Chipolte as an Example

Normally, Yeni and I have a “no chains” rule when it comes to eating out. Many reasons why on this… from Karma to the 68 rule to keeping the community unique, there are many reasons why a personal no-chain rule works.

Of course, rules are made to be broken, and we do this with the no-chain rule from time-to-time. One of the reasons is to see the process. We don’t feel that chains are evil, far from it, we just normally choose to patronize local independent businesses. Because of this, we still understand that there’s a lot you can learn from visiting a chain… and any brick and mortar in the community is still a good place to spend money.


American Express Stupidity

Let me start off my saying this: I despise the word stupid. Despise may not even be strong enough to describe the loathing I have for the word stupid.

I feel calling a person stupid remains one of the worst insults one can use. It’s a word that I rarely use. That being said, I reserve the use of “stupid” for extreme acts that amaze me with their unique sense of illogical function.

Take for example American Express.


Stop Networking / Start Helping

I read a great blog post from Jeff Archibald called Stop Networking. It’s a great read (and it’s linked… so please read it) and something I related to personally.

I’ve been in many “networking groups” throughout the years. From the Chamber of Commerce to BNI, lunch groups (like A2B3) to social groups, my experiences with ANY networking group is mirrored in Jeff’s article.

Stop Networking & Start Helping

Stop thinking of your local business events as “networking opportunities” and start thinking of them as opportunities to help people. Be a giver, not a taker. Change your mindset from a selfish one to an unselfish one. It’ll come back around, trust me.Jeff Archibald

For me, helping people has been the only way to build lasting relationships and referral partners.

Business esposa

Starbucks on Main Street

Yeni and I love going to DisneyWorld — our one big spend each year is annual passes. We go as often as we can… not as often as we’d like… but we get there 20+ times a year.

We each have our favorite places.

Castle Courtyard

Yeni loves the Magic Kingdom… I love Epcot. The castle is her house… I can sit on the People Mover for hours. We both love Main Street, England, the Land, and Chefs de France.

Main Street (or officially Main Street, U.S.A. since we’re talking DisneyWorld) was meant to showcase the typical turn of the century (1900 not 2000) American Main Street.

For those of us who remember the carefree time it recreates, Main Street will bring back happy memories. For younger visitors, it is an adventure in turning back the calendar to the days of grandfather’s youth.Walt Disney

Recently, the good ol’ Main Street Bakery was replaced by a Starbucks.

Many people were excited about the change. Lines to get a cup of coffee went out the door. Literally. You could see the Starbucks mermaid more than Ariel.

Yeni and I did not welcome the change.

I found it ironic that an attraction showcasing the carefree time of yesteryear saw a big, national chain replace a local shop.

Of course, I’m one of the few who actually wonder why Starbucks is so popular. A good cup of coffee, at a better price, can be found at your local coffee shop.

Now… finding a local coffee shop still in business? That’s the difficult part.

Business Rant

American Express / Non-American Call Center

Today, I attempted to use my American Express card as a replacement for an old card that had expired. I entered the card info, hit “renew,” and was told it was declined.

Within a minute, I received an automated phone call from a toll-free number. The automated message stated (paraphrasing here) that this was the American Express Fraud Department and that I needed to call the 800 number to confirm card activity.

If I hadn’t just made the charge attempt, I think I wouldn’t have called… but in this case… I called and a person (with a very heavy accent) answered, said that this was American Express, and asked for my card number.

Now, I actually believe this was American Express. That being said, this same scenario is textbook scam.

How can you tell the difference? (Short answer is that I don’t know.)

I asked if the call agent was in the United States; he said he was in Bombay, India. He wouldn’t transfer me to the United States, so I thanked him and called the number on the back of my card.

The automated system couldn’t understand me (they never understand Yeni) and I was transferred to a call agent… in the Philippines. They also wouldn’t (or couldn’t) transfer me to a call center in the United States.

After a few more attempts I reached a call center in the USA… who was unable to get me to a fraud specialist outside of India.

At one point, I asked “Isn’t this American Express?”

He politely let me know that American Express was a global company, servicing many outside the United States.

I get it. I really get it — hell, I have many clients that operate call centers. There is only one reason to outsource a call center outside the United States. Money.

American Express has a duty to it’s shareholders… but then again… it’s a company that’s benefited greatly by the United States (again… it’s American Express). As a merchant, I know AmEx charges American businesses twice what other cards charge for processing a payment.

The least they can do is keep jobs here in the USA.

As for my card? It’s unresolved. AmEx says it’s for my security that I talk to someone in India. I say it’s not.


I will pay for good service

I had an interaction with American Airlines this morning that made me realize why I choose American (even though they cost more than others). Bottom line: I choose American Airlines because their service is worth the price I pay.

The same holds true with almost any business.

In telecom, I can choose the cheapest carriers… but instead I choose great carriers (such as .e4 and flowroute) that offer high quality and great service.

High quality and great service generally means it’s not the cheapest price — but then again, the cheapest solution may cost you more in the long run (lo barato sale caro aka good, fast, cheap: pick two).

Take for example today’s reminder.

Last night I helped my in-laws purchase tickets for a trip on American Airlines. For whatever the excuse, I made a mistake and booked a flight at the wrong time. Big thing: this was my mistake.

I had every opportunity to review the flight times (many, many opportunities) and simply did not. The mistake was brought to my attention this morning and I called American Airlines (with my credit card in hand) to correct my error.

First, when I called… the representative was friendly, courteous, and generally pleasant. This is an immediate difference to other airlines I have had to call (I’m talking to you US Airways). (By the way… I truly hope this new American/US Airways merger doesn’t make me regret this post).

I told the representative that I had made a mistake and what could I do to correct my problem. She helped me change the flights to the correct time and — I’m still shocked by this one — waived the fee (she said this was “sometimes available” when you have booked within 12 hours).

I pay more for American Airlines… but when I have a problem, customer service like this proves it’s money well spent.


High Class / Low Budget

From either the bakery or VoIP consulting, I get to sift through “feelers” on a daily basis.

Some come from people who have an exact idea of what they want, are familiar with market pricing, and have realistic budgets. These are educated potential clients. Generally, these clients want quality and will pay (within reason) for good, quality work.

They are rare gems, and we act on them very quickly.

Most feelers come from people who want the best — but have no knowledge of what pricing may cost. They may like a photo, they may have had a friend say “you need this,” or may need to “one-up” the Jones’.

These clients do not have budget expectations and can be easily offended by reasonable prices. In the bakery world, the response might be “for a cake???” In the tech world, you get “this guy in India can do it for 1/10 of that price.”

Although the client’s budget may be unrealistic to me, the price is unrealistic to them.

Unrealistic expectations work both ways.

There are many ways to handle different price expectations. Being gruff (and perhaps showing them a Good, Fast, Cheap diagram) generally will only make things worse.

Remember, always be nice.

“I have a very low budget, can you create this?
“You’ve described a highly available phone system capable of serving more than 100,000 clients. Generally, this system will require a considerable budget to get started. With a lower budget, we can create something that will work for a few hundred clients and grow as the budget increases.”

Every question is an opportunity.


The Blame Game

You love her
But she loves him
And he loves somebody else
You just can’t win J. Geils Band – Love Stinks

I absolutely hate the blame game.

Even more than my disdain for the word hate is my absolute hatred of those who partake in this ridiculous exercise of disservice through finger-pointing.

“The blame game” (in this context) occurs when business A points to business B as the owner of your problem — and vice versa — leaving you stuck with no resolution.

Here’s an example:

My mother-in-law flew from Cleveland to Gainesville on United Airlines. She arrived; her bag did not. United Airlines used Silver Airways for the last leg of her flight.

  • United says Silver Airways was given the bag and there’s nothing that United can do.
  • Silver Airways says United never provided a bag and there’s nothing that Silver Airways can do.

Tag. You’re it.

This is a classic example how the blame game fails for both companies. After United Breaks Guitars, I honestly expected a little more from the United Airlines.

So, when your luggage is lost, you’re powerless. You have no recourse; no method to recover your lost goods. You have limited avenues of assistance.

When you become the pong between two companies’ finger pointing — you end up with a negative impression of both companies.

One of these companies will be proven right; the other wrong. Customer disservice can cause even the “right company” to lose business.

In my consulting life, I often get calls for critical phone outages. Sometimes it’s something I can fix — more often it’s something I cannot.

With phone termination/origination, you’re often dealing with large carriers (like at&t) who (perhaps by design) make it extremely difficult to get a resolution to a problem; often blaming client systems for issues within the carrier network.

If I pointed my finger at a carrier and let my client handle their issue I’d be left without a client. Instead, I work with the client and contact the carrier together. This way, the blame game is never played.

At least, this is how I believe problems should be handled. It’s worked well for me. I’ve retained clients as they switch carriers. My refusal to play the game results in long-term clients.

Oh, remember the baggage? Ends up Silver Airways sent the bag to Palm Beach. Sadly, the way United handled it, I’m going to be very reluctant to use either airline when given a choice.

When you play the blame game, everyone loses.


Every Little Thing

This morning, as I was reading Collin Austin’s post on sweating the small stuff, I couldn’t help but think of how David Lee Roth changed the way I make contracts.

David Lee Roth changed the way you make contracts?

Yes. Mr. David Lee Roth.

First, I don’t want to get into a discussion of why contracts are important. We use contracts both at the bakery and in consulting. Bottom line: either you believe in contracts, or you’re wrong.

Anyway, back to David Lee Roth.

As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, I loved Van Halen (and to paraphrase the great Joe Dirt, “Van Halen, not Van Hagar”). Any Van Halen fan knows of the legendary room thrashings the band would give if they found a brown M&M in their room (or backstage).

Well, growing up… we just thought it was the group being bad ass rock stars. As David Lee Roth tells it, the room thrashings were for someone not paying attention to the details.

When touring, Van Halen had a tremendous stage — one with crazy set-up challenges. Their contracts had detailed instructions for the set-up as well as a clause stating that no brown M&Ms be served.

If the group arrived and there were brown M&M’s… someone didn’t read the contract.

Putting a small, easy to spot item in your contracts can save you time and money.

Brown M&Ms from Van Halen on Vimeo.

Business Rant

My Internet Quote

I don’t think I’ll ever come up with a better quote than this:

The Internet is like a big city. Sure, there’s great museums and entertainment, but there’s also bad, bad places filled with bad, bad people. Fred Posner

I first used it on explaining SIP Brute-force attacks to non-techs. =)