Awkward Return

“No bums touched it”

I had a toilet seat to return to Lowe’s and the kids decided to tag along. Leave it to Anna to break the ice as I handed the employee a box containing the seat and a badly folded receipt.

“Did you open the box?” the young man asked. seat

“Yes, I opened it, but….”

Given the detail provided by my daughter, he decided to cut me off and avoid further awkwardness by quickly processing my refund.

My fault for purchasing the wrong sized toilet seat. A quick Google search would have told me there are two standard sizes; oblong and round.

With refund in hand, I headed back to the bathroom section of the store. The kids were thrilled to see dozens of toilet seats hanging from the wall. Luca liked the padded models. Lincoln thought a wooden trim would work best. And Anna wanted take one for a test drive.

I explained that we can’t test a toilet seat in the manner to which she was referring. I found a round American Standard model in white and headed towards the register.

Once the new seat was installed, guess who was the first to take it for a real-world test drive?

Calling Apple Technical Support

My son handed me his iPod Touch, and I could tell by his expression that something was wrong. He couldn’t get it to turn on and neither could I. I figured the battery was dead so I plugged it into my computer and waited. But no luck. It still refused to turn on 30 minutes later.

Although I’ve owned a number of Apple products, I’ve never called their technical support. I avoid calling support unless I’m down to my last option given past experiences. A while back I called Dell’s technical support line. It took 25 minutes before I spoke with an agent, and when I finally did he tried to sell me additional services instead of helping solve my problem. It took another three or four calls before I finally reached someone who could help solve my problem. I wasted several hours and the entire process soured my feelings towards Dell.

That incident was on my mind as I navigated to Apple’s website. I quickly found a link called Apple Support Express Lane. I selected support for the iPod touch  and typed my serial number. I was then presented with a few options, one of which was for an Apple rep to call my home. Under this option were the words, “Wait time less than 1 minute”. That can’t be right. What company would provide assistance almost immediately on a Sunday evening?

I decided to give it a try. I typed my phone number and the phone rang 30 seconds later. Apple must employ an auto-dialer? But no, it was a support engineer on the line and I could understand every word he said. He jumped right into helping me fix the the problem. He didn’t try to sell me anything. He didn’t pass me off to another tier of support. He didn’t even make me recite my serial number.

Within two minutes my son’s iPod Touch was back to normal. The entire process was smooth and unlike any other support call I’ve made. Based on this experience, I’m lead to believe that part of the premium I pay as an Apple customer goes into providing top-notch technical support.

The Ticket Taker

“One for the Social Network” I told the cashier sitting behind glass trying as best I could to aim my voice through the awkwardly placed speaker.

“Eight dollars” came his reply.

With ticket in hand, I made my way inside the theater and headed down the dimly lit hall towards the ticket taker. As I approached, I noticed a woman of small stature taking tickets. Well, she was doing more than just taking tickets.

She rested one arm against a podium. With her other arm, she read each ticket before putting it next to a pad of paper that listed each movie playing at the theater. A mark was made under the  movie’s title before she put out her hand to take the next ticket.

As I watched her go through this routine with the next patron, I realized she had a disability. Her balance was wobbly and her hand shook as she scratched each check mark, but she had the podium to lean against, stabling her position.

Normally, getting through a line with 6 to 8 people ahead of me would take a few seconds. Tickets would be shuffled and then ripped in bulk, and with the swing of an arm, each patron would be on her way.

But this line barely moved at all.

When it was my turn, I handed her my ticket and said hello. She said hello back to me without looking up. She picked up a pencil and made one mark under “The Social Network”.  She put down the pencil and glanced back at her pad of paper.

“Theater five is on your right”, she said, finally looking up. I smiled and said thanks. She smiled back before taking the next ticket.

As I sat in the theater waiting for the movie to begin, I thought about this woman who made me slow down for a moment and ponder, happy I’d not complained from the back of the line or stressed over whether I’d make to my seat in time to catch all the previews. Instead I thought about the pride this woman took in her job. She was organized. She appeared to enjoy her job. She made me feel like more than just an eight buck ticket.

Until now I assumed the goal of any ticket taker is to move the line through as quickly as possible. The owner must have recognized something in her more valuable than sheer efficiency.

I will remember this experience the next time I step into a slow moving line. You never know who is up front taking tickets and putting their heart and soul into the job.

Calling RedBox Customer Service

Although we have DirecTV with dozens of movie channels and a subscription to Neftlix, I can’t walk by a Red Box kiosk without seeing what’s available.   I should be able to find a movie to rent or stream at Netflix, but digesting the massive selection feels like drinking from a fire hose. With so many options I become hyper selective and often end up watching “The Smartest Guys in the Room” for the umptheenth time. redbox_kiosk_1_300

RedBox is the exact opposite. Their selection is so small that nearly every title looks fascinating. I mean, how did I manage to skip over Flicka 2 and Leap Year when they were in theaters? Oh, and there’s Glory, in case I missed it back in ‘89.

The only downside to RedBox besides their limited selection is that fact I must drive to a kiosk location to pickup the movie and do the same to return it. That means When In Rome, worth a shot for a buck, becomes a $12 investment because the DVD got separated from the container, and it took a week before I discovered it in the kid’s toy closet.

I visited the Red Box website and plugged my zip code into their “Find A RedBox” engine, and it spit out 27 locations in my town alone. Yet I wondered how I could make RedBox even more convenient. A few months back, I tried to return a DVD to a kiosk that was out of order. I called customer service to inquire when it would be operational before hunting down one of the other 26 locations. Within minutes, the RedBox came alive, and gulped down the DVD I fed it by hand, red arrow pointing the right direction and all.

Because customer service was so helpful, I decided to try my luck and see if I could convince them to setup a RedBox at my house.

Unlike Amazon, RedBox makes it easy to locate their phone number from their website. I dialed and waited a few minutes on hold. I listened to a recording that recited a few RedBox facts such as “over 20,000” locations and the ability to return DVDs to any RedBox location. Finally, I was connected with a customer service rep whom I’ll call  “Lenny”.

Lenny: Thank you for calling RedBox. How can I assist you?

Me: I’m calling to inquire about having a RedBox setup at my home.

Lenny: Did you say at your home? Do you mean your business?

Me: I was hoping to get one placed just outside my home.

Lenny: We typically place kiosks in public, high traffic areas. Most are located inside or just outside of a business. Do you have a business?

Me: I don’t have a business per se, but, given the number of DVDs my family rents, I’m sure you won’t notice a decrease in usage. Besides, if rentals were down one month, I’d be willing to let my neighbors join in the fun.

Lenny: Like I said, we place them in public areas. I can’t imagine you’d want strangers trespassing on your property during all hours of the day and night.

Me: I have a stretch to the side of my home that was built for RV parking. But since I don’t have an RV it would make an ideal place for a RedBox. Plus, have you ever tried to return a DVD only to find that guy who thinks Avatar is available on release day? He’ll spend 20 minutes scrolling through every screen before leaving with Ponyo. Wait times at the kiosk would be zero if I had my own.

Lenny: I don’t know…

Me: To make it easier on you, RedBox could fill the kiosk with only kids movies and shows that don’t star Jennifer Aniston or Katherine Heigl. That would reduce the number drastically.

Lenny: What? Maybe I could take your name and number and forward your request to the department that handles business relations.

At that point, I gave Lenny my name and number. He assured me that I’ll hear from someone shortly.

The chances of getting my own kiosk are slim to none, but I’ll manage having to search out one of those other kiosks.

I’m always delighted to speak with people who are so friendly and clearly enjoy their job.  I’d guess most people who call in do so to complain about something. Kudos to Lenny and RedBox for hiring such friendly employees. I’m an even bigger RedBox fan today than I was before.

Closing Time

When I turned sixteen I couldn’t wait to find a job. Luckily, a friend of the family owned a carwash/gas station. My job consisted of sending cars through the automated wash and hand drying them as they exited.

For my work, I was paid $3.35 or a dime more than minimum wage. I showed up each Saturday morning at 8 am sharp and helped prepare the station for the day.


I learned a number of skills at that job, some of which I still think back on today. We didn’t have digital cash registers that calculated the change for us so I learned to count change back to customers. I also became comfortable checking and adding oil to various makes of cars. I also learned how to handle customers who expected their Pontiac Fiero to come out of a four dollar carwash looking show floor new.

One learning experience stands out though.

After a warm summer day, my coworker and I were in a hurry to close the station and spend the evening chasing girls or trouble or both. We began cleaning the large brushes with a cleaning solution that’s probably illegal today. My job was to dip two rags into an oily solution, turn the brushes on full speed and then hug the brushes until they were fully covered. Of course, more solution ended up on my clothing and hair than the brushes.

Not smoking probably saved my life.

We followed standard closing procedure by cleaning and preparing areas customers could not see. We were not allowed to lock the gas pumps until the 7 pm closing time.

But business had been light for the past hour and we couldn’t wait to begin our evening. Surely it wouldn’t hurt to lock half the gas pumps 30 minutes early, would it? Locking the pumps was time consuming because a number of readings had to be taken including dipping a 20 foot wooden pole down into the underground fuel containers.

Between cleaning the brushes and dipping that wooden pole into the container, no job since has provided so much excitement and potential danger.

So we locked one island of pumps and waited the last half hour before locking the rest and hopefully getting out a bit earlier than usual.

As I pumped gas for one of our regular customers, the owner of the station pulled up to one of the locked pumps. He didn’t have to get out of his car to notice it was locked.

I finished helping customers, while he waited next to his car. To his credit he didn’t explode or lay into me, although he had every right to. I explained that we hoped to get out as close to 7 pm as possible.

At that point he said, “I’d like you to pump my gas from this pump”.

And that’s when he taught me something I’ve never forgotten. “We close when our last customer drives away.”

What if a customer had pulled up to a locked pump and driven away before I could direct them to the other island? Nobody wants to feel like they are being hurried out of a business they are willing to patronize. He reminded me there were two gas stations located less than block away.

I got the message. The owner gave me a mulligan. I wouldn’t make the same mistake again.

I thought about his words this weekend when we visited Qdoba thirty minutes before closing. All but two smaller tables had been pushed to one side of the business. Chairs were balanced on top of tables, and one man was moping the floors under our feet as we ordered.

I should have walked out at that point, but the kids were hungry and strapping them into the van isn’t a pleasant exercise as they tell us for the 100th time how hungry they are.

To make matters more dangerous, the only way to the soda dispenser was through the wet area he’d already mopped. Of course, it took less than a minute for Kai fall down in that area while running to help his sister.

The woman who took our order was friendly, although I wasn’t happy when she asked, “This is to go, right?” as she cut the kids cheese quesadilla.

I understand the workers at Qdoba probably felt the same way I did as I locked down the gas pumps so many years ago. But last night did not make us fans of Qdoba. And because there’s a Chipotle a block away, we’ll take our business there next time we’re in the mood for quasi-healthy Mexican food.

Photo by Tommy Ironic

Left Scratching My Head At Barnes and Noble

I’ve been looking forward to the release of a book called “The Book of Basketball” by Bill Simmons. Simmons is one of my favorite columnists from ESPN. 

I considered pre-ordering the book on Amazon. But while I was in Bellevue this afternoon, I decided to swing by Barnes and Noble and buy the book. It wasn’t in stock. As I was about to leave, the Barnes and Noble employee asked if I’d like to be notified by email when the book arrived. bofbask

Sure, why not. I gave him my email and he said, “That book is $30 in store.”

“In store?”

“Yes, in store price is $30. That means you want it now and will pick it up from the store.”

“But you don’t have it now. The same book is $16.50 at Amazon”, I tell him.

“You can always order it from our website, where I’m sure it’s less than $30.”

I left the store shaking my head. As much as I want to support local shops, $30 is quite the markup for a book. Does Barnes and Noble want my business? I left with doubts.

What if the employee had offered to ship the book directly to my house at the same price ($17.55) I can purchase the book from the Barnes and Noble website? I would have purchased it on the spot.

It’s only one book and I’m just some guy off the street. But Barnes and Noble missed an opportunity to sell me a book today. And more important, I doubt I’ll go back the next time I’m looking for a new hardcover.

The Amazon website was more helpful than the Barnes and Noble employee. I came home from work and ordered two books and some supplies from Amazon. I’m sure it won’t be the last time.

Extra Mild Sauce at Del Taco

Del Taco is a member the “bang for the buck” Fast Food Hall of Fame. Kim swears by their 1/2 pound burritos. Lincoln loves their tacos. And I like to put mild sauce on their crinkle fries.

I’m talking cheap rather than healthy.

Doesn’t matter what we order at Del Taco, they never give us enough of their Mild Sauce; a sauce so good it deserves to be capitalized.

As I went through the drive-thru last night I reminded the young man working the window that we’d appreciate a lot of Mild Sauce. When he handed me our bags of food, he said, “Here’s a bag with Mild Sauce”.

We pulled around into the parking lot and ate our food. Kim and I used about ten packets of Mild Sauce, but we had a lot left over. But it wasn’t till we returned home that we noticed how much sauce was left over.

Today, I pulled out the bag and placed the packets on our kitchen table. The kids gathered around as if I were organizing Halloween candy.

Luca counted 67 packets left over from last night.

I’m considering handing them out to the kids this Halloween.


Respect Your Customer’s Time

Too few companies respect my time.

This past week I spent nearly 15 minutes jumping through a telephone tree maze only to find out the department I needed to speak with was closed for the day.

I’ve waited in line for 10 minutes while one employee calls another to price check an item costing less than five bucks.

How many times have you discussed a problem with an employee only to have them say, “I can’t authorize that for you. You’ll need to speak with my manager”?

Do you give your employees the authority to make your customers happy? Or have you put up processes to wear down your customers?

Reminds me of a cell phone rebate I submitted a few years back that required ten mind-numbing steps, my favorite of which was “Enclose a copy of your second month’s bill”. This company knew that many people will miss a step resulting in the rebate being declined.

So it was a pleasant surprise dealing with Discount Tire this afternoon. I called ahead to determine whether or not I needed to make an appointment to have my tires rotated.

“We are open till 5 pm. If you can get here before then we”ll get it done for you today.”


I was expecting something along the lines of “We close at 5 pm but stop accepting new work after 4 pm”.

They take my name, and when I pull in 15 minutes later, a Discount Tire employee meets me as I pull in. He doesn’t try to sell me rims or new tires. He takes my keys and says, “We’ll have her done in 20 minutes.”

I picked up my car and was off. Nothing to sign. No sales pitch. They respected my time and I’ll be back when I need new tires.

Just Follow the Quizno’s Signs

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy signs. Especially those that show up around businesses in full view of customers. Some of the best signs turn up at fast food joints that are typically staffed by a young crew of creative kids who can’t wait around for the corporate offices to make them a sign.

So they take matters into their own hands and and create some of the best unintentional humor around. It’s like a dinner play at a fraction of the cost.

Take the signs I came across at our local Quizno’s this afternoon. As I stepped up to the counter to order, I was presented with this gem:


I’m not sure “Caution” is the best choice when you’re in the sandwich business. Plenty of businesses sell items at cost, but make it up in other areas. Maybe there’s big profits in selling extra “guacamole”. I don’t know, but I love the use of quotation marks.

One more thing – wouldn’t one $ sign do? When I see $$$$ I think of Zagat reviews. By that scale a few extra tomatoes may run 50 bucks.

As I filled the kids drinks, I noticed this sign:


I’m only used to paying for refills at Chinese and Thai restaurants. I don’t know what it is about those two, but it’s not uncommon for a glass of ice and a can of Diet Coke to arrive at our table. Maybe they don’t believe in the concept of fountain drinks, but I’ve adjusted my lifestyle to deal with it.

But I’m not accustomed to paying extra for fountain drinks at fast food places on top of inflated prices. Especially those with self-serve stations. I finished my Diet Pepsi and slowly nudged my way back over to the cooler where I filled my cup with ice. The two Quizno’s employees gave me the stare-down assuming I was about to fill my cup with an extra 99 cents worth of refreshment.

As I stood at the counter ready to pay for my meal, I noticed the obligatory tip jar.


I paid for one sandwich and three kid’s meals. The kids wanted chips so the cashier reached into each bag and pulled out the chocolate chip cookie right in front of the kids. I guess you get one or the other when business is tight.

How many of you would still leave a tip a this point?

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Calling the Taco Bell Customer Hotline

While working late on my computer a few days ago, I decided to make a run for the border. The Taco Bell Spicy Chicken Crunchwrap Supreme was calling my name. It’s my favorite item on the menu. In fact, it’s the only item on the menu that I love.

Two features draw me to the Spicy Chicken Crunchwrap Supreme:

  1. the spicy chicken
  2. easy to eat while driving

One can’t go wrong ordering a Spicy Chicken Crunchwrap Supreme day or night. So I found myself at the drive-thru late Saturday night. I ordered two Spicy Chicken Crunchwrap Supremes, and before I could place an order for a large Diet Pepsi, a voice came over the intercom announcing they only carry the Crunchwrap Supreme with beef.


I asked again just to be sure, but the gentleman working the window confirmed the Spicy Chicken Crunchwrap Supreme has been removed from the menu.

So I decided to call the Taco Bell Customer Hotline to see who was responsible for this obvious oversight. I visited the Taco Bell website where I found the customer hotline (1-800-TACO-BELL). I dialed the number and was immediately connected with Cheryl, Taco Bell Customer Hotline Rep.

Here’s how the call unfolded:

Cheryl: Thank you for calling the Taco Bell customer hotline. This is Cheryl. Can I get your name and your phone number?

Me: (I give her my name and bogus phone number)

Cheryl: How can I help you today?

Me: I have a few questions concerning the Spicy Chicken Crunchwrap Supreme which is my favorite item on your menu.

Cheryl: I’m sorry, we’re longer serving the Spicy Chicken Crunchwrap Supreme.

Me: That’s why I’m calling. Do you know why it was yanked and when it’s coming back?

Cheryl: Decisions, such as what’s on the menu, are made at our corporate headquarters. I can’t confirm it’s ever coming back, but I will note that you’d like us to bring it back.

Me: Do you know the name of the person at corporate who made that decision? Maybe hearing it’s a favorite among my family and friends would change his mind.

Cheryl: I have no way of connecting you. Do you know that we still offer the original Crunchwrap Supreme with beef?

Me: Yes, but it’s the spicy chicken that makes it magical. Do you think if I called ahead, I could place a special order for the Spicy Chicken Crunchwrap Supreme?

Cheryl: Sir, I’m sorry but we currently only offer the one with beef.

Me: So there’s no spicy chicken stash hiding in a freezer that could be unthawed and cooked up if I called ahead?

Cheryl: Uhhh….no.

Me: Have you taken many calls from customers like myself who have asked for the return of the Spicy Chicken Crunchwrap Supreme?

Cheryl: Oh yes. Quite a few people have called in asking us to bring it back.

Me: What would you say the chances corporate decides to bring it back for the summer? Better than 50%?

Cheryl: Sir, I can’t say for certain. All I can do is pass on your suggestion to bring it back. Is there anything else I can help you with?

Me: Not today. Thank you for your time. Goodbye.