Unidentified phone numbers

I started to get calls from telephone numbers that I did not recognize on my mobile phone. Not being one who just has to pick up the call, I tend to ignore numbers of unknown origin and let my voicemail work for me.  If it’s important they will leave a message or find me in any of the other hundred ways I can be reached.

Recently someone (or something) called from the numbers 210-301-0307 and 210-249-0540. I can be curious sometimes and decided to look up the number on the internet, simply by entering the phone number in Google. The web is full of great information.

After only about 30 seconds of review I was able to determine that these numbers are spoofed. They don’t exist. They are being faked by the caller. In some cases the caller asks for personal information and in other cases they hang up.

It’s a good idea look up a number you don’t recognize before answering.

Then one day 705-719-6444 popped up on my call display.
Who calls me from 705-719-6444?

Well the answer may not surprise you. Read about the scam caller here. While I was looking up this phone number, the caller left me a message.

The caller identifies himself by saying his name and muttering the name of the company (which after listening a few times, I came up with Mark Smith from KMG).

Mr. Smith addresses me by my first name only and tries to sound very familiar (as if we have known each other for awhile). He doesn’t explain why he’s calling. He is eating while he’s leaving the message possibly to make it sound more casual.

Be careful of this type of contact, because a person like Mr. Smith can lull you into a false sense of security. If you do end up on the wrong end of a call like this, I would not engage the person.

It’s not advisable to ask questions as you may be giving up more information than you realize (see: Black Widow from the Avengers). I don’t know if it’s a scam or not, but I don’t intend to find out the hard way.

Readers: Have you been the victim of a telephone scam?

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Stella & Dot launches new platform at the wrong time

Stella & Dot is a multi-level marketing based line of boutique-style jewellery.   By using a trunk show (tupperware-style party) selling strategy, their ‘stylists’ (independent sales partners) showcase the product directly to customers.  A stylist approached me in early December, at her wits end with the poor customer service provided by Stella & Dot.

The stylist, Anne (name changed), had placed a web order on behalf of her customers, with Stella & Dot after hosting one of these trunk shows.  Due to an error with the web site, the order of over $800 appeared ‘stuck’ and would would not ship.

Anne called customer service to find out the status of the order.  The first call was placed two weeks after the order was entered.  By this point, it is standard practice for the orders to have already arrived at their destination.  Anne had promised this to her customers.

After waiting on hold for more than an hour, Anne gave up and disconnected the call.  She called in the next day and again was on hold for over an hour and again abandoned the call.  After sending several emails in to support, Anne still had no response.

When she finally did get through to support, the customer service rep was rude and unhelpful.  She refused to act because there was a policy in place.  This policy prevented Anne’s order from being closed.  Although the customers were already charged for the purchases, the order would take more than 4 weeks from when it was entered, before it would ship.

After requesting an escalation several times, Anne was told there was no supervisor or manager, but that she could arrange a call back at a later date.  After requesting to be escalated again, the agent stated that she was being verbally abused, and disconnected the call.

It was at this point, that Anne approached me to intervene.  I was able to contact a Stella & Dot executive and board member.  A senior person contacted Anne the next day and after several more hours of discussion, the order was subsequently shipped.

Why couldn’t Stella & Dot do the right thing initially and just ship the order.  Well, after corresponding with representatives, the answer became clear to me.  There were several break downs.

Firstly, it appears to be the (or certainly one of the) busiest seasons of the year for order processing.  Secondly, they launched a new web site that was anything but improved.  Several bugs existed, one of which caused Anne’s order to be stuck.  Thirdly, the customer service rep was not empowered to do the right thing, and instead quoted ‘policy’ to the customer.

This could not have been a worse time for the stylists to have to deal with a new web site which had at least one critical bug.  This was acknowledged in early January as stylists who had a trunk show during this failure were given free product as an apology.

Companies need to be careful when making major platform, process changes during a critical season.  If they must make these types of changes, then they need to increase staff, and train them on ensuring the customer is taken care of when a critical failure occurs.

Giving out product after the fact does nothing for the stylists who were left without support when facing their own customers.  This reactive decision is how it is done in organizations that don’t know how to provide support, and don’t have a culture around customer experience (Stella & Dot: I’m willing to consult if you’re listening).

Anne figures she spent about 15 hours with support on this issue and effectively lost any money she made on her sale.  She also lost customers as a result of the long delay in shipping.  In the end, the customers received their jewelry and Stella & Dot received a lot of bad will.

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Watson supercomputer pimped out to insurance industry

My favourite computer in the world (if such a thing exists) is the Watson supercomputer, most famous for his trouncing of Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter on Jeopardy.

There were grand visions of what Watson could be used for. Most recently there were rumours of Watson’s diagnostic capabilities being used in the medical field.

Well, this is one of those good news/bad news situations. Watson is going to be “helping” to diagnose millions of patients. Unfortunately, Watson will be doing it for Wellpoint Inc. health insurance.

Although the spokesperson for Wellpoint said patients don’t need to worry that Watson will be used to help insurers deny benefits.  If a doctor uses a different treatment than Watson, a clinician will still review the case.

Even though this supercomputer is a blessing to the world, you’ll have to excuse me for my lack of excitement over the pimping out of Watson.  It is unproven and too early to be pushed for a critical use.  I have learned that insurance companies are in the sole business of making money (perhaps like many other industries).   In my opinion, Wellpoint’s focus will be on making Watson work for them.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Watson is reprogrammed to respond with “pre-existing condition” or “forms completed incorrectly”. Of all the partners that IBM could have chosen, this is what they chose to do.  It remains to be seen who this will really serve.

Readers:  What do you think of IBM’s choice?  Will Watson help patients or Wellpoint?

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Reflecting on the KHL plane crash victims

It has been a summer of hockey related tragedies with the deaths of a group of NHL enforcers.  Most recently, the crash of a Russian plane killed almost the whole KHL’s Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team.  While the loss of 43 lives is tragic at any time, people are naturally drawn to stories that are connected to them in some way.

Haunted by a series of tragedies in the hockey world, my mind began to race.  I speculated on how the last moments of their lives may have gone.  I wondered if they had a chance to think about their friends and families.  I thought about how the families they left behind must be devastated, and how their children will be affected.

After considering the terrible effects of this, I soon began to think of the positive impact these men had on the lives of others.  I had a chance to reflect on my brief but happy experience involving Igor Korolev.

It was the during the 1997/98 hockey season and my enthusiasm for the Maple Leafs was wearing thin.  They had shown life during the ’93 and ’94 seasons but faded in the latter half of the decade.  At a chance encounter, I was able to snag autographs on my Leaf jersey from Korolev, Dmitri Yushkevich, Sergei Berezin and Dany Markov, the only Russian born players on the team at the time.

While I have met or run into my share of stars, these are the only autographs I still hold.  I have proudly worn this jersey at any pro hockey games that I have been privileged to attend.

While Korolev was with the Maple Leafs for four years, he had a lasting impression on me. Many stars (sports or otherwise) refuse to autograph anything for fear of the recipient selling it.  In my opinion the more signatures out there, the better.   The dollar value of the autograph degrades with a higher supply AND there is enormous goodwill value.

At 41 years old, Korolev, a number of his Russian countrymen, as well as players and coaches from other nations (including Canada), were taken from us far too early in their lives.  Unbeknownst to Korolev, he renewed my appreciation for the Leafs, and I will always remember the treatment that fans received from the young Russian.

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What does the TTC owe you?

In a recent post, Toronto Mike posted an open letter from a disgruntled TTC customer. The customer had a terrible experience riding the TTC on a recent Sunday in August.  The ‘troubled TTC user’ began the letter by noting that TTC users “pay about 1.5 times more than other North American cities.”  This got me wondering.  Does it really matter how much more or less we pay than services in other cities that are arguably better or worse?

Should the relative higher price, that this customer states is paid, entitle TTC users to better customer service.  I have reflected on my past experiences with McDonald’s vs. Canyon Creek, Ontario Parks vs. Marriot hotels, Ford vs. Lexus, the Florida Panthers vs. the Toronto Maple Leafs.   How about Amazon.com vs Zappos.com. The amount you pay for the service (or product) should not determine the level customer service you receive.

The service was miles apart with Lexus providing incredible service while Ford’s provided no value.  Maybe not a surprise to anyone who has owned either of these brands.  The service at Canyon Creek is good, McDonald’s is average, which is perhaps not shocking. Considering the price difference, do you have a bigger expectation from Canyon Creek?

Ontario Parks is a better experience than Marriot.  Considering the price difference is about 6 times, would you expect more from Marriot?  The Florida Panthers certainly provide a better experience than the Leafs even though they have (arguably) equally weak products.  There is a difference in price however of 6 – 7 times.  If something goes wrong, Zappos is a superior experience over Amazon 9 times out of 10.

Have we come to expect that paying more equates to better service?  I think that great customer experience has a bigger impact and provides better momentum with a product or service of comparative lesser value.

In the case of this poor TTC experience, the collector blamed a customer, there was no clear announcement and there was a promise by the collector that shuttle buses would be provided. During the subway train failure, you don’t necessarily need to wow customers, but you need to at least keep them neutral.  It all boils down to communication.   The TTC needed to make a clear and timely announcement.  Once they made that announcement, they needed to follow through on their commitment.

While it’s  good that Mr. Upfold (Chief Customer Service Officer for the TTC) responded to the letter, and committed to improvement, it’s his job.  His communications will come after the event and the TTC has already let down its customers.

Certainly my 20 years of TTC travels brought some unpredictable and uncomfortable situations, but in each case the positive or negative experience came from how the TTC official communicated and handled the situation.  Any apologies or commitments after the fact, had much less impact.

Companies and organizations owe us strong customer service regardless of the cost and they especially owe it to us when things go badly.  With every bad situation comes an opportunity to wow the customer and it can be done in real time.

Readers:  What does the TTC owe it’s customers?  How could this situation have been improved at any step?

In a future post I’ll provide my thoughts on then recently famous “Morton’s Steakhouse Customer Service Story.”  A bad experience doesn’t have to come from the company that turns the story around. 

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