Saturday, April 16, 2005

Having worked in retail and customer service for 20 plus years, I have come to realize that Customers are Stupid.

Now I'm not the first to articulate this idea. Scott Adams illustrated it clearly in The Dilbert Principle, where he includes himself in the generalization. And I inlcude myself as well..

Some random stories:

Way back in the late 70s, I worked at Super S Foods, in Fredericksburg as a stocker/cashier/bag boy. We used these square, dayglow price labels we hung from the shelves. There was a black border around the bottom and sides with little arrows pointing up. We hung the signs under the item being advertised. So if there was a tag on 8 oz tomato paste 5/$1, inevitably, every day, someone would get the 15 oz can behind the sign and below the 8 oz can and try to convince us the sign was for the big can. We would have to have the customer lead us to the sign, and read it aloud. When they got to the bit that read "8 oz can," they would get real quiet.

Same time frame, same store. We were always open on Thanksgiving Day, usually until about 5 pm. We would have signs on the front door weeks in advance. Every time, when we left after closing, someone would screech up to the door, push on the handle, and almost break an arm when the door wouldn't open. We had signs at eye level with our holiday hours. They would look on either side of the sign, above it and below it to see if we were open. They'd scratch their heads and finally see the sign. Then they would check their watch. Then they would slink off to the convenience store down the street. Jump ahead 5 years. I was working at a Diamond Shamrock convenience store. We were open on Thanksgiving Day, too. We put out signs up weeks in advance, too. This time, I hung the signs upside down. Every customer would laugh at us for being so stupid, and we'd ask, "Which sign?" "The sign that has your Thanksgiving hours, ha ha ha ha ha ha!" "Good! That means you read it!"

Another Diamond Shamrock, this time in Austin, a few years later. I'm a salesman servicing the account. A guy in a big pickup buys $10 worth of gas (this was when $10 bought a lot of gas), slaps a $100 bill on the counter. The manager informs him that they cannot accept a $100 bill. Tex decides to pitch a fit and complains that the store needs to have a sign to that effect. The manager walks over to the front door, pulls it open and points to a sign that reads, "We do not accept bills larger than $20."

In July of 2001, we took a trip to Colorado. We visited Royal Gorge. We rode the vertical train to the bottom of the gorge, where we stood and looked up at the spaghetti thin bridge across the gorge. When we were ready to get back up to the top, we started lining up to reboard the train. The guys running the rides had a world weary expression as the told us to stand on the outside of the steps with the yellow lines, which was every other step. Folks getting off the train were to exit on the unpainted steps and go down the inside. naturally, the great unwashed masses, excluding me, who has dealt with tourists, ignored these guys. They had to go down the steps and teach people what the color yellow looked like and where the outside edge was. As soon as they left, the tourists, who know more that the guy running the rides, went back to their former places. Naturally, as soon as someone stepped out of the car, these tourists were jostling each other to be the very first one into the car, so they could wait 10 minutes in their cage while the last person got in. As the operators rolled their eyes, they secured the doors on the train. I could see in their eyes a deep and abiding hatred of people--something everyone who works with tourists on a daily basis develops. Mentally, I sent them a beer. I didn't want to talk to them and piss them off.

See my previous post about my experiences with tourists.

On that Colorado trip, I made reservations at a hotel in Cripple Creek. I knew check-in was at 4 pm. We arrived in town at noon, and went to the front desk. I told the guy behind the counter, "I don't want the key. I know check-in is at 4 pm. I just want to pay for my room." The clerk, who was very friendly and therefore must have been new to the industry, apologized and said they did not take money until 4 pm. Just as I was about to start the "Let me see if I have this straight: I want to give you money, and you don't want to take it" tirade, I remembered the golden rule: Customers are Stupid. We went and explored Cripple Creek. Lovely town, by the way.

Once more, please be nice to the clerks and employees at the stores you visit. We don't intend to make your life miserable. But it is a nice bonus when we do.

Friday, April 15, 2005

After some great comments from readers of this blog, I decided to start a series of entries that focus on steps to improve my financial standing. Less of an instruction manual or guide, but more a way for me to clarify my thoughts.

Goal Setting

I've started rereading Anthony Robbins, the motivational speaker. A couple of years ago, I purchased his Personal Power series (yes, I know, yet another waste of money, I should have borrowed his book from the library), and got some use out of it.

In one of his goal setting exercises, he has you create goals in three categories: personal development, things or possessions, and financial goals. Since one of Tony's big points is Action!, he says to take the top nine goals in each category and determine what you can do today to start you on the road to acheiving the goal, and then do it. Often that first action is "Do Research," or "Sign up for a Class."

Another great motivational speaker is Jeffrey Gitomer. I attended one of his seminars a few years ago, and learned a lot from him, although he focus more on sales. In his recent newsletter, Jeffrey was asked how should someone set goals. I am quoting his answer below:

"Set goals about who you want to become, not what you want to own. Set personal goals: be the best superior knowledge in... take a course in... read for 15 minutes a day about... INSTEAD of material goals: big house, new car, etc. If you set material goals, you might take shortcuts to get there. BUT-there are no shortcuts when it comes to being the best. When you achieve personal power, when you become the "best," the big house and the new car just show up."

Jeffrey and Tony disagree on what goals should be set. But they do agree on one thing: The most important person in the world.

Jeffrey sums it this way: If we ask a salesman who the most important person in the world is, the usual answer is "The Customer!" So he asks a second question: If you and The Customer were the last two people on Earth, and one of you had to die, who would you want to see drop dead. That's right! "The Customer!" He goes on to add that The Customer sees themselves as the most important person in the world, and it's the salesman's job to treat them that way.

Later in the seminar, he mentions a great motivator: Take a picture of your family eating! Post it in your workspace. That's why you're working, after all.

Tony suggests that every day, you should ask yourself power questions: " The questions you ask consistently will create either enervation or enjoyment, indignation or inspiration, misery or magic. Ask the questions that will uplift your spirit and push you along the path of human excellence." Karl, over at Kill Your Debt commented, "Financial freedom is all about attitude. What did you wake up thinking about today?"

Over the next few days, both online and off, I will be thinking about all of this. When I come up with a few goals, and the Power Questions to ask, I'll post them here.

If you guys have any advice, feel free to post it in the comments.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

I would take up cycling, but apparently you have to be an asshole.

The last few weekends, cyclists have descended on Fredericksburg, and they all wanted guest houses. Today, five of them tried to check in before 2 pm. From their reactions, you would think they had never heard of a check-in time. All of them said, "But we have a 1 pm ride scheduled!" We explained that Easter, combined with wildflower time, is a busy time, and the homeowners hadn't had the time to clean after their previous guests. The Lance Armstrong wannabes sniffed in disgust and stormed out to start their bike rides. Another group arrived yesterday. Granted, they have stayed with us for the last several years, but this year, they negotiated a special rate with the homeowner for one night. When they made the reservation they told us there would be 8 people for three nights. When they came in to pay, they told us that, no, there were four people tonight, six tomorrow and eight the next day. This required several minutes of recalculation. An hour later, the representative of the group arrived to ask us if they could check out at 1 pm or 2 pm (2-3 hours later than regular check out time). I referred them to the homeowner, and said that if she didn't mind, we didn't. Not an appropriate answer, I guess, since she sniffed and left the office.

Then we had a guy who was staying at a country home who wanted us to deliver the key. He said he didn't want to come into town. I wanted to ask where the Hell he was going to eat, since there isn't a kitchen at the house, but I refrained. When he got to the office to pick up the key, he complained that since he was coming in from "that side of town" we should have delivered the key. We tried to explain that the homeowner asked us to distribute the keys, but he said that he would speak to the homeowner, because he didn't want to be bothered by it. I wanted to ask him if he brought his bicycle.

I suggested a $50 rural key delivery fee, and a $50 rural key retrieval fee, a $50 early check in fee, and a $50 late check-out fee, payable in cash, no receipt, to the others in the office. Someone said they would do it for $20, but they were roundly poo poo'ed.

The boss was in the office today and noticed that we had a larger than usual supply of assholes. But she wouldn't go so far as to authorize my fee idea.

I theorize that extensive cycling drives the spine into the part of the brain that controls polite behavior. So, if I ever tell you that I want to start cycling, remind me that you have to be an asshole.

'Course, cyclists aren't the only assholes, there just seem to be more of them in that group. Yesterday, a man called the office to say he was bringing his two pets for their stay this weekend. His guest house doesn't take pets, because the owner has two horses she calls dogs. They're not particularly vicious, mind you, just over friendly in a "knock you down and break a bone" kind of way. So the boss explains this to the man, but says she'll ask the homeowner if she'll make an exception. The homeowner graciously agrees, with two conditions: 1) $15 per pet, 2) if her dogs eat their dogs, she's not responsible.

So the boss calls the guest back and relays the information. She never gets to the second condition. As soon as she mentions the charge for the pets, the guy becomes an asshole. "Charge for the pets? I've never heard anything so ridiculous! Holdiay inn Express doesn't charge for my pets!" My boss says, "We aren't Holiday Inn Express." The guy hangs up. He tells the wife, who becomes Super-Bitch!

The boss explains that we don't have a motel's cancellation policy, we have a resort policy. Super-Bitch replies, "Some resort!" and hangs up. She calls back and gets one of my co-workers and proceeds to yell at her. The co-worker says, "I don't have to listen to this," and hangs up. Super-Bitch calls back, gets the same person, but is in a more talkative mood. To make an already too long story not short enough , we cancel the reservation, we don't charge them anything, and they win.

The office manager and I suggested to the boss that the next time she gets someone like that, as soon as they object, the response is "Okay. And your cancellation number is. . ."

Please, be kind to people in customer service. We have to deal with a lot more jerks than you do in your daily life, and that's why we drink.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Oops. I did it again.

I sold about $150 worth of stuff on eBay, and another $40 on Amazon. I transferred the money over the previous weekend.

Then I wrote a couple of checks.

Naturally, they bounced. What with the delay in transferring the money, by the time my $150 from eBay hit the account, it only covered the overdraft fees. Amazon takes 5 days to transfer, so I'm waiting to see when those will hit. My paycheck arrived to cover the rest, but I made a few payments, so I'm sure the bank is holding the other overdraft charges until right before the other checks are presented to increase their profits.

Congress recently passed a law, allowing banks to electronically transfer funds from consumer checking accounts to the business accounts they write checks to. However, they didn't grant us check writers the same privelige. They still hold deposits on our accounts According to a news story I read a few days ago (that I can't find, dammit) Congress is considering a law that would reduce the deposit hold time. Naturally, banks are opposed to this.

Anyway, I've been doing a little part-time work for Fredericksburg Area Lodging Association. So if you're in the market for lodging in the Fredericksburg, Texas area, give them a try. I could use the money.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005


As I struggle to clear my finances, I am forced to wonder why I don't have much money in my savings account. I thought about it all day, even while cleaning the room where my computer is. As I dusted the Tv, VCR, DVD player, Playstation 2, and boombox, I mentally calculated how much money I have made in the last 10 years. Why don't I have anything to show for over $200,000?

I got into a bit of a mood, and started thumbing through my CDs, trying to find that one disc that matched my mood stacked somewhere in 5 stacks that were 30 high. Why can't I save money? Where does it go?

After rearranging the hundred or so DVDs after plucking out the 8 I wanted to sell on Amazon (see previous post), and seperating the twenty video games from them and putting them on a different shelf, I remembered that back in 2001 I spent 21 days in the hospital. Even though the $50,000 bill I racked up was forgiven thanks to the County's inidigent care plan, I was off work for almost five months. That must be why I don't have any savings.

As the music wafted through the room, I organized my computer desk, stacking a few games I had been playing halfheartedly into the already full cabinet on my desk. I picked up a couple of the books I had been reading, and spent 30 minutes trying to find a spot on one of the three bookshelves that have been double stacked. Then I double checked my Star Trek action figure collection, and put all 80 playmates figures into a box and onto an already overburdened shelf. I dusted the 8 Art Asylum Enterprise action figures, the Star Trek 3D chess set from Franklin Mint. Then I dusted the 30 Star Trek models i have built since the 80s.

For the life of me, I just can't figure out where my money goes.

Monday, April 11, 2005

On Friday, I put a few old DVDs that I don't watch up for sale on Amazon. As of Today, I've sold half of them.

When I select my price, I usually make it a dollar more than the lowest price, so I am always amazed how quickly some of this stuff sells.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

I have mentioned that i am using eBay to sell some of my stuff. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't. I sold 6 cajun cookbooks for $39, once. I tried to sell 6 cookbooks (three by Paul Prudhomme) and only got $.99. I charge $5 flat shipping, but the shipping on that item came to $6.56.

Another place I've found to sell my stuff is on Amazon. But, again, you have to be careful. Amazon's fees can quickly eat up a low priced item.