from other peoples’ mistakes is one of the best things we can do as professionals in any field. I’m not worried that these guys are going to torch my credit, or that I won’t get a full refund for the extra week they kept me on.  Big companies usually make these things right. That’s not the problem here.

The problem here is that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, and neither of them are in touch with the foot they’re subcontracting part of the job to. It’s a problem of organization and communication.

As freelance writers, it’s easy to fall into the habit of “remembering” all of our deadlines and urgent communications. Heck, my rule for years was “if I’m tempted to buy a calendar, it’s time to simplify my life.” But if you want to make a full-time living, you need to keep your tasks and contacts organized.

There’s all manner of ways to make and keep that organization. I’d love to hear some of your ideas and methods. Doesn’t really matter how you meet your deadlines and keep your promises…

…but it matters a lot that you do so.

Thanks for listening.

My Clock Makes Me Angry

I am a big fan of good design. Whether it’s the newest gadget, or a business that runs really well, I can admire the intelligence and hard work that went into it. Take, for example, Out of This World Pizza. It’s a pizza place near where I live with enormous indoor play structures for the kids to run around in. Not an uncommon business model, but every time I go in I notice something else that makes me say “Wow. These guys know what they’re doing.”

On the far side of this extreme is my clock. The one by my bed. I get up with my baby, so this has nothing to do with the tyranny of the morning alarm. No. This is a small error, really a tiny little thing, that can push me into a seething rage if I let it. Like many clocks, it has two buttons: one to set minutes and one to set hours.

Here’s the thing. The minute button is to the left of the hour button. The left. The buttons are arranged in the exact opposite order as the actual minutes and hours are on the clock face and in our cognition. I’d say “what were they thinking?” but it’s obvious nobody was.

How does this relate to writing? It’s a tiny thing, but it spoils my enjoyment of my clock every time I think about it. (Well, to be fair, I kind of enjoy raging on about it.) What small elements of writing can turn off a client, disinterest an editor, or bore a reader? With my clock, it’s clear that somebody just didn’t take that last step to make things excellent. Never do that with your writing.

Thanks for listening.

More About School Lunches

Readers of some of my earlier posts are by now aware of how alarming I find the school lunch situation in our public schools. I’ve found a couple more videos by experts in the field about what’s wrong and what we can do about it.   Enjoy.

Thanks for listening.

True Self Defense

Folks who know me are aware of my ideas about “true self-defense” – the fact that we worry about homicide and terrorism while eating in a way that guarantees a shorter life span and reduced health. TED award winner Jamie Oliver has delivered a speech that says it far better than I ever have.

This is the subject of my February article in Black Belt, and a matter of personal interest. I hope it gets you to thinking, as well.

Thanks for listening.

Doing it Right Redux: Freelancing

I’m a professional freelance writer, and have friends who freelance as artists, web designers, coders, financial consultants and bodyguards. Freelancing can seem like a dream: set your own hours, charge more than the daily “wage slaves,” live with your work ethic as the only limiter to your earnings. On the other hand, nobody guarantees you a paycheck. If you do it wrong, you wind up not just broke. You’re broke with an embarrassing gap in your employment history.

Freelancing successfully requires a different formula for different people, but one rule remains true. This rule serves as a warning to many – but for those who do it right, it defines the fastest route for setting yourself apart from the pack. The rule is simple:

People who want to go into business for themselves are often the least suitable people to do so.

Traits that support success for freelancers include attention to detail, sweating the small stuff, working well with multiple bosses, being consistent in communication, and making decisions that help your team over decisions that support you the most. Most people who want to freelance have trouble with one or more of these categories – otherwise, they wouldn’t mind working a 9 to 5 job.

Because this is true, the degree to which you treat your freelance career like a regular job is the degree to which you will rise above the freelance herd. From talking with my freelance friends – both the successful and the struggling, I’ve identified eight habits for remaining professional while working from home in your underwear.

  • Observe a maximum one-day turnaround on emails and phone messages unless you’ve notified a client you’re unavailable.
  • Keep all your deadlines, from turn-in dates to promised communication.
  • Take your lumps with a smile. Some clients will behave in ways you find unreasonable. Working “for the man” means playing nice. Working for yourself means playing nice with more people, more often.
  • Set working hours: time when you’re “at work,” and times when you are not.
  • Remember marketing. In a regular job, you have to work to their specs. While freelancing, you need to spend some time every day finding your next assignment.
  • Observe business communications etiquette. Just because you don’t have an HR inquisitor looking over your shoulder doesn’t mean you don’t need to be polite.
  • Have a professional website, professional business cards and professional letterhead.

The majority of freelancers hit the market with a strong skill set and a bad attitude. Don’t be that guy. It might cost your ego a little from time to time, but it’s the price of admission for success. This isn’t the only key to making it as a freelancer – there are many, many (Many! MANY!) other requirements. But if you can’t see yourself observing these rules, you’re probably better off sticking with your day job.

 

RANT: School Nutrition

There’s a new program at my oldest son’s school called Watch DOGS (Dads of Great Students) that encourages dads to come in and volunteer some time during school hours. Since I have a flexible schedule and I kind of like my kid, I signed up. It’s a good deal. I spend more time with my boy, help out in class, and provide a positive male role model for some kids who have to go without.

Here’s my problem.Part of the program means I get a ticket for free lunch at the cafeteria. Here are some examples of  the entrees available at my son’s school:

  • Palm-sized disks of pepperoni pizza.
  • Chicken nuggets with tater tots
  • Cinnamon roll with chocolate milk (this is breakfast)
  • French bread with tomato sauce, cheese and pepperoni
  • Yogurt with a “granola mix” consisting mostly of Froot Loops, Cheerios and chocolate chips.

You can click here to visit a page where you can access menus in the top left corner. Ironically, it’s titled “Nutrition Services Offers Healthy School Meals.”

There’s an optional salad bar on the way to the entree line, boasting iceberg lettuce, cucumber slices and some bell pepper sticks. Drinks are milk, chocolate milk or fruit juice.

My question is very simple:

How do they expect students to succeed full of that much grease and carbohydrate in the afternoon?

It’s no wonder kids have trouble staying awake or sitting still during the second half of the school year. Where are the whole grains, the lean proteins? Where’s the freaking water?

I don’t know what to do about this, or even if I can do anything – other than have my kid start packing a lunch from now on. I once shared a plane ride with a reporter from Colorado Springs who was getting an advanced degree from Johns Hopkins just so school boards would listen to him about things like this. Makes me pessimistic about my chances.

Any black belts candidates out there who need an idea for a project?

Thanks for listening.