Simple Contrasts

Do you know what good service looks like? Let me tell you of a recent example of an interaction I had with Rogers Communications, my cellphone provider, that I’d like to hold up as a perfect model.

Because I was given a new phone by my new employer, I had no use for my old one. Same manufacturer, different version. My wife, Mamie, wanted the old one. I bought a new SIM card, swapped out the one from the old phone and inserted the new. All I needed to do was go online and make the change, or so I thought. I’m pretty swift at doing things myself but I found the Rogers website slightly confusing regarding the steps I needed to go through in order to do everything online. I decided to call the Help line and spoke to a representative immediately. She completed the transfer and enabled my former phone on Mamie’s account in less than two minutes. What’s remarkable is not the speed, although I was very pleased with that. It was the fact that the representative took the time afterwards to ask me about the website and if I could explain why it seemed non-intuitive (my words when I first called in). It was the interest she took in improving a subscriber’s experience in the future. I thanked her for her terrific support and then hung up and tweeted to her employer about the great interaction.

Do you know what poor service looks like? Here’s a perfect model.

There’s a restaurant on the ground floor of our condo building. It’s called the Tilted Kilt and is sometimes referred to as Hooters with Class but I call it just another place for guys to watch sports. There was a mini-uproar when it was being built because it’s basically a pub staffed by servers who wear short kilts and (too) small bras. That’s poor taste but it’s not poor service.  With a sense of fairness, we’d been talking with some friends about giving the place a try to at least be fully informed about the establishment. You know, maybe the food was actually good.  Mamie (yes, she shows up periodically in these posts) tried to make a reservation by walking in one day and speaking with the hostess. She was told that reservations can only be handled by the manager (odd) and she was given his email address (really odd). She sent the guy a message with the request. The weekend neared and she hadn’t received a reply and so she sent a follow on note. No email back over the next two days. Remember, we live upstairs and there are seven different restaurants all within crawling distance of our front door, and probably twenty more within three blocks, so it was not a big risk to just walk in that evening.

We said we’d had a reservation and were told by a young innocent in a too small bra that the restaurant does not take reservations. Holy Kafka. Mamie asked for the manager and what do you know, the dude was standing 10 feet away and came over. He greeted us and when Mamie informed him that she’d sent him two emails, as instructed, this is what he said with a big dumb grin. “Oh, yeah, I remember those.”  Mamie sliced him down to size in front of his flock of servers dressed, well you know how, by asking a simple question.  “Then why didn’t you reply to them?” Picture a blank expression. Picture Mamie standing there with me and our four male friends, waiting. Picture six young eager women looking, and waiting… with interest… for a man twice their age, their boss, to answer the question. Picture the six-foot man shrink from the most logical, polite, and assertive dressing down from a customer. Priceless. And I fell in love yet again with my wife. He said we could have a table in about an hour. I can’t recall if we even thanked him as we walked out (we probably did because we’re Canadian).

We crossed the street and ate at a another restaurant. The food was great and reasonably priced. The server may have worn a bra. Who knows. It didn’t matter.

Stompin’ to more than a memory

Ever look back at your life and adjust and assign a higher degree of profound importance to certain events or people? Increasing introspection can be a great benefit of aging and it revealed today, for me, that someone who I never met had a distinct impact during those few short, intensely awakening years of college.

The revelation came about as I read an obituary in the Globe and Mail for Stompin’ Tom Connors, Canadian music icon. And then I read this obituary in the New York Times of him about an hour later and I thought, the dude really caused a change in the way I looked at my own country.

Growing up in Windsor, Ontario only one mile from Motown during its heyday meant that the US was the lens through which we viewed almost everything. The media we were subjected to, the sports we played, watched, and attended, the politics and the entertainment we consumed were overwhelmingly American. Despite studying my own country’s history, political structure, and culture through grade school and high school, they were mere shadows under the blanket  thrown over us by American culture. That began to change during my first year in university and I credit my friend, Kevin.

He was lucky enough to have relatives in the Ottawa Valley and he spent a few weeks each summer at a summer cottage in that region, far enough away from the intensity of American media to be able to hear some distinct sounds and voices of Canadians. It was there that he first heard Tom Connors, and then he brought him to us, his circle of friends in Windsor.

He brought recordings for us to hear. The voice was strained and whiny, the melodies rather simple but the lyrics spoke of emotions that could only have been real for Connors. We were heavily into Springsteen for the same reason; Elvis Costello got us pumped up; REM were our poets; David Bowie, Roxy Music, and Steely Dan created, for us, cool girl-friendly sounds. And while The Clash, The Sex Pistols, and The Ramones infused us with manic energy, somehow it was Tom Connors who we sung in unison to.

About once a week, Kevin would drink enough beer and whiskey and accede to the siren call. First for us in our basements, and then soon afterwards in pubs in the city. On stage he performed Connors songs right down to the stomping left foot. Living in a manufacturing town meant that our young political minds leaned decidedly from middle to left and Connors’ music and lyrics reinforced the quest for fairness and also for celebrating the small things in life. But most importantly, during all our nights of laughter and drinking, of flirtation and electrically charged looks with girls across the room, Kevin’s regular willingness to get on that stage with his guitar and be Tom Connors for 45 minutes altered the way I started to think of Canada. My thoughts and gaze began to subtly shift away from Detroit, Chicago, and New York and towards Toronto and the north.

Is there a doctor in the house?

Scarlet Fever was once deadly in North America and in some rare cases can lead to death or lifelong issues such as endocarditis. Makes me wonder if I should be running 25 miles a week since I had the illness when I was very young. I bring this up because it reminds me that doctors once made house calls. When I was laid low by that sickness, the family doctor visited the house, with his black bag, and administered the magic that was penicillin.

doctors bag

Those days are long gone and e-communicating with your doctor has become widespread. Not so widespread, mind you, that I am doing it, but widely available apparently.  I can imagine if my mother had had email when I was young, she would’ve written something like this in her respectful and deferential style.

Dear Dr. Laroque,

How are you doing? Well, I hope. How are the children? I heard your eldest just entered university. You must be proud.

If it is not too much trouble, would you mind considering answering a couple of questions I have about the condition in which I find my son, Peter? Here they are. Please reply when you have a moment.

1. What am I to make of his extremely high fever, red rash all over the top half of his body, and his off-color tongue?

2. Is he going to die?

With warmest regards,    …………..






Big and small choices that we make

I remember reading the book, Boom, Bust, and Echo, by David Foote way back in the mid-1990s and one of the big hairy, scary things he predicted was an eventual collapse in large-form housing. The entire book was based on the premise that the baby boomer generation was so historically large that it was distorting economic and societal behaviors, to the extent that a reckoning would have to eventually occur to absorb the demise of that generation.

Over the last half century, North Americans fell increasingly in love with big houses on big properties further and further away from inner cities. That growth trajectory made sense given family patterns and growth, corporate relocations, job evolution, and changing societal mores.  The expectation and deeply held belief was that one should always aspire to live life larger, and often that meant larger housing. The trick was in making sure you were the not last one holding the bag. Now, along comes this report published in the Atlantic Cities about the next housing crisis. Nobody behind you to buy that big house you’ve owned for 20 or 30 years…yikes.

I’m glad I live small here:


…. and not big here:

Detroit mansion

Bedside care with LEDs

The last time you saw your doctor, were you impressed with their answers? Did they know a lot more about the topic you raised than what you were already able to find with Google? Maybe, maybe not, right?  I like my doctor. I think she’s pretty sharp and can address each question I ask. She’s able to offer some information that I wasn’t aware of or a refinement of information I’d heard or read before.  However, it strikes me that the information I get when I see a GP is basically available via my computer.  Remember IBM’s supercomputer, Watson? The machine that beat that all-time Jeopardy champ? Well, it’s got a new gig.

Read this… The Robot Will See You Now

Star Trek’s Bones and his tricorder are on the horizon, in our lifetime.  And much as I respect my GP, I wouldn’t mind spending 5 minutes with a machine if it means she can spend 30 minutes or an hour with someone else who requires more complicated care.