Monday, January 24, 2011

An Episode of Sloth...

     "Abby's not coming in today," said Lisa, as she listened to the message on her voicemail.  "Stevie's not feeling well."

     "Aw, poor guy," said Emily.  "Does he have a fever?"

     "Stomach bug," said Lisa.  "He threw up everywhere.   Dave, I guess that means that you won't have your walking partner today."

     "Dave's a big boy," said Emily.   "He can walk all by himself."

     "I'm sure I'll manage," I groaned in a sorrowful tone that was slightly north of Eeyore-esque, as I kicked off my winter boots and turned on my computer.  "Maybe I'll just go out and get coffee today, for old-time's sake."

Uh ohhhhhh...  No Abby today.
What's a dork-walker to do?
Honestly, I didn't have any intentions of making the four-mile drive down the road to get coffee.  The calendar had changed to 2011 over twenty days ago, and I still hadn't gone for a caffeinated beverage on my lunch break.  Not quite up there with Brett Favre and his streak of consecutive starts that recently ended at 297 games. 

But twenty days without a lunchtime coffee run was still impressive in its own right.  Besides, Abby had been absent for two other days during the new year; I had dork-walked on one day and snowshoed on the other.  Certainly, I could find a way to be active on this particular day and make my lunch hour productive.

The morning hours elapsed fairly quickly.  Just a few days prior, we had mailed out the 2010 tax information to all of our customers.   Everybody was opening their mail and getting their 1098s and 1099s for the past year.  All morning, we fielded questions about all sorts of IRS-related information... from Mortgage interest paid, dividends earned, which joint account owner was tax-select on what account.   Luckily, most of these calls were easy to handle.  We are very fortunate to have fantastic people in our IT Department.   When tax time rolls around every January, they go above and beyond to keep us informed... making sure that we have all the necessary tools and resources at our fingertips to answer any questions that our customers have regarding their tax information.

The highlight of my morning came around 11:15, when I got to an email in our Member Service Inbox that had been sent during the previous evening.   It had nothing at all to do with taxes, in fact.   The subject of the email read, "Need new debit card."  I opened up the secure link sent with the email and read the message.   Apparently, this gentleman's dog had chewed up his Visa Debit Card, and he needed us to send him a replacement card.  **(see Disclaimer in coarse print...  way at the bottom)**

     Hmmmm... , I thought to myself. I've heard of the dog eating your homework... but a Visa Debit Card?  That's a first.

If I may digress for a moment, I'd like to share my philosophy regarding our company's incoming emails.  When answering a customer's email, priority numero uno is not only to provide a complete, thoughtful response that addresses the question or questions that have been raised, but to do so in a manner that is professional and grammatically impeccable.   I take pride in the fact that I do this very well.  In fact, I have no reservations whatsoever when I say that my emails kick ass.   And...  when the opportunity presents itself, I also like to make an email more memorable for a customer.

With that in mind, I sent the following response:

Thanks for your message.

I've ordered you a replacement Debit Card, and you should receive it in the mail within 7-10 days.   This card will have the same number and 4-digit PIN as your current Debit Card.

Regarding the chewed-up card, did your dog chew it up beyond recognition?   The reason I ask is because the card itself will obviously not work, but the card number will still be active.  If the number on the card is still recognizable, you'd want to destroy or shred the card completely.   That way, nobody else (aside from the dog) would be able to use the active card number.

Please let me know if you have any questions.   Have a great evening!

Even if I had left out the bit in parentheses about the dog, my response still would have been superb.  However, I couldn't resist the obvious chance to drag the dog into the fray.  I received the following reply to my message within a hour:

Thanks Dave
The card has been destroyed and the dog sworn to secrecy.

Not only was this gentleman satisfied with the outstanding service that I had provided, he also clearly enjoyed the humor in my response.  I think it's fairly important for our customers to know that there's actually a live human being with a pulse behind any correspondence that they receive.  Mission accomplished!

If the weather wasn't so
wretched, I would have chosen
a scenic, winter dork-walk
over Hawaiian coffee.
By the time I had wrapped up the 'dog incident', the clock in the lower right corner of my computer taskbar read 1:45...  time to go to lunch.  Of course, I use the phrase "going to lunch" fairly loosely.  On most days, I actually heat up leftovers in the microwave sometime between 11:30 and noon, and I eat at my desk between calls and emails.  That way, I have forty-five minutes to do whatever I want when lunch time rolls around.

I grabbed my winter boots from under my desk and began to untie my work shoes.   My glance drifted towards the gray skies and wet snow, which was plummeting to the ground just outside the nearby window.  The trees by the edge of the field beyond our parking lot were swaying back and forth ominously.  It looked pretty miserable out there.

     Well... , I thought to myself, stalling at my desk.  Yeah, I'll just go get coffee today.  Why not?

It wouldn't hurt to deviate from my new plan for 2011...  just for a day.  Besides, today was Wednesday.  Earlier in the week when I had stopped in the cafe after my yoga class for my morning coffee, one of the employees had mentioned that Wednesdays were now going to be known as 'Hawaii Wednesdays', with Hawaiian coffee available all day long.  Their Hawaiian Kauai coffee is heads and shoulders above any other single-origin bean that they offer.  That was enough to get me into my car.

As I turned left at the four-way stop-light, I was still feeling positive about my decision.  For the first three weeks of the year, I had dork-walked or snowshoed for two-to-three miles on each of my lunch breaks.  Today's caffeine run would be viewed not as a sign of weakness, but as a reward for a job well done.  As Jim Rome's voice blared from my car speakers, all of the familiar landmarks along the four-mile drive passed me by...  a uniquely constructed A-frame house on the left...  a heavily-wooded area on the right, which eventually gave way to  an open meadow... a brook that meandered back and forth along the shoulder.  I was always cautious along this particular stretch of road, as it was a frequent crossing for white-tailed deer.

After crossing a bridge over the brook, an over-sized McMansion approached to the left.   Every time I drove by, I'd try to count the number of garage doors, but I always lost count at six.  The most obnoxious aspect of this lavish spread wasn't the multiple garage doors, nor the gargantuan, man-made pond and waterfall in the front yard.  It was actually the large sign by the driveway which read, "Private Residence; No Trespassing".  To me, this seemed to suggest that the 3-bedroom, 1,800 square-foot dump that I inhabit with my wife and two cats was somehow open to the public.

Once inside the cafe, I chatted and joked with the girl behind the counter as I placed my order for a medium coffee-to-go.  I had become known as somewhat of an mid-afternoon regular during the past few years.  On some afternoons, I was lucky enough to get a free cup of coffee.

No question about it, this is excellent customer service.

A snowy winter brook is much more
enjoyable than feet-burger coffee.
There's that finger again.
Stupid camera phone...
Every day, this particular cafe offers three different coffees during their morning and lunchtime rush...  regular and decaf house blends, and as well as a single-origin regular from a different country.  The regular house blend isn't very good.  In fact, it's pretty wretched.  When I take a sip and swish it around my palate, the most notable characteristics that I can discern are dirty locker room and sweaty feet.  Unfortunately, this is fairly typical for most coffee blends.

In theory, the goal behind blending coffee is to combine two or more different kinds of beans with different strong points and highlights, which complement each other in harmony.  The resulting blend of beans should yield a brewed coffee, or whole, which is greater than the sum of it's parts, so to speak.

But the reality is that most cafes offer coffee blends to save money and cut corners.  Why pay full price for a high quality Kenyan coffee, when you can pay much less for a blend that is only one-fourth of the high quality Kenyan bean and three-fourths of a cheap, low-grade bean from Columbia, which has been sitting idle in a port for almost ten years?  Since the blend is one-fourth Kenyan, you can still get away with referring to it as your signature East African House Blend.

Needless to say, I preferred Kenya AA or Sumatra over Athlete's Foot Blend.  However, I often arrived at the cafe well after they had stopped brewing the single-origin coffee for the day.  The employees were nice enough to brew another half-pot just for me, if they had run out an hour earlier.

No question about it, this is excellent customer service.

But soon the cafe owner started hanging around for a little longer after the lunch rush.  When he found out that some of the employees were brewing another batch of the third coffee around 2:00, he wasn't too happy.

     "We don't have enough customers after 1:30 to offer two regular coffees," he grumbled to his employees.  "Since the house blend has our name in it, that's the coffee we brew after lunch."

Hmmm...  this is questionable customer service.

I was tempted to point out to him that the name of the cafe was prominently displayed in at least 2,187 other places within the building (not including the menu), but I decided to hold my tongue.  Besides, if I could be guaranteed a cup of Hawaiian Kauai every Wednesday from now on, that was enough for me.  At the condiment counter, I doctored up my medium with cream and sugar before heading out the door.

It wasn't until I started my car in the parking lot that I began to second guess my decision.  The first two sips were really good.  The third was...  fine.  And then, diminishing returns kicked in with the next gulp.

Yep, that's Burger King across the way.
For the health of my colon, I stopped
eating there years ago. Anybody claiming
that you need to take the Activia Challenge
to help you poop obviously hasn't had a
Whopper in several years.
Was this $2.07 medium coffee really worth the eight-mile round trip?

As I continued to let my engine idle, my glance drifted above my steering wheel to the view outside my windshield.  There was Burger King across the street, right next to Denny's...  which was just across the intersection from Wendy's.

Of course, the cafe where I had spent $2.07 for an average of four times a week during the previous year was an independent establishment.  It certainly had more character than the multiple fast-food palaces that were clustered together at the intersection just across the way.  But somehow, I still felt guilty for my participation in the soulless ritual of the lunch hour machine...  just another brick in the wall.
     We don't--  need no...    lunch-time coffee...
     We don't--  need no...    chock-late scones...

     No Ath--  lete's Foot Blend...     in--  my road mug...
     Ba-ris-- ta leave-- my...     soul a-- lone...

I looked down at my coffee for a moment before taking another sip.  It really wasn't that good.  At that point, I began to feel really guilty for breaking my lunchtime dork-walking routine.  As I drove back to the office, all I could think about was the amount of money I had wasted on coffee and gas during my lunch break in 2010.

     Hmmmm...  $2.07 at least 4 days a week.  That's an average of $33.12 per month...  which, works out to an average of...  $397.44 per year.  Can that be right?

I threw up in my mouth as I passed the McMansion.  Two of the six garage doors had been opened, revealing the two giant SUVs inside.  A third SUV that was even larger was parked in the secondary quadrant of what appeared to be the servant's driveway.  Jim Rome continued pelting me with his barrage of takes regarding the upcoming AFC and NFC Championship Games.  On any other day, my ears would have been glued to the speakers, but I wasn't hearing him today.  Instead, I was trying to calculate how much money I had wasted on gas during 2010, by making an eight-mile round trip at least four days a week.

The remainder of my lukewarm
Hawaiian Kauai wasn't very good.
The crows agreed...
Back in the office parking lot, I stayed in my car and sulked for the remaining ten minutes of my lunch.  The Hawaiian Kauai that I had coveted so fiercely, not even twenty minutes ago, was now just lukewarm, even though I still had over half a cup left.

As I forced down gulps of mediocre coffee one after another, a murder of crows gathered on the telephone lines just above my car, raising a ruckus with their incessant, bullying cries.  At first, I figured that they were scolding me for being a lazy waste of carbon atoms during my lunch break.  Crows are extremely intelligent birds, and they frequently gang up on other birds or animals, bullying them just for their enjoyment.

However, as I continued watching and listening to them, I realized that they were offering me an opportunity to salvage the remaining four minutes of my lunch break.  I turned off the radio, rolled down all of my car windows, and sat there quietly...  listening to their chatter.  I tried to take a few pictures with my cell phone camera, but none of them came out very well.  Next time they gather, I'll be sure to have my digital camera ready.  I've included them in my blog title, so I should probably take a few pictures.

From now on...  black tea it is!
After another tepid sip, I got out of my car and headed across the parking lot towards our building.  The murder above me dispersed, as each crow flew its separate way.  I decided right then and there that I didn't want to waste another lunch hour in my car.  If I really needed a caffeine boost to get me through the afternoon, a mug of black tea would do the trick.  Besides, on many of the days that I had dork-walked or snowshoed, the brisk exercise and fresh air were all that I needed to get through the remainder of the day.

When Abby returned to work the following day, I blamed my lazy lunch hour entirely on her.

     "You weren't here when I needed you," I pouted, as I crossed my arms and emphatically slumped my shoulders to the South.

     "Whatever, Dave," she said, holding out her empty mug.  "Coffee...  NOW!"

I walked over to her cubicle in silence, pouring a shot of Costa Rica Helsar Caturra - Macho Arce into her mug.

     "I just roasted this in my garage three days ago, so you'd better appreciate it."

As Abby busily ignored me, I peered through the open door into our break room.  Lisa was standing at the counter, waiting for the Keurig to finish regurgitating the remainder of her ninety-second French Roast slop.  Three people were waiting behind her...  their empty mugs in hand.

     If you don't eat your your Triple Whopper, you can't have any Venti Skinny Hazelnut Karamel Krunch Frappacino...

     How can you have any Venti Skinny Hazelnut Karamel Krunch Frappacino if you don't eat your your Triple Whopper!?!?!?

**Disclaimer in Coarse Print**

**As an employee of a financial institution, I'm obviously entrusted (along with my fellow employees) with keeping all of our customers' personal and financial information COMPLETELY confidential.  Along with all of my co-workers, I take this responsibility extremely seriously.  Yes, the name of my company remains confidential.  And furthermore, none of the stories on this blog will EVER include a name, nor any identifying information whatsoever, which may reveal anything...  anything at all about an actual customer.  One of the most important aspects of running an honest business is to build long-term, trusting relationships with customers.

Along those same lines, none of the stories on this blog will ever contain any references to a challenging interaction that I may have had with a customer.  Yes, at any place of business, there will be instances where a customer may be dissatisfied or unhappy with the service they received.  In this case, the goal of the business should be to do whatever is necessary to resolve the situation with the customer...  turning their negative experience into a positive one.  This is one of the best ways to build long-term relationships with customers.  And by the way, this is not Rocket Science.  In addition to Marketing 101, it's basic common sense.

On the other hand, if I have a really positive experience with one of our customers, I may be inclined to share a few general details, now and then.  In today's entry, the gentleman who needed a new Debit Card didn't have to share the gory details behind the damaged card's demise.  However, he did...  and it made me smile.  And when I returned the favor, he was clearly amused.  I'm obviously not including his name here.  But if he happened to read this entry one day, he might recognize what I've described above.  I don't think there's any harm in him knowing that he brightened our day with his entertaining, upbeat outlook on the tragic demise of his poor Debit Card.

Like all of our other customers, the gentleman in the story above is THE reason why my company is, not only extremely successful, but also a wonderful place to work.  Without him, we would not be where we are today.


  1. Excellent, thoughtful, post! Love it. :-) Oh, and thanks for making me feel guilty about my increasing addiction to a morning coffee! I MUST STOP NOW, before I become one of those "Don't talk to me, I haven't had my coffee yet" people. (Oh, and if one of those are reading this, I hope you've had your coffee today!)

  2. You see, Dessie. In this situation I think you might be OK. As long as you're stopping to get coffee on the way to work, instead of making a separate trip, at least you're not wasting gas. As far as the quality of the coffee... well... ...

  3. Oh man, I wish I worked at your branch so I could get a code name! Great post! I can't relate to the coffee addiction, but I loved your e-mail to the member. This IS a great place to work.