December 04, 2013

Good Customer Service

I had an interesting conversation with my dad the other day.  We were discussing the completely lousy customer service we had each recently experienced in two different cities at stores belonging to the same national chain of crappy tire & hardware stores.  During the conversation, I told my father that one of my coworkers, who lives in yet another city, had told me on Friday about a very positive and helpful experience she’d had at the same chain in her local town.  My dad commented, “Wow, you don’t hear that too often.” 

This is what made the conversation so interesting:  We found it remarkable that the store provided good customer service!  It left me reflecting later on the fact that the service at this particular chain has degraded so much that we accept poor service and bad attitude as the norm and remark on it when we receive good service.  Has our world devolved to this? 

My late best friend kept a gratitude journal for years.  Each day she would jot down something for which she was grateful, even if sometimes it was only that the day was finally over.  She was visiting me in my new rural locale a few years after I moved out of the big city (where she lived) and I brought her to town to shop.  There is a Sears store in the mall in the small city of 27,000 or so that is a half hour from my home.  My friend was able, with some assistance from the clerk, to find what she was looking for and decided to buy it.  As she paid, the clerk offered her a smile and wished her a nice day.  I had shopped at this Sears several times and so I thought nothing of this until my friend grabbed my arm as we left the store and said, “She smiled at me and I think she meant it.”  She was completely thrown off because the clerk smiled, made eye contact, wished her a pleasant day…and meant it.  My friend actually decided to write about this in her gratitude journal that night.  Having lived in the big city, I completely understood why.  Interactions with strangers are so brief and impersonal, often without eye contact, and often not even all that polite or pleasant. 

I know that stores need to know when things are not going well for their customers, but stores also need to know when things are going well.  Pick up a pen (or your computer keyboard) and write a note to the store’s management.  Let them know that you’ve received exceptional (for these days) service, on which date you were at their establishment, and exactly who helped you in such a positive way.  It’s these outstanding staff that can turn your lousy experience into a positive one that leaves you smiling and these people deserve recognition.  Don’t forget to smile back at them, say thank you, and wish them a pleasant day too…and mean it. 

November 22, 2013

Gingerbread Happy Times

Time has cycled around to November again.  My husband is still off work and although long-term disability runs out in a few months, the honest truth is that I don’t believe he’s anywhere near ready to go back to work yet.  Still, he’s going to make the effort.  After all, we can’t live on nothing and my salary, while good for the area, is nowhere near enough to go it alone.  I do worry about making a nice Christmas for our young son, I can’t help but be thankful for what we do have.  We are all healthy (relatively speaking that is), we do have a roof over our heads, and we have extended family who love us. 

Since it’s going to be a carefully budgeted Christmas, I decided I would be making gifts for those we usually give to.  This list gets smaller every year out of necessity, unfortunately.  So instead of rushing out to the stores and trying to find just the right thing, I decided that gingerbread would be perfect.  My son agreed. 

On my last payday I bought the biggest bag of flour I could find, together with the other needed ingredients.  This weekend the little guy and I are going to make gingerbread.  I have told him that since Christmas is still a few weeks away we would only make the gingerbread at this point.  We will freeze it and then a week before Christmas we will spend a day making it all into gingerbread houses.  I think we can design a relatively little house that will go together fairly quickly.  It will be a lot of fun for the both of us and as he is approaching ten years of age, I know our days of spending quality time together are likely dwindling. 

If I get time before Christmas gets here, I will also make some hard candy.  Who knows, maybe we could fill the little gingerbread houses with candy.   

Granny Square tutorials

I found this blogger's site last year I think it was.  Her tutorials on joining granny squares of same sizes, as well as joining squares of different sizes, are thorough.  There are lots of pictures and coupled with the explanations, you'll be doing this in your sleep in no time.  Thanks for the great tutorials!

things to make and do: granny square tutorial part 3: joining squares of the same size

September 24, 2013

Small Town Living

Small town life can be wonderful.  It should be community...people caring about their neighbour...meeting friends at the local fair or the grocery store.  For people who have grown up in a small town, that is what it is.  However, there is another segment of the population that lives in most small towns.  Some of us choose to leave the clutches of the big cities and move to small towns in anticipation of being part of a community, of raising our families in a clean, wholesome environment. 

We did just that.  My husband left the city and has lived in our small-town area since the mid 80’s and when we met in the mid 90’s and decided to move in together, I too made the decision to leave the city, sell my house, quit my job and all my volunteer work and move here where I had no immediate job prospects, no friends, and no volunteer work.  I met my neighbours, enjoying saying hello or sharing the occasional beer across the fence.  I got involved with volunteering in my community, canvassing for Heart and Stroke, as well as the Cancer Society.  I volunteered with other organizations as well.  And, of course, I started sending my resume around.  A visit to the local EI office gave the sad news that I could expect to earn about half of what I’d earned in the city.  Wow!  That was a shock, but cost of living is a little more reasonable up here.  Besides, I had a husband to share expenses with anyway. 

It only took 14 months to find my first job and a year and a bit later that company relocated to...yes, the city!  I once asked that boss how it was that I got the job and not his wife’s cousin’s friend’s neighbour.  He told me that it was because he was in desperate straits since his prior assistant had left with almost no notice and he really needed someone who could hit the ground running.  Since then I’ve had a couple of short term contract jobs, but mostly it’s an exercise in futility looking for work.  I have top-notch skills that are very transferable.  When I left my last position in the city (to move here), my boss offered a promotion, my own office, and more money to keep me.  The problem is that the same ‘community’ I’m so willing to embrace, doesn’t feel the same way about me.  When an interview (and there have been precious few of them) starts out, “Are you related to...” it’s pretty much guaranteed the job will go to some underqualified relative or friend of a relative of someone who works at the company.  Someone who will take two years to learn a job I already know.  Nepotism.  Companies don’t really want to hire the most qualified person, they want to hire their favourite relative or favourite employee’s relative.  Not only that, but a company in one town won’t necessarily hire someone from another town...especially when someone from their own town might need a job. 

Despite that, we’ve made friends.  Not surprisingly, these friends are mostly outsiders like ourselves.  They come from cities originally too.  While the neighbours are friendly, we can never be true ‘friends’ because my husband and I will always be those folks from the city that bought the old Smith place.  People in small towns are complacent.  They couldn’t be bothered expending the effort to actually get to know a newcomer.  Why should they?  They’ve known their friends since they were in diapers.  Perhaps they never actually learned how to make friends with a stranger.  And I’m pretty sure nobody would plan a benefit dance to help us out of any financial jam.  I volunteer in my community and participate in community events, but I know from experience that if I miss a meeting or two, there won’t be a phone call or someone dropping by to check on me.  

Our son was born here.  Maybe that will give him an "in" as he gets older.  Perhaps not.  Perhaps he will be...tainted, as it having parents who are not from here.  After all, small town means small minds a lot of the time and he will ever be the son of "those people who bought the old Smith place".  On the other hand, this apartness (yes, I made up that word) may be what allows him to eventually leave this place and spread his wings in the big wide world.  I've seen so many young people around here who have no ambition to leave and in many other cases, those who go off to university or college only to return afterwards.  Time will tell.  

So while we are part of the community, we are not of the community.  Sadly, after more than a dozen years of living here personally, I fear that this will still be the case when I mark my 25th, 40th, or even 50th year of living here.