Customer Service

18 03 2013

I rang my folks yesterday (Sunday).  My dad answered. We don’t speak that often these days. Father/son/alpha-male kind of thing I suppose. My parents still live in the house I grew up in. They moved there when I was 4 years old. Silsden still had cobbled streets back then. It’s been a while since I was 4 years old…

Source: Random Thoughts from the life of a Random Thinker

The conversation subjects were quite diverse, which was pleasant. As I said – we don’t talk often, and usually if it’s he who answers the phone I am promptly passed to “yamum”. I gather the mater wasn’t in, as he kept talking at length. At last I brought the subject around to their recent holiday trip up the Norwegian coast in search of The Northern Lights. They’d originally planned to see the lights off the coast of Alaska, and stop in to see our little outpost on the way. I guess Norway was significantly closer in the final analysis.

My dad recounted a tale of one fellow passenger who was loudly demanding his money back for the entire trip since he’d not seen the Aurora Borealis. Ignoring for a second that, as a natural phenomenon, it doesn’t appear on cue for tourists, the phenomenon had in fact been sighted several times during the trip – three by my own dad, and potentially other times in addition. The cruise itinerary makes it perfectly clear that – though likely – a sighting is not guaranteed. Some people…

As they arrived in Norway, they were told by the tour courier that the ship was delayed further North, as there had been heavy storms preventing its progress. They were to fly North to meet it and continue as planned from there. No biggy. They were pampered and enjoyed the transfer reasonably well. My parents were travelling with Titan Travel, and they have greatly enjoyed adventures all over the world with them for no less than 12 years! They recognised the  tour guide from a previous trip to New Zealand, and he asked what adventures they were expecting on this trip. My pater is no spring chicken at 73, but he and mum had pre-paid for 5 day trips along the cruise including such adventures as dog-sledding and snowmobiling. Jealous, or what?!

This then caused a stir because the tour guide only had them on his lists for two of the five trips they were expecting. Obviously a cock-up, but weird they were on some of the lists rather than none/all. The fees had been pre-paid (£1,100 or about $1,700), receipts issued, blah, blah, but no explicit confirmation that they’d been booked on the five trip… and they weren’t.

Now, given that this guy’s sole role on the cruise is to be the contact for his little tour group, he was by all accounts next to useless. After actually uttering the words “what do you expect me to do about it now?” he basically shrugged his shoulders and told my folks they’d have to claim their fees back once they got home. As my dad said to me though – he’s knocking on a bit, and the chances of him having an opportunity to go dog-sledding or snowmobiling ever again are slim to nil. He was sure to tell me that they did enjoy the cruise itself, but obviously were left at a bit of a loss on three days they’d expected to be “living large”.

Not a great customer service win there, Titan! Mistakes happen, but it’s how you deal with them that matters.

One of the reasons I’d called though was that the other Sunday was Mothers Day in the UK. There, it’s all part of the spring festival vibe, daffodils being sent home with kids in their droves, that sort of thing. I’d arranged a small package from Betty’s of Harrogate, and both Betty’s and the Royal Mail had sent me a steady stream of (no doubt automated, but never-the-less…) emails telling me my order was confirmed, was ready for shipping, had been shipped, and ultimately had indeed been delivered on the day I requested.

Gift Box

Source: Bettys

As an ex-pat with a mum several thousand miles away, this sort of service (on the few years I remember to invoke it!) is a Darwin-send. I was in no doubt that they’d extracted money (which seemed painless at the time), had kept their side of the bargain and sent something, and ultimately had ensured that it had arrived as agreed. I half expected them to let me know my mum had made her first cup of tea with the contents of the parcel, and report she was refusing to share the biscuits!

A small thing in the end. Just a few highly automated emails. But I felt I’d been kept “in the loop”. So much so I’d use them again. Customer Service. With capital letters!

Fast forward to yesterday (actually – it was he same day. I’m messing with your mind!). Mrs E and I found ourselves in Vancouver visiting the Bloedel Conservatory. My camera greatly enjoyed the outing.

Orchid in Bloedel Conservatory

Orchid in Bloedel Conservatory

Regular readers may recall that on Friday the 8th, myself and a couple of colleagues visited Romer’s Burger Bar in SW Burnaby. If not – it’s blogged here. Well it was kinda-sorta on the way home and Mrs E seemed a little peeved I’d been off enjoying myself without her. She was driving, so we made a small detour and headed to Kerr St for tea. It was a pleasant evening, but I’d forgotten (being a Brit!) that it was St. Patrick’s day, and everyone seemed to find it amusing to dress in green and offer lurid drinks to passers by. I don’t expect such exuberance on St. George’s day, unfortunately.

We were seated immediately and ordered our burgers and chips. We went for some fancy chips with garlic and other poncy trimmings. Mrs E’s got a bit of an allergy thing with vinegar and studiously avoids dressings such as mustard. She also dislikes cheese. So, when she selected an impressively meaty option she carefully told the server to skip the Gorgonzola cheese. A few minutes later our appetising burgers arrived, and we were off to the races. Except…

Mrs E is a little more cautious than most, and lifted her burger bun to see… mayonnaise! Her face grimaced and was still holding the pose when the server returned to ask how things were going.

“The menu didn’t say there’d be mayonnaise” was her statement.

True enough, but it’s not exactly a shock to discover it lurking in a North American burger in my experience. (Mine had undisclosed mustard, just for the record). In a heartbeat the server whisked the burger away, promising another – sans sauce.

True to her word, another burger unsullied by dressings was delivered, and she said the manager “had taken care of the fries” because of the mistake. I protested that there had been no mistake, just a misunderstanding, but to no avail. ‘Twas done. I was so impressed by the attitude, and over-correction of the very minor incident that I didn’t even mention that she’d failed to return my wife’s cutlery, forcing her to eat her burger in a most un-English way! :)

This was definitely “up there” in positive Customer Service experiences. No push-back or argument from the server – just a rapid resolution. And to get a little off the bill to-boot.  Sure a plate of fries isn’t going to make much difference to their bottom line, but it was the gesture. Deliberately going beyond what was strictly necessary.

Would I go back? Of course! Would I recommend it to others? I think I just did.

Now, if only Titan Travel executives ate there too…





Lunch by the Fraser

9 03 2013

Last weekend and much of this week has been cool and wet in Greater Vancouver. Friday though… oh, Friday was a lovely sunny day!

Mischief was in the air and we three Product Managers slipped away for lunch in the sun. We nominally set off for sushi at my suggestion. This was intended to be at one of the local sushi places in Richmond and therefore relatively quick. However my colleague favours a particular establishment near Metrotown in Burnaby – The Shushi Garden. Since he was driving the other two of us were not entirely unwilling prisoners as we headed North over the Fraser on the Knight Street bridge. As we hacked East along Marine heading for Boundary in Burnaby, he suddenly declared “change of plan” and swerved across three lanes of traffic to head South on the steep but short remnants of Kerr as it heads for the Fraser river.

Source: Romer's/Google Maps

Source: Romer’s/Google Maps

We crossed the rail tracks and pulled up at what looks like a brand new riverside development of townhouses and apartments  There’s a lovely riverside park, a more well established pier, some log booms and… a restaurant. Well, more a burger and pub kind of place, but very nice looking and lots of river-facing glass frontage. Romer’s Burger Bar is the name. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area. Turns out there’s one in Kitsilano and Yaletown too. A “sleeve” of beer (Canadian way of being non too specific about how much is in it – such is the problem of being a British Commonwealth country (20 oz pint) but doing most of your business with the U.S. (16 oz pint)) was about $5, and the burgers ranged from about $10 to $13 depending how fancy you wanted to get. I had a port and Stilton one which was actually one of the cheapest at $10. The chips came extra though and were none-too-cheap. Still, the ones we selected had truffle oil (my favourite cooking oil) and Reggiano, and were very nearly worth the $7.

The building was modern but in keeping with the area. To the right of this publicity shot is a small community centre that seemed to be showing children’s movies in preparation for the upcoming Spring Break.

Source: Romer's Burger Bar - River District

Source: Romer’s Burger Bar – River District

I’d definitely go again, if only to enjoy the pleasant surroundings – not dissimilar to Fort Langley.

 





DINER: Sisters Open Vancouver’s Smallest Pie Shop In Chinatown At 721 Gore Street : Scout Magazine

26 02 2013

Who doesn’t love pie?

Someone told me of this place a few weeks ago. They open at 11am… and close when they run out of pie! Simple concept. They bake fresh, and close when it’s all gone.

This little short is how they went from zero to open in only 9 days by tapping into friendships and using their own resources.

DINER: Sisters Open Vancouver’s Smallest Pie Shop In Chinatown At 721 Gore Street : Scout Magazine.

I briefly worked with one of the people in the video. She’s a lot less colourful in monochrome!





The Great Yorkshire Pudding

5 02 2013

<Beware loud music from muzo.tv when clicking the link below for full story>

Ben Cox of The Star @ Sancton and James Mackenzie of The Pipe And Glass celebrate the great Yorkshire Pudding | This is Hull and East Riding.

Ben Cox of the Star @ Sancton with his prize Yorkshire Puddings

Believe it or not, the UK has “National Yorkshire Pudding Day”. I shit you not! First Sunday in February. Honest – check here, if you (wisely) don’t find it easy to believe what you read on these pages.

It’s hard for me to admit this… but I believe it’s a French invention. Allegedly came over with William the Conqueror. He supposedly beat the English National Conker Team, lead by Harold, in 1066.

One in the eye for him, you might say.

Harold: Ow! I’ve got something in my eye! (Wikipedia)





Haggis it’s OK.

30 01 2013

Now, despite my proud ownership of a blue Canadian passport, it can’t be denied that I was born in England. Yorkshire to be exact (as Yorkshiremen often are in such emotive matters of origin). I went to university slightly further North, in Durham. Slightly further North still (at least in galactic terms) lies Scotland, or Écosse as the more trendy Jacobeans would have it. The recent Burns Night celebrations reminded me of my collage days back in the early ’80s. The local Woolworth’s in Durham used to sell fresh (I use the term loosely)  haggis.

Being at a collegiate university, there was no need to cook or otherwise fend for myself during my undergraduate years. This was a major godsend (or Darwinsend, I suppose) to the hapless teenager I was then. I later matured and developed into a full-grown hapless adult, but that’s another story. In any case I remember acquiring at least one haggis (hey – it was 30 years ago – memories fade! I couldn’t swear to the exact number)  and cooking it.

Wikipedia: Durham Cathedral and Mill-house

Now, if you’ve never “partaken” of haggis, you’re missing out on one of life’s great experiences. Great as in large. It’s a personal decision whether it’s also great as in good. Memorable either way. Suffice it to say at this juncture that boiling up a haggis is a somewhat, er, pungent affair. Popularity was never one of my goals at university, and haggis-cooking pretty well excluded popularity from the horizon for a while.

Fast forward to a few days ago, and a cheeky exchange I had at work with a Scottish colleague. He proudly flies a St. Andrew’s cross on his desk, and I engaged in light-hearted nationalistic jest. I asked if he’d received a discount for said flag, as most of the white, and all of the red was missing. We both shared a laugh, but had to explain to the blank-faced “proper” Canadians about the various component flags making up the Union Jack. Anyway, conversation came around to wee Rabbie, and the Scots capability of making up a drinking excuse out of pretty much anything. From there, I lamented my failure to find haggis in the 12 years I’ve lived in Canada. I did however have to qualify that by admitting that I hadn’t actually, in all honesty, looked!

Wikipedia: Flag of St. andrew

Wikipedia: Union Jack

So tonight (there is a point to all this – stick with me…) Mrs E told me she’d bought me a present. Now this in itself is a massive event, so I rushed home with my mind’s eye full of Lamborghinis and holiday cottages. On arrival, I was told it was in the fridge. Strange place to keep a sports car, but hey ho. I gave up looking in the end, having incorrectly guessed that several bags of frozen blueberries and a loaf of unsliced bread were the goal.

No – there, hiding timorously  in the bottom tray, unassuming and shy was… a haggis! Frozen obviously, but a haggis nonetheless. The brand is Goodricks from New Westminster, BC. Purveyors, the label assures me, of quality meat products since 1987.

38846_143416432354535_3753815_n(Not sure how good their meat was before 1987, but that’s not the point here really, is it?) The ingredients list on my new haggis is short and to the point. In this day and age that in itself is a rare thing not to be undervalued.

The haggis itself does seem to be in a traditional sheep’s stomach, though it’s hard to tell through the frost-coated plastic. Nice to know there’s still a role for traditional sheep. Modern sheep with their piercings and tattoos remind me of a great New Zealand comedy-horror. But enough frivolity. The ingredients, I am assured in writing, consist only of the following:

  • Lamb Pluck
  • Oats
  • Spices
  • Onions
  • Stock

“Spices” of course can hide a multitude of sins, but otherwise pretty innocuous. Hang on though… “lamb pluck”? What in the name of Jamie Oliver is lamb pluck when it’s at home? It sounds like belly button fluff.

Enter my good friend Google…

Lamb Pluck, it would seem, is esophagus, lungs, heart, liver, kidneys… all still connected.

Lamb Pluck

egullet: Lamb Pluck

Well I guess that’s OK then. I thought it might have been something unsavory for a moment. What can I say? Well - “waste not, want not” springs to mind. I guess it depends on your upbringing. I frequently ate and loved the taste of lambs kidneys and liver too as a kid. I think I’d have drawn the line at lungs or heart – even in onion gravy – though on my trip to Brazil, I enjoyed many chicken hearts from the grill. (They’re like almonds – you can’t just have one. You need at least a handful.) I have also eaten “duck entrails soup” in a newspaper press-hall in China which I guess has pretty much the same ingredients… just with a dash of soya sauce.

Anyway, the haggis is defrosting in the fridge, and no doubt there will be complaints from the neighbours once I start to cook it. That’s OK – I’ll offer them a slice. Then tell them what’s in it.

I can be like that sometimes…





CBC.ca – Image Gallery – Week in pictures, Jan. 19-25

25 01 2013

Saw this image in the paper yesterday. Thought it was awesome! It’s available via the CBC…

cooperage

Speyside Cooperage in Craigellachie in Speyside, Scotland, on Jan. 13

via CBC.ca – Image Gallery – Week in pictures, Jan. 19-25.





Wisconsin Cheese Cupid

22 01 2013

“Proudly honoring Wisconsin cheese

Well – you just HAVE to look, don’t you?!

Wisconsin Cheese Cupid.

This neat little marketing page purports to help you pair your favourite tipple with one or more cheese selections from Wisconsin, or vice versa if you’ve only got the one cheese to hand. The sultry voice-over doesn’t hurt either…

Cheese Cupid

Cheese Cupid





A different view of things

20 01 2013

So – just got back from a business trip to Salt Lake City. Interesting place.

I’d never been in ski season before, so it was a bit chilly and a lot busier than I was used to. Very dry cold though – my poor delicate skin was all flaked off by the time I got home. (Poor baby, eh?! :) ).

Now THAT's an icicle!

Now THAT’s an icicle!

I had a very interesting conversation with a Mormon colleague down there about what was and was not “allowed”. I knew alcohol and coffee was off limits in their faith, but was interested to learn how extensive the list was and what the rationale was. Caffeine (there’s my favourite i-before-e rule breaker) was my assumed reason for coffee which was confirmed, but then why did so many people drink Coke? A matter of long debate, it seems!

It was noticeable that software developers in the office there drank lots of pop, and although a few did indeed drink the more typical (for the profession) coffee, by far the most were sugared, rather than caffeinated as they hammered their keyboards. So – after much discussion, I learnt that the rationale is around stimulants and things generally that may affect one’s ability to make reasoned decisions about right and wrong. So – alcohol, “recreational” drugs, caffeinated drinks (+/- Coke). these I could get. Even chocolate seemed half-reasonable (I’ve seen the effect good European chocolate can have on a woman’s knicker elastic!). It didn’t explain all the Red Bull I saw being consumed though. Plainly a city of contradictions just like any other.

Another observation I made was that the local beers were VERY strong. Like 8%+ strong. Forgive the bad BlackBerry photo, but here’s a picture of a limited edition bottled beer I was given in a welcome package. (The trophy in the background was my “prize” for somehow coming last in the go-karting event).)

Imperial Red Ale

Imperial Red Ale

So the EPIC brewing company of Salt Lake City (there’s a different one in Aukland, New Zealand) produce these limited edition ales. This one was of 1,800 bottles only, and you can learn more here. Not selling beer to under-age people I can understand (after all, there’s more for the rest of us – makes total sense! :) ), but this web site won’t even let you LOOK unless you’re of age! It seems that the non-Mormons take it upon themselves to tempt their neighbours by offering well beyond the usual strength beers in SLC. This one was 8.3%! My all-time favourite beer, Tetleys (of Leeds) is a mere 3.8%, by comparison. These beers were up in the Belgian “triple-brew” category.

Anyway, work done, I had one last breakfast in the hotel and got ready to leave. Being Saturday, the skiers had arrived in force, and there was little left on offer to eat. As I sat enjoying a cup of tea, the kitchens delivered a new tray of bacon, and I decided to have a good old bacon butty for breakfast. As I rose, I was beaten to the tray by a lady. No problem, and I waited patiently behind her with my expectant plate. After a few moments though, I realised she was meticulously picking up each and every rasher in turn, examining it and replacing it to the tray. As this continued, I was getting impatient, and attempted humour by asking whether she “was looking for the prize”? I was rewarded with a very hard stare and informed that she and her family only ate very crispy bacon. Bearing in mind this is a chain hotel offering free breakfast, this seemed like a bit too picky of a position to be holding, but I guess my face spoke for me, and I was left to fill my plate with whatever random rashers happened to be caught in the tongs.

So, the flight North was over some spectacular scenery. No idea where these photos were taken. Except to say “from 38,000ft”. Again, on a poxy BlackBerry, so apologies for the quality.

By the time I got home I was peckish again, and was excited to see my little mushroom project had been busy in my absence. I harvested a large plate of succulent Oyster mushrooms, and set to work. I began by slicing them coarsely, more to make them quicker to cook than for any other reason, and set them to sauté in some olive oil infused with truffles – a souvenir from my Brazil trip. A twist or two of coarse black pepper and sea salt for no other reason than Jamie Oliver always does it and the women seem to approve!

The warming scent was amazing. Once they were reducing nicely, I was struck with inspiration (or madness – you pick) and remembered a recent photo I saw of a salmon steak with a slice of blue cheese. Such an interesting pairing of flavours. I usually enjoy my Oyster mushrooms with just the oil they’re cooked in, but decided this time I’d add just a couple of thin slices of blue cheese (which fortuitously happened to be in the fridge). Of course it melted immediately, and being a soft cheese anyway mixed beautifully into the slight oil base the mushrooms were cooking in. Not at all stringy, the cheese simply coated the mushrooms as they touched, and became part of the light sauce that was forming by pure experiment. On a bit of a roll now, I discovered a solitary egg in the fridge too, and cracked that with gusto into the pan. I was quick to spread it out, so that it didn’t form a fried egg in the middle, but more filaments of light egginess interspersed through the mushrooms. Somehow, this seemed just right, and after a couple more minutes in the pan, I tipped the results out onto a couple of slices of crispy toast and devoured lunch with absolute delight.

Here’s a before and after shot. Unless you’ve downloaded Google’s latest smell-o-vision app, I’m afraid you’re only getting a faint version of the experience. The scent of truffles and blue cheese were definitely part of the experience, yet I’d somehow managed not to use too much to over-power the whole.





Too much of a good thing?

26 12 2012

So we did the whole turkey thing yesterday.

I made dinner tonight with the remnants.  Basically a melange of all the left-over vegetables (Brussels’ sprouts, yam, parsnips, carrots, russet potatoes), shredded turkey, an onion and a whole jalapeno… with all the seeds. Gently fried in some Pinot Grigio, just to stop it sticking (there was still a little olive oil from yesterday’s serving on the vegetables).

Tasty, and fixed any lingering sinus problems around the table. :) Son had already eaten the remaining sausages wrapped in bacon out of the fridge, so they didn’t need dealing with.

Dessert was Christmas pudding of course – a taste of the old country, made to a family recipe passed down from St Michael. Basically just loads of dried fruit with enough other bits to hold it together, steamed for hours and then set alight with brandy. (Or rum in our case because we never do anything quite the normal way…)

This evening though (10:30-ish), the nibbles set in. First-born has always been the more adventurous offspring in the taste department and had helped me lay in some more interesting vittles for just such an occasion. We laid on a reasonably diverse platter:

Cambozola (Camembert with Gorgonzola mold – same as in Stilton on Roquefort)

Emmental – but not very good according to First-born. Apparently “proper” Swiss Emental has few to no bubbles and can even be cracked instead

Brie

Chevre – just going nicely soft. The goaty smell drove the dog mad.

Asiago - still smooth, not old enough to be crumbly yet

Castello Danish blue

Herb-covered salami

Red-pepper hummus

Tapenade

Wow – just typing it out has made me peckish all over again…

Wikipedia: Cambozola

Wikipedia: Castello Danish Blue

Wikipedia: Tapenade

 





Mmmm: Port Ice Cream – DesignTAXI.com

8 12 2012

Up to 5% alcohol content, depending on variety.

Saves on washing-up too: dessert and wine in one easy-to-lick bowl!!

Alcohol Lovers, Behold: Wine Ice Cream – DesignTAXI.com.








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