Bad Service In Three Languages

We wanted desperately to get out-of-town for the Thanksgiving weekend. Warm weather preferred but we ended up in Montreal. That was OK. Billed as the most European city in North America. Neither of us had been there in ages and we were open to the magic of the city.

More on the total trip later. For now let us focus one experience that could have been just what we wanted but instead left a bad taste in our mouths.

On our first day we arrived late afternoon which left us just enough time to explore Old Montreal for a while and then have dinner. Our spirits were high going to dinner. We were together away from the stresses of normal life. The Notre-Dame Basilica was magnificent and other part s of old Montreal held promise.

Being people who enjoy joints as well as fine dining we headed off to nearby Chinatown to a restaurant that had good on-line reviews. A full place with a modest wait further raised expectation. Choosing from the usual too long Chinese menu took time but our selections were made. The waiter spoke broken English but had been polite and helpful in the selection. All good.

And then the food came. My Szechuan seafood came first and was tasty but then came my wife’s “sizzling” beef. It was not what she expected given the menu’s description, it looked bad and after one bite she knew it was not to her liking.  A different waiter had brought our food. We called him over and explained the situation. He looked as if he had never had a customer tell him a dish was bad. He he had a puzzled look and did not seem to know what to do. He finally said that he would go and speak to his manager.

At this point there were only two courses of action in my mind. The one I would have expected was that they would apologize and ask what else they could bring instead. Yet this was a small place and I was willing to accept that we would pay for a choice we made but order something else. We soon found out that there was a third alternative.

The waiter came back from peaking to his manager and whisked away the food saying nary a word. That was the last contact we had with him that evening. We had been transformed from happy tourists to unhappy invisible lepers. We waited several minutes while sharing my meal and the side dish we had ordered. We waited several minutes expecting the waiter to bring back a menu and let us select a second entree. Instead he entered and left the room several times without making eye contact. I can be overly patient. this was one of those times.

Finally I walked up to the manager and explained that we had been ignored and wanted to order. His first words were that there was nothing wrong with how the dish had been prepared. He then handed me a menu. Several more minutes went by with no waiter approaching our table or even willing to acknowledge our presence.

I became incensed but at that point my wife was resigned. We asked for the bill. They did not charge us for the meal — only fitting since they did not provide the option of keeping the food. The manager came by to ask us how our second entree was. I informed him that we had none and that we had never been approached by a waiter. He was nonplussed and unapologetic. 

This experience put a serious damper on the day even  though it was them and not us at fault.

Maybe if we had tried communicating in the French of Montreal or in Mandarin instead of English. Nah. The service at this place would have sucked in any language.

CraigsList: Technology Enhancing Commerce

The Internet is a beautiful thing.  It can bring together people from many different worlds. It is invaluable in business in so many ways including bringing buyers and sellers together efficiently. In a failing economy we need all the help we can get. CraigsList is one of  the Internet’s commerce success stories.

I admit, I rarely take advantage of the possibilities of the Internet to enhance my life. While I often need tradesmen to fix up my 80 year old house I have not explored Angie’s list. And while I have several items to sell–primarily some furniture if any of my readers are  interested– I have heard of but not used CraigsList.

I start by being amazed that someone would have the idea and the execution skill to create an Internet business from something that was once dominated by large public companies–in the case of  classified ads CraigsList is helping to drive newspapers from the face of the earth. How can you take nothing and make it into revenues? True genius.

Actually the true genius is knowing where the money is.  In the case of personal ads it seems to be in prostitution. While no statistics have been presented on the percent of CraigsList’s revenues that prostitution provides, the Company has refused to eliminate its Erotic Services section.

On one hand there is the position of the typical sex worker (ba dum dum). In this CNET article a 35 year old sex worker expounds on how Craigs List has enhanced her work life.  “Craigslist is important to helping us avoid violence,” says the woman, who is originally from Europe. “Craigslist is a way to filter out that kind of person…and with Craigslist there is no need for pimps.” (BTW, all economists know that eliminating the middle man, pimps for example, make for a more efficient economy.)

The other point of view is represented in the CNET article by Chicago Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. On Thursday, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office sued CraigList,  accusing the Internet site of being one of the largest sources of prostitution in the country.

In the interview with CNET News, Dart said that the kind of sex services being advertised on Craigslist frequently involves minors as well as people forced into prostitution against their will. The federal lawsuit filed by Dart’s office claims that Craigslist’s erotic section is a powerful marketing tool for pimps and prostitutes and makes it easier for criminals to elude police.

I am sure that the leaders of CraigsList have good reason for doing what they are doing ($$$). If a few minors become collateral damage in having a more efficient economy so be it.

The first thought in my head when I heard about this has its basis more in pure economics than commerce. Does a more efficient market merely enhance the profitability of the transaction or does it increase the supply and demand for the services? In other words, in addition to being able to sell my furniture can I thank CraigsList for increasing the number of prostitutes and those seeking their services.?

One last thought was supplied by a caller to a morning radio show I listen to on my way to work. Why would anyone go to the Erotic services section of CraigsList and pay for sex when they could click on the Personals section and find many people willing to have sex for free? Now in today’s tough economic times how can you turn down a free sample?

Sometimes It’s The Little Things

Service. Getting good service. Getting good service at a grocery store chain. Don’t really expect it. When it happens it makes the whole shopping experience. Even lightens up the day a bit.

Was standing at the deli counter. Two people being served and one in front of me. One of the people behind the counter was really slow. It took longer than expected to have them call my number. As I was standing there I was thinking, “please let the faster one finish first and call my number. If I end up with the slow one, one of us may not survive the experience”  (it had been a bad day already).

To my surprise a third person came behind the counter and my number was called. She was friendly and fast. Soon I was on my way.

By no means was this a life altering experience. It was just a life brightening experience. A momentary smile.

Small Things Are Big?

A while ago I shared my philosophy that Small Things Are Small. This means that one should not blow things out of proportion.

After visiting a successful family owned business today I have a new saying. Small Things Can Add Up To Something Big. In order for this company to compete with companies that are larger and publicly held they need to find ways to generate more sales and reduce costs.

I had the rare delight of listening to the third generation family CEO describe with passion all of the little things that they were doing that were leading to millions of dollars of improvements. Some changes increased efficiency in order to keep costs down. Yes there were some traditional approaches in which technology was substituted for man-hours. But there were no large across-the-board layoffs. One of his biggest smiles came from telling us about a change in a manual process that saved 20 seconds. That might not sound like much but when the process is one that is repeated tens of thousands of times a month it adds up quickly.

On the sales side they also looked to be creative in many different areas, not looking for a major acquisition to show “growth” as public companies often do. They looked to be the best in several niche areas and to provide services and levels of service that their customers would not find at their competitors.

This man’s love of his business is infectious. No wonder they are finding ways to succeed.

High Speed Internet, Low Speed Service

telephoneoperator.jpg Cable internet service is great– when it works. We periodically have problems that require calling Comcast’s service department. Unfortunately 2 out of 3 times they person answering the phone does not know what to do short of telling me to unplug my cable modem and reboot the computer.

Yesterday was a perfect example of incompetence. Actually it started Friday afternoon during the severe storms that hit the area. When launching the browser we got a message saying we needed to reinstall the Comcast software. A call Friday night led me to some guy who said this was an error and they were working on it. Nothing to do but wait.

The woman I spoke with Saturday morning said that there was a partial outage in my area and they were working on it. Surprisingly, I was still getting incoming email. The woman did not think that to be material. Though I was wondering how we had an incoming connection but no outgoing one.

Persevering, I tried again Saturday afternoon. Finally someone who knew what he was doing. He immediate said that just the fact that I had this message was a sign that the cable was working. He walked me through a few computer steps and amazingly I was back in business.

Happy and angry at the same time. We had not had usable internet service for over 24 hours. My wife had needed to check her work email and I had a blog to write. I thanked Comcast guy but insisted he send a message to the powers that be that they need to better train their telephone service reps. The first two should have known what to do.

I should have gotten his name so that I could have written an email to his boss… and to know who to ask for the next time something goes wrong.