You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Operations’ category.

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

(c) 2015 Trina Lambert

Excuse me while I skip ahead to educational lessons I learned not while studying humanities, but while pursuing something totally different: an MBA. Sometimes my inner MBA rises up and pushes all that humanities knowledge to the side—though I’d like to think the analytical skills I honed in classes such as English literature led to my not only being able to analyze plots, characters, and themes, but also to do so with balance sheets, customer service philosophies, and branding decisions. Maybe that’s just why some people in the business community would rather not hear what I have to say.

So one of the big buzz words these days is branding. Branding this, branding that, branding yourself, branding your corporation, branding your non-profit, whatever. Really, it’s simply what Shakespeare brought up in Hamletto thine own self be true. And when you apply that to a business, branding is about making sure that the goodwill about your organization remains consistent with your mission and how you want those values communicated in the commercial world.

With large organizations, we, the customers, supposedly know what to expect if the company has created its brand well and protects it well. Whether I go to a Wendy’s by my home or thousands of miles away, there is this consistent feel to what it means to eat at a Wendy’s. Though menu variety and pricing fluctuates in minor ways from state-to-state, Wendy’s is still Wendy’s. If I want something else, then I go to the local Mom & Pop restaurant that does what it does—in a consistent or inconsistent manner—but knowing that that restaurant has its own way of doing things. If there’s no formula, as the consumer I take the risk that my experience will turn out better or worse than my expectations. Branded organizations such as Wendy’s are essentially making a promise that Wendy’s is what it is—nothing more or nothing less—but that I can mostly rely on a standard expectation of what going to a Wendy’s means. If that is not true, then Wendy’s brand begins to slip in the consumers’ minds.

Which is why I am flabbergasted to discover that the stand-alone Verizon store by my house is not what’s called a direct store, but an indirect store, similar to those found inside Target or Wal-Mart, according the Verizon representative.

Back story: what began as a simple online chat to discover how to access the discounts on Verizon accessories we were supposed to receive on our most recent purchase, led to my discovery that our Verizon store was in fact not a Verizon store. Now mind you, this did not come out until the representative finally figured out why she could not access my receipt, despite my giving her the invoice number and the time stamp. This is an hour of my life that I will never get back, but what I discovered about the business practice employed also makes no sense.

OK—so we can get the discounts applied through this local store. Small problem will get resolved—although I have to think it shouldn’t take me an hour to discover just why the branded representative could not resolve my problem herself. Plus, I think she should have been given some systemic way—through the receipt number or something—that indicated to her that I had in fact made the purchase at one of these so-called indirect stores.

However, the big issue comes down to trust. If I am not walking into an obvious indirect store, such as those in discount stores, why would I not think that a store that has the Verizon name on its walls is anything but a real—I mean direct—Verizon store? Frankly I don’t even know if our purchase price and the associated services are any different from what we could get in a direct store, but I do know I feel duped. We wanted to upgrade this Verizon phone through a direct store as we had done for every phone we have gotten since 2007—including the three phones we upgraded this year.

It’s not up to the customer to realize that the store he or she is visiting is a different sort of store—this information should be obvious. My experience with the brand told me a store meant one thing but apparently Verizon is using its brand for more than one kind of a store. That makes no sense to me—either as a customer or as a person who studied business. By making this issue confusing to the average customer, Verizon is muddying what its brand means and is at risk for introducing doubts about what else it might be muddying. I, for one, feel as if every time I go in such a store that I receive a different story about what costs are and what services come with what. By obfuscating what a store is or isn’t, Verizon is also leaving me to question the trustworthiness of these other practices.

I can’t say if Verizon is being true to me, but I have to say that it may not be being true to its own self—by introducing doubt into what is really included in its brand. But here’s what this one particular customer wants—that direct stores have a standardized look that is distinctly different from indirect stores. Maybe Verizon thinks the look is different enough, but if it is, it’s not so different that I knew that this local store is not the same kind of store as the ones I’ve patronized in the past.

The humanities taught me to question and analyze concepts presented to me as truths, while what I learned in business school taught me the hows and whys behind business concepts. In either case, what I gained was a deeper ability to dig beneath the surface to understand when something made sense—and when it didn’t.

To thine own brand be true—that’s just good sense—business or otherwise.

Advertisements

Animal Anatomy for Artists by Eliot Goldfinger

Animal Anatomy for Artists by Eliot Goldfinger

Haven’t a good shipping tale to tell in a few months, but here’s another one. Sometimes I think all this tracking information we receive is just designed to drive us crazy. Ordered an animal anatomy book for Christiana to take back for her final (woo hoo!) semester—she’s into doing animal art but never had a reference from her studies. Classes started today so I was excited to see that the book had arrived in our town.

Except it hadn’t—it arrived in the metro Denver area but not at our post office, according to the tracking records. Thought that was strange but figured it would take another day to get to our house because of that.

But, no, that’s not what the tracking information said. Instead, I noticed that tracking said it was undeliverable and that I should contact the sender. Unless the address label didn’t match the shipping records on file with the sender or had been damaged on its short trip across the Midwest, then the package simply ended up at a post office 10 miles or so away from the intended destination.

Once again, didn’t seem fair that the company sending me the package had to send me a new one because the shipper didn’t get the process right. Yet that’s how things go these days.

I tried to call the post office that had rejected my package—in hopes that my package had yet to leave the building. Was not a good sign when I looked up the location online and instant bad reviews for the office popped up with statements such as “they never answer phones” or “worst customer service ever” and that sort of thing. At my local office, there may be lines at the counter due to not having enough workers but I recognize all the clerks by face—they are pleasant and competent, plus I’ve seen them answer phones and spend time resolving problems.

I spent about 10 minutes on hold as the auto-answering system tried to find me an available clerk or a clerk’s voice mail that wasn’t full. I was just in a loop going from full mail box to full mail box. Kind of ironic, right?

After a brief conversation with my local office where the clerk was flabbergasted but had no answers for me since that office did not have the package—or it would have been delivered to me and none of this would have happened—I called back to Barnes & Noble, whose first customer support person had pretty much told me—between the lines—not to expect any results once my package was marked undeliverable. I know, I know, but I still wanted to think I could just talk to someone who could locate the package that had just received its red letter mark a few hours ago and then I could drive over to pick it up myself since it had come so close to me after leaving Illinois.

What did I expect? Do I think I’m living in TV’s “The Andy Griffith Show” and its town of Mayberry, circa 1965?

Ah no, but I’d like to think what we have lost in personal connection we have gained in efficiency—instead it seems we’re less efficient. My B&N support people were nice enough, even if I don’t know them. And though I never got to talk to anyone at that other post office, I did get to talk with the local clerk whose voice I do recognize.

We’ve got all these fancy computer scanners and distribution systems but we don’t tend to support the clerk who would say, “Well, this here package says 80110. What’s it doing in 80130? Let’s get it on over to the other side of town. Shoot, this doesn’t have to go back to the sender.” I know Barney Fife wasn’t a mail clerk, but those of you who know who Barney Fife was in that fictional Mayberry, can’t you imagine him saying that in his twangy voice? In fact, my own grandfather was a rural mail carrier (no twang) and I can’t imagine him just sending something back. No, these days we want our clerks to follow the system, even when they can see what the problem is and how easy it would be to fix. Just send it back—it keeps general production moving along.

Since the tracking said my package was undeliverable, B&N was sending another copy by express delivery—no charge to me, of course. Only now they are sending it my daughter at school in Fort Collins—let’s hope the package goes straight to the 80521 office because I don’t even want to get started about the six weeks 80525 dithered before sending an 80526 package back as undeliverable. Never mind that an 80525 apartment complex and 80526 condo complex shared the same street address—not good planning, but I’m guessing it leads to common problems—but maybe no common solutions.

But, guess what? Tracking information I received the day after the undeliverable notice arrived said 80130 had sent the package on to 80110 after all—and then our local carrier delivered the book before noon on Saturday. The book turned out to be so fantastic that we’ll pay B&N twice after all and sell the second copy to another animal artist in my daughter’s class.

Tracking and shipping news—it just keeps coming these days—more often than what’s being shipped. With any luck, the (second) book will arrive on my daughter’s doorstep before she graduates in May.

P.S. The second book did arrive as planned and we did pay to keep it. Thanks to shipping snafus, the author (and B&N) made two sales, so I guess some good came out of what seemed like extra costs to B&N.

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

(c) 2014 Trina Lambert

Once upon a time a decade or two ago, I believed the tales told to me in business school. Perhaps they weren’t tales before some of the financial ravages occurred that changed how we do business. But those were days before right-sizing and outsourcing and all those great buzz words that might help the bottom line—and I’m sticking with “might” because I believe in a bottom line that reflects more than the latest quarter, but one that also looks to future earnings and growing customer goodwill—were quite so prominent.

Basically, I fell for operations management, not because I am some mathematical wizard who can analytically detail the best way to manufacture a product or provide a service, but because I believe the human decisions about the whys behind a process make a difference in how well an entity serves various stakeholders.

And part of the whys should be having a plan for how that entity responds when the goods are not delivered as promised or when promised or whatever. The manner in which a website is designed or a phone tree is built indicates something of the sort of service that is most valued by the organization. Resources, especially when limited, tend to get allocated toward what matters most.

When I access a website or a phone tree and note that my particular concern isn’t prominent, then either my current difficulty is not common or it isn’t considered as important as other problems to the organization.

This is where I find myself this week. Does a company so famous for its delivery systems not often have a problem with delivering packages to the wrong homes or does it focus more on resolving problems for the businesses that procure its services? Even though I pay the shipping fee to the original business, it’s that business that chooses which shipping provider to use—for all its shipping needs. They are the bigger stakeholder.

Of all the FAQs listed on the website, there is not one that says: Tracking says a package was delivered but the package was not received. Not sure if the “How do I determine what address my package was delivered to?” instructions work since it is their records available to me that show it was delivered to my address.

After a couple days of calling back and forth to the local hub for our neighborhood’s deliveries while waiting for the driver to tell the office if she recognized my house, I have found out she did not. Then I was told to call the original shipper to have them file the claim.

In my perfect little fairy tale world, this isn’t my responsibility. The company, recognizing that it has likely made a delivery to the wrong address, then takes charge of the mistake and does the legwork for me. The company facilitates this because it wants the problem corrected for me, the individual stakeholder, as well as for the larger stakeholder that is the business that chooses to send its deliveries to me and all its other customers through this particular shipper.

Beyond that, the company also tries to understand if something in the process led to the mistake in the first place in order to make changes that will reduce future errors. Plus, perhaps said company realizes that making the initial contact more customer-friendly and efficient in the face of delivery difficulties will improve the experience for all stakeholders—including its own employees and the productive and cost-effective use of their time—which in the end improves that ever important bottom line.

And then we would all live happily ever after.

As it stands, I left a phone message with the original business that sent out my package in good faith last week through the shipper. Any sweet dreams I expected from using the ordered little pillow to better position my oh-so-sensitive “princess and the pea” back for restful sleep will have to wait. If I were really living in a fairy tale, then all these challenges would simply be part of my hero’s journey to reach the happy ending.

Since I no longer believe in such tales, I’ll just say that this whole saga is not an example of best practices—for any of the stakeholders.

———————————————————–

But there’s more after all! In between writing and editing this piece, the doorbell rang. A man I did not recognize was standing there with my package. When he told me it was mine, I had to ask where he lives—inquiring minds want to know how all this really happened. His house is on the 3500 block while ours is on the 3800 block—no wonder I didn’t know him by sight. (And, yes, the correct address was marked on the box twice.)

So while what I said about businesses still stands, it turns out that sometimes you can depend on the kindness of strangers. In a world of people busy not taking enough responsibility for their actions, there are always those who take on more responsibility than is their due. As so often happens, just when my experiences seem to indicate that believing in others belongs in a mythical tale, then something happens that reminds me that there are plenty of people (and entities) living out the hero’s journey every day—in both big and small ways.

Don’t know if my pillow will be the magical solution for which I sought, but I’ll rest easier having remembered that some tales are true—which makes for a much happier ending for this particular tale.

When I was young, my mom stopped telling me in advance about special plans because I got so upset if they did not happen. When she told me we couldn’t do something because so-and-so was sick, I’d respond with “But you said . . .” Tired of my very vocal expressions of disappointment, she would wait before she let me know about what was supposed to happen.

She just couldn’t convince me that some things were unforeseeable. To me a plan was a plan and a commitment was a commitment.

Sadly, I still feel that way, even though I’ve lived long enough to know that stuff just happens. When a promise doesn’t come through, I just want to say, “But you said . . .” And in that same whiny voice, too. I try not to do so, really I do, because everyone—including moi—makes mistakes.

Plus, I’ve studied operations management. I know how unrealistic it is that nothing will ever go wrong, no matter how airtight the system or the human intent. There are still acts of God (FedEx was monitoring volcanic eruptions in Iceland when I first tracked my recent package delivery) as well as times the system and/or the human fails.

Our dogs in the vehicle while it shows the first temporary license.

Our dogs in the vehicle while it shows the first temporary license.

Nonetheless, yesterday was a frustrating day in our home. In the first case, I don’t think we’re wrong to believe the entity really isn’t doing its job. We still don’t have a license plate for our vehicle that we bought almost four months ago. The first sign of lack of attention was the company not charging our Discover Card (don’t worry about our financial decisions—we were ultimately using investment funds to round out our purchase the vehicle) for the 65% of the purchase price not covered by the cash we paid. And then when the charge appeared (after our notification to them), it appeared twice. Got that fixed only to not receive a title before having to pay for an extension.

With my husband’s constant reminders, the organization continued to search for the title, plus—reluctantly—agreed to provide us with another temporary license to get us through until the arrival. When the title finally came to us, it showed up with a dealer name change form. Instinct told us there still might be trouble, so we did not wait to bring in the title until the temporary’s expiration. Good thing because the name change form is not valid. So we wait again.

But they said they would sell us a vehicle. Why is it nothing has been done correctly and on time—well, except for the fact that the car itself appears to be as good as promised. Surely it is the dealer’s job to know how to do the facets of its own business, such as processing credit cards and meeting government documentation requirements?

And then there was my pillow—out on the FedEx truck at 3:44 a.m. yesterday. I was anticipating a better night’s sleep last night since the special pillow my neuromuscular massage therapist had suggested was finally arriving. I spent much of yesterday in my home office, cleaning off my desk for a project that will be on my desk later this week. Also, I wrote and posted another blog post. From my desk window I can see and hear the delivery trucks that come through my neighborhood. All afternoon I looked for the package, but it had not arrived when I left at 5:30.

Imagine my disappointment when I arrived home at 7:30 and saw that tracking stated my package had been delivered at 3:15. No one else in my house had seen the package either, despite what the records said.

“Describe your house,” the representative said.

"3 Margaritas"

Our PINK house.

“The numbers are clearly legible from the street. There’s a large Colorado Blue Spruce in front of it. It’s stucco—and it’s pink. You can’t miss it.”

Not only did they say they would deliver it, but also they said they did deliver it. So either they did deliver it and someone very quickly stole this odd-shaped pillow or they left the pillow on the porch of some not-pink house (or the driver is stockpiling packages or sleeping on the job—scenarios not very likely with FedEx’s strict operational and employment policies.)

But they said . . . and I remain disappointed.

(c) 2009 Lori Lange, Lange and Lambert families wearing many hats!

(c) 2009 Lori Lange,
Lange and Lambert families wearing many hats!

My American literature professor spent a lot of class time discussing author Ernest Hemingway’s “grace under pressure” concept. I admit that I am macho enough to admire some of the themes from Hemingway’s works. I suppose that goes back to the German-American pioneer spirit imbued in my genes, or at least in my upbringing.

Well, I have that grace. In a crisis it takes a lot for me to become that cliché character in movies that starts hyperventilating at the first sign of difficulties.

I have walked through many fires and not been burned—even when I have been singed.

I get that I have not worked full-time for years and that when I have worked, it has been as a freelance writer and editor or as a volunteer or as a daughter, wife, or parent. I don’t always know programs or letters, such as Photoshop or SEO optimization. But know that other than some word processing I was taught to do on a Wang system (and, yes, that really was a big computer system in a time long ago, not something obscene), I have taught myself everything. I was handed a manual and told if I read it, then I could probably learn how to create spreadsheets—I’ve been through Lotus, Quattro Pro, and Excel all on my own and I’m damn good at spreadsheets—not because I’ve been trained, but because I’m the sort of analytical person who loves the clarity spreadsheets can provide. I’ve switched from the WordPerfect I loved to Word because my work needed to be put into Quark in chart format—which I learned to do from doing it. Software programs come and go—and I learn them when applicable to what I need to do.

When my circulation boss left right before the auditor called, I figured out how to prepare the requested reports and proofs for the auditor. I read industry resources and called contacts and got the information I needed to meet the requirements and then exceed those as I had more preparation and time to develop my own systems.

In fact, the only time I have been trained to do much of anything in my work life is when I standardized financial data for a McGraw Hill company—I was rather in awe that I got to work for a couple months just learning—what a concept, right? Before I was done with that job, I was the person who created the new training manuals/programs for two specific industry groups.

Writing and editing? Not trained except as a college student and with the introductory studies in my graduate publishing program. But once again, I have utilized written resources and contacts, although I have not really got into watching online videos—I’m not so auditory in my learning style that I have converted to that type of learning, although it’s good to know that I can if I am stumped.

And I can’t tell you how many times my MBA studies have been relevant in both my volunteer work and my family life. I’ve used operations management techniques for standardizing and improving back room operations for large volunteer-run clothing and equipment sales and my knowledge of accounting and finance for analyzing financial reports as oversight for the local school district, a non-profit preschool, and any other volunteer organization I have supported. Plus, without my MBA, I doubt I could have proven to a large hospital and our insurance company just why the billing was wrong and why we were the ones owed money, not the institution.

Then there is all I had to do to “rescue” my mother from the details of her life as she fell into dementia. I had to jump in to her finances and analyze what she had and hadn’t done and come up with a plan for catching up and going forward. I had to manage her healthcare, finances, possessions, and real estate—and still find time to love her and my own kids who were still at home.

At the same time my daughter experienced her own health crisis (the one that led to the big billing problem) that required weekly if not more frequent medical trips as well as handling the human side of that crisis.

Even so, during these twin crises, I was still editing, volunteering, and exercising, as well as managing our own household finances, appointments, possessions, pets, etc. Everything that was essential was completed, but at the same time I didn’t feel I could commit myself to outside work and do it justice.

Those days are past. I have been baptized by fire and am ready to share my abilities with a worthy organization. No, my path has not been straight and I am not an expert in one particular thing. But if a computer program is spitting me out for not having “x” years of experience in this or that, then I will never get a chance to show just how much I can do. I need a hiring manager who has the imagination to understand the assets my life experiences, character traits, and my skills are and how they can add to an organization’s value.

On the other hand, I realize that there is still so much for me to learn about the way workplaces are now. Just because I have an MBA, that doesn’t mean I think I should start at the top. But know that I am a loyal person and when the time comes that I get a chance to dig in and begin at a lower level, I will put my powers of learning to whatever tasks are at hand and grow both myself and the organization that hires me.

I am relevant in so many ways—what I call “grace under pressure” is now called “grit”—and that I have in spades.

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

Almost a decade ago our newly-relocated washer connections started spewing water all over the basement floor—sounds I heard from upstairs. After running down the stairs, I spied my then-twelve-year-old son staring intently at the game on his computer screen. Our conversation went something like this:

“Jackson, do you hear the water?”

“What water?”

“Can you grab me some towels immediately?”

“What towels?”

“The ones in the linen closet.”

“What linen closet?”

I finally got him to follow me to the linen closet (the one in the close-by hallway space between his and his sister’s bedrooms) and very soon we were sopping up the mess on the floor together with the aforementioned towels.

We live in a 1940s house where storage space is at a premium. Our house didn’t come with amenities such as coat closets or linen closets—where we can, we have added storage places. Sometimes, however, we can’t really change a space so we add organizers. The only linen closet is still in the basement—even the bath towels for the upstairs bathroom remain there because there is no room for them anywhere else.

And while keeping bath towels so far away isn’t so inconvenient, I found it too hard to switch out the smaller hand towels and washcloths as often as needed without keeping them upstairs where they were used. For years I kept the built-in bathroom cabinet overflowing with all the towels and products that could not fit on the small counter. Almost every time I opened the cupboard, towels and all sorts of items would burst out since the organizing containers inside could only contain so much stuff.

When you’re as naturally disorganized as I am, you have to devise organizing systems that give you some chance of success. I’m definitely one of those “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” people so there were many good reasons for moving some of that stuff out into the open—which I finally got to do about six months ago when my daughter moved from one living space to another and no longer had such a tiny bathroom space herself.

That’s when I claimed her over-the-commode (doesn’t that sound fancy?) organizer and went searching for containers that could remain in the open, but still keep me organized. No more toilet paper, bath linens, bottles, and makeup either spilling out of the cabinet or remaining on the countertop—well, on many days, anyway.

Last night I removed one dirty hand towel and ran to put it in the washer before setting out the clean towels. In the meanwhile my husband grabbed some other towel (really, more a rag than anything I would use in the bathroom) to use instead. Now this part of the story is just a matter of two different people seeing matters in a different way, but what follows is similar to the story of my son and the linen closet.

Me: “Oh, the spare hand towel is in the basket in the bathroom.”

Husband: “What basket?”

So today I sent him a picture of the basket—now full since I’d put away the clean towels.

“Where is that?”

“In our bathroom.”

“I thought it was somewhere else. I’ve never seen that.”

“We got it in August after we moved the girls. It’s on the shelf next to the Kleenex container.”

“What Kleenex container?”

Then I sent him a picture of the whole arrangement and he still professed amazement and shock.

This goes on for quite awhile until he then says, “You do know I am pulling your leg, don’t you?”

What he does and does not know about this arrangement apparently will remain a mystery to me, but I’m pretty sure he really did not notice the original basket. And maybe it never occurred to him that things weren’t falling out of the cabinet at the same rate as they have since, well, forever in this house-of-little-storage.

You may be asking yourself, what’s the point of this post? There are few.

First of all, don’t assume someone else “sees”—or “hears” in the case of my son—what you do. Sometimes it doesn’t matter and sometimes it does, but awareness that you don’t always know how something appears from another’s shoes is big. Next, what I might be good at doing and what you might be good at doing are not always the same. Also, you may not even care about something that matters to me and vice versa. Finally, those of us who enjoy applying process improvements in order to make some aspects of life easier aren’t always going to receive the respect and appreciation we expect.

What I think of as having my ducks in a row might lead to no more than being asked, “What ducks?” Here I go—just me and my towel stories—trying to demonstrate that one man’s or woman’s simple is often another’s, “Huh?”

Now for something new and different from me: the beginning of a fiction story that aims to reach more people than I could reach through writing a serious nonfiction treatise on customer service. (See my Common Core post about how fiction works can also teach . . .) And now after way too much ado, here’s Delta!

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

(c) 2013 Trina Lambert

Delta opened her eyes and realized she didn’t feel like a cockroach anymore. No, her Gregor-Samsa-like days were over. Delta was angry—something had to change and it wasn’t going to be her anymore. But that dream she’d just had . . . what was that about? Obviously she had been reading her son’s graphic novels too much lately.

Plot armor, plot armor—the kid was always going on about plot armor. Well, they never talked about plot armor at her college. But once she figured out what it was, she knew she wanted it for Her Own Story. Who wouldn’t want a device that kept your character from dying—or—in her case—wimping out—when it was most inconvenient?

So in her dream, first of all she thought she was going to burn up. She was hot, really hot, and not in the way her husband wanted her to be. When that voice said, “Delta, Delta, you need to put on your plot armor—and don’t forget the boots either,” she looked up and saw a light beaming onto her. No wonder she was so hot, right? Still, the voice wouldn’t stop. Could this plot armor be a sort of deus ex machina that would finally help her get that damn dryer to work? (OK, it was a dream—it made sense that armor would make all the difference.)

However, Delta thought putting on armor when you’re so gosh-darned hot seemed like a good way to roast. But that deep voice kept nagging her to put on the armor. Perhaps she needed to suspend belief in order for the plot armor to work for her?

Frankly, she put it on to shut up the voice—like she needed something else telling her something needed to be done.

And, suddenly she heard a choir—her church choir of course—singing a ditty from a little-known composer by the name of Handel. Wow, and they’d even hired the union musicians for the orchestra. But, even more than that, the armor molded her body into more than it was, better than it had been even—and unlike with wearing Spanx, she didn’t feel like various parts of her were going to explode from the force.

“Delta,” the voice called again.

As she looked for the voice, a full-length mirror appeared—not gilded, of course, because that would be so much harder to dust—if she ever dusted, of course. She peeked in and realized that though she looked hot, she no longer felt hot. That armor had some miraculous microfibers working in its favor, as well as some powerful Spandex or something of the nature. She was good, really good, herself only combining much of her former youthful beauty with the wisdom (and crows’ feet) she’d gained over the years.

Oh, wait. Maybe she was dead.

Then she got mad. What if she’d wasted the best minutes/hours/days of her life wading through all of those labyrinthine-like phone trees trying to talk to a real human who actually used common sense and who had been empowered by the powers-that-be to help customers? Yet instead time and time again she found a cultural-wide commitment to non-service of customers. Was her last day going to have been spent trying to get somebody, anybody to care that her brand new dryer didn’t work—and they didn’t think it was a problem they couldn’t get the parts until the end of the month?

Guess not—there went the alarm clock she’d gotten when she left for college. That thing was so old she was going to have to kill it in order justify getting something newer.

She could feel that gone was her beautiful armor, but her cotton pajamas were drenched and likely sticking to her in a most unattractive way.

“Steve?” she called to her husband who was rustling in the closet to find something to wear to work. “Why is it so hot in here?”

“Hot? Before the sun’s up in January? When have you ever been too hot sleeping in the winter, She of Iceberg Feet?”

“Huh—that’s a good question. I must have been running a marathon—somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere of course—in my dreams. Ugh, I’m going to need to strip this bed and wash the sheets.”

“Did the dryer parts come yet? It’s supposed to snow, you know. I don’t think it’s going to be such a good day for drying the sheets on the line.”

“Oh, then somebody’s going to need to take these to the Laundromat and it’s not going to be me.”

“You mean me?”

“No—you tried to fix that lemon they sold us. I meant the idiot who thinks it’s a good idea to run a company that sells new dryers that don’t work and thinks ordering dryer parts just-on-their-time (from that slow boat from China or wherever they come from) is good enough for customers. I have half a mind to knock on the door of that bozo’s inner sanctum and kick his or her butt all the way down to the Laundromat.”

That’s when Delta saw it—what was that armor-like thing hanging on the back of the chair? And, those boots? What woman wouldn’t want to put on those boots when she went to remind a certain CEO of how it felt to be walked all over?

A chill ran down her back. The heat was gone and she felt more than fine—Delta was finally going to make people understand just what her name meant.

Richard "Dick" Lange, circa late 1950s


Let me state upfront that my father was a pharmacist and so was my father-in-law. These two men took their jobs very seriously and had incredible attention-to-detail. They weren’t afraid to call doctors if they thought a mistake had been made or make sure their own assistants had verified all information. My father’s been gone these past ten years, but my father-in-law is still around. His insurance company keeps wanting him to switch to mail order prescriptions, but since he does not trust those organizations, that won’t happen any time soon.

Wish I could say that my experiences with our mail order prescription company have proven him wrong.

Even if the company had never made a mistake—which is not true—just their turnaround time alone hardly seems acceptable. I realize my father lived in a different era, but he made sure that the patients got the prescriptions before he went home. My father-in-law even worked Easter, for goodness’ sake. Two weeks after the company receives a prescription, they get the medication into our home? Just in their time, not ours, right?

Slow service seems bad enough, yet that’s not our only problem with them. Apparently their system isn’t set up well to reconcile prescription order forms with on-file records. Because our kids have been in college, their mailing addresses have changed a few times. And some glitch in their system keeps old addresses available on their end even after we’ve removed them on our end.

Twice in the last six months the company has sent our prescription orders to the wrong location, despite having received the proper mailing address on the mailing form. The company employed no heroic methods to get us the prescription at the correct address, even after admitting the errors came on their end. Whenever there has been a problem, I could rely on spending around an hour on the phone discussing the problem before the company took any steps to resolve the problem.

I’m not going to bore you with the details, but I think it’s unacceptable that this company mails prescriptions to the wrong addresses. And, that they don’t seem to have a plan devised for hurrying corrections through their system.

You don’t have to be a pharmacist to read the addresses on an order form, but the pharmacists I knew would be upset that their hard work wasn’t enough to take care of the customers’ health care needs in a timely manner. Does it make sense that I can order a comforter for my bed and rely on receiving it faster than I can get a prescription?

Health care reform needs to start by making sure all providers still care about their patients’ health, whether or not they see them face to face. Tell me we’re not out of time to fix that part of the system—just in time shouldn’t have to be a term reserved for a nostalgic period when providers busted their butts so that patients could begin treatments in a timely manner.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

I don’t write fiction—yet. OK, since I helped my coaching client write some fictional scenes, I guess I do write fiction—un peu, seulement. That’s about all the French I remember, and for over 30 years I’ve believed it stands for “only a little” or something like that.

Hey, how hard could it be? I can just do as many other newbie fiction writers do and compose a story based around a thinly-veiled version of me and my life. What, you’re not into “little domestic” tales? No drug addictions, no affairs, no edgy lifestyle? Well, I do want my stories to stand out, you know.

Don’t laugh, but Everywoman is mad as hell about companies that don’t think about the customer and she has lots of company. Don’t believe me? Just monitor what some of your Facebook friends are saying.

However, I’ll admit that my conversations with the front line people at these companies are not that exciting. But they could be . . .

Over a month ago I was just trying to have a new dryer that worked. It’s good to have goals, even if they’re only little domestic goals. (Sorry, just gotta’ keep throwing in the snide words from a comment I received from a judge about my “nice little domestic” poem—as if there is no angst in the domestic life.) Only I felt the company didn’t have the same commitment to that goal as I did. First of all, why would a brand new dryer not work? Yes, I bought it at the outlet store, but I presumed it was there because of the scratches and dents and how long it had been on the floor, not because it DID NOT WORK. You see, spending several hundred dollars for a hunk of metal is only valuable if said hunk of metal improves my life in some way.

Anyway, not only did I have to wait for repairs, but also for any parts that the tech discovered needed to be replaced upon completion of the first visit. I’m sorry, but the business concept of Just in Time (only keeping the bare minimum of inventory and ordering in the rest) only works if you can get the necessary merchandise quickly. So then I got to wait longer since their Just in Their Time system seemed more like Just Waste My Time to me. See how much angst a person can feel over having spent money for a product that only complicates domestic life until the customer has spent time sitting around at home waiting, not once, but twice, to get resolution.

So is it wrong that my nice little domestic problem led me to harbor thoughts of creating a character who went straight to the top of those corporations that dismissed the importance of the customer’s time and money—and maybe taught a few CEOs a lesson or two? I’m backing off from the word “murder” for now, but would it be OK if she made the CEO take my, I mean, her laundry to a Laundromat while she waited for her dryer to be repaired?

Just like any other newbie fiction writer, I might include the teensiest bits of my own stories in these tales, but seriously, if a certain company’s CEO turns up missing, it wasn’t me! Really—but check the Laundromat, just in case.

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

We live in such absurd times that I just may have to write about them in a different format.

Last week a friend—who works for a company that has a reputation for putting its money behind its customer service—suggested I write a short story about my ongoing dryer saga. (No, the replacement parts have not arrived yet so the service tech cannot come out to finish the repairs. Yes, the dryer works, but not as well as a brand new dryer should.)

I joked I would have to write murder mysteries based on true customer service stories where the fed-up customer or a masked consumer advocate began doing in the CEOs of the offending companies. Stay tuned—it could still happen. Sherman, Jackson, and I had a pretty amazing brainstorming session (AKA a car trip during which we all spoke out of turn) that got me to thinking about how I could parody many of the concepts I learned at MBA school.

At least for today, no one is killing anyone, but I have to write down the most recent absurd situation so that I don’t stroke out in my frustration. Really.

Ever notice how medical practices these days have very ironclad and exacting procedures for getting the money upfront for any expected amounts due from the patient after insurance has paid? And, many of them also require you to leave a credit card on-file that you authorize for them to access for any unexpected charges.

But on the flip side, most of those practices have convoluted processes that make it hard for a patient to receive a timely refund, if not almost impossible.

In a logical world, a business would reverse out a charge. However, I’m sure those in charge figure since they had to pay a fee to take my money, then I can just wait. Some businesses, such as colleges, have decided to pass-on any banking fees charged to the institution for credit purchases, but at least the consumers (students and parents) know the terms before they charge.

Let me walk you through our recent exercise in absurdism. Our insurance company told our medical practice that our daughter’s procedure would cost us $873.04 (not that I count the pennies or anything) and that we would be expected to pay the day of the procedure. My financing plan involved putting the amounts on credit card and then getting reimbursed from our flexible spending plan in time to pay the credit card bill.

Glory be, the insurance company ended up covering the pre-arranged charges after all which meant we could only receive flexible spending reimbursement for the additional costs of $61.40 that we owed the practice. (At the same time, the insurance did not cover the $1,155.00 for the anesthesia which means we still have charges we do need to pay, one way or another.)

I don’t know about you, but even when I don’t have an outstanding obligation for over $1,000.00 elsewhere, I really can’t afford to have over $800.00 of my money sitting in someone else’s bank account.

If a person wants a medical refund in these days, that person has to initiate one. I called the practice to point out the double payment and get the refund process moving. Then I waited. Called again only to discover that the surgical center’s headquarters is out-of-state and somehow the local practice and the headquarters have to move paperwork back and forth one or two times before a check can be cut.

Well, our first refund check has arrived—in our daughter’s name. Despite the fact the insurance subscriber (the parent!) paid the bill, HIPAA rules require that refunds go out in the patient’s name if that patient is over eighteen. Great, but our daughter is away at college.

So I thought I would just deposit the check in her college checking account, of which both of her parents are co-signors. Then I could move it into the account that we use to manage college costs so that I could write ourselves a check to our regular account which would be deposited to cover the amount we had already paid the credit card company. Following me yet?

What a complicated process, but the money would go where it belonged. Except, Wells Fargo says it cannot cash this check written from Vectra Bank—I can’t even begin to understand why one large bank’s check reader cannot read another large bank’s check. Wells said if we wanted the check cashed, we just needed to take it to Vectra and get cash. That process only works if the check is in our name, which it is not.

That means six weeks after the procedure we have had to pay out money but still cannot access the money we did not owe. I’m just glad the anesthesiologist isn’t asking for his money . . . yet.

When did the absurd become so normal? At least I don’t have to worry about running out of customer service story ideas any time soon.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 606 other followers

Blogging AtoZ Challenge 2012

(c) 2009, Christiana Lambert