No AT&T phone service for three weeks now . . .

October 3, 2009

I saw a story on the earthquakes in Indonesia yesterday that said in one city they had telephone service back in operation in a few hours.

We’ve gone without AT&T telephone service at our home for three weeks now.  Odd that repair service in Indonesia, with an earthquake, is better than repair service in Dallas, with  . . . rain?  Sunshine?  I’ll bet you can call Padang or Pariaman, Indonesia, before you can call our home in Dallas.  I fear that will be the case.

Worse, it’s almost impossible to telephone AT&T or contact them by e-mail — they ask a lot of information entered that most people won’t have handy before they respond at all (I don’t know the three mystery numbers in some odd corner of our phone bill, for example, and I don’t want to go rummaging through the files just to tell the company that their service doesn’t work, especially since I’ve already told them that three times — if I’m calling from a different phone, the bill isn’t even in the building, okay?).

If the customer can’t complain, AT&T doesn’t have any complaints to worry about, right?

“AT&T phone service held hostage, 21 days.”

How many more?  I wonder if they’ll make ransom demands.

The circle is unbroken, though there may be tangential lines

September 30, 2009

Do you recognize this?

No, its not a slide rule - photo by Decrepit Old Fool

It sure looks like a slide rule, doesn’t it?

The last really grand slide rule I had was a fancy aluminum job that my older brother Wes used at the Air Force Academy. It was easily worth a couple of hundred dollars, and it had a very nice leather pouch.

Somebody stole it from me in the football locker room. I never liked football as much after that.

At the University of Utah I got enough ahead to buy a smaller version that still resides somewhere in our house. I actually used it once in a debate round to great effect — it was cross examination debate (not so big back then), on an energy topic. The affirmative (UCLA? USC? One of those two) had a daylight savings case. They rattled off some huge number of barrels of oil to be saved, and on c-x I got it out of them that the number was barrels saved per month. Then I got ’em to confess to how many barrels we actually use in the U.S., daily, and with the slide rule’s help calculated that they were saving one-half of one percent (0.5%), with some rather draconian measures and stiff fines and jail time.

I had the slide rule with me to do homework on the drive to and from the meet across the deserts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico; I used it only to make sure I wasn’t off by an order of magnitude on the calculation — but when I looked up I feared the eyes of the judge were going to inflate and float out of his head. We won the round, I won the speaker points that round, and the judge commented about how facile the negative had been with numbers . . .

But I digress. A little.

Decrepit Old Fool posted that picture. It’s an iPhone — with a slide rule application (“app” to the technoscenti).

Using electrons to mimic an old slide rule! It leaves one speechless, and with a tear in one’s eye.

I’m sure I’d have to play with the thing for a few minutes to figure out how to do percentages again. The slide rule use in that debate round a few decades ago was cutting edge application of the tool at hand. It was not a fancy calculation, or difficult — it was overkill, really, because we all should have been able to do the calculations in our heads, with little fear of being inaccurate. The judge in the round was probably a speech or rhetoric grad student, working on a masters or Ph.D., and hadn’t taken a math class since freshman year. I don’t know if he thought to feel stupid; maybe he hoped the praise for our use of the thing would cover that up.

DOF makes the case that technology shouldn’t make us feel stupid, not if its makers want to sell it.  Maybe that has more to do with the demise of the slide rule than the rise of calculators does.  It’s a great post over there.  Go read it.

Did AT&T drop off the face of the Earth?

September 26, 2009

How times change.

Two weeks ago, with North Texas soaked thoroughly to the bone, our telephone service went out.  We were scrambling to get James to the airport and off to another year of school in Wisconsin, so there was little we could do when it expired.

Later that Saturday, on a cell phone with a different carrier, I got through to a machine at AT&T that promised someone would come check the problem on the following Tuesday.  Tuesday afternoon at just after 4:00 p.m. we got a note on our door that phone service was restored — and it was for about an hour.

Then it went out again.  And it’s been out since.

After several days of unsatisfying robot answers, I found another number and got to a human who referred me to another human who said they were completely flattened by phone outages in the Dallas area after the recent spate of Noachic storms (we had something over 11 inches in a week — the rain gauge kept topping out).  No, they said, it does not good to call again to complain — they’re working as fast as they can.

To AT&T’s credit, the internet service is fine.  We have alternative telephones to use, though many of our family and friends don’t know the numbers.

But, two weeks in America without telephones?  That could be a problem for many people, still, couldn’t it?

Or is AT&T becoming increasingly irrelevant in their own business?

Who else is having similar problems?

Does your washing machine serenade you?

August 23, 2009

From the years in consulting, I well recall the myriad articles about superior customer service in Japan, and then Korea.  “Delight the customer” philosophies bring people back to repeat purchase, goes the mantra.

So, the old Maytag started to sputter.  It may have been repairable, but it was an old machine when we bought it used about a dozen years ago.  Repair wouldn’t be cheap.  Money for repair might go a long way to purchase of a new machine.

Samsung VRT washer

Samsung VRT washer

Kathryn shopped hard.  Get a money-saver, an electricity-saver, a water saver.  We settled on a Samsung front-loader with “vibration reducing technology.”  It still cost more than my first two cars put together.

It uses a lot less water.  The cycles are longer, but gentler.  Clothes come out spun considerably drier than the upright, old Maytag, which means much less time in the dryer.  We’re saving electricity and water all the way around.

Remember customer delight?

The first load ended with three gentle bells to tell us — and then, as Kathryn immediately recognized, the opening notes of the theme from the 4th movement of Schubert’s “The Trout Quintet.”  The joys of modern technology.  Who was it came up with the idea to play Schubert?

We smile with every load.

Technology that doesn’t work – yet, or well

September 20, 2008

Episode One:  Finding a Toyota Dealer with misdirection from Verizon Wireless

We dropped the rental car off at O’Hare, and immediately I noticed the blower in our Toyota Camry wasn’t performing (2002, 128,000 miles, thank you).  We tried to live with it, but as the coolness of Wisconsin gave way to 80 degrees in Chicago, we thought we’d better get it fixed.

I’ve been faithful to Verizon Wireless, hoping to boost their stock and hoping that will benefit me as a former employee (but nothing yet).  I called their 411 service to find a Toyota dealer in Bloomington, Illinois, so we could get a quick check up on the blower motor, or whatever.  I should have been alert when the area code they gave me was 708, but I didn’t catch it.  The dealer was on Joliet Road.  I called them for directions, and they seemed perplexed, but gave me directions.  We steamed to Bloomington.  Literally.

Our atlas maps didn’t show Joliet Road in Bloomington.  We called for further directions, exit number, and landmarks.  When we entered the Bloomington area, we just couldn’t find it.

Did you know you can drive from Texas to Milwaukee and eat at Panera Bread outlets almost the entire distance on I-35?  We got lunch at Panera, gassed up the car, and then I had a fascinating conversation with a woman at the BP station, trying to get directions to Joliet Road.  She said she’d never heard of it.  We checked the maps.  No luck.  No listing in the index.  Then I had the good sense to ask what the area code of Bloomington is – it’s not 708.

Armed with the new information, we found Dennison Toyota in Bloomington (great place – see forthcoming post).  Joliet Road is near Chicago.  The dealer Verizon Wireless linked us to was miles behind us.

Technology 0, Humans 1.

Episode 2:  Walgreen’s automated prescription service

Kathryn came down with a doozy of the cold while fighting the remnants of Tropical Depression Ike, and when I spoke with her on Tuesday, she sounded nearly dead.  I feared sinus infection, but she refused to treat it like that.  So I flew up to help her drive back on time.

Wednesday afternoon, I started to get symptoms of a cold.  Since my sinus misfortunes while flying with American Airlines in a past life, most of the the time when I get a cold, I get a roaring sinus infection.  I call the physician with symptoms, he prescribes antibiotics.  Only once in the past ten years have we disagreed.

By Friday morning it was clear my work to keep the cold from becoming an infection had failed (I’ll spare you the specific clinical description).  From Wisconsin, I checked with my local Walgreen’s in Texas about picking up a prescription on the road.  Then I called the physician.  It was 1:00 p.m. before we got all the ducks lined up, and Springfield, Illinois, was the next major city.  I had to rely on Verizon Wireless again, but they at least got me to a Walgreen’s.

Walgreen’s’* people were most helpful.  I took the first available listing.  That store referred me to one just off the freeway.  Alas, my prescription had not yet shown up on the computer.  We had almost two hours to Springfield . . .

I confirmed the physician had phoned in the prescrip.  Then I checked with my local drugstore.  It didn’t show on their system.  We passed Springfield, Illinois, and focused on St. Louis.  Again, Walgreen’s’ people came through.  But the prescrip still didn’t show on the national computerized system.

One more check with the local, Texas pharmacy, and the technician let slip the problem:  While prescriptions are phoned in all day, the pharmacist doesn’t take them off the answering machine until the shift ends at 5:00 p.m.  Nothing would happen, technologically, until the humans intervened.

Walgreen’s found an outlet on the south and west side of St. Louis that would allow time for the prescription to show up in the system, and it was right off the freeway.  We got the prescription.  I’m on the mend.

Technology 1, Humans 2 more.

Final Score:  Technology 1, Humans 3.

*  What the heck is the possessive form of “Walgreen’s?”

Redefining “root canal”

June 28, 2008

It happens.  Last night I had a semi-emergency root canal. That’s not why I haven’t blogged, though — I feel fine.  I haven’t used any of the pain medication.  I’ve been able to work without the headache I thought was sinus, but now appears to have been an infected tooth.

But the story is Harry Sugg’s dental practice at Wheatland Dental.

There’s a lesson there for health care.  There’s a lesson there for professional services, like law offices.  There’s a lesson there for schools.

After a half-day wrangling with the dental insurance company — a phone system very unfriendly to clients asking questions, a fellow with bad information about which dentists in the area are on the plan — I got through in the late afternoon to Sugg’s office.  I’m a new patient, and I more than half expected them to offer an appointment late next week.

Instead, the receptionist said the entire staff, but for her, were out celebrating Dr. Sugg’s birthday.  But they’d be back in an hour, and I should be there when they arrived.

The waiting room has massaging chairs, two televisions running different, intrigueing DVDs, and a coffee pot.  Before I’d finished the paperwork I was offered a bottle of water.  Zip, zip, zip.  Oh, and no out-of-date magazines (a few interesting books, on history mostly, and astronomy).  The waiting room was not full at all — not a lot of waiting.  One group appeared to be there to support an aging family member.  They kept up a lively and often funny line of patter with the staff.  It was as if a co-ed barber shop had broken out in the waiting room.

The exam was quick, with digital x-rays, from a woman who noted most of the staff was in a training session in the lunchroom — the Guinness Book of World Records‘s champion speed reader was offering reading tips to the staff.  A quick diagnosis from Dr. Sugg — could I be back at 8:00 p.m. for the procedure?

That’s right:  8:00 p.m.  The office hours run until 9:00 p.m.  Other options were Saturday and Sunday.  It’s a ’round-the-clock, through-the-week operation.

I mortgaged our grandchildren, took the prescriptions to the pharmacy, got a quick dinner and headed back.  Dr. Linda Cha performed the procedure.  She deadened everything before I got a needle — didn’t feel any pain at any time.  Obviously highly skilled, she explained as much of the procedure as I needed, always solicitous to my comfort.

As I left the office at about 10:15 p.m., an attendant gave me a fresh red rose.  Today they called to check on my progress and spend a significant amount of time answering questions.

Could I get used to that kind of care?

So I thought back to the days I aided intake at Legal Services of North Texas — the cattle-call features, the crowded hallways, the lack of restrooms, the vending machines that often didn’t work, the impossible tasks of trying to match a sticky legal situation with an attorney to do the work for free.  Clients weren’t happy with much of anything there.  I did this often while I worked at Ernst & Young — free coffee, free soft drinks, free pastries, client-effusive hospitality.  Lots of training.   And at bigger lawfirms in town, with restroom attendants, shoeshine machines, on-site concierge for employees and clients if needed.

At one of our high schools in Dallas, men’s restrooms for faculty went without water to the sink for months.  The teachers’ “lounge” doubled as a site for a major computer node, so the ambient temperature was generally close to 90 degrees.  A coffee maker looked as though it hadn’t been used in months, nor that it could produce any coffee that wouldn’t resemble industrial sludge.  But teachers only get 30 minutes for lunch anyway.

Anyone who doubts there is a War on Education hasn’t been in most schools lately.

Harry Sugg runs a great business.  Professional offices and other businesses could learn a lot from how he operates his dental clinic.  Schools could learn a lot, too.  He could consult with school districts on how to treat employees and get good results.  I’ll wager the school districts wouldn’t listen.

Teacher meetings?  Frankly, I’d rather have a root canal.  And I’ll pay for the service.

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