# Annoying Customer Service Surveys

I’ve noticed a trend in customer service surveys, and it annoys the heck out of me. It was clearly dreamed up by an idiotic manager whose passion for customer service far exceeded his (or her, although I have trouble imagining this as a woman) grasp on reality and common sense. The trend is that the only acceptable answer on the survey is the top rating. E.g. If the survey has ratings of “Excellent,” “Good,” “Fair,” and “Poor” then anything below “Excellent” is considered a failing grade.

I first remember seeing this when we bought our car. (The car salesman, who we liked and trusted, told us that his evaluation, and the evaluation of his dealership, was based on the number of perfect evaluations that he received.) And since then I’ve seen it several times at hotels and once or twice in restaurants. It usually comes in the guise of a letter or something from the manager of the establishment encouraging you to fill out the survey, and instructing you to call him/her if there is any item on the survey that you can’t give top marks.

As a customer, this annoys me to no end. There is almost no such thing as a perfect customer service experience. But most of the time, frankly, I’d rather go on with my life than ask you to fix it in real time. Then, if you happen to ask me to complete a survey (and I happen to oblige), I can tell you how to improve.

Were the pillows perfect? No. They were a little too soft. Am I going to call you up in the middle of the night and demand new pillows so that my stay will be perfect? Of course not. Then my stay would be disrupted by a housekeeper banging on the door in the middle of the night. But if I fill out the survey, you’ve now pressured me to say that the stay was perfect — which gives you no information on how to improve your business — under threat of pestering me to death until I say that the stay was perfect.

Bah! Humbug! (This message brought to you by the Holiday Inn [at undisclosed location]. A hotel that is falling apart, but that will never hear about it from me due to the pressure from the management to give the hotel a perfect rating or call the front desk immediately to make things right. “Hello. Front desk? Could you send up a new pillow, a new ironing board, a light bulb, and someone to fix the heater in the room? Thanks. Oh wait, the new ironing board you sent up is also broken. Could you send up a third? Thanks. Oh, and there’s also this thing sticking out of the wall socket that I think might electrocute me if I reached behind the dresser to plug in my cell phone. So send an electrician, too.”)

Update: Just so the list of Holiday Inn grievances is complete: the bed is hard and has a pit in the middle, the towel hook on the back of the door won’t hold a towel because it spins freely, and the hair dryer is falling off the wall.

# The Miracle of Grout

The bathroom project, begun in November, is almost complete. I grouted the tiles this weekend. All that’s left to make the bathroom functional is a shower curtain rod and a shower curtain, both to be acquired and installed no later than next weekend. After that, I need to do some touch up painting, but I’ll probably wind up putting that off for a while.

When I installed the tiles a week ago, I thought they looked really crummy. They weren’t perfectly straight or even. I was pretty sure that the first thing that someone would notice when they walked into the room was the amateur tile work. Grout, though, covers a multitude of sins. And now the place looks pretty good if I may say so myself. (It looks an order of magnitude better than the tile in the bathroom at the Holiday Inn I’m staying at tonight. But, frankly, that’s the least of the Holiday Inn’s problems.)

# State Quarters

Back in Ithaca, I was actively collecting state quarters. Specifically, I was trying to obtain one of each state from each of the two main mints: Denver and Philadelphia. Philadelphia was easy, as the vast majority of the quarters circulating in New York State (and in Virginia) were from the Philadelphia mint. For Denver quarters, I would keep a sharp eye out, have them sent by friends on the West coast, and occasionally pick up a couple while traveling.

Since moving to Virginia, though, my quarter collection has languished. The main reason? We have a house with a laundry room, so I no longer need $5+ dollars per week in quarters in order to do laundry. Nonetheless, I’d like to bring my quarter collection up to date. (I have no illusions of it being valuable, I just find it mildly entertaining.) But how to catch up on missed quarters and fill in my Denver blanks? Well, I could order them online at ridiculous prices. (If anyone knows where to order them online at non-ridiculous prices, please let me know.) Or, I could consult the lazy web. Here’s the deal. Below is a list of quarters that I am missing, through 2004. If you have one or more of the quarters (in excellent condition, please), send me an email telling me what you have. If you’re the first for a particular quarter or quarters, I’ll let you know. Send me the quarter(s) that I need, and I’ll PayPal you money as soon as I receive the quarters. I’ll pay$4 each for the 2002 quarters that I am missing, $2 each for the missing 2003 quarters, and$1 each for the missing 2004 quarters. This amount includes shipping. (I realize this is not a great deal for the 2004 quarters, especially if you only send me one of them, but I figure I’m still pretty likely to find them on my own.) It’s more than the circulated quarters are worth, but considerably less than they are fetching on eBay.

Anyway, I thought it would be a fun way to fill out my quarter collection and maybe meet some people. The email address is allen AT mackenab DOT com. Put “Quarters” in the subject line, please. Here’s what I need. Be sure to check the mint mark under the words “In God We Trust.” Except for Iowa and Wisconsin (the two most recently released quarters), I’m not interested in quarters from the Philadelphia mint.

Tennessee 2002D Mississippi 2002D Illinois 2003D Maine 2003D Missouri 2003D Arkansas 2003D Michigan 2004D Florida 2004D Texas 2004D Iowa 2004D Iowa 2004P Wisconsin 2004D Wisconsin 2004P

I’ll try to update this list as time goes on.

Bonus Link: “The State Quarters – Why Are They So Ugly?”

# Economic Engagement

Robert Wright is excellent in this morning’s New York Times. His piece lays out the argument for economic engagement as a means of ending tyranny and political oppression in the world. He also makes the case that President Bush seems to have a strangely low assessment of market forces as tools of foreign policy for a “conservative” president.

Wright is a fellow at the New America Foundation, an organization that continues to rise in my esteem. Their mission is to bring new ideas into the public sphere, and to do so in a way that crosses party lines.

# Brooks and Social Mobility

David Brooks has a good column today on social mobility. He suggests (and I am inclined to agree) that social mobility (the ability of people to move up and down the socio-economic ladder independent of the position of their parents) is part of what makes America great. He also suggests that there are troubling signs that social mobility is waning in America. So, he concludes that Bush should make this the theme of his State of the Union Address next week, playing off the Lincoln theme from his Inaugural Address but moving into domestic policy instead of foreign policy.

The problem, as I see it, though, is that Bush’s concept of an “ownership society” — though ill-defined, at best — seems to be at odds with any desire for social mobility. If a society values ownership as opposed to, say, hard work or intelligence, then that “ownership” (unlike hard work or intelligence) can be passed directly from generation to generation (especially in the absence of an estate tax) thereby inhibiting social mobility.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that home ownership and having a retirement nest egg are bad. They aren’t. But when I hear Bush talk about an “ownership society” then what I hear is orthogonal, if not opposed, to encouraging social mobility. And I think that Brooks is dellusional if he actually believes that social mobility will be a theme of Bush’s State of the Union address. I guess we’ll find out next Wednesday.

# Major IM Crash

I recently installed the new version of Trillian, the instant messaging (IM) client that I have been using for a while now. The new version worked great for a couple of weeks, but then one day I had a spectacular computer crash (not related to Trillian AFAIK), after which I couldn’t get Trillian to connect. Today, I finally got around to checking it out, and I discovered that all of the modules that Trillian uses to connect to various services (AOL, Yahoo, MSN Messenger) had been disabled. I clicked the checkboxes to reenable them and was back in business. Still, it seems like a very odd crash to me. I hope it doesn’t happen again.