Customer service

Those people who couldn’t get jobs at Barnes & Noble

Borders employees are claiming they are being pressured into signing a non-blogging contract.

Also, this post is from infoI Work at Borders, but it’s just as perfect for anyone who’s worked at a Barnes and Noble, too. I laughed.

Though in light of the article linked to at the top of this post, it’s fascinating what a huge majority of comments on the post are anonymous. You rarely see any anonymous commenting at either of LJ’s two B&N employee communities.


So what about this candidate made you say, "He’s the perfect fit!"?

Ian outside Valley Parade stadium, BradfordBesides the Yorkshire Ripper and the Black Panther, Bradford–where I’m from–is famous for really only one thing: its massive South Asian population has made it the curry capital of the world. So I was a bit disappointed when we spent 24 hours there last weekend and didn’t have a single curry.

A few days later, though, we planned to drive from Sunderland to Manchester, and since Bradford lies on the route between the two, less than an hour northwest of Manchester, my parents conceived the idea of stopping there and having a curry for lunch. On the way down, I suggested we also stop by Valley Parade–the home stadium of Bradford City Association Football Club–and head into the club shop.

We headed to the stadium before lunch. Only one employee was present, and my dad asked him about any decent curry places located nearby.

“I’m not actually from Bradford,” he said. “I have to ask directions whenever I go somewhere.”

Bradford City being such a small club–currently they play in League Two, the fourth and lowest tier of English professional football–there’s only so much space that the club shop can fill with jerseys and with a handful of t-shirts about how awful Leeds United are. The remaining floor space is given over to other, non-Bradford City items manufactured by City’s kit manufacturer, Surridge.

Surridge, it turns out, is principally a cricket outfitter, and in the back of the club shop I found a rack with the caps from all the various cricket clubs Surridge is the manufacturer for; I would guess over half the counties were represented. Neither my dad nor I particularly follow cricket–not least because it’s so impossible to find in the States–but we figured that, with the caps priced at only two quid apiece, we’d pick up a Yorkshire cap if we could find one.

We’d have expected Yorkshire’s emblem to be a White Rose, but none of the caps had a White Rose. There were, however, several emblems that we couldn’t identify, so in the hopes that one of them was Yorkshire, I took them over to the store clerk and asked if he knew what teams they belong to, or if he knew if he had a Yorkshire cap in stock.

“Search me, mate,” he said. “Your guess is as good as mine.”

So … the only employee in Bradford City’s club shop is neither from Bradford, nor, apparently, much into sport.


PS Yorkshire’s emblem is indeed the White Rose, and their kit manufacturer is Canterbury, not Surridge.

Props to Amazon

On a Clear Night by Missy HigginsSince we’re always prone to share poor customer service stories, I always think it’s important to share good ones, too.

One of the recommendations I’ve had from playing the Alphabet Game has been from Diane, for Australian singer-songwriter Missy Higgins. I’d never heard of Higgins before, but after giving her a listen I added her two albums to our to-buy list.

Today Amazon included her second album on their Friday Five–an offer where five albums get offered for five dollars apiece every Friday. But when I clicked on the link to buy the album, I discovered that, despite the advertisement, it was still priced at its regular price, $9.99. The other four of the Friday Five had had their prices set to $5, just not this one.

Diane let me know that she’d notified Amazon of this via their customer service form, and had got a note back letting her know that she’d be credited back $5.97 (which is weird, both because $5.97 isn’t really an amount relevant to any part of the discussion, and because Diane hadn’t actually bought the album. I’m going to assume they ended up not paying her six bucks just for noticing them of a pricing discrepancy on their website.) So I figured what the heck, bought the album at $9.99 and then notified Amazon that I’d been overcharged.

A while later I got a note back, agreeing with me that I’d been charged $4.99 more than I should have. Due to the nature of the MP3 download purchase process, I was told, a partial refund was impossible, so they were simply refunding me the entire $9.99.

Now, I know that Amazon had the album prominently displayed on their Friday Five promotion, but the album’s actual page also made it quite clear that it was still priced at $9.99. So if a partial refund was impossible, Amazon could still have made the perfectly legitimate argument that I shouldn’t have gone ahead and spent ten dollars and that there was nothing they could do. I think it’s pretty cool that they didn’t.

In the interim, I’d also noticed that today Amazon has the Who album Who Are You on sale for just $1.99, so I went ahead and bought that. That means that today, I bought 25 songs from Amazon (26 if you count the free song that comes with installing their MP3 downloader) for $1.99–or eight cents a song. Amazon made me very happy today.

By the way, the price point on the Missy Higgins album has now been corrected to $5.


They really must have no clue what their website is for

screenshot from Burger King's websiteProbably two or three times a week I get a phone call from Lisa asking if I’d like her to pick up something to eat on her way home from work or from church. So I’m used to navigating restaurant chains’ websites. I’m pretty competent at it.

If you’re a restaurant or a retailer, there are really only two things people visiting your website are going to want: a store locator and a menu/catalogue. It amazes me sometimes how difficult website designers can make these things (especially the store locator) to find.

So I get a call yesterday from Lisa that she’ll be stopping by Burger King on her way home. Burger King isn’t somewhere we go very often at all, so I head on over to to decide what I want.

Except I find … no menu. (Despite the fact that you’ll find, if you hover your cursor over that link to, that the word menu actually appears in the URL.) I look over the page again. No link titled “Menu” or some variant that looks likely to lead to a menu. All I have is splashy graphics highlighting their Simpsons promotion, their Wii promotion and the new burger they’re promoting, the Mushroom & Swiss Steakhouse.

Lisa has now called back from the BK drivethru to find out what I want, and I’ve got no idea, because as far as I know, the Mushroom & Swiss is the only thing Burger King serves (and I’d be interested in it were it not for the first word in its name). There’s a search field at the top of the page cycling through suggested searches “Investor Relations” and “Prices”, so I click on “Prices”. But all this gives me is a popup reading, “Prices and menues vary. Please visit your local Burger King.”

Yeah, that’s how you get my business. Tell me I can’t have any information till I’m already in your store.

Not until Lisa had already left Burger King did I discover that their website does indeed have a menu. It’s found under a link with such a label it’s amazing I could have missed it: “Mushroom & Swiss Steakhouse Burger”. Of course. All my own obtuseness,* clearly.


*I hereby introduce the word obtusion to the English language.

Notes on the State of Virginia

Lisa and Paul in OccoquanIt’s now a week since we moved ourselves and (most of) our belongings across the Potomac to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and I’m happy to say we’re settling in nicely, progressing with the processes of unpacking and making periodic trips back to Rockville to pick up the remainder of our stuff. Lisa is in the midst of 21 consecutive days at work, but luckily we don’t have to be out of our old place till 15 August, so we have plenty of opportunity to finish up moving out of there and getting the place cleaned up.

It took us till yesterday morning (Saturday) to finally get cable and Internet hooked up. Despite everything working fine at that time, that afternoon we discovered our service had been inexplicably downgraded from tier two to tier one. So we called Comcast and got it fixed. Then this morning I discovered that we’d had our supplemental sports package (with stuff like the NFL Network and Fox Soccer Channel) turned off. So another call to Comcast. Then this evening we got home to find we’d been downgraded to tier one again. Hopefully this will turn out to have been our last call to Comcast.

I do find it a little weird that here in Virginia we continue to receive Maryland Public Television.

Lisa and Paul at the Occoquan RiverWe really have moved to a beautiful place, from the complex where we’re living (as I hope is evident from the pictures I previously posted and a few more on Boy’s pictures page) to the whole surrounding countryside. This afternoon we went to the Occoquan River Festival, though I of course forgot my camera, so I was reduced to taking pictures like the friggin’ two-megapixel masterpieces adorning this post on my cellphone. We had a great time, though, and Lisa was particularly excited because of the independent food establishments. Darcy, who we’ve left behind in Montgomery County, only likes to eat at places that aren’t chains, and along the quarter-mile or so of Mill Street in Occoquan Lisa found about six or seven different, good-looking places with which she’s hoping to lure her forty miles down I-95 for a visit.

Even the population seem notably young and attractive, to the point that Lisa asked me on the drive home this evening if we’d accidentally moved to a college town.


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Amen to that

I have a theory about asshole customers: I think they only act that way because no one ever calls them on their bullshit. The poor kids behind the counter can’t stand up for themselves lest they lose their jobs and other patrons look the other way claiming ‘it’s none of my business.’

Fuck that. When I see some self important asshole verbally degrading a teenaged kid with dead eyes behind a counter, it ruins my day. So, I say some shit. Besides, I feel that if I stay silent, I am almost giving an abuser permission to act like a raging asshole. Ignoring their behavior suggests to them on some sick level that what they’re doing is Ok.

Amen to that.

As someone who worked in customer service for five years, I can tell you that people show us a really dark, hidden side of themselves–a side they wouldn’t even be willing their families. And they think it’s not only acceptable, but even encouraged to treat other human beings that way. Interacting with customer service employees is the Great American Middle Class’s one chance to treat another human being like they’re a piece of garbage, and it’s disgusting.

My resolution: from now on, I hope I’m going to try to speak up whenever I see someone act as if normal rules of courtesy don’t apply to other human beings just because they’re wearing a nametag. I hope I’m going to make both the customer in question and all the people around us aware of how revolting their behaviour is. I don’t know if I’ll always have the courage to follow through on this, but I will know that just because it would be awkward is not an excuse not to defend a fellow human being who can’t defend themselves.


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That’s one employee for everyone at the table

The eighth Doctor (Paul McGann)This wasn’t an incompetent dining experience by any means, but it was bizarre.

This afternoon at the Cheesecake Factory in Baltimore, our table was waited on by no fewer than seven separate employees over the course of the meal, including three different managers. We apparently had two different servers assigned to our table (one on drinks and one on food); one of these had her shift end midway through the meal and was replaced by a new server.

Apparently while they were cooking Lisa’s cousin Steven’s burger, the burger “broke”, and we had a waitress and two different managers stop by to let us know about the delay, then a third manager bring out the replacement burger once it was ready.

And incidentally–this isn’t really realted, but it’s the route we have to drive to get up to the Baltimore Inner Harbour–I-395 in Baltimore is a mile and a half long and has zero exits. What the hell is the point of that?


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An interesting dining experience

Mel Bush (Bonnie Langford)I’m genuinely not complaining here, but seriously, if it wasn’t for the fact that we’ve been going to that Bennigan’s for the past four years, there’s nothing anyone could say to me after dinner last night that would have convinced me the place hadn’t opened within the past three days and it wasn’t the first night for everyone who was working there.

The hostess didn’t know how to seat us, and felt the need to ask the waiter’s permission before she did so.

When the busboy brought our food out, we quickly discovered he’d brought us another table’s food. When informed of this, he left the tray of food at the next table, went and got our waiter and asked him, “How do I tell which table the food goes to?” (To which the response was, “What number does the tag say?”)

They were out of cups for the children’s drinks.

Of the three desserts available for the three-course menu, they were out of two of them: apple pie and Death by Chocolate.

They were out of all sizes of to go boxes except for the tiny ones, so Lisa’s and my leftovers ended up being divided amongst seven separate boxes.


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We’re sorry, please don’t hold, we won’t be getting back to you at all

Vislor Turlough (Mark Strickson)When I got up from a nap yesterday, the Internet was down and we weren’t receiving half our cable channels, so like a good customer, I called to make sure Comcast was aware of the outage. I followed the prompts from the automated answer system and eventually was told, “Please hold for our next available agent.”

This was followed by a voice that said, “Please hold,” about every twenty seconds or so. It went on for maybe two minutes, and then the automated answer system got back on the line and said, “It appears that due to greater than average call volume, none of our agents is available at the moment. Please call back later!”

I’m guessing this sort of system was instituted to stop people from complaining about spending hours on hold. But let me tell you, if you think I’m tetchy after spending a while on hold, you should see me when the cable company–whom I pay over a hundred bucks a month to–refuses to take my phone call because I’m not enough of a priority.


(Do you think the guy who instituted this system thought, This will really help reduce crabiness from people being on hold, or do you think he thought, They think they’re pissed off from being on hold? Let’s see how they like this.)

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The economics of free stuff

Tegan Jovanka (Janet Fielding)Every week I download the two to three free songs available on iTunes. Most of these songs are, of course, pretty dire–but if the artists were any good, their record company wouldn’t need to be paying iTunes to give the songs away for free.

I also read the first one or two user reviews for each song–and I have to say, it stuns me how few people seem aware of how promotions like this work. They all genuinely seem to be under the impression that iTunes, on its own, has decided to give away a free song every week, and has simply picked a song from their catalogue and set its price to zero for the week (which would, of course, most likely constitute internet piracy). “Does iTunes just search for a really bad song to give away so they can tell us they have free music?” “The purpose of giving away free music is to make customers happy, right? [No, it’s not.] Then why not give us songs we want, by popular bands?”

Folks, it’s not rocket science. Pretty much whenever you see a retail outlet promoting specific goods–iTunes giving away songs for free, or iTunes featuring albums on their storefront, or anytime you go into a store (whether grocery, department, electronics or book) and see things featured on an endcap (whether they’re discounted or not), or all the things that stores put out coupons for–the manufacturer has paid the store to promote the product as a form of advertising. This is why all the items on a display are from the same manufacturer.


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