Sprint Web Chat just rocked my socks!

So, I normally don’t talk about customer service unless it stinks, but I just got off a web chat with Sprint and they rocked. Long story short, we accidentally had two phone plans on our account instead of one, and we didn’t realize it until this month. So, I got on the chat with a Bruce K. who got me straightened out in less than 45 minutes. I was ready to lay the smack down and fight to get a credit of the overcharge, but all I had to do was explain the situation. He was completely professional about it, and took care of it lickety-split. If you happen to be reading this Bruce K, Thanks again! – Ray Hollister

You really should RSVP, whether you like it or not.

I belong to more social networks (i.e. Facebook, MySpace, Ning, etc.) than I could possibly name off the top of my head. I have so many social network profiles that I have to keep a database on my computer and phone that stores all of my usernames and passwords. Because of this, I receive dozens of invitations a week to all kinds of events: everything from wine tastings, political candidate fundraisers, and formal banquets to church small groups, birthday parties, and rock concerts in abandoned warehouses. However, I am somewhat of a homebody, so I usually just ignore them or delete them from my inbox. It feels so negative to click the “No, I will NOT be attending” box. It feels like I am saying to that person that they are not worth my time to attend “your little function”. It is much more comfortable to ignore it and be noncommittal.

I never really paid any attention to them until my wife was planning an event a while back. She sent out invitations in the old-fashioned postal mail, and found that no one was RSVPing whether they were coming or not. My response to her was, “Well, if they aren’t RSVPing, isn’t it safe to assume that they are not coming?” Duly ignoring my sage advice, she decided that she would try calling them. Of course, in our world where everyone has a cell phone in their pocket or purse and can be contacted in seconds, she talked to more voice mail boxes than she talked to humans. Then, she decided to email everyone. Her language in the email was a little firmer than in the invitation. She told them to please let her know if you are coming, or if you do not plan on coming so that we can plan accordingly. Within 12 hours, everyone (except one person, and you know who you are!) that had been sent an initiation had responded back with a yea or nay.

My wife’s dilemma made me think. I have had several events that I have planned where few people responded to an RSVP, but then many came. So, I decided to do a little research into how RSVPs are supposed to be handled. It turns out, you are supposed to respond regardless of whether you plan on attending or not. In circles where etiquette is still acknowledged, it is actually much ruder to not respond at all than it is to say that you will attend and then not show up! It is assumed that if you said you would come and then do not show up then you must have had a last minute change. If you do not respond at all, it leaves a big question mark on the event host’s plans because they don’t know if you are coming or not.

It seems to me like a lot of people in my generation do not realize what RSVP means. I think that we collectively thought that RSVP meant “Let me know if you are definitely coming.” Therefore, since we are all noncommittal and lazy, we avoid the question. RSVP actually stands for a French phrase “répondez s’il vous plaît” which loosely means, “Please respond.” We really should respond and let the host know if we plan on coming, or if we do not want to, or cannot attend.

So, now what do we do? Do we allow our generation to change the connotation of the term, or do we try to bring about cultural change and get everyone to comply with the true definition? I believe we may have to do both. What I’ve decided to do is be firmer with my invitations. I’m not sure how I’m going to implement that plan, but I might tell people that if they don’t RSVP they cannot come, (I’ll hire my step Dad to work as a bouncer) but also let them know that if they RSVP that they are coming and then end up not making it, I will forgive them.

What do you think? How do you handle RSVPs?

Shame on the the "Shoes Under" It's the classic bait and switch.

I’ve been looking forward to getting the Shoes Under since I saw them on TV. If you haven’t seen the commercials, Shoes Under is a space saving shoe organizer. On the commercial you see a nice canvas covered boxes with a zipper see through cover. In the commercial, the box has stiff inner walls that separate the unit into 12 compartments. This looked perfect for us, especially since we will be moving soon.

We picked up one at Target today, and we were more than disappointed in the product. The Shoes Under is a cheap canvas square bag. On the box, the product looks as firm as luggage, in real life it looks somebody stitched up a few reusable grocery bags from Publix.

The Real Shoes Under

My size 11 dress shoes barely fit into it, one at a time. At that rate I could only get 6 shoes into it. Also, when you do put your shoes into the Shoes Under, the inner walls are so cheap and flimsy, that they collapse over the top of your shoes, making the “zipper see through cover” really pointless.

In my opinion this is the classic bait and switch. On the box and on their website it looks like a firm and strong quality product. In real life, it looks like a grocery bag.

Here’s some pictures from their website:

Pictures of the Shoes Under from their website. Pictures of the Shoes Under from their website.
Pictures of the Shoes Under from their website. Pictures of the Shoes Under from their website.

Riverside Park wasn't looking very "green" the weekend before Earth day.

The Sign at the front of Riverside Park

Ironically, the pond was very green from algae, but it goes without being said that I’m not referring to the color but the concept of being green.

Last Saturday, my wife hosted my 3 year old daughter’s birthday party at Riverside Park at the corner of Park and Post Street. The party was a blast, but everyone noticed the poor condition of the duck pond.

As I mentioned before, the algae was so thick that the pond looked like pea soup. There was trash all over the pond; the ducks and turtles were swimming around with trash and litter on them. There was even police barricade tape in the pond. The park itself didn’t look too bad, but the pond looked like a disaster area.

Trash and Police TapeThis is a city park, so I am assuming that it is the city’s responsibility to clean it and maintain it. It would not be abnormal for someone to automatically blame the city for it looking terrible, but with the cutbacks that they have had to make due to the economy, I find it hard for me to point fingers. Here’s what I want to know: is this because the city is falling down on the job, or are they doing the best they can with the resources that they have? If the second is true, can volunteers help with the maintenance and help pick up the slack? If volunteers can help with the  maintenance, is there already a group organized? If not, what needs to be done to organize one? I know I am asking more questions than offering solutions, but at least I’m asking the questions.

Close up of Riverside Park pond, trash and turtle.

Finally, the saddest thing that I saw while we were there was in the corner of the pond farthest from the island, there was a turtle that had apparently gotten his hind legs trapped in a plastic bag. He must have struggled because the bag was stretched and torn, but it must not have been enough because when I found him he was already dead.

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 aol.com email address (back when everyone assumed that all email addressses ended with @aol.com)

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.