Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Customer Service - Marketplace Oxymoron.

My wife sent something via FedEx for her employer. FedEx. Overnight. Next day delivery. Expensive. Didn't get there when it was supposed to. Didn't get there when it was promised. Didn't get there even though her company paid for the service. Now, I totally understand that it's Christmas and there are lots of people sending things to a lot of people waiting for them. I don't even mind that things are late -- so long as a few things happen.
First, the company should apologize for the bad service. When Liz called FedEx, the "customer service representative" didn't apologize. At all. No remorse, no guilt, no nothing. All the person (somewhere in Bangalore, we suspect) could say, over and over, is that "the package was still on the ground" an had not left Los Angeles yet. No explanation. When press for details about re-delivery -- nothing. "The package is still on the ground" and has not been delivered. No promise of re-delivery. Nothing. Now, this person was very nice. They just couldn't get off script long enough to satisfy a disgruntled customer.

Second, the company should make the bad service or product right or refund the money. I mean, without the customer having to beg for it. If a company screws up, I expect them to voluntarily make good on their side of the bargain. They already have my money. Not asking too much. If I paid 20 bucks for overnight delivery and it doesn't get there overnight, give me some money back voluntarily and quickly and don't make me feel like I'm the one being mean or wrong or demanding. In effect we had a contract. You broke that contract. Make it right or give me my money back. Period.

Third, follow up to make sure I have been satisfied an the problem has been taken care of. In this day and age where every telemarketing company knows my phone number and every porn site can get access to my email, certainly a company with whom I do business and that has my credit card information and address can contact me.

Fourth, say thank you once in a while.

FedEx are the only ones at fault here. The lack of basic customer service is widespread. Time Warner Cable has very nice Customer Service Reps on the phone. They are very apologetic (see #2 above). However, it took EIGHT weeks to get a problem resolved with my cable service. Eight weeks and three technicians visiting my house later, I finally got ESPN back. No one followed up to see if everything was still alright. No one offered to adjust my bill. No one apologized for the inconvenience of having to rearrange my schedule so I could be home during the blocks of time necessary for the technician to come to my house. I'll bet a million dollars that if I stopped paying my bill for eight weeks my service would have been turned off faster than Brett Favre can sling a touchdown.

On the micro level, when was the last time you were actually thanked for shopping somewhere. Where you gave a clerk some money or swiped your credit card and they handed you change or your receipt with a pleasant "thanking you for shopping here, today." The printed * THANK YOU * on the receipt doesn't cut it. I want a real person to acknowledge my decision to spend money at that particular store.

Sometimes, just to get myself worked up into a lather, I will say "thank you" to the person who is taking my money. Just to see their reaction.  Inevitably, I get a reply like, "No problem," or "Sure," or "No worries." Maybe a "You're welcome." Like they did me a favor taking my money. Never a "Oh no, thank YOU."

Here's my New Year's resolution (well, one of them anyway): If I don't get a "thank you," I don't go back to the store. I will then follow up with a template email to the company HQ noting my action. This may seem petty, I agree, but we have to start somewhere. With all the hardship doled out this past year to regular people through the course of the recession, it is not too much to ask for businesses to compete for our hard earned money. Banks, grocery stores, espresso bars, gas stations, your on notice. Treat your customers like they matter or we'll find someone else who does.

Don't make me write Stephen Colbert.

Thank you for reading. Please come back.

Monday, December 14, 2009

You old softy.

There was a time, when I was critical of everything. I call it my, "Wayne-You-Are-Such-An-Asshole" period. Nothing was ever good enough -- at least as far as the performing arts was concerned. This includes films. Unless I was in it, everything pretty much sucked.

There were certain things that were ALWAYS good no matter how bad they were. Laurence Olivier could do no wrong. Al Pacino was a frigging genius. Helen Hayes was the ne plus ultra. Even in films undeserving of their massive talents, they seemed to make things better. Or at least, acceptable.

But then it happened. Or rather, then THEY happened. Larry did Inchon, Al did Scarface and the venerable Ms. Hayes appeared on an episode of Love Boat.

I was crushed. And so began my downward spiral into disillusion. Then then I started my own theatre company. The world changed. For the better, I might ad. For someone whose entire adult life had been in the theatre I was a jaded, myopic, knucklehead. A good ego is useful at times, especially as a defense mechanism for criticism, but when it starts to cloud your artistic judgment you need to pair it down a little. Maybe a lot. Either that or cease to grow as a person and an artist and continue to waste time inventing another million ways to keep Hubris from finally catching up with you -- and crushing you further.

Arizona TheatreWorks was an exercise in total collaboration with an assortment of talent and a cornucopia of characters. From the most untalented neophytes to seasoned professionals. From passionate college actors to callous old thespians. Of course, I wasn't aware of this exercise at the time. It only began to unfold itself to me as productions were frantically mounted, budgets continually ran over and time passed ever so quickly.

What the people of Arizona TheatreWorks taught me was that we really are in this together. "This" for me was the theatre and the shows we put up. "This" may also be anything you do socially or societally. Anything you do or experience or partake of with other humans. Work, shopping for groceries, going to a sporting event. To paraphrase David Mamet's character of Robert in A Life in the Theatre, "It's all a part of your LIFE." Thank you to everyone that worked at AzTW. Even those who are no longer my friends. (Only a few.) Even those who came in and disrupted things and made life very difficult. (They won't know who they are.) Especially those who came there and gave of themselves completely. (They WILL know who they are.)

Almost overnight (granted it took about ten years), I started seeing movies and plays and dance and...well, life, in a different light. The harsh judgmental criticism faded. Not intentionally, but purely organically. As if by some sort of theatrical magic. I became more appreciative of all the work that goes into the performing arts. All the money. All the risk. I started to truly understand that our life in the arts is not a smooth one. Even the Oliviers and Pacinos have rough patches where they call their own work into question. Even THEY may have to pay the bills once in awhile. And where B- and C-listers like me may have to take on a "real" job (like waiting tables or carpentry...or going to work for Capitol Records), people like them have to take on work that clearly is not worthy of them. Fine. Lesson learned. Thank you, Universe.

I've also come to understand that there are certain actors that do things very well. Always have been, of course. In previous posts I've railed about the Celebrity vs Actor paradigm. I now add the Movie Star element to the equation as a totally separate but equal kid of "actor." (Note the small "a")

A Movie Star is someone who commands your attention even though they may be doing nothing more than playing themselves on screen. John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly for example. They are distinct from the pure Celebrity because what they do, they do very well. And they are different from the Actor because they are limited in the range of emotion and depth of character they bring to the screen or stage. However, you have to watch them.

These days you'll very regularly find me sitting happily in a dark movie theatre watching things I NEVER would have dreamed of watching in my earlier days. I love Movie Stars and I enjoy Actors. I tolerate Celebrities as long as my students understand the difference. I loved Iron Man, Can't wait for Avatar, gonna be first in line for Sherlock Holmes on Xmas day. I will watch Hugh Grant (Movie Star) in anything and can't wait for Jennifer Lopez to make another romantic comedy. (That's right you heard me, Jennifer Lopez. Watch Shall We Dance or Maid in Manhattan. Charming in a classic screwball comedy way.)

Having said all that, I still find it hard to give Adam Sandler the same latitude I give Ben Stiller. Hey, evolution didn't happen over night.

Friday, December 11, 2009

TSA and Me

I travel a lot. In particular, I travel through one small airport more than than others. I mean -- SMALL airport. I am shocked that after 18 months of travel through this airport TWICE a month -- the TSA people there still do not recognize me. They certainly do not know my name.

True, I have a sizable ego and I love it when people recognize me. (The barista at my neighborhood Starbucks knows my name and I see her waaaaaay less than my TSA friends.) But this really isn't about me. I'm not angry that they don't know me. I'm just curious as to WHY they don't. In the wake of that TSA manual being leaked on the web this week, I just got to thinking, that's all. With all the talk about airline safety over the last nine years, shouldn't we be focused more on bad people instead of looking for makeshift weapons and frisking old ladies? I mean, REALLY?

Why wouldn't TSA officials be trained to observe people and notice behavior rather than just look at bags and stare into X-ray machines? Why wouldn't a TSA officer notice a person who comes through their station over and over and over? Now, for those TSA or government officials who happen upon this post, don't get me wrong, I'm not asking for trouble here. I'm just wondering why your employees wouldn't know my name by now. What is it they are trained to do exactly?

Behavior is something that can be observed and scrutinized. My acting students are trained to observe everything. Actors are taught to observe behavior and make characters out of their observations. Police are taught to read a scene, examine suspects, look for clues, sense a situation. What could make that man walking with a limp? Why is that woman carrying her purse that way? Psychologists have created a whole discipline out of studying behavior.

Personally, I do not feel safer when they pull a 70 year old man out of line to wand his titanium hip for 15 minutes. I do not feel safer because I have to take off my shoes and put them in a plastic bin...no, on the belt...no, in the bin. I do not feel safer because a woman was asked to remove her shirt thereby exposing her camisole because her blouse "looked like a jacket." I do not feel safer when airport security fast-tracks a family of five with more baggage than a dozen Sherpas on expedition up Mount Everest. In fact, I feel LESS safe because the time they are spending with Octo-mom and her brood should be spent surveying the whole environment of the airport for real bad guys NOT helping those who by virtue of their ability to pro-create to get the best seats in the waiting area at the gate.

I don't mind being inconvenienced in the name of safety. I just don't want the TSA pretending that they are doing something they are not. You wanna look in my briefcase? Fine. You wanna frisk the old man in the walker? Okay. Just once in a while look us in the eye and make us believe you are really there to find bad people. I mean, is 5 ounces of hair gel really that much more dangerous than 3.4?