Coffee Out the Nose Funny: David Thorne’s American snow trip adventure

There are very few things in this world that are genuinely laugh out loud funny when you’re reading them in your head. David Thorne’s delightfully nasty bits of revenge, posted online for the world to see, are up there with the best of them.

David went to a ski shop in the US. The service was less than adequate. The gloves he purchased, that he was assured were waterproof, were not. They got wet, and the black ink that provided their ebony colour ran. And it ran all over his jumper. And when he went back to exchange them the staff abused him. So this is what he did:

The store received 5,000 calls enquiring about the free snowboard. And this email exchange ensued.

It was at this point in the exchange that coffee shot through my nostrils:

“I should probably be thankful that your staff were too occupied with having their earlobes stretched by Tonka-truck tyres and wearing pants around their knees to sell me a snowsurfingboard made of sugar or goggles made of bees.”

Or perhaps this point:

“Also, I apologise. While the average male height of 5″9 statistically means anything under is considered short, my question was without diminutive intention. I’m sure there are many advantages to being so small. Target carries an excellent range of boys clothing at competitive prices and a lower centre of gravity should, once helped up onto the ski-lift, allow you to snowboardsurf with greater stability. If I were small, I would buy a cat and ride it.”

There is, as is often the case with Thorne’s work, a language warning attached. It didn’t end all that well. Thorne punctuated the exchange with this:

Too much of a good thing

After sales follow up is really nice. I like when a company cares.

I would, however, limit this after sales service to one form of contact in the first week – and then perhaps a follow up call a few months down the track.

A phone call, an SMS and an email is probably overkill.

It’s as true for churches as it is for mechanics (and guys chasing a second date).

Don’t be too nice, or too keen to see me again. You’ll only freak me out.

Bank error

A Swedish woman had a nice surprise when checking her bank balance yesterday – she found an extra billion dollars thanks to a “bank error in her favour”… unfortunately it doesn’t seem like she gets even $200. It seems Monopoly is not like real life after all.

There’s a PR lesson here though. For some reason the general public expect big corporations to pay up when they make mistakes like this. It’s like the Townsville couple who thought they’d won big at the Casino due to a Pokie malfunction. It’s as though the “customer service” obligation we enjoy at supermarkets when things are priced or processed wrongly has become our normal expectation.

The bank should – if they want some free positive international coverage from the event – give the woman a nice little bonus. She’s be an ambassador for life then – all the TV and radio interviews she’s no doubt doing around the world right now would be much different if the bank had given her even$1000.

Unfortunately if you want to comment on this post you’ll have to avoid using the word bank. Because I’ve had 90 spam messages containing “bank” in the last two days it’s currently on the blacklist.

Keep the Customer Satisfied

You may think this post, with a nominal reference to a Paul Simon song, would be about our return home. Given that the opening lyrics are: 

“Gee but it’s great to be back home
Home is where I want to be
I’ve been on the road so long my friend
And if you came along I know you couldn’t disagree”

But it’s not. Today’s story is about our recent experiences with each end of the customer service spectrum. 

The good (it’s a long story)

Just prior to leaving Townsville we decided to buy a TV. We’d heard that prices were going to go up post Christmas and we’d been saving for an upgrade for a while.  We spent an evening price matching at various outlets in Townsville. We knew what we were looking for and we were quoted various prices roughly within the same $800 ballpark. Until we got to Dick Smith Powerhouse  – where we were quoted a figure of $650 for a Panasonic we’d seen elsewhere for $1000. We were pretty sure it was a good deal. But we wanted to check two more shops before confirming the purchase. We were told by another shop that this was below cost – and we should take it. Upon our return our friendly salesman went out the back to get the TV. He came back empty handed. The TV out the back was broken. He could only sell us the display model. I asked if we’d get a further discount. He said yes, he could sell it to us for a further $20 off – for $830. $830? But he’d just quoted us $650… no, the salesman couldn’t possibly give us that price. It was a mistake. $830 was still the best price we’d found on the unit in question – and we had decided we liked it. We got to the counter, and much to our surprise the salesman told the guy at the counter to sell it to us at $630. Hooray. At the last moment he went around the counter to check the details – and ammended the cost to $830. But I said this was the good. We reluctantly paid the $830 – having made noises about how we should have been given the $630 price – even though it was a mistake. The customer is always right. Right? 

Two days later I wrote used the Dick Smith website’s customer feedback page to write a letter. The basic format of a good complaint letter is some heartfelt praise for the company, the reason you chose to do business with them, a lengthy description of the circumstances, and a closing argument “I know you’re a company that prides itself on customer satisfaction… blah, blah blah…” and contact details. The letter worked. After Christmas I got a phone call from the store manager promising to refund the $200 on our return to Townsville. That happened today. So good on Dick Smith Powerhouse and their most excellent customer service. We now have a $630 TV that we are more than happy with – and they get a mention on the internet, unsolicited.   

The Bad

I mentioned the grumpy lady at Hanmer Horses in my review of our time at Hanmer Springs – she was not a great picture of customer service – but she was not the worst case we came across on our New Zealand adventure. The worst case predated our arrival in New Zealand – and carried through to our travelling companion’s (another gratuitous Paul Simon reference) departure. Cancellation fees can be a legitimate way for a business to recoup lost earnings, a protection for operators against unscrupilous bookings designed to hurt the bottom line, they can be a tax on stupidity, or they can be extortionate revenue raising. Cancellations are the bane of tourism businesses. I know this. Robyn and I both booked accommodation through the same company in the same town on the same night – and they graciously waived the cancellation fee for us. $30 they could by rights have held onto. For that, Alpine Holiday Homes can have a free link. And a hearty recommendation as a cheap, good quality accommodation option in Hanmer Springs. But this is “the bad” – the Interislander Ferry has a monopoly on travel between the North and South Islands of New Zealand – unless you want to fly. The Interislander also demands a 50% cancellation fee on any of their bottom end bookings. Sure, it’s there in the terms and conditions, but that shouldn’t rule out compassion – particularly if you want to maintain a reputation as customer focused. That 50% figure comes regardless of notice – and regardless of the fact that they will operate cancellations notwithstanding. This is an example of extortion. We learned the hard way. Robyn’s sister booked us on to the boat thinking that we would be accompanying them to the North Island as they departed. We were planning to continue circumnavigating the south. We notified the Interislander service by email as soon as we realised a mistake had been made. A month prior to their departure. We received no reply. We had to call them three days before to check that the cancellation had been made. It hadn’t. They gave no quarter. Showed no compassion. And whacked us with a $65 fee for what essentially was an innocent mistake. That was poor. Dreadful service – and a dreadful way to handle customer emails. Even a cursory response to acknowledge the email had been received but ignored because of heavy email traffic would have been nice. A standard autoreply. But no. So they earn a terrible review here. I hope lots of people google the Interislander and find their way here. The interislander ferry is evil.

The Ugly

This is not a first hand experience – unlike the others. This is a case of terrible practice using the user generated content phenomona. I linked to the initial story using my google reader shared items post yesterday. Belkin. Maker of modems, routers and other technowizardry, has been caught trying to solicit 5/5 reviews from users on Amazon. Amazon has a service called Mechanical Turk – a chance for human users to be paid to do pseudo robotic tasks too simple for computers to manage. Collate articles on a topic, summarise an article etc… you can earn Amazon credit – or get paid cash. Not only did Belkin want reviewers to write perfect reviews, in perfect English, they wanted them to pan other reviewers who had been less than flattering of the product. Worse still, Belkin got caught. Now everybody knows what a flagrant disregard they have for customer feedback and customer satisfaction. That’s ugly.

Hanmer Springs

Day three of our New Zealand adventure began with an early morning departure from Christchurch. We picked up a quick caffeine hit from the now thrice mentioned Honey Pot café and then hit the road. Christchurch has an inexplicable array of streets with changing names. Streets change names without warning for seemingly no reason at all. This made following googlemaps directions hard. We got a little lost. Tempers were frayed because we were late, late for a very important date. It wasn’t Alice in Wonderland and we weren’t risking decapitation at the hands of the queen of hearts – but we did receive an icy welcome when we did arrive at Hanmer Horses – the specialists in horse tours of the surrounds of the quaint ski village. We were asked to arrive with half an hour to spare, and got there with 20 minutes up our sleeves. Not a bad effort considering we’d run the risk of quite literally “running on empty” to get our troupe of equine adventurers to the ranch on time.
Hanmer’s very own Queen of Hearts greeted us with possibly the grumpiest reception I’ve ever experienced from anyone in the tourism industry. Actually, make that the second grumpiest. The grumpiest was a deckhand on the Dunk Island to Mission Beach ferry – who when informed that the journalists and Tourism Australia media representative I was travelling with had not been issued tickets upbraided us with a series of cuss words that only a mariner can truly command. But I digress. Tourism is a people industry. If you’re not into people – but like the company of a horse – perhaps vet science is a better career path. This lady yelled at her staff and then quite literally “took the reigns” before they’d had a chance to heed her commands. She harangued us for being late. For having the nerve to expect to pay with credit card using a signature rather than a PIN and was abrupt and sour the whole time she interacted with her customers. She was a blight on what otherwise was by all accounts a pleasant ride through picturesque New Zealand territory.
I was left to my own devices for a couple of hours while the intrepid “four horsemen” where off gallivanting and galloping around the hills, I used the time wisely acquainting myself with the birds and bees of Hanmer Springs. Literally. For that to truly make sense you’ll have to check out some of the photos in our web album – I’d link to them, but we’re very close to running out of time with our hour of wireless internet.
The riding experience left our party saddle sore and weary – and it was time for respite and repast. We made haste to the Springs Deli – where we supped on salads, and other such delights. All this eating and merriment left us in need of a nanna nap – so our troupe trouped off to our holiday house to emerge hours later ready for dinner. We decided to head back to the town centre to pick up some meat from the supermarket but decided to make do with an antipasto platter when we determined meat was not so forthcoming in these parts. The platter sated our hunger somewhat as we tried to negotiate a recalcitrant wireless hotspot.
We decided to go for some real food – and experienced what was roundly acclaimed as the best food we’ve eaten all trip, probably all year in most cases. Stone grilled meat is something I’d never experienced before – and I can only wonder why. This pub specialised in the fine art of stone grilling – which means they basically bring you a really hot slab of stone and some raw meat and you cook it yourself, to your liking. It was superb. The Moroccan chicken pizza we had along with the meat was also superb – and you’ll hopefully find pictures of both in our album – or here if we locate reliable internet before you’ve digested this post.
After this meal it was time for a movie and bed. We had to be up the next day (today – or yesterday depending on your timezone) for some whitewater rafting thrills and spills at the appropriately named “Thrillseeker’s Canyon”. Thrillseeker’s Canyon seems to have its approach to staffing just right – our experience there was nothing but positive. We were a little nervous to begin with because we’d been told this was a category 4 rapid run – and that apparently meant some serious rapids and danger. In reality the journey was smooth sailing with just a few bumps along the way. Our Maori guide – Darren – was excellent, and made sure we had an enjoyable trip with some forced “abandon ships” to make sure we had the rescue and recovery process down pat should problems arrive further downstream. The typical rafting run covers about 7km and includes stops for jumping off high rocks into water, and general aquatic frolicking. Our atypical trip ended with a nice surprise. The trip ends at a swimming hole – and I had asked at the outset how we’d be getting back from b to a. A to b seemed pretty straight forward. Our very helpful kiwi leader told me with a straight face that the river was round – and we’d just paddle back. That was all the answer we were given – and I was inclined to believe this was the case, however improbable it may seem. We were pleasantly surprised then when a jetboat arrived to pick us up. Generally these jetboats ferry passengers back to base – in this case we were treated to a surprise jetboat experience. It seems there’s a rafting/jetboat combo, and some of the group we paddled with had purchased that option. It’s a case of one in, all in. If only a couple of passengers on a trip order the combo everyone gets upgraded (shame airlines don’t offer the same level of service). We scored. All morning I’d been watching these boats hoon past with a sense of envy. We were given the run down at the outset – these boats sport twin Lexus V8 engines, at full speed they glide in just one inch of water. They’re aluminium, with the walls just 4mm thick. Our very experienced driver had been handling the boats, and the rapids, from the age of 13. This would have been comforting to know before he’d hurtled upstream drifting towards and away from the rockface at incredible speeds. There are photos of these boating adventures (or there will be soon) in the picasa album.
Hanmer Springs is a nice little village – and it’s easy to picture it filling up during ski season. Hopefully the coffee improves during peak time. We didn’t manage to find anything spectacular – and suffered through a couple of shockers picked up in pubs. Even if a pub advertises its coffee on its roadside A-frame it’s unlikely to be good coffee. I can say that now, with the benefit of hindsight.