Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Customer Service: The New Oxymoron

When did Customer Service go from being a "serve us" institution to a "can't help/don't care" fiasco? Maybe it is just me, but I can't seem to get anyone to help me anymore. I am speaking as a veteran of the customer service industry. Nearly all of my work experience has something to do with customer service in some shape or form. Read my LinkedIn profile recommendation from Roger Gibson, a former boss. I took giving good customer service personally. Almost to a fault. I made it my business to have happy clients or customers. A lot of people in my organizations didn't like me, because I made them do their jobs. I must be a dying breed. Here is what happened:

In March of 2009, I bought my wife a laptop. Last week, the power supply receptacle on the laptop stopped powering. Now I have a dead laptop. Called Lenovo to get the laptop fixed. In theory, while the unit is under warranty, they send you a UPS box, you ship it to them at their cost, they fix it, and then ship it back to you. In theory.

In reality, Lenovo tells me that because I bought the laptop from an "unauthorized" dealer (who was my employer at the time), the warranty had expired, because it was based on when Chipco bought it from Lenovo and not when Todd bought it. So I then contacted Chipco who suggested I bring it by there and let them have a look at it. I have not had this laptop for a full year, and I can't get anyone to honor this.

Here's another incident: I have been a student at the University of Phoenix since last year. I decided to change majors and ended up talking to four different people, all of whom told me I needed to talk to someone else. All this back and forth has somehow placed me in "Collections," and now, according to my Enrollment Counselor, "I can't even talk to you while you're in collections, or I could be fired." What the heck is that? If no one can talk to me, then who is going to help me? So now I am leaving voice mails for a supervisor who will not return my calls. All I want to do is get a degree.

No one seems to want to take "ownership" of my problems. It seems easier to apologize and say "We can't help you," or, "You need to talk to so and so."

When I am paying for something, it seems fair to expect that I will be taken care of by the people who so happily took my money to begin with. Wake up, all you customer service people, and make us happy.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Book Review: Have A Little Faith by Mitch Albom

My long time friend Rick has, by example, taught me many things. One of his buzz words is, "Conversation." It is his conviction that conversation is the key to a better understanding of people, places, traditions, and stuff by simply talking through things, and, when possible, do it over coffee.

I am a bit on the shy side. I always have been. Insecurity is my middle name, or at least it should be. What is odd about this is that I have been in sales as well as full time ministry. Why would a shy guy like me seek after positions which required talking to and being around people? Simply put, I had always believed God could take my shyness and use it to help people. I used to believe that God could do absolutely anything. Then I changed. I stopped believing. One disappointment or tragedy after another for the last several years with very little "evidence" that God was helping me has left me barren of faith and hope. It is not a good feeling, I can assure you of that.

My most recent beef with God happened about 6 months ago, when my sister-in-law's husband passed away suddenly, leaving her with two toddler children to raise on her own. That was pretty much the last straw for me. I had the image of God just randomly picking people to die, and Drew just happened to make the cut. There was no meaning behind his death. None. None at all!

Until today, at least for me.

There is a bizarre history of my wife and her sister (technically half-sister). Before Drew died, Tracy and Arah had never met. They each knew the other existed, but neither had reached out. Since Drew's untimely death, we have all gotten to know Arah, her children Levi and Abby, and even Drew through her stories of him. Arah and I quickly discovered that we had a lot of things in common and we have had many deep conversations (Rick would be proud) about life, death, afterlife, writing, faith, movies, and other interests we have in common. I had previously shared with Arah my own struggles with faith, and so for my 42nd birthday, she gave me a copy of Have A Little Faith by Mitch Albom. In the front cover she wrote, "I hope that when you read this, your journey to God somehow becomes more peaceful."

I appreciated her gesture, but her words evoked my inner cynic. "What journey to God?" I silently scoffed. And yet I was very anxious to begin reading. I had never heard of Mitch Albom, and the book's appearance didn't exactly scream, "READ ME!!"

Reluctantly and yet anxiously, I began to read. I just finished it this very day, moments ago. It was the first time I can remember in a very long time that a book moved me to tears. The last time I cried reading a book was during Piercing the Darkness by Frank Peretti.

In short, the book is a true story about conversations Albom had with two men of God from two completely different backgrounds that occurred over an eight year period.

Conversations. Asking questions. Listening. Considering. Struggling to understand. All of which culminated into Albom's eulogy for his rabbi. His conclusion in the Epilogue is what caused me to tear up:

"In the beginning, there was a question. In the end, the question gets answered. God sings, we hum along, and there are many melodies, but it's all one song--one same, wonderful, human song.

I am in love with hope."


I cannot recall the last time I was "in love with hope." Has it been that long? When did I lose hope? I really can't remember. Yesterday I received yet another disappointment. And then two more last night. I cursed God. I did. From my pain and despair, I cursed Him. This time (it wasn't the first time I cursed God), there were no pleas for Him to prove me wrong. I was tired of fighting with Him. He always wins anyway. I was mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted, yet it took 2.5 Ativans to relax me enough to be able to sleep. Even after I drifted off, I had many nightmares and awoke feeling unrested.

Today I decided to finish Have A Little Faith just to get it done. I finished the book, but I doubt seriously that the book will be finished with me anytime soon.

This may be very selfish of me to think, but what if Drew Johnson died so that Tracy could meet her sister who in turn could meet me and think enough of me to buy me this book? I still find his death meaningless, but somehow not as meaningless...at least for me.

Great book. Well written. Very deeply profound.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Retro Review: The Rocker

Faithful readers of this blog understand the concept of "Retro Review." For those who may have just joined the other two readers, allow me a brief explanation. I usually catch movies when they hit HBO or Showtime, long after they have come and gone on the big screen. If one of these films catches my attention, I will do a review here on the blog. I have recently viewed a film that struck some personal chords (pun intended). That would be The Rocker starring Rainn Wilson of NBC's The Office.

The Rocker
is about an eccentric and wacky drummer, Robert "Fish" Fishman (played by Wilson), who, at the beginning of the success of his stereotype 80s rock band, "Vesuvius (cool name by the way)," gets dumped by the band (of which he was the heart and soul) so that a record executive's nephew can replace him. The story really begins 20 years later, where we find Fish working a dull job in Cleveland and Vesuvius has gone on to legendary success.

A series of events gives Fish the chance to play in his nephew's garage band, "A.D.D." where he is twice as old as the other 3 band members. The kids reluctantly allow Fish to play with them, provided he gets them a gig, which he does. The gig is interrupted by the parents of the other band members (one of whom is played by the lovely and talented Christina Applegate), who ground the young ones. Fish's resilient nephew uses technology and connects all four band members online in order for them to practice. Naive and goofy Fish doesn't realize he is on camera, and rehearses totally naked and ends up on YouTube as "The Naked Drummer."

The large following of the naked drummer catches the attention of a major record company and suddenly A.D.D. with their goofy, sweaty drummer, who refuses to grow up, are living the rock star dream. The band on tour offers some cute moments, including some comical moments from counter-culture icon Howard Hesseman as the band's bus driver.

A.D.D.'s sudden and massive success creates an opportunity for them to open for rock legends Vesuvius. The grudge holding Fish refuses, causing him to leave A.D.D. and try, at last, to live the life of a grown up, complete with a suit, tie, briefcase, and a haircut. A.D.D. soon finds that they cannot go on without their wacky drummer and offer Fish a chance to rejoin the band. To do this, Fish must finally put the rejection of the past behind him and make peace with himself. The climax of the film is the meeting between Vesuvius and A.D.D. which allows Fish to once and for all move past his bitterness and wish Vesuvius a great show. Vesuvius soon takes the stage and it is revealed that they are lip-syncing and the legends are booed off the stage. As the crowd then chants "A.D.D.," the group takes the stage again and Fish is totally vindicated.

All in all, Wilson's performance carried the film. The cast (with the exceptions of Hesseman and Applegate) was dull and lacking, and the story itself was weak, even though the "Naked Drummer" concept offered the majority of the film's laughs. Personally, I hope to see Rainn Wilson in more films, preferably clothed.

Outside of that, The Rocker appealed to that deep inner desire for a second chance to relive youthful dreams and live out the saying that there is "No greater revenge than massive success." Fans of 80s big hair bands will enjoy The Rocker and appreciate many of the nuances expressed in the movie.

Ah, to be a kid again...