Anachostic

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Tag Archives: service

The Worst Developer

I think it’s a universal truth that no matter where you work, you hate the software that you have to use.  And it’s even more true when that software is written internally, meaning not store-bought or otherwise 3rd party.  As someone who writes this type of software that everyone hates, I can understand the frustrations.  But this story is about the software that I didn’t write, but was written by and for the company I was working for.

The particular software was primarily written by one person, who had been with the company since the start, which was decades.  I was supposed to create the software that would replace it, but the company went under before that came to fruition.  However, I did have enough of an opportunity to shed a ray of hope that better things were coming, at least software-wise.

The purpose of this maligned software was order entry and contact management.  It was used by the sales force to create quotes, sales, credit memos, and also to track membership for the company’s special program.  For as long as I could discern, there was friction between the sales team and management.  Aside from mutual distrust, there was also resentment in that the company wanted to micromanage how things were done on the floor.

The company came up with a very precise, very specific way of selling from which no one was to deviate.  And the software was written entirely to enforce that specific methodology.  The people on the sales floor obviously didn’t subscribe to this methodology and simply felt that they were being treated as human robots, without any free will to conduct the sales transaction in the way they felt comfortable doing.  The software developer constantly complained that the users were not using the software correctly and were always figuring out loopholes, which became bugs.

I have a lasting impression from my first few days working there when I was in training for that software.  That impression was validated by another user near the end of my time at the company.  After sitting through the training session, I felt like a complete idiot.  I didn’t understand anything.  Nothing made sense.  And it was all because the software was written so terribly.  And that feeling made me question my capabilities for working at that company.  I tried to reassure myself that it was just because I was unfamiliar with the industry, but the user that confirmed my feelings was an industry pro and couldn’t understand the software either.

There were many issues that I took with the software.  The first was the ridiculous color scheme and color choices throughout.  It screamed “amateur”, and when I’ve been formally trained to write professional business software, this was not acceptable.  Required fields were highlighted – in yellow.  And not pastel yellow, the eye-bleeding danger yellow.

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Taking that issue further, there were many dialogs that used “folksy” language.  There was no “Cancel” button.  Instead, you had a “Forget It” button.  Unless it was a “Never Mind” button (which has a keyboard shortcut of Alt-V, because Alt-N to suggest “No” would be too much for a user to understand).

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You had an option to “Undo Previous Whoops” on a dialog that asked specifically, “What Do You Want To Do?”

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Here’s some messages the application could pop up:

  • Programmer Goof – Trying to use Add code for something else!
  • This Credit Memo will result in a net credit to the member of $x.xx. Is this what you intended?
  • Does Member desire a refund check from Corporate?
  • Is this Credit Memo being created to “Undo” this Sales Order as though it never existed?
  • Whoops — too many windows are open.  Close some windows and try again.
  • You have tried to pick up more than was ordered. Please RTFS and re-enter valid amount in correct box. (The application’s name started with “F”, which was a convenient out if he was ever accused of telling the user to “read the fucking screen”.)

I mentioned that the software was written to enforce the sales procedure as defined by the company.  This actually caused a big headache at one point because they changed policy one time which required a lot of code changes to support it.  But anyway, when you would start a new sale or quote, you would be prompted with question after question about how the sales was to take place.  These questions were supposed to be asked to the customer, which would prep the sales form with certain data.  As you would suspect, the questions were all worded folksy and unprofessionally, and most were pointless, only nagging at the sales person to upsell this or that and don’t forget to ask about this.  Some examples:

  • Don’t forget SUNDRIES!!!
  • We’re Pushin’ Cushion!!!
  • How ya gonna Cut it, Glue it and Dress it Up???
  • Whatcha gonna put it on?  How you gonna seal it?
  • What’s gonna keep it down?
  • How you gonna keep it quiet?
  • How you gonna cut it, glue it and finish it off?
  • What’s gonna keep it from slidin’ around?

Because the entire process was so drawn out and pointless, the sales staff started memorizing the keystrokes that would let them fly through the popups and just get to a blank sales form.  The developer, when he learned of this practice, was furious.  They were skipping over all the hard work he put in to make them do their job correctly – the only way to do it correctly.  So he took action.  To keep them from skipping through the screens, he randomized the buttons on the popups.

Yes, it may sound absolutely incredible, but this developer literally made the application more difficult to use on purpose by changing the interface to require the user to read the screen.  What was lost on him was that the user wasn’t reading the questions on the screen, they were only reading the buttons to find out what they had to click next.  And if they misread anything, they got a sales form that wasn’t what they needed and had to start over.

And this developer was very proud of his work.  He had defeated the users.  And that really was his only goal.  Not to make things better; only to win.  And when he wins, everyone else loses.

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“Enhance Hospitality”

Recently a co-worker of mine asked if I’d been to Pollo Tropical lately.  I hadn’t.  The last time I mentioned them in a post was when I found out they eliminated the large drink size and only had medium cups.  I think I’d been back since then, but not very recently.

My co-worker rattled off a list of things that had changed, for the worse.  The list included:

  • No real plates.  Now they use styrofoam plates.
  • No real silverware.  Only plastic forks and knives.
  • No table service.  You have to get your food from the counter.
  • No bussing service.  You have to clear your own table.
  • No onions or lime on your chicken.  They only have the flavor from the marinade.
  • Chicken breasts are smaller.

That’s a pretty significant change and I didn’t believe it.  Even after my visit today to confirm this, I still don’t believe it.  I want to visit a second location and ensure this isn’t chain-wide.  If it is, well…

So today, I did go to Pollo Tropical for lunch.  I stood in line sporting a defensive posture with my arms across my chest as I could immediately verify at least some items from that list.  When I got to the counter, I grilled the cashier on the changes.

“You’ve updated your menu?”

“No, everything still there.  We’ve added blah blah blah and there’s blah blah blah.”

“Never mind.  I see what I normally get.  I’ll have that and a drink.”

As she’s punching it into the register, I begin the interrogation.

“So, no plates anymore?  just styrofoam?”

“Yeah.”

“And only plasticware?”

“Yeah.”

I look at the sign on the counter near the wall that says you have to listen for your number and pick up your order. “You have to pick your food up now?”

“Yeah.”

“So, do you have to clear your table now?”

“Well, we only have the one trash can in the back… so…”

”So. It’s not as nice.”

“Huh?”

“It’s not as nice.”

“Oh, yeah.”  You’re not listening to me at all, are you?

As I filled my drink and got my plastic knife and fork, I noticed one other change.  Each table used to have its own napkin dispenser.  No more.  Also, I had noticed while I was standing in line, that they removed the community bulletin board from their wall.  How curious.

As I stood and waited for my food impatiently, the customer in front of me came back up and complained that his side dish, maybe fries, maybe plantains, was “super stale”.  The person behind the counter took them and threw them out, probably saying he’d get him some fresh food.  That’s not promising.

My food came out and I was able to confirm no toppings on the chicken and smaller portions.  I took the tray with my white styrofoam 3-portion plate to a table and ate my meal in subdued silence.  The change in atmosphere was significant.  Pollo used to be at an atmospheric level of Panera Bread.  Now it was like a no-name food court place.  I mean, to use generic styrofoam plates and not even branded plates is a major faux pas in brand image.

In my quest for answers, I searched online and ended up getting info straight from the horse’s mouth: The 3rd quarter corporate earnings call.  In this conference call you hear from all the top people at the company and what they are proud of and what they are planning to make the company profitable in the future.  I read a lot of things in that transcript that worried me for the future of Pollo, despite how they touted them as huge improvements. (Fried chicken?  What the fuck.)

But here’s the quotes that made me bristle:

We have implemented new labor models at both brands. These models will ensure speed of service and accuracy, enhance hospitality, ensure that we are delivering consistently high-quality food. We have also optimized staffing, so that managers can be intensely focused on the guest experience.

New labor models: They are reducing the amount of work that their employees have to do.  This means they don’t do table service anymore.  They also don’t have to wash dishes anymore.  This means they can…

Optimize staffing: Cut their workforce and/or reduce the number of labor hours.  The only benefit of this is reduced cost, and is completely incompatible with customer service.  So, when I read “speed of service” and “enhance[d] hospitality”, I’m going to call bullshit on that one.  And I will say they succeeded in optimizing staffing while I was there.  One cook, one counter person.  No one working the lobby.  Manager must have been in the office intensely focused on the guest experience.  Especially when a customer complained about stale food.  Super stale food.

One other relevant quote buried in pages of financial bukkake:

We’ve been working on evolving our brand culture so that our teams will truly embrace our high standards for food quality, hospitality and restaurant environment.

Again, with the hospitality, and restaurant environment.  I already mentioned my impression of the new and improved environment, but let me say it again.  There are two things that are going to come from this major shift.  One, the customers that came before (me and my co-worker, and many others) are going to say, “What the fuck happened here?”  You can’t maintain a level of service and suddenly lower it thinking no one’s going to notice.  The other thing is that new customers are not going to be as impressed with your environment as your older customers were when they first came.

Now if that’s the ballpark you want to play in, that’s fine.  But understand you don’t capture Panera Bread-grade customers when your presentation is shit and your service is non-existent.

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No tipping allowed.  For what?  For fucking what?

It’s The Small-Town Vibe

Yesterday had a couple of curious events, especially curious to happen in the same day, both involving dining.

For lunch, a bunch of coworkers and I (plus one who got left behind) had lunch at a middle-eastern grocery/restaurant.  Hardly really a restaurant, more like a deli with some booths and tables.  For myself, I grabbed some tabouleh and some pita bread and a drink, paid for it and sat at a booth.  Everyone else all had their food from the kitchen.  I wondered how everyone paid for their food already.  They didn’t.  And no one seemed to understand how payment was going to work.

So each of them just went up to the kitchen window, asked for food and got it and was now seated and eating it, whereas I went to the shelves and coolers, got food, paid for it, and was now eating it.  No one else had any order slips, checks, or anything else to indicate what they got.  The point I am laboriously making is that this restaurant operated on the honor system.  Does such a thing exist anymore?  Well, it worked out well for everyone, because I do have standards for my cohorts and honesty is one of them.

But, if that story is somewhat interesting, maybe mildly interesting, this one is better.

After work, I decide to stop at my local Blimpie for dinner.  You know Blimpie, there’s what, maybe a dozen of them around?  I can’t seem to find one anywhere, but I do love their bread. It’s so fluffy.  Anyway, that’s not what’s interesting.  See, the guy who runs my Blimpie, runs/owns, I mean.  Foreign as well, maybe Indian, maybe Pakistani.  That’s all completely irrelevant.  He’s a damn hard worker.  He owns the place and is the only employee.  He works open to close seven days a week.  His wife owns/runs the dry cleaning location in the same plaza.

Now, I feel sorry for this guy, not only because he’s always there, but also because there’s never anyone else there.  Maybe I’ll see another customer when I’m there, most often I won’t.  But he always recognizes me and always forgets what cheese I want on my sandwich, so hey, I guess we’re friends.

Tonight, I get my food and as usual I’m the only one eating it there.  The guy comes over to me and says, “Can you do me a favor?”  He puts this paper down beside me.  “I’m going to go over next door.  If someone comes in, have them call this number on here and I’ll come right back.”

Yes, you probably understood that just as I did.  I’m in charge of the store while he goes out.  That’s quite a promotion for someone who’s not even an employee.  So, since we’re friends, I say, “sure,” and off he goes, carrying a box from Amazon.

He had said he was going to be gone for just a minute, but I think it was something more like five minutes.  And wouldn’t you know it, here comes a customer.  As soon as the customer gets in the door, I hold up the piece of paper and say.  “Well, you are the first person to come in and I have been told that he wants you to call this number and he will be right back.”

The customer is like, “Where’s he at?”  And I say, “I assume he went to the dry cleaners.  I think his wife runs it.”  He’s just “Geez,” but he gets his phone out and calls the number on the paper I’m holding up.

“Hey.”  “Yeah.”  “Ok.”  And the guy hangs up.  Then he’s just walking around the lobby.  I’m not sure if I’m supposed to make sure that anyone walking in doesn’t steal anything or not, so I ignore him for a bit, then try to engage in random talk.  “It must be rough working open to close every day.”

The customer doesn’t seem fazed at all. “Oh, he and his wife run this and the dry cleaning business.”  Well, then.  I guess he knows what’s up.  Blimpie owner comes back and he and the customer are just “Hey, how’s it going?”  I guess they’re friends, too.

But the point of this is, I was trusted to watch a restaurant yesterday.  Sure, I’ve run pizza shops alone, like 20 years ago.  But I was an employee then.  I’m a customer now!  What’s up with this trust all of a sudden?

Stress Previews

One of the best things I have done is to sign up for UPS and FedEx’s package tracking services.  Basically, UPS/FedEx verifies that you own a street address, then every time a package comes in for that address, you get email updates on when the package will arrive and another notification when it is delivered.  It’s great.  Much better than having to get updates from whatever website you purchased an item from.

The USPS also has a service like that, which I also signed up for.  However, USPS has taken that service a step further.  Now they send you a picture of the mail you are getting.  How modern and cool.  It was an opt-in service, to which I opted in pretty much immediately.  What happens is, every day, you get an email with actual pictures of your mail in it.  You can see the from and to addresses and the postage (if you care about that).  You see the entire front of the envelope.  How awesome!

Soon, I started getting emails from USPS with images in them.  I quickly opened up the emails to see what I was getting.  There it is, my soon to be arriving mail!  And I quickly found out, I didn’t care.  Mail is not the same as a package.  And to be honest, I don’t think I would care to see a picture of my in-transit package.  It’s a box with a label on it.  Woo hoo!

Adding to the “don’t care” argument is the amount of junk mail I get.  I don’t get a ton of it, but any junk mail is too much.  Getting an email with a picture of a car dealership flyer is like a double insult.  Now I have to look at the fucking thing twice.  Once in an email and once more as it goes in the trash.  Then, there is this slight problem of my ex-wife’s mail (and junk mail) still coming to my house.  Yes, yes, I know I need to take care of that, but the trash can is sufficient for now.  Still, seeing that mail in advance doesn’t do anything for me.

And lastly, when I see a letter coming from the hospital, that is not marked as pre-sorted postage (i.e. junk), I get slightly freaked out.  Why would they be mailing me something?  Is it a bill?  Is it a late bill?  Have I been found to have a zombie virus?  And I can’t find out right now.  I have to wait.  But I know it’s coming, whatever it is.

Although it doesn’t apply to me at this time, what if my partner was getting mail that I wasn’t supposed to see?  Or vice versa?  That’s a situation I’d rather not deal with.

So, the USPS image preview concept is very cool, as a concept, but it is less than ideal in practice.  Personally, I think the issues outweigh the benefits.  We’ll have to see how long this experiment lasts.

Temporary Improvements

Day one of my first NaNoWriMo.  I don’t know what really to expect, so I probably overprepped.  I planned on planting myself in front of the computer and not moving for hours and hours.  So, to make sure I was uninterrupted, I ordered food from Pizza Hut to eat first, or during, or whatever.  This post isn’t about the writing part, it’s about the food part (but not about the eating part).

I got to PH and picked up my pizza.  It’s a different crew tonight and I don’t recognize anyone.  Seeing as I go there weekly, more or less, we kinda know each other.  Anyway, when the counter person came out with my food, she handed the pizza to me and walked off.  That’s kind of rude in and of itself, but the question popped into my head that I wasn’t asked to look at the pizza first to make sure it was done correctly.

When I got to my car, I wondered more.  Wasn’t that a thing for Pizza Hut?  Something like, “Your pizza is free if we don’t ask you to look at it?”  Now, I don’t particularly care if my pizza is free or not.  I’m pretty sure I still have a credit on file with them that I’ll probably never use since I always order online.  But, Pizza Hut was obviously concerned about customers seeing their pizzas at some point.  It’s logical.  Catch mistakes before they leave the store.  The customer won’t be nearly as pissed off as they would be if they had to turn around and drive back for a replacement.  So to incentivize this behavior in their employees, they established this rule, with the penalty of having a charge-off if the employees didn’t comply.

Ok, so an employee didn’t follow the protocol.  But when I looked back in my memory, I didn’t see the rule promoted or displayed anywhere in the store.  At least nowhere that I noticed it.  How does a rule like this just end?  That’s like my Quicken post where Intuit promoted better customer service free for a limited time.  It’s not worth doing if you’re not going to do it all the time. (And in retrospect, how weird is it to explicitly say you have to pay for better service?  It’s more like an unspoken thing.)

The same thing for DQ and their upside-down Blizzards.  The Blizzard is supposed to be free if the cup isn’t flipped over when they hand it to you.  But that’s not a universal rule.  When I was back in PA, the DQ there had a sign stating they were not participating in the “upside-down or free” promotion.  I’m unsurprised by that considering the customer base in that town, but regardless, I know the “upside-down or free” promotion will end at some point.  And then what?  It just goes back to the way it was.  Why do it in the first place?  In DQ’s case, I suppose it’s a wow-factor, albeit a lame one.  Yeah, it’s thick, yippee.  And if it’s always going to be thick, why not always flip it?  Or why ever do it?  What does giving it away for free have anything to do with anything?

When I stand back and look at it, I find it weird that a company has to reward a customer for an employee not doing a particular action.  Granted, there are some examples like “if you don’t get a receipt”, which only exposes the fact that the business hires thieves.  But how about, “if we don’t tell you about our drink specials” or “if we don’t ask you to order an appetizer”?  Your meal will be free if we don’t annoy you?

Maybe this has contributed to the rise in online ordering and take-out orders.

New Frontiers

As an old customer of Verizon FIOS, I was transferred with many others to Frontier.  I never had any significant issue with the transition.  Yeah, their web portal sucked for a while, but my service was uninterrupted and my rates didn’t change.  I had renewed my contract just a couple of months before the changeover.

A lesson I’ve learned, but will probably never be able to apply again is, don’t make any changes to your grandfathered account.  Recently, I decided to change my home phone number.  I never used it, but my ex-wife used it everywhere and all the phone line did was fill up the voicemail with her collection agency calls.  So I wanted a fresh start.  I called Frontier and over a couple of calls, I had a new number.

The next month, I got a bill in the mail from Frontier.  That was odd, because I didn’t think I had any real service done.  The bill was my monthly statement.  That is odd, because I had paperless billing activated.  Further the bill was not for my usual amount of $106, but for $165.  That’s no good.  As I was scanning the papers, I noticed my new phone number was now my account number.  I was suddenly a new customer to them, one with no promo pricing.  That’s no good at all.

I logged in to the web portal and saw that all my past bills were inaccessible (since they were under an old account number) and my autopay was deactivated.  So I got on the phone with billing support.  The guy was pretty confused about the whole situation and eventually gave up, saying the department that needed to handle problems like that was gone for the night.  They would call me the next day.  Unsurprisingly, they didn’t.

I called back during normal business hours and got someone more experienced.  She understood that all that was needed was to restore the discounts on my account.  So after a bit of work she said she couldn’t get it back the way it was.  The reason is that my cable package was migrated from Verizon and there was no Frontier equal.  My bill would go up by about $10/mo.  I kept my mouth shut and the rep said she would transfer me to “retentions”, who would have more power to change the billing.  Ok, then.

The retentions rep also understood the problem and worked to put the discounts back in.  Unfortunately, she still didn’t have any access to restore my cable package.  However, she explained that my cable package was going to change from about 20 channels to 75 channels.  And that’s not so bad.  I rarely watch TV, but the one time I checked it all out, the online channel guide was useless because I couldn’t filter it to only my subscribed channels.  So I always got “this channel is unavailable”.

So, for the privilege of changing my phone number, I had to upgrade to their lowest cable package, which was more than my existing package.  To be fair, that change was inevitable.  I would have to bite that bullet when my renewal came about.  In the end, I got a $25 credit, 75 channels, and the ability to stream cable through my Roku devices.  All for an extra $120/yr.  Oh, and a new phone number, which is really all I wanted.

When Bad Meets Good

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the GF and I did something bad.  It wasn’t something I was planning on doing, intending to take a stand against change.  We went out shopping on Thanksgiving night.

And, as you can probably expect, we weren’t alone out there.  It was actually a pretty surreal experience.  I hadn’t been out shopping on Thanksgiving in many years, just assuming everything except gas stations and convenience stores would be closed.  But here we were, in the local mall, with a relatively large crowd, late at night.  The mall was open until 11:00pm.

I have long expected this holiday shopping season to be insane, mostly because of what I see in restaurants.  Restaurants are crowded again.  People have money again, somehow, and they’re spending it.  That’s going to translate into big retail gains.  Mark my words.

But anyway, I didn’t want to go out on Thanksgiving.  I did want to go out on Black Friday, probably in the afternoon, after the pre-dawn madness died down.  I wanted to get televisions.  I was at the point that I had zero televisions in my house.  The only one I did have was a 27” mono tube TV from the 90’s.  I hadn’t used it in years and finally disposed of it in the great purging earlier this year.

So this year, I wanted to get somewhat up with the times.  I couldn’t really expect to do any entertaining without a TV in the house.  That would make me seem just a little weird.  I figured I would get a TV for the living room and one for the master bedroom.  I spent a little bit of Thanksgiving morning comparing models and prices.  I had some options from HH Gregg, Sears, and Best Buy, with Best Buy being the pretty obvious leader.

At the mall, we hit a clothing store and got the GF all hooked up in the wardrobe department.  That’s really all we came for, but we just meandered down to Sears to see what was going on there.  Sears is widely believed to be on the ropes and is expected to close up next year.  The death of Sears has been predicted every year for the past decade, but they just keep chugging on.  The prospect of Sears closing does make me sad, because I like Sears.  They’ve pretty much always been there when I needed something.

We end up in Sears and go to the electronics section.  It’s pretty empty.  There’s some people looking at appliances, but the other sections are unexciting.  The shelves seem lightly stocked and it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of choices.  Something seems depressing about the whole setup.  I repeat, no excitement.

Regardless, we start looking at what TVs are available.  I’m initially disappointed because all I see are 4k TV’s, which is not what I need.  As I move down the isle, getting tucked into the corner, I see the 1080p TVs, and the prices have gotten more in line with my expectations.  In fact, they’re pretty good.  The GF is checking out smaller TVs, in the 24” range, and they’re reasonable, too.

Since television is not a high priority to me, I can easily get by with a lower-end TV without a lot of features.  Accordingly, I budgeted about $450 for each TV, hoping to get somewhere in the 45”-55” size range.  These TVs at Sears fit the bill.

Then, about the service.  There were a few salespeople milling about and one came up to us asking if we had questions.  We asked about the capabilities of some of the smaller TVs and then discussed some of the bigger TVs.  We made our choices – a 24” Samsung smart TV for $120, a 50” Samsung for $349, and a 60” Samsung for $579.  We walked out with the 24” and arranged to pick up the bigger ones at their pickup area around back.  Really, no more than 10 minutes and we were done.

That needs some extra emphasis.  We got personal service and were done with our transactions in about 10 minutes.  You try that at Best Buy.  You try that at Best Buy on any other day, even non-holidays.  And the Sears staff loaded the TVs into the car for us.  I didn’t even wait more than a couple minutes in the pickup area.  I was more than willing to pay extra to avoid the experience of fighting through Best Buy.  One of the salespeople commented that he just got off the phone with a friend who was over at Best Buy.  They had 2-hr checkout waits.  There you have it.

After we got our purchases home, I jumped online to see how much of a premium we paid for the Sears experience.  Turns out it was pretty much all the same.  Because I wasn’t researching 60” sizes, I was surprised to see the prices were the same between the stores.  The 50” might have been $40 more, but it may have been a slightly different model, too.  The 24” was the same price, too.

I had planned to go to places that weren’t considered to be ground zero for technology deals, anyway.  But I am amazed at how well it all turned out.  No stress, personal service, and great prices.  You should always go off the beaten path and explore.  If you don’t get better service, you will probably get something more unique, both of which have tangible value.

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The idiot boxes have arrived.

Service Standards

It’s a new month, so I need to keep my post stats active every month – here goes nothing.  This is something I’ve mulled over for some time, but never gave it much internal analysis until recently.

Restaurant kiosks are starting to proliferate.  My reaction to them ranges from indifferent to disgust.  The first kiosk on the scene was at Chilis.  And at this place, I am indifferent to the presence of the checkout device.  I use it without any issue and I’m out.  Next up was Olive Garden.  This one irks me.  I try to pay for my meals through the waitress, and if I’m made to pay through the device, I always leave a comment that I hate using it.  The most recent arrival is at McDonalds.  This one really irritates me.  After a few interactions with these huge devices, I gave thought to my feelings.  Why do I not mind kiosks at Chilis, dislike them at Olive Garden, and hate them at McD’s?

In the Chilis/OG setup, I know that I disliked OG’s more because it cheapened the dining experience.  Go ahead and laugh that I think OG is a “dining experience”.  But it is a full service restaurant.  So is Chilis, but the atmosphere at Chilis is definitely less formal.  Go ahead and laugh that I think OG is “formal”.  Whatever.

So if I don’t mind that Chilis is informal and has kiosks, then why do I have an issue at McDs?  It sure isn’t more formal than Chilis.  I gave it a lot of thought and this is what I came up with.

At McDs, a part of my satisfaction of the meal is the service.  You can laugh and say that’s a pretty low hurdle, and you’re right.  And you’d be surprised how often it isn’t met.  Or maybe you wouldn’t.  But when it’s good, it makes things pretty awesome.  Think of it like a shitty baseball team.  You want them to win.  You know it’s a long shot – a really long shot.  But when they put up a good fight and still lose, you can still have some pride.  You know they really tried.  They’re just not good.  Doesn’t that sound like your typical McDs experience?

Oh wait, I had a better example that explains how I feel about this.  Imagine a band playing at a concert.  There’s an awesome song you want to hear because it has this really technical, difficult part in it.  Even if the band messes up the part, it’s still great.  You know they can do it (because they did it before, when they recorded the album), so you give them a pass.  Maybe they mess it up at every concert you go to, but you still love them for trying it.

Now imagine the band determines that they just can’t play the song like they did in the studio, so they decide to cut out that section.  They just don’t play it.  Yay, no more mistakes.  But you get no satisfaction out of seeing them try and maybe they’ll actually kick ass and get it right.  That would be awesome after so many times of seeing them get so close.  But, they cheated.

And that’s what McDs is doing.  They’re cheating.  They know they suck at the service part, so they’re cutting it out.  But they don’t always suck!  A lot, yes, but not always.  And I want to be there when they don’t suck – that makes it awesome.  But they’ve taken that potential away.

So now when I go to McDs (3 out of 4 of the locations I go to have kiosks now), sometimes I get a cheerful person introducing the device and how to use it, and sometimes I get nothing.  Either way, I’m in no mood to talk to a person.  That’s not what McDs wants, clearly.  And that ruins my meal.  It’s like buying food from a machine.

Currently, they are bringing the food to your table, but I expect that practice will probably stop and you’ll just get your number called and you have to pick it up.  Then they will probably just wall off the kitchen and serve you through a small window.  Maybe you won’t even see a person back there anymore.  Maybe there won’t be people there anymore.  Time will tell.

In Memoriam, In Advance

I stopped by my local pool place last weekend for some chlorine.  At the checkout they had a sign stating that as of August 1st, they will no long accept credit cards – cash or check only.  I asked for more clarification, no debit cards either.  So, I give them about 2 months to live.  Definitely won’t see 2017.

This business had recently tried implementing a “cash discount” and that didn’t seem to work, because I don’t see those signs anymore.  I’m very confused as to what their logic is.  Accepting a check is probably more risky than accepting a credit card.  No one carries $500 around with them to buy a chlorine generator.  It’s unlikely businesses would set up accounts with them unless they can do monthly invoicing and hold out the net 30 terms.

I thought this would make their online sales unworkable, but a quick check shows that their website cart uses PayPal.  This raises even more questions.  Why not get a PayPal mobile card reader and use the same account for store sales and online sales?

I mean, if they are getting hammered with CC swipe fees and TX charges, they need to renegotiate.  Or they need to look at their margins.  I’ve always known that the ones paying cash were getting shafted because a store’s prices had to assume that CC fees would be included.  I’m puzzled by this in the same way I’m puzzled that gas stations can survive with Cash/Credit pricing.

But in the end, my guess is they won’t be sticking around much longer.  Here’s the important thing.  They’ve made a decision they can’t easily take back.  They may get one more transaction out of each customer (they already got mine).  But after that, customers like me aren’t going to return.  If they realize their decision has now brought the business into a death spiral and they want to start accepting credit cards again, who’s going to know?  All the former customers have written the business off.  They could put a banner out front saying “We fucked up and we accept credit cards again!” but that’s some serious crow to eat.  Maybe the banner will be “Under New Ownership!” which might invite old customers back to see if the payment options have returned.

It’s sounds like another case of small-business America dying, but sometimes that death is caused by a self-inflicted injury.

You Don’t Get What You Don’t Pay For

Applying the concept of the tradeoff triangle – Good/Fast/Cheap; pick two, I recently had the opportunity to choose zero.  Or maybe I got them all, just in a crappy way.  I’m talking about visiting an urgent care clinic.

As you may have seen in past posts, I’m not a fan of health.  Luckily, I don’t get sick.  Until I do, that is.  And when I do, I usually stick it out until I’m better, or in some future instance, I die.  Well, this was a case where I wasn’t getting better, but I wasn’t dying quickly enough to get over the annoyance of being sick.  And since I don’t really have a primary care doctor, I went to a clinic.

Since I don’t really have a doctor, I’m not sure what is routine and what isn’t.  But I’m pretty sure if they cared, they wouldn’t weigh me with my pockets full of stuff.  And they would probably check my temperature to see if I had a fever.  Maybe check my heart rate while they are checking my blood pressure.  Maybe they would show a little bit of interest in me.  But, maybe not.  It’s just a walk-in clinic.

Maybe they would actually protect their customers’ personal information.  Posted throughout the clinic were signs that stated there were scammers calling their patients and asking questions similar to a satisfaction survey.  The problem is that through some phone trickery, the call would cost you $3/min.  My question is, how are these scammers getting your patient’s contact info?

To sum up the entire visit, I recited the primary symptoms I had: trouble swallowing, swollen tongue and tonsils as well as secondary symptoms I suspected were relevant.  All this was entered in some cloud-based web application. (I initially thought he was searching WebMD for the answer.)  Then the doctor came in, looked in my mouth (not even using a tongue depressor) and said, “yup” and entered an antibiotic prescription in the web app that was sent to my Walgreens.  That was it – he said the medicine should work in 7 days, but if not, there were 3 more days on the prescription.  He walked out and I walked out of the building.  But not before forcing him to make physical contact with me by shaking his hand.

I left with a prescription that should fix what ails me, but I didn’t leave with any encouragement that I was going to get better.  That is depressing as hell.  But, I guess I did expect a bare-bones experience.  In my tradeoff, Good was not chosen, Fast was fast in the wrong part of the experience, and Cheap was pretty much the entire experience.  This does little to promote any desire for longevity in me.