I’ve recently had the privelege of interacting with two vendors who had sold their goods to me: Dell and PUR, the water filter people. It’s amazing how differently I was treated by the two — and amazing how the big-ticket purchase got me the worse service.
Dell was, as you’ve probably already guessed, the bad service. I bought two items from them: a $2,000 laptop and an $80 wireless router. As “already related”:http://juniorbird.com/archives/000646.html, the router was not the finest-made product I had ever procured. Unfortunately, the replacement they sent could be made to work either. I suggested to Dell that I simply return the item — if neither instance worked, then why should I expect that the product worked at all? — but they preferred to send me a third router and were quite vociferous that the cause was something in my environment, even though my old AirPort Base Station worked fine. Of course, all of this happened on their schedule, and I was happy to be flexible during my vacation, but the third router arrived the weekend before school started. Naturally I was uninterested in spending my time setting up the new router at the same time that I was getting used to classes, etc.
But Dell was adamant: no non-function of the router provided cause for me to return the item for a refund. I’ll admit; I was annoyed. Even worse, I began to doubt Dell. My mental image of my purchase switched from roughly 95% laptop and 5% router to 1 of 2 items working and 1 of 2 items non-working. And what would Dell gain? My $80? In fact, they lost, because now I think of them as the company that sells crappy peripherals and sticks you with them when they don’t work. And, if I buy a PC in the future, I’d seriously consider an HP — when I shopped for this laptop, Dell and IBM (muy caro!) were the only vendors I looked into.
In contrast, I couldn’t be happier with the customer servide PUR provided me for my $30 on-faucet water filter. The filter housing has a little plastic window that lets you see a progress bar on that tells you when the filter is used up. This plastic window broke seal on my unit, so, every time you run water through the filter some shoots out in high-pressure streams:
I’d only owned this filter for about 9 months and was sad to see it break already. So I asked them on their site, is there any way I can repair this? Their reply:
bq. Thank you for contacting PUR.
bq. I am sorry to hear of the problem you had with our product. The quality of our products – their content, performance and packaging – is very important to us. We have many quality control checkpoints along the manufacturing line because we want each of our brands to be in perfect condition when purchased by our consumers. I’m sharing your comments with the rest of our team. Since the amount of help I can offer via email is limited, I’m following up with you by postal mail. I will be sending you a voucher for a new unit. Please allow 3-4 weeks for delivery. Thanks for getting in touch with us.
That was the very first e-mail they sent back! They quickly turned a customer who feared he burnt $30 into a customer who trusts his vendor for future transactions. What could be a better outcome?
Here we have two really different outcomes of similar situations. Both dealt with commoditized products (I will assert that all PC laptops are good substitutes for each other, so we’re most of the way down the commoditization path, despite the price). Both dealt with manufacturers who need to fight for “mindshare”, who will either be the first vendor you think of when you need a new widget or will not get a shot at the sale. One was proactive and managed the interaction to get what I might consider a good result and was, at least, not a costly result for them. The other was responsive but stayed behind the curve and put themselves in a position in which the failure of their initial response (a “reasonably predictable”:http://www.epinions.com/pr-Dell_TrueMobile_2300_Wireless_Broadband_Router_TM23001/display_~reviews failure) would only leave me _less_ satisfied. There’s a lesson here about how, as James Carville would have said, speed kills. Customer service needs to respond quickly and aggressively to resolve issues on the first or second contact. That’s the only way to keep customers in today’s competitive, information-filled marketplace
One of the many small miracles I get to experience as a resident of the fine city of Los Angeles is the Handy J Car Wash, a venue offering unparalelled full service.
No, I’m not talking about hot new immigrant sex; if you look in the background of the above photo, you’ll notice that behind the cars being cleaned is the Outdoor Grill. That’s right, Handy J offers you tasty barbecue while-you-wait.
The Outdoor Grill is indeed one of LA’s small treasures. In a city that’s weak in barbecue (although there is “a great, if more expensive, place nearby me”:http://www.zagat.com/Search/Details.asp?VID=1&PID=1&LID=9&SPH=mr%2E+cecil&ST=2&NDPH=&CRT=name+contains+%27%27mr%2E+cecil%27%27&RID=30958), Outdoor Grill is a fun, fair-priced treat. They offer all manner of tasty options:
There’s always daily specials but I love the tri-tip and the half chicken. The fries are great dipped into the sweet, tangy barbecue sauce, and the salads are outsized. The source of all this goodness is, in fact, an outdoor grill:
There’s nothing like coming home with a shining clean car and a styrofoam container full of hot, tasty, charred meat. Mmmm, meat. Mmmm, clean car.
I’ve only had one week of classes, but two professors already stand out as exceptional teachers. These are the guys who could teach me how to properly skin and dress skunks, and I’d like it, darn it!
One is my Strategy prof, “Arvind Bhambri”:http://www.marshall.usc.edu/web/MOR.cfm?doc_id=3022. Yes, the guy to whom I just turned in an exceptionally mediocre two-page paper on Airborne Express and the dynamics of the overnight delivery industry. Complete with unattractive diagrams.
So, Bhambri. Many people are scared of him. There’s a rumor that two PM students already quit because he scared them too much. It’s true that he demands a lot, and that he runs his classroom with an iron fist. Maybe it’s just that I’m not easily intimidated (or that I lack a healthy sense of self-preservation — last weekend I went up to my tattooed, muscled, ex-gangster neighbor and told him that I expected to never see his car blocking the alley again), but Bhambri doesn’t scare me. Sure, he won’t let you raise your hand while anybody else is talking, but that’s just to make you pay attention to what they’re saying rather than think about what it is that you’re about to say. Sure he cold calls (probably about 35 people today), but he spreads it around fairly. And when you do cold call — or even when you successfully raise your hand and get called on — he doesn’t hold you out to dry, he’ll help you work towards the right answer. You’re sure never to fall asleep in his class!
“Mark DeFond”:http://www.marshall.usc.edu/web/Leventhal.cfm?doc_id=2172 is the opposite. Fun, active, he teaches Accounting. I think he may have a secret mean streak — if you don’t know the answer to a question when you’re cold-called, you’d better not ‘fess up, else he’ll ask you to pick someone else to answer for you. But he’s fun and high-energy, and he makes everything simple and even comes at the same problem from different directions if you didn’t get it the first time. While every textbook, and most professors, talk about widget manufacturers and their need for new frobulation equipment, DeFond tells a fun story about his dream chicken feet restaurant. Mmmm, chicken feet.
Oh, and his hair is way better than in the picture.
So at some point in time it seemed like a good idea to start drinking coffee to get going in the morning. This quickly progressed to a venti soy latte every day (following a quest to find a Starbucks that sells soy somewhere on campus). Hey, it wakes me up.
But not after today. Starting tomorrow, it’s a tall soy latte. And I’m going to make that up with more sleep. For real! Six hours is now my official minimum, not my target; if I don’t have an 8am class, it’s seven hours, non-negotiable, excepting complete disaster. Sleep is important for me, and I don’t seem to be one of those people who gets along well with four hours of shut-eye. If I want to stay awake through class, the best thing seems not to be to drug myself against sleep but instead to not be tired in the first place. I realize this puts me in opposition to the stated goals of the Marshall School, but, hey, my bed is comfy and its cost has not yet been fully depreciated.
The no-caffeine thing will also help with the working out thing. I hit the Lyon Center gym for the first time today and actually got some exercise; I think I need to put workout times on my calendar next. Caffeine doesn’t play well with exercise so I’ll be happy to improve my endurance by upping my water intake and dropping out the venti lattes. If only the choice weren’t $4 small-sized bottles of water vs. skanky tap water. Maybe I could keep a 2-liter Arrowhead in my 1/3 locker?
One afternoon I made the — apparently fairly serious — error of hanging out in the courtyard at Popovich (the b-school building here). Somehow I ended up participating in the draft for our local fantasy football league here. I drafted 6 of 12, so I got crappy picks but not so crappy I got to have two picks in a row like lucky 12. This was the smallest draft (ok, only of two) that I’d participated in, so I fear I drafted too much for value and too little for impact, but we’ll see. I feel good about a lot of my starters, even though I only had about two minutes to prepare my board.
Named after my hometown football (ok, box soccer) team, my “Baltimore Blast”:http://www.baltimoreblast.com/ (my second choice was the “Baltimore Thunder”:http://www.tealdragon.net/sports/thunder.htm) consists of:
* QBs Tom Brady, Jake Plummer, and Rich Gannon
* WRs Terrell Owens, Rod Smith, Keenan McCardell and Drew Bennett
* RBs Jamal Lewis, Quentin Griffin, and Justin Fargas
* TEs Todd Heap and Bubba Franks
* K Adam Vinatieri
* Seattle D
This week’s starters are:
* Jake Plummer
* Keenan McCardell
* Drew Bennett
* Jamal Lewis
* Todd Heap
* And, of course, the Seattle D
It’s already a bad thing; I got up this morning second-guessing that line-up. Will Brady do better against the Indy D than Plummer vs. KC? If I believe in Plummer, should I start Rod Smith as well, therefore putting my eggs all in one basket? Or do I distribute my risk and start the tremendously underrated Bennett? And this is interfering with my productivity!
Yay excuse to be non-productive!
Friday was our first case competition. First time we had to read about somebody’s business decision and develop an alternative and present that in front of a bunch of people. And you know what? The Ocho rocked! Have I mentioned I love my group lately?
What was best was our approach. Everybody was helpful, everybody was creative, everybody was goal-oriented, everybody was having fun. We made a plan, we executed it, we took breaks, we came together and reinforced each other, we showed faith in each other and finished before the deadline. Then we practiced our presentation together, everybody listened to everybody else’s suggestions, and we went home at a reasonable hour.
In the morning, we nailed our presentation. We came out of the case room knowing we’d advance to the semifinals, and we did. We stepped in front of our core to present and immediately our PowerPoint started getting compliments — I guess all those years of PowerPoint design work finally came in handy!
I was pretty darned scared during the presentation to the entire core, with the dry mouth and everything. About a minute into my part of the presentation I realized that I hadn’t breathed. This did, however, offer me a good opportunity to look around the room and make eye contact with my classmates. Apparently, I looked as if I knew what I was doing; just as apparently, MBA candidates are easily fooled.
The rest of my group looked like they knew what they were doing, too, and we made a great presentation. Unfortunately, we weren’t picked to progress to the finals; given that none of us were experienced public speakers or big, stage-hogging hams, I’ve got to say that we all did wonderfully. And the final winners? I don’t understand why the Strategy profs picked them. I’ll have to ask on Monday. The team that beat us was strong, the teams from cores A and B seemed to me to have better presentations than those from C and D.
My body has quite an extensive color palette going on right now. Starting at the bottom, we have:
I got this lovely bruise from riding the mechanical bull at Union Cattle. I can only conlcude that it came from the bull spinning to the left so darned much.
Too much sun at Teamwork At Marshall day! Strangely, it never hurt.
And then there’s the teeth. Looking in the mirror one day, I thought my smile looked yellow. So I got me some Crest Whitestrips.
(yes, I brightened this pic a bit in Photoshop because the light was bad, but I didn’t change the color balance at all)
I’ve had two good friends express shock at how bright my smile is. Not a bad outcome! Thumbs up for Crest Whitestrips. And for TAM day and, especially, Union Cattle as well!
Both of the teams I’m in did pretty well in their first week! My core group, A, took second in the Teamwork at Marshall day (tied with B), we came in second in the mechanical bull ride (I did my best to help us out there — even my former Wonderful Girlfriend was impressed with my ride), and we got 50 extra points for having the most spirit.
My study group — perhaps the most important group in my first year — did great too. Not only did we do well in naming, etc, but, in our first exercise, we placed tied for second among 12 groups in Core A!
The exercise was simple. We were locked in a room together and shown a video of a plane crashing in the arctic wilderness. We were given a list of things we’d salvaged from the crash and asked to rank the things in order of importance. We did this individually, then merged our individual lists into a group list. Then we compared the list to an expert’s list and came up with a score that was the difference between our ranking and the expert’s ranking. The Ocho had both the second-highest score and the second-highest improvement between our individual scores and our group score — the improvement meant we worked better together than alone. One poor group had a substantial decrease between their individual and group scores; they might not work so well together.
But The Ocho came through strong. We got off on the wrong foot, but came together and finished with a good process that gave us a result we were very comfortable with. I’m excited about my group! Let’s see how it goes in the second week.
At Marshall, each class is divided into four core groups, each of which attends class together for the first year. Each core group is also divided into about a dozen study groups, each with five or six students in it, each study group working together in all non-elective classes for the first year. Membership in study groups is assigned, but each group is designed to have a balanced membership, with an accountant, a finance person, a marketer, a slacker, etc.
So yesterday we got assigned our core groups and study groups. I’m in Core A, group 8. Go A! Yeah! We were the most boisterous group, so we got 50 points in the race for ROI, an unfortunately-named plastic horse who comes with a keg. Then we went to Union Cattle in Hermosa, and I rode a mechanical bull for charity and the greater glory of my Core. Go A!
We also had to pick a name for our study group. Since too many of us had seen “Anchorman”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0357413/, the answer was obvious: Team 8: The Ocho!
Actually, I love my teammates. I think we’ll get along ok, and, even better, we’ve got compatible goals. We actually had a big teambuilding workshop, led by this great prof, “Dave”:http://www.marshall.usc.edu/web/Execdev.cfm?doc_id=1280 “Logan”:http://www.jlsconsult.com/, who moved everything along with great energy, insight, and clear examples. Dr. Logan’s basic point was that everything we’d learned about teambuilding was wrong and had, at best, no measureable effect on team unity. So we discussed our core team values and turned them into actionable and measurable operating guidelines. This whole process brought our group together, and I’m happy to say that we were efficient at it and built strong consensus.
* *Creativity*: For each project, we will set aside a specific, finite, agreed-upon time during which everyone’s ideas will be listened to equally and completely.
* *Fun*: We will set aside breaks during study sessons and get-togethers outside of school, at which time we won’t discuss any work at all.
* *Strength*: We will individually show confidence in expressing ideas and solidarity in expressing and carrying out the group’s ideas and plans.
* *Respect*: We will listen without interrupting, keep personal disagreements out of the group, and understand and work with the many demands on each others’ time.
* *Efficacy*: At the beginning of each project, we’ll develop a project plan, with specific goals and milestones for the overall project and specific goals for each meeting.
I’m excited about the group. At the least, I feel comfortable that I’ll be well-supported academically for the next year.
Today was the first day of Orientation at the Marshall School. I’m not sure that I have enough info at this time to really know how it will be, but signs are good. There was no period of more than two minutes during today’s free times that I wasn’t getting acquainted with my very friendly classmates; everybody was happy approaching me, and everybody was happy when I approached them. It was quite comfortable! And new Dean Yash Gupta seemed quite smart and visionary.
The brainwashing has begun. Updates to follow.