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Who says customer service is impersonal?

February 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Maybe it’s the lousy economy. Maybe it’s because automation in call-center, inbound situations is finally making a real difference. Or maybe it’s because the connectedness of the social media world has such an artificial feel to it. But I’m feeling an upturn in human contact — enabled by, but not because of, electronic communication.

Three recent examples:

Gum. I’ve chewed gum all my life. I know it’s not a lovely habit, but, like tattoos (I’ve got one of those, too) it’s become mainstream. In the past few years, the gum-making industry has put forth a burst of innovation in both gum flavors and packaging. We no longer live in our grandfather’s world of five-stick packs of Beeman’s or Juicy Fruit. So on a lark, I sent an e-mail to the Wrigley division that makes the sugarless Extra brand of gum. I wanted to tell them how much I like their mint chocolate chip flavor. Plus it has Sorbitol, which my dentist approves of. Within an hour I got a personally composed reply from Tosha M., a consumer care representative. No freebies, but they were glad I liked their gum.

Blackberry. Hoo, boy. A total of nine hours on the phone with three level 2 tech support reps. One call lasted through dinner. I put the phone on speaker, so when the tech put me on hold to read log files I’d zipped and e-mailed, we had dinner music. There is a subtle, intractable, and horrible flaw in the complex of software required to do a simple task–sync my Blackberry with my Mac. Lack of sync is one problem. That something, some bit of code somewhere actually causes the USB ports on the Mac to die, forcing a power-switch reboot, now that’s really an issue. One rep was in Canada, one in Texas, the third in Nova Scotia. The case tracking and history technology Research in Motion really works. And when you’re on the phone with a stranger for three hours, he or she becomes not such a stranger. We exchanged family stories. I accompanied a musical show on the piano over the weekend. J.C. at Blackberry sings in his church choir. We complained about the Dallas Cowboys. The Nova Scotia rep, in hour nine, had a shrewd insight. He had me install Blackberry Desktop on my wife’s Mac. Worked perfectly.

Uh oh. This is a “your hardware problem,” isn’t it, I asked tentatively. ‘fraid so, came the answer. Bummer. Luckily I have a nearby Mac dealer that’s not an annoying Apple Store with annoying “geniuses.” They can fix anything Macish.

Carrying cases. I have several electronic keyboards. I’m partial to Korg and Kurzweil. (I’m in the market for a used Farfisa.) I am buying nice, uniform cases for them. Handles, metal corners, foam lining. I found a place in New York that keeps a database on the exact dimensions of hundreds of instruments and other pieces of equipment. Even Sousaphones, which I don’t play. But they make each case on demand. Tom answers the phone and it’s like we’re old friends. One case ships without the wheels. One call and the wheels kit comes the next day — with a deduction off my bill for the wheels option because I have to install them myself. That requires an electric drill.

Three industries, and customer service with a personal touch is alive and well.

A dreary stampede for the ViP

February 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Verizon iPhone.

My nephew got up at 2 a.m. to order his. My wife ordered hers at 1:30 p.m. and had no trouble. She really needs a new phone, having put up uncomplainingly with some sort of flip-open LG that might be the worst device ever made.

I took a deep breath, and tried ordering mine at 5:45 p.m. But first I had to register my account. After that, I didn’t get far. By then, of course, the site was overwhelmed with traffic and simply delivered error messages. I started repeating to myself what I always tease my daughter when she complains if eat all the Gummy Worms. “There’s a factory somewhere that, at this moment, is churning out tons of Gummy Worms. This is not a limited commodity. They are making more RIGHT NOW!”

I image the factory floor in China where they make iPhones. “Comrades! No weekend leave! Everybody on triple shift! Verizon has the iPhone!”

So what’s the rush?

Egypt is crumbling into chaos, in large measure because most people stand in line for a loaf of bread they can barely afford. But today, the first of an expected 14 million Americans will line up for a toy that would buy enough bread for Pharaoh’s banquet.

Now I’m thinking, what do I really need with an iPhone? I’m just getting to the point where I only mildly hate my BlackBerry with its crappy software and non-existent support. I no longer fantasize about smashing it on the driveway with my sledgehammer. That’s good enough for now.

Trapped six hours, and nary a tweet. Am I normal?

February 1, 2011 1 comment

Consider this post as comprising all of the tweets I did not send out during a five-and-a-half hour drive last week from my house, on a 15-mile trip to a hotel.

Background: When a storm is expected at a crucial hour, morning radio crews are put up in a hotel near our station so we don’t miss the start of our shift. Silence is not considered a virtue on radio.

I left Rockville, Md. Wednesday at about 4 p.m. I arrived at the hotel in Georgetown at about 9:30. Normally I am in bed by 8:30 since I get up at 2 a.m. Bless them, my co-host Amy Morris and producer Ruben Gomez were standing in the lobby by the window peering out onto the motor circle when I pulled in — they were reluctant to go to bed before knowing I’d arrived safely.

I won’t go into the ordeal itself, but suffice it to say that the entire Washington D.C. metro area was gridlocked. Literally, not merely in the expansive use of the word. For instance, the entire 64-mile circle of the Beltway was filled with cars and trucks and completely stopped.

I did have the presence of mind to phone in two live reports to WTOP, Washington’s main news station with whom Federal News Radio shares ownership and facilities.

But the sights and happenings out there, I didn’t tweet about! As thousands of fellow drivers will attest, the scene was almost surreal. Familiar, nearby roads turned to icy, forbidding alleys. Dead and abandoned cars and buses strewn about; a tourist bus doing pirouettes in the snow; snow blowing sideways; lightning fitfully jazzing the the skies.

My driver’s side windshield wiper quitting. Nearly running out of gas. The tree across Massachusetts Avenue that, I discovered the next day, had flattened a gray Chrysler.

Days later, I realized I hadn’t tweeted. When that realization arrived during a commercial break in the studio, Amy –a semi-pro tweeter — looked across the console at me as if I’d taken a trip to Tanganyika and forgotten the Kodachrome. In fact, I never thought about tweeting during the entire trip. Six hours in the car, mostly idling and thinking about horrible possibilities, and it never even occurred to me to send a Twitter message.

Of course, Kodachrome is the clue here. I’m a Kodachrome-era guy. (More on photographic technology in a future post.) Social media isn’t reflexive for me. It’s not an anti-technology bias, maybe just an instinctive default towards an individualistic attitude. “You’re stuck here, Temin, and no one cares, much less can do anything about it, so deal.” Not that Twitter would have helped me get out of the traffic. But maybe it would have been pricked the pressure of feeling that I would be behind the wheel of my old Chevy Blazer forever.

Come to think of it, I didn’t even take a picture with the camera in my BlackBerry.

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