Love the service, not the bills.

Spent hours over the last couple of days trying to decipher my second bill from magenta. Had no idea anything could be so convoluted! Finally figured it out after spending hours looking at it online. Saddest part? In order to download a pdf version for my personal files, I had to text with support. Now that I know how and where to get it done, I have documented it for future reference.
I will give credit where credit is due – the chat was positive. The agent on the other end knew what to do, we were just hindered by technology. The configuration of the online chat session wouldn’t allow me to move around on the website. Every time I tried to follow the directions from the chat agent, I would be redirected back to the support page that I had used to access chat support. I understand why this was happening, but think it is kind of a lame configuration on the part of the website owners.
No worries. As my father used to say, ‘that didn’t stop old Cisco.’ I was undeterred. Once I realized what was happening with the chat client session, I opened up a second, alternative browser that I could use to follow along with the instructions from the chat agent.
Positives – we were able to get to the core of my issue.
Negatives – maintaining multiple browsers in view in the itty bitty screen of my laptop made viewing everything difficult.
After solving the downloading of my bill issue, I spent some time deciphering what was really in this obnoxiously long and confusing bill. I think I was a bit spoiled from being a yellow customer for so very long. The reason I never had to deal with their no-service organization until after I left, their bills were clear and concise. It was easy to find and interpret the information provided on their bills.
This is not the case with the new provider. There are charges on my bill that are rightfully there, but not easily understood.
The main purpose for the switch was to save money on service when we upgraded our devices. Based on the analysis done before the switch, this should be a no brainer.
Reviewing the convoluted bills after the switch, I am not seeing any savings, actually it appears to be costing.
After spending hours surfing the community for explanations about all of the things on my bills, I finally figured it out. For the record, the information that I needed is not on the bill. There are charges on the pdf version of the bill that have absolutely no direct link to the line items in the details.
The web view provided me the information that I needed to see so I could understand what was being charged. The old school accountant deep in my soul is having a difficult time with the reconciliation. It just bothers me when there are ‘other charges’ on my bill that don’t add up from the line items in the details section.
When all is said and done, the math works, but not by using the bill itself. This makes me long for the good old days of the obf when they regulated how the bills were formatted and mandated that all of the information be clearly and accurately calculated.
I don’t know if there are any current regulations mandating accuracy in billing statement or not, but it sure seems there ought to be.
Bottom line –
In order for the online billing system to reconcile the payments that I have made, entries are made in the billing summary section of the pdf bill. Because I took advantage of their interest free installment plans for the purchase of the new devices and the installment plan charges are not included as separate line items on the pdf bill, there is a serious discrepancy when I tried to reconcile all of the summary items. The ‘other charges’ as listed on the detailed bill will never reconcile. As the consumer, I have to be aware of this and keep track of what I have paid on my own. Knowing this, I am able to reconcile the bill using the data available online. Seems like a lot of work with little to know benefit.
The easiest fix is to pay off the installment plans that I didn’t really want in the first place. My next bill will have similar issues. We had two separate installment plans. I paid the smaller of the 2 in full as part of my activities doing this billing reconciliation. After the next bill cuts, here in the next few days, I will pay the other installment plan in full. Hopefully, we will finally see the savings promised by changing carriers. Right now, the switch has been costing us. Here’s hoping!

Frontier Airlines – I am so disappointed!

Fourteen years ago I had the displeasure of being stuck on a last minute flight serviced by Frontier Airlines. It was such a horrendous experience, I swore I would never fly on them again.  Four years ago, I had no other choice but Frontier to be able to get someplace I needed to be, in a timely fashion. I was incredibly, pleasantly surprised. That trip experience caused me to revisit my earlier decision to exclude them from the options when planning a flight.
Last year, Frontier began direct flights from where I live now to my hometown. I was thrilled beyond belief. No one flies directly to my hometown! My parents are aging and it was easy to be able to go to my airport and land practically at their front door. Frontier had proclaimed my hometown to be one of their ‘focus’ cities and I couldn’t be happier. The terminal is clean. The staff is friendly. We took advantage of these flights. It was a marvelous experience.
In addition to actually flying where I wanted to go, Frontier had a tiered pricing strategy that allowed me to choose my experience and pay for what I wanted for my trip experience. Along with the other carriers, Frontier began charging for baggage, beverages, on-board entertainment, etc. Their differentiator had become the optional bundling prices. If you were solely interested in budget, you could choose their least expensive fare and fly on the cheap. If you were going to check anything, you could purchase the next level up and still not have all of the amenities. If you were like me and interested in minimizing the stress and strain of a trip by paying for the experience you desired when you traveled, you could go with their high-end priced ticket purchase. This simplified everything. You could check two bags, the cost was included. You could pre-select your premium seat, the cost was included. On-board entertainment was included so you didn’t have to fumble to locate your credit card if you desired to watch the television in the back of the seat in front of you during your trip. Automatically you received a beverage on-board while you were traveling between your destinations. For me, the less-headaches-make-for-a-pleasant-trip-traveler, this option was perfect. I liked paying for everything I wanted all at once. I liked knowing how much my trip was going to cost me before I left. I liked budgeting for the trip and knowing there wouldn’t be any surprises when I was aboard the plane. This set of options worked for me. The bookkeeping was simplified and the tracking was their problem.
Earlier this year, Frontier announced it was eliminating its focus city program and pulling all flights to my hometown. I was horrendously disappointed, but understood the economics of their decision. I realized this is probably one of the concessions they had to make to stay in business in the cut throat competition that is commercial travel. No problem. There is an airport not that far to the north where I can still rent a car and drive to my parents’ house. The bummer is it will cost me more. The facility fee at this larger airport is substantially higher than that of my hometown, but this was a price I would have to pay whether I flew Frontier or any of the other airlines that service the larger hub airport. I bit the bullet and bought the Frontier ticket, anticipating all of the other amenities that had made my experience better than that of the other air providers to be worth the difference.
July 10th, we set out on our holiday adventure to find our way to my hometown. The trip started amazingly well. The car I booked to get us to the airport wasn’t merely a towncar, they sent a stretch limo. The car service we use does this from time to time and I always get a chuckle out of watching the driver back the limo down a drive that isn’t much longer, or wider, than the car itself. The driver was amazing. He was friendly and entertaining. I like to have drivers with personality and this particular car service seems to hire those the best.
Our experience at the airport was wonderful. We had paid for the premium tickets, which includes the ability to use the quicker lanes through security. Save for the family headed to Europe whose children were the most entitled people I have met in a long time, even the TSA adventure wasn’t awful. We are planners, so we had planned for delays in security but we didn’t hit any so we were able to find our way to a nice restaurant in the terminal and have a drink and a sandwich before we boarded the plane.
It wasn’t until we were onboard the plane that the disappointment began to creep in. Frontier you are definitely showing signs of a company dying to stay alive. So sad to see them failing so quickly. Frontier had made so many strides in the early parts of the 21st century!  The decisions they have made have wiped out all of those improvements in less than six months…

• Changes to the product offering without any notice.
• Plane was dirty. Incredibly dirty!
• Seat pocket was broken.
• Seat was broken.
• Staff on the plane seemed tired and somewhat rude.

Seat Armrest
I had bruises on my arm and shoulder from where the seat banged on me every time we hit a bump on the ride.
Napkin from Frontier Flight
Really? Where are the perks? I can’t find them, even after I paid for them! The brunette steward made it clear she couldn’t care less about the passengers and we were annoying her. (Hey lady, there are things we all dislike about our jobs, but we didn’t choose to go into the service industry, you did!)
Storage?  Really?
FWIW – that is NOT my bottle of water in the seat pocket in front of me, although that is where I should be able to store mine, if the plane had been clean.

Since I traveled with them 6 months ago, they have lost all of the things that had impressed me….I guess I need to find a new airline, again. Time to do some research. There is always United. Alaska is entering the markets that Frontier has abandoned. Time to check out their schedules.
I know United is going to treat me poorly, but at least their planes are clean and they don’t lie to you and change their offerings as quickly, without any notice. I don’t have as much experience with Alaska, but I do have a few friends who swear by, rather than at, their performance. Guess it is time to give them a chance.  Increasingly companies are expressing their disinterest in brand loyalty. I am not a price only consumer, I look at the entire package and I do not feel like I received the value for what I paid to Frontier.  I have to take back all of the glowing statement I made about Frontier a year ago. To everyone I misled into thinking you would have a positive experience, my apologies.

Blast You 404 Error!

This image was selected as a picture of the we...
This image was selected as a picture of the week on the Malay Wikipedia for the 44th week, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Open complaint to anyone who owns a website.  If you move a page, update ALL of the links!

For the past couple of days I have been trying to assist my father with a task that has become a project.  This is more than a little challenging as his computer literacy is minimal and we live across the great wide open from each other.  The task is to submit information to receive disability compensation from the VA.  Shocking that they are finally admitting that they may have some responsibility for the health issues he has had since the ’50’s.  I don’t know something to do with being forced to stand up and allow the shock wave of an atomic bomb blast to hit his chest just may have a little impact on a person’s health.

He has been dutifully gathering documentation and submitting it, as requested when requested.  The latest request came for him to complete some DBQs (Disability Benefits Questionnaire) for some of the symptoms he has and work with his physicians to complete their portions of these forms.  For a couple of days he kept telling me he was clicking on the links but was having difficulties finding the forms.  I told him to send me the information, I would locate the forms and send them back to him.  Not overly efficient, but effective.  Low and behold, today he finally sent me the link the VA had sent to him – it resulted in a 404 error.  He was absolutely correct, he couldn’t find the forms using the information that had been provided.  His limited computer literacy prevented him from being able to navigate around the ‘Page Not Found‘ error.

This is where I got to look like a hero.  404 errors don’t stop me.  Now that I knew what we were looking for, I was able to find the correct link he needed, heck, I found a couple of them.  I downloaded a couple of the forms, because I know some of the symptoms that are directly correlated to the atomic bomb blast, but I don’t know all of them.  I sent him the 2 forms and links to the remaining forms so he can peruse through the overwhelming list and figure out which ones he needs to submit.  The list is long, so he will be busy for at least a couple of days.  There are the forms for the multiple cancers he suffered, but I laughed at how sexist the VA site was as breast lumps are indexed under gynecological.  I realize most men don’t get cancer, but men have breasts.

We ended our adventure with him reviewing the emails I had sent and making a list of questions for him to take back to the VA processor.  I figure he will be filling out forms for at least a week before he can get to the next step in the processing but at least they are evaluating his case, that is a huge improvement over the outright denial of the last 50 plus years and he learned an internet usage lesson for the day, just because the site says the page isn’t found, doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t exist.

Bluetooth – How Far You Have Come!

Every time I sit down and synch my ipad with my wireless keyboard, it never ceases to amaze me how simple the technology has become!  Years ago, I worked in research and development of a large corporation that was always looking for the next opportunity.  This was when laptops were still extremely expensive and few people actually owned their own cell phone.  That is not to say folks didn’t use them, they were just incredibly expensive.

In this land of long ago, yet no so far away, leading edge technology was the pager.  Anyone old enough to remember those?  I was a technologist specializing in support for very large databases (read that as anything approaching 1GB of data) and I carried a pager for every one of my customers.  They paid the company well for this kind of service, but it wasn’t extraordinarily efficient, nor lucrative for me.  I had what I called my utility belt so I could lug along all of these pagers everywhere I went.    24 x7, 365 days per year.  It was interesting and the applications I supported were mission critical.  As I look back now, it is interesting to think about those customers and where they have gone.  Most of them have disappeared.  Mergers and acquisitions in the industry gobbled up the assets and spat out the employees.  I guess that is a sign of progress.

On a specific occasion I was part of a panel, put together to review the latest technology briefings so we could spot the trends that would open up the future for our next ground-breaking endeavors.  I remember working all day on my coast and taking the red-eye so I could make it in time for the morning meeting on the other coast.  This was a summit of the cross-functional thinkers within our company, at that time.  I was a newbie in this vast brain trust of engineers and had been asked at the last minute to join this consortia.  What an honor.  I had no idea what an impression this adventure would leave on me for years to come.

I remember walking into the ballroom, set up for this meeting of the minds.  I met people whose names I had read in papers and theses but never imagined I would have the opportunity to rub elbows with them.  They were fascinating.  They were animated and passionate about technology and the promises of the newly identified, yet unproven technologies.  I was a stranger in a strange land. Most of these folks came from a deep background in electronics and radio communications.  I, on the other hand, was merely a data geek with a deep focus on customer experience.  The published purpose for the summit was to discuss terminals.

With my background in data and data access, terminals meant something like the good old VT-100, at that time, it was the minimal standard to try when nothing else would work and you were trying to get the data to display on something.  It took me awhile, maybe half the morning, to realize that wasn’t at all what we were discussing.  These engineers thought of the phone as the terminal.  They envisioned everything happening on the phone without any other type of human interface.  They didn’t see a need for a keyboard to do input.  They believed the phone could handle absolutely everything.  For someone coming out of the customer support and data arena, this was a shocking new insight.  I was alone in my view.  These harbingers were ultimately correct in the direction the world would turn, but it wasn’t going to be a quick turn of events and in the meantime, my constituents still needed full displays with keyboards.  There weren’t any phone devices with qwerty keyboards and there was no way a customer service agent was going to be able to handle calls with customers while trying to use the standard phone keyboard to do input.  This discussion became a little animated and some of the comments made still make me laugh, when they pop into my memory.

Many topics came and went over the next couple of days, but a few of them stuck with me.  The big one was the discussion about this new fangled technology known as bluetooth.  The first chip had been demonstrated at the most recent Comdex and the engineers were in love with all of the possibilities this technology could bring to the table.  Couple that nifty chipset with the emerging protocols and the world would be one’s oyster.  It was a very lively discussion.  The kind of discussion where you can feel the change coming.  Leave it to the bean counters to kill the mood.  After a couple of hours of whiteboarding endless possibilities, it was the bean counters who brought about the biggest constraint to using the technology anytime in the near future.  A single chip was over $350 a piece.  This price was astronomical and left no possibilities for the generic consumer until the cost for production of the technology came to a more reasonable price.  That was enough to drain the room of all life for the rest of the day.   The idea was squashed for the remainder of the summit, but the idea never dies.

Fast forward to today as I survey the collection of technological devices that litter my kitchen table and ride around in my handbag.  Not only did bluetooth become mass produced, it is being mass consumed every day by millions of people.  Most folks have no idea what is happening when they synch their bluetooth headset with their iphone so they can talk while they are driving, but every time I hook up my nifty little wireless keyboard, I flash back to that amazing experience over a decade ago, in a room full of visionaries and relive the fond memories.  Good times indeed.  Thank you bluetooth for growing up!

bluetooth-headset

Bring Back the Welcome Screen

Over the last couple of years, I have been working with and around a bunch of user experience design products.  It has been challenging to ensure the lingo worked for all of the team members.  Trust me when I tell you it can be challenging to communicate what you need to use to the new hires and reporting on the what we deliver to an ever changing audience with moving targets.

Faced with the challenge of constantly updating and assigning projects, I came up with a template idea that could be reused.  Granted, this has taken me awhile to complete the task, but  it isn’t fair to take the Welcome Screen away just as we cross the finish line.

 

Thank you Mr. Murdoch!

Thank you Rupert Murdoch for looking for that arbitrage opportunity that I don’t have time to think about!  I know, I know, I should be paying closer attention. Sometimes I think if I did, I would be able to retire earlier!  Basically given everything that happened, he gave me a dividend triple what I have received over the past 8 years on the first business day after my first anniversary! The least I can do is write a ‘Thank You’ note.

A year ago – the scuttlebutt on the street was about Rupert Murdoch. Blah, blah, blah – election year, I was getting married, my hometown was burning to the ground, I work 40+ hours per week, every week. I was busy!  What I did notice was his statement to shareholders about increasing the value of their investments by splitting things up.

“On June 28, 2012, Rupert Murdoch announced that, after concerns from shareholders in response to its recent scandals and to “unlock even greater long-term shareholder value”, News Corporation’s assets would be split into two publicly traded companies, one oriented towards media, and the other towards publishing.”

Fast forward a year. Celebrated my first anniversary. Received a reasonable tax exempt dividend.  Mr. Murdoch earned a ‘Thank You’ note from me.  I am not going to argue about the politics or the scandals.  I don’t really care that much.  There are better folks.  There are worse folks.  He earned me a reasonable return on my investment.  The fact that the amount I have invested is minimal is an entirely different discussion.

I know why I have NWS in my portfolio, it really isn’t relevant as it pays regular dividends and that makes me happy, so I ignore it. My theory is as long as I am not losing money, leave it alone as the chances are the dividends are more than I would be making having the same amount of money deposited in the bank. It is at least as good as burying it in my back yard. It rains a lot where I live. There is a good possibility that any monies buried in my backyard might rot away over any given period of time, unless I spend money on a container to preserve them. To me, it is easier to put it in the stock market. I see the risks as being the same.

I can’t figure out if I was rewarded for being patient or lazy?

Customer Relationships

I have so been on a roll with the whole customer service thing, that I thought it might be a nice idea to include an anecdote that has stuck with me for years.

Years ago I was hired to do some business process engineering for an incredibly unique company.  My role was to identify, map and diagram their processes to help them transform into a new type of business.  It was a great opportunity.  I was way outside of my comfort zone in an industry that I knew very little about, save curiosity.  I started with the basics.  Diagrams of the processes, identification of the requirements, the interaction of the processes across the organization, a gap analysis and the suggestions for improvement.  (little did I know that about a year later those suggestions would ultimately cost me my job as I had a role that I had identified as expendable, when I was consulting!)

To get to the deliverables, I interviewed users.  A lot of users.  To find the best practices, I interviewed those identified as top producers.   To understand what made the top producers, I also interviewed those considered to be sub-par and to make it fair, I met with many of the mediocre.  It was fascinating.  To make a buck, everyone had to do the same ‘thing’ and it wasn’t really that the premium producers did anything different, it was the way they paid attention to their customers that set them apart, in the end.

It was during these interviews that I experienced the difference.  This one superior producer didn’t treat any customer any different than she did anyone else.  Quite frankly, she treated everyone the same.  I witnessed her make a couple of deals in the days I spent with her.  One sale was more than I make in a year, while most of the others were less than I typically spend on handbags in a year.  It didn’t matter.  She treated them all the same and her burgeoning book of business is a testament to the success of that approach.

It was all about the relationship she built with the customer.  She knew everything she could about each customer.  She built the relationships over time and came away from each interaction she had with each customer with another detail that she could find useful in future interactions.  It is brilliant!   From these details, she was able to foresee needs and fill them, sometimes even before the customer knew they needed something.   She was amazing!  It is her approach to customer relationships I am looking to emulate as I go forward.  There is an opportunity every day to observe and capture details that can be used to build the foundation of every relationship.  I use it in my personal life, why not apply it to my professional one?

Customer relationships – the difference is in the details!