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…

There’s nothing wrong with being cackhanded

3 01 2012

Cackhanded is a term I came to hear quite a bit as a youngster. According to World Wide Words it’s peculiarly British as, let’s face it, many British things are (peculiar I mean. Also Peculier [with an ‘e’] if you like beer, but that’s off topic this time). Strictly it means clumsy, but by extension it has come to be attached to left-handed people who struggle daily to fit into a world designed for right-handed people.

About a year ago I was fortunate enough to stay at the Fairmont Chateau, Whistler. A lovely, if ever so slightly over-priced hotel in Vancouver’s playground. For breakfast, they serve you with elegant china by Villeroy & Boch. Lovely stuff. Spot the problem though?

Villeroy & Boch: New Wave cup

Villeroy & Boch: New Wave cup

No? Then you are likely one of the “common” 90%! This cup is nigh-on impossible to lift up if you are left-handed. I’ve become used to struggling with scissors over my lifetime (they dig in, rather than being comfortable), but this was the first time I’d been stumped by a teacup!

Right-handed scissors

Right-handed scissors

Now normally, I’d just “suck it up, buttercup” as my boss once said (I was previously described as being in perfect balance – with a chip on BOTH shoulders), but this was a bloody expensive hotel, and I wasn’t about to miss out on my morning brew just because of some poncy defective teacup. Winding up for a face-off with the manager at some point, I began my opening gambit by complementing the unsuspecting waitress on the fine crockery, but pointing out I was “not as other people”, and did she, by any remote chance, have a left-handed alternative? She didn’t bat an eyelid and completely took the wind out of my sails by replying “Of course sir, I won’t be a moment” and returning with a perfect mirror image of the original vessel.

The Fairmont, Whistler is now my all-time favourite hotel. Not only do they have fancy crockery, they have LEFT-HANDED fancy crockery, AND their staff are well trained to calmly handle awkward gits with dodgy accents! And the tea wasn’t half bad either. And they called me sir…

In Latin, left hand is sinistra, the root of the word “sinister”. In days gone by, it wasn’t enough to have to suffer smudging your writing with the side of your little finger. No – you were burned at the stake. Seems a little harsh for being a messy writer, but I don’t make the rules.

There’s various theories for the 10% of the general population that are left handed. My wife delights in reminding me of an article she read many years ago that suggested oxygen starvation at birth (and therefore by inference “brain damage”) was a potential cause. Recent studies have suggested it’s more likely the obvious thing: genetics.

There are some interesting side-effects of being a leftie (or “southpaw“) though. The brain’s wired a little differently. The left hemisphere of your brain controls the right side of your body and vice versa  (lots of Latin in this post!) So if you’re a leftie, that means your right-brain is getting more of a workout than the left. So what? Well – the right side ALSO controls creativity. Many well known “creatives” were/are lefties:  daVinci (Leonardo, and also Eric, our postman), McCartney, Escher, Hendrix, to name but a few. (As with all things list-worthy, there’s a web page dedicated to enumerating famous lefties, if you really have nothing better to do…)

Reactions are slightly faster too. I remember a really simple measure when I was at school. Hold a ruler vertically in the air, with your fingers pinching it at the zero mark, at the bottom. Now open your fingers to let the ruler drop, and pinch them again to catch it, as fast as you can. You get a really nice measurement (in cm, inches or part-cubits if you prefer) of your reaction speed.

Of course, there’s also a higher rate of mental illness, but genius and madness are closely related – ask my sister.

People have left-handed tendencies, but are rarely totally left-, or for that matter right-handed. For example I’m about as left-handed as can be… but I do two-handed things the “conventional” (right-handed) way. For example, holding a knife and fork, cricket bat, golf club, etc. Single handed things though – leftie. Things like a spoon, tennis racquet, pen (obviously), rubber cosh, Frisbee, etc.

There are a couple of quick tests you can do to test your default handedness beyond simply how you write…

Clasp your hands together. Your dominant hand will have the thumb on top. Just try to clasp them with the other thumb on top. Not so easy, eh?

Clasped Hands

Clasped Hands

Same thing with crossing your arms. Your dominant hand will be on top. Try getting the other hand on top, and see how uncomfortable that feels!

Crossed arms

Crossed arms

Check out Wikipedia if you care enough to know more: Left-handedness – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Thanks to Sarah Alice for the inspiration, and my dad for the genes.