Five years ago there was no Gmail?

It’s funny how something as simple as a product can become so entrenched in our life that we can’t imagine how we  ever lived without it. I remember that I used to use Yahoo mail. I remember using Hotmail years ago.  I even remember having the covetted rayhollister at email address (back when everyone assumed that all email addressses ended with

Today when I logged into my Gmail account, I noticed that they were letting everyone know that it was the day after Gmail’s 5th birthday. (Gmail was launched on April 1, but as you may know, Google loves April fools day.)

I had to think about it for a minute and remember a time before tagging, when I had to sort my emails into folders if I ever expected to find them again. Back when I used three different programs to chat with people. Back when video chatting was still some futuristic possibility.

It gave me a cold shiver.

Happy Birthday Gmail. It’s been a better Internet since you came into the world. (Even with that big goof up back in February!)

By the way, everyone that I know of that is on Gmail is on Gmail because I invited them way back when! 🙂 You all can thank me.

In retrospect, I wish I had been smart enough to sell off the invitations!

Can I help you find something?

Being a former sales rep myself, I’m usually not bothered by sales people, even when they are exceptionally aggressive. I expect a certain level of attention when I go to a department store or when I go somewhere where I know that the employees work on commission or have a quota to fill. However, I have been surprised lately by the attention that I have been receiving from sales people at normal, run of the mill places. On diffecarent ends of the spectrum, Target and Cracker Barrel have been unusual in particular. Both of these stores are places where I tend to mosey around while my wife searches intently for a pretty trinket or the latest clearance rack items. Quite honestly, I have learned to enjoy just wandering around and seeing what the latest item that has been stocked since the last time I shopped there. However, lately I just haven’t been allowed to browse.

The flavor of approach is different at each store. At Cracker Barrel, the folks working in the gift store used to just say hello, and offer to help you if you needed it. Then they would leave you alone and let you browse. Now they tend to be extra-super-hyper friendly and extremely “knowledgeable” about the price and sales of every item in the store. When I say “knowledgeable” I mean to say that they are going to share that knowledge with you whether you ask or not. If you spend more than 10 seconds looking at the Slinky® Dog, there is going to be someone next to you letting you know that all of their classic toys are currently on sale for 40% off. This doesn’t bother me too much. But when they stand there and wait until you pick up another item and then tell you how much that one costs, it does start to get a little annoying.

The worst thing that they have started doing at Cracker Barrel is quietly driving a wedge between parents against their children in order to close the deal. It’s very subtle, but every time my 3 year old daughter picks up something that is on display, one of the employees will almost always ask her “Are you having fun with that weasel ball?”, or will tell her “Oh! How cute you would look with that princess dress”, etc. That doesn’t bother me, but then the employee looks at me and politely tells me how the item is on sale right now for only blah, blah, blah. This, of course, makes my daughter want the item even more, and makes me look like a big meanie for not letting her get the piece of crap toy that she will never play with. This annoys me more than Kool-Aid and Barbie doll commercials during Saturday morning cartoons.

Once a lady made me so angry because I wouldn’t buy Zoë that blasted weasel ball that I went off on the lady and told her “I’ll have you know that children are easily persuaded to make irrational decisions, and as her father I would appreciate it if you did not interfere in the forming of my child’s decision making processes!” (OK, I didn’t really say that, but I thought it. I thought it really hard. I thought it so hard she probably heard my thoughts audibly. OK, probably not, but I sure wish she did. Err!)

On the other hand, at Target, I have noticed that the employees seem like they are hunting for you. You could be alone on an aisle looking at the power strips, and the next thing you know, someone is heading straight for you saying, “Can I help you find something?” Today when I went shopping with my wife, I was asked 5 times during the 45 minutes we were in the store. One cashier was even wearing a t-shirt with “Can I help you find something?” printed on it. I asked my cashier, “When did they start the, “Can I help you find something?” campaign. She told me that they have been doing that for a long time. Apparently this isn’t new, but I had never noticed it before. I found out that she was correct. Target’s website even mentions it! My cashier did mention that they were having an inspection from corporate today, so that may have been why there was extra enthusiasm. Maybe they thought I was undercover.

Despite their good intentions, something irks inside me when I am asked that question. Maybe I am biased from a past experience. When I worked with the loss prevention department at another major retailer, we were repeatedly told that if we saw someone who we thought may be trying to steal something, we were supposed to quickly head to that person and ask “Can I help you find something?” That way the person knew that someone was aware of their presence, and they would be less likely to shoplift.

Regardless of that, there are so many reasons why I feel Target should just stop having their employees say this. It irritates me when someone asks that question because it says to me, “Please figure out what you want, then buy it and get out of our store.” It also makes me feel as if they think I am incompetent since I can’t find what I am looking for.

I feel that a better way to ask the same question would be to ask, “Is there anything in particular you are looking for?” This communicates to the customer that you are here to help them, but they are free to browse. Plus, once something becomes a cliche it looses its power. For example, who cares when someone tells you “Have a nice day!”

Maybe I am just a skeptic that is always looking for the ulterior motive behind what seems like a good intention. Maybe the economy has me thinking that everyone is on edge and getting more aggressive with their sales tactics. Either way, it’s something that has bothered me, so I believe I am safe to assume that it has bothered other people. So, Michael A. Woodhouse, (Chairman of the Board, President & Chief Executive Officer, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc.) and Gregg W. Steinhafel, (Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Target) if you guys are reading this, I don’t have the answer for you, but think about this the next time you have a board meeting. On a side not, if one of you are reading this, and you want to make me happy customer, I guess you could make up for it by sending me a weasel ball.

FDL = You gotta either fix it, deal with it, or leave!

During the past few weeks I have been in training preparing for the upcoming tax season. We have been learning about all the new tax law changes that Congress has implemented. It is always an adventure trying to sort through how the new laws are going to impact how we do our jobs. What sounds like a simple adjustment can have a major impact on every call that we take and add minute’s worth of explaining convoluted tax laws to taxpayers.

So, as you can imagine, this experience can be quite frustrating. To make things worse, during training, there was one person that was constantly negative. (OK, there were really probably about 3 people that traded off being negative at different times, so it felt like one person was negative the entire time.) It got to the point that I felt like they were just being negative for the sake of being negative. At one point in training, I finally blurted out, “You can’t just be negative all the time! At some point you have to decide to either fix it, deal with it, or leave.”

After a muttering of laughter and quiet applause subsided, I was left to meditate on the simplicity and profoundness of what I had just said. Let me fully break down what this statement means to me.

No matter what the venue or arena, when you observe that something that isn’t as it should be you make a choice as to how you are going to handle it. Although there are any number of ways to react to the situation, I think that there are only three choices that are the best: fix it, deal with it, or leave.

Let me walk you through an example. Let’s say my wife…um…yeah…never mind, let’s go with a safer example. Let’s say that management comes up with a fantastic new policy that is probably going to make my life miserable. For amusement’s sake, let’s say they have decided that all contact representatives should hop on one leg while they take calls because they believe it will improve circulation, which helps improve focus, therefore improving accuracy.

Step 1 – Fix It

The first thing I need to ask myself is, “Can I fix this? Can I, or a group of my peers, get management to change this policy?” If the answer is absolutely “No” then I need to go straight to Step 2.

If the answer is “Yes”, then the next question is, “Is it worth the effort?” If it’s not worth the effort, then I need to go to directly Step 2. If it is worth the effort, then I need to get to work on it!

But I’m not out of the woods yet. I still need to ask myself, “How long will it take to fix it?” If it will be resolved immediately, then obviously I’m done. I can rest my poor legs. But if it will take a while, I have to go on to Step 2.

Step 2 – Deal with it

If I’ve determined that I can’t fix the problem, or I can’t fix the problem immediately, I have to decide “Can I deal with this?” or, at least, “Can I deal with it until it is fixed.”

The problem is that dealing with it means accepting it, not just putting up with it, and griping about it and making the life of everyone around you miserable too. I think that a lot of people say and think that they are dealing with it, when in fact they are not; they are wallowing in it.[1] Wallowing in it is not dealing with it.

Also, a lot of people tend to skip Step 1, and they go right to this step. They never stop to ask themselves if they can fix the problem, or they never think that it is worth the effort. God forbid, if it looks like it is going to take a long time, they are likely to assume that they can’t fix it at all.

Now, if you have determined that you can’t fix it (or it’s not worth the effort or it will take too long), and if you are mature enough to accept that you cannot deal with it, it’s time to look at Step 3.

Step 3 – Leave

This is either the easiest step or the hardest step. For people who tend to copout, this is the easiest step. For people who are afraid of change or fear uncertainty, this is the hardest.

At this point, I have already determined that I can’t fix the problem, or I can’t fix the problem immediately, or it’s not worth the effort. Also, I have decided that I can’t deal with it or, I can’t deal with it until it is fixed. Now I have to decide to leave. Notice, I didn’t say that I have to decide if I want to leave or not. I said, “I have to decide to leave.” That is because I have already made up my mind that I have to leave. If I can’t fix the problem, and I can’t deal with it, then the only option left is to leave.

Now, if faced with this decision, if I start to waiver and I can’t do it, then I have to go back and look at my other options, fix it or deal with it. The bottom line is: I have to choose one. I can’t daydream about fixing it and never do it (well, unless that’s a coping mechanism to help me deal with it, and I don’t gripe about it.) I can’t pretend to be dealing with it and really be moping and wallowing in it and making everyone in my presence miserable. And I can’t always be talking about how “I’m gonna leave this place someday!” and never actually have the guts to do it.

So, I have decided to make this little theme my mantra. The hardest part is actually abiding by it. It’s much easier to whine and complain, rather than take action to fix something, or to decide that I am just going to have to deal with something.

[1] Note: That’s why the title of this blog is not: “You gotta either fix it, deal with it, wallow in it, or leave!”