Taking the Service out of Customer Service for over 20 years.

I hate TicketMaster and Live Nation with a passion, so please take this example of what never to do in customer service with a grain of salt. A rock god is playing a once-in-a-generation event in my area, and I was going to see him, even if it meant purchasing tickets through the hated brokerage, TicketMaster. I signed up for a lottery that would give me access to pre-sale tickets, got that access, and still had to purchase tickets in a far more expensive area than I had planned, because all the cheaper seats had sold by the time I could purchase mine.

Again, that was still in the pre-sale phase. And it’s not at all what I want to complain about, since that’s part of the price, purchasing through a ticket monopoly, that I’ve been painfully aware of for the past 20 years. What is in important to highlight, however, is that I purchased my ticket package, which included some “free” merchandise, four months before the date of the show. Four months before any of the shows. Once the tickets were purchased, I was given a link to “order” my “free” merchandise, and a coupon code so the merchandise would be “free.”

The link took me to a site called FanFire.com. If one were to visit FanFire.com without any other tracking info embedded into the link, one would quickly find herself on the Live Nation Store site, as it immediately redirects. In other words, FanFire is just another front in the giant Live Nation monopoly. However, the link that I was given had some other cruft, which kept me within the FanFire domain, and allowed me to order my “free” merchandise. Four months, remember, before any concert began in that particular tour.

It is now a week before the concert that I’m going to, and about two weeks since the concert launched. I, of course, have not gotten any of my “free” merchandise. So I go to the site and check on my order status. There is no information, other than the order was received. There is a link to inquire about the order, so I click on it to get this page:

A form for me to fill out to find out the status of my order. The key visual here is that there is no indication that this is going to go to Live Nation instead of the proper FanFire contact.

The text at the top that is impossible to read says, “We’re here to help! The best way to contact us is to use the form below….” So I do. (Oddly, the order date is a month later than my actual order, but I don’t particularly care, as I have my original email receipt.) I ask the nice form if it knows when my order will ship.

I get a response one hour later:

Hello,

Thank you for choosing Live Nation Merchandise. For all information about your VIP or Premium Ticket Package, please contact tickets@fanfire.com.

If you have any further questions or concerns, feel free to contact us.

Sincerely,

Taylor
Live Nation Merchandise Customer Service
http://www.store.livenation.com/

Huh. So the best way to find out about my order is to fill out a form on the FanFire.com site, which forwards to a Live Nation rep, who tells me that he cannot help me. Yes, that does seem like it was the best way.

I actually wrote back to ask, “Are you unable to answer this question or even forward it to the proper department?”

Within minutes, Taylor responds:

Hello ,

Thank you for choosing Live Nation Merchandise. The VIP ticket packages are handled by a different division of our company. That is tickets@fanfire. You must email them regarding an updated status on this order being that the merchandise is fulfilled and shipped out of their facilities. If they have not responded to you after a few business days please contact me back.

If you have any further questions or concerns, feel free to contact us.

Sincerely,

Taylor
Live Nation Merchandise Customer Service
http://www.store.livenation.com/

I don’t have the heart to tell Taylor that I actually did not choose Live Nation Merchandise. Ever. I purchased my tickets through TicketMaster, was sent a link to FanFire to order my merchandise, and used the form on FanFire to inquire about the status of my order, some four months after the purchase was made. At no point did I choose Live Nation Merchandise. I do choose to believe that monopolies suck and there is no way that this behemoth of a company should be allowed to survive.

I will enjoy the concert that I’ve paid way too much for. And I know that the couple of t-shirts that I’m getting for “free” will be just as nice after the concert as before. I don’t believe that the artist that this revolves around should be implicated in any way, because Live Nation is the only game in town, and there is just no way to have a nationwide concert series without using them in one of their guises. In all, I can’t really say that Live Nation is doing anything any differently than any other way-too-large company with it’s thousands of divisions that don’t actually talk to each other.

But I know the Web. I know a bit about usability and the tenets of extremely basic customer service. And point number one in any lousy presentation that is going to bore the caffeine out of everyone: Don’t force your customers to fill out something that won’t go to the correct department. That’s just stupid.

Don’t make me Chrysler

On the teevee, there’s been a couple of Chrysler commercials that have really, really annoyed me. The first one is subtly annoying, because I had to pay attention to it before I realized how awful it was. There’s a young waifish boy who is leaving school. We hear, but don’t see, a boy say “Hey, Billy, I’ll race you home.” And you see the waif look alarmed. He runs, and then we see three larger shadowy boys chase after him. He escapes into his mom’s Chrysler minivan.

Clearly, the boy is being chased by bullies, but this probably played poorly with some sort of focus group. Reasonably, who the hell wants to associate the safety of her car with her poor, picked-on child? But it drives me crazy that the fix for this horrible commercial was to have the dumb voice-over in the beginning implying that the child was racing the other kids home. The kid looks horrified, and the other kids chasing him are clearly disappointed they didn’t get to hand him a beat down when he barely escapes. Who thought that was a good idea? And now, the edited commercial is nonsensical and cringe inducing.

The other Chrysler commercial I didn’t even have to pay attention to for it to make my brain matter seep out. It’s another minivan commercial–does Chrysler only make minivans now?–and after talking about all the amazing thing this minivan does, the voice-over says, “Oh, yeah, and it literally gave birth to every other minivan.”

Unless this is about another Michael Bay movie that I’m never going to see, this is literally the worst use of “literally” that I’ve ever heard. Most people may not realize this, but advertising agencies usually have smarter people involved in ad-campaigns. If the ad was literally put together by a 13 year-old, I could understand the usage, but anyone who has a high-school education knows what “literally” means. That ad had to pass through at least 2 dozen people. Not one of them pointed out how wrong that was?

At any rate, I put the kibosh on purchasing any Chrysler products in my household. I’m sure that’ll be the final nail in that company’s coffin.

Humans don’t cost much

I just read that an employee of BP who was on the Deepwater Horizon Rig, pleaded the 5th at a federal investigative panel about his actions on the day of the explosion. The obvious reason for this is that there was criminal negligence or possibly criminal action.

The article deserves a read. One passage stood out:

The company men [from BP] have a key role on a drilling rig, said Carl Smith, a former U.S. Coast Guard captain and expert witness, who testified Wednesday.

“Their [BP’s] emphasis is they’re trying to drill to make money for their company, so their primary interest is to make progress on the well,” he said. “So, you’re always going to have a conflict between the people who are representing the owner’s of the rig and the people who are renting it because the people who are renting it want to go faster and drill, and the people who are operating the rig want to maintain the integrity of the rig, which is a natural conflict.”

The people who are operating the rig want to maintain its integrity. Seems fair. But the conflict is the company that is renting the rig, in this case BP, wants to drill faster at the expense of safety. Surely this implies that it is less expensive in the long run for the company to mop up oil spills and pay the insurance on those on the rig that have died.

That’s some truly fucked-up accounting, right there.

A catastrophic long tail

A few years ago, I wrote about a minor long-term effect of the Chernobyl radiation leak. It took almost twenty years for a specific type of radioactive isotope to make landfall and destroy Norway’s reindeer-meat exports. Obviously, with all the other lives and ecologies and industries that Chernobyl affected, the small market in reindeer meat isn’t a big deal, but it reminds me that disasters can have far reaching consequences that no scientific model can ever compute. It’s the long-tail effect applied to catastrophes.

I think about this when I read about the BP pipe rupture. The above image is of the Gulf Stream, specifically showing the heat transfer from the Gulf of Mexico to the rest of the North Atlantic. How long, I wonder, will it take for the suspended oil droplets to surface and where will it happen? I fear that my friends in the Tampa area of Florida are going to experience a depressed environment for years to come.

But look at that map again. Imagine in 20 years what is left of east coast fisheries. Imagine how the oil and dispersants will affect cod hatcheries in Iceland and England. Imagine what effects oil and chemicals added in the millions of gallons into dozens of unique and crucial ecosystems will have on all of us. Can you? I know I can’t. I would never have expected an isolated nuclear disaster to have affected something thousands of miles away and dozens of years later. We make a mistake in thinking that radioactive isotopes are more dangerous or last longer than crude oil and chemical dispersants. The major difference is that it will take longer for the BP oil disaster to affect more people, but affect us it will. It’s only a matter of when. The long-tail of this catastrophe will be measured in decades.

Jonny Tewkatz

Writing about my cats is easy. As cats, they have no expectation of privacy, so I can tell everyone their dark, dark secrets. They’re soft and cuddly, and have a built-in audience, slightly smaller than the audience for dogs, slightly more than the audience for other people’s children. And, since I spend an inordinately unhealthy amount of time with them, I know my cats’ personalities better than I understand my own. My cats can’t surprise me, but I often surprise myself.

That being said, a picture is worth a thousand words:

Jinx and Indy together on bed
Jinx and Indy on the bed. Indy wonders what I am doing with that black thing above his head.

Jinx is the larger, black cat. It’s no optical illusion. She’s big. She got up to about 19 pounds, but with a very relaxed diet regimen, we got her to about 16. She’s got huge paws and a huge head, and I believe if we exercised her everyday, we’d probably get her to about 14 pounds, but no smaller. She’s just a big cat.

She jumps, scared, at everything, and walks around the apartment as if she suspects that something will pop out and attack her. The casual observer might think that this has to do with the much more energetic grey cat, Indy. And Indy does actually pop out and jump over Jinx every now and then. But Jinx is a year-and-a-half older than Indy, and she did her creeping and reflexive jumping long before Indy. She’s just a very nervous cat.

Odd, to me, is that she’s friendlier. She hangs out with people and tolerates touching. Indy takes a little bit of time to warm up to strangers in the house. He runs under the bed for a few minutes to make sure that no one else is coming in, then cautiously circumnavigates the room where the strangers are. Eventually, he’ll come up and sniff them. His major sticking point is that he thinks that hands at his level are play-toys, and he’ll eventually start to swat at at anyone who reaches down to him enough. He’s not aggressive though, and his initial swats are without claws. Of course, being a little boy, I will tend to continue to taunt him and evade his swats, so he’ll get riled up and eventually go into that grab with front paws, bite, and rabbit-kick with claws-out back paws thing that cats like to do. My hands and arms are a testament to his perseverance. Because I play with him this way, he does assume that all humans play this way. You’ve been warned.

Jinx plays less often, but she’s always interested in swinging strings and thrown small objects. Both our cats fetch. They will bring back the toy mice or plastic rings that we throw, more or less to our feet, but with random longevity. If Indy is somehow preoccupied, Jinx will fetch for several minutes, but if your throw lands short and is too close to Jinx, she considers the game over; she likes long-distance throws. Once Indy gets involved in anyway, again, the game is over. If Indy is fetching, he usually gets bored faster but has a much faster turn-around time. He can fetch 3 or 4 times in a minute, whereas Jinx usually takes a full minute to chase, then stalk, then pick up, then make sure no one is going to pop out and scare the bejeezus out of her, then jog back, then look around again to make sure that no one is going to pop out and scare the bejeezus out of her, then drop the object and meow that it’s our turn again.

Throw the object into something, and you can really see the difference in their personalities (felinalities?). Indy will jump in or at the object with gusto, absolutely no fear, but if the object isn’t readily available, Indy gives up after a few seconds, and returns, looking expectantly at the thrower. You can deny that you have the object, but Indy doesn’t believe you. Jinx, however, will run up to the place where the object landed and begin to do some detective work. She crouch before the box or chair or where ever the object is hidden, and, with ears back, peer over the edge to see if she can see the object. She’ll pace around the area, checking things from multiple angles. She’ll sniff the air to attempt to catch a whiff of it. It’s highly amusing. If she can’t find it, she will give up several minutes, and usually sit in the box or chair or where ever, and begin to do a sing-song meow that reminds me of throat singing, because it resonates and sounds like she’s trilling.

The photo above shows the two cats in a rare moment of proximity where they are not licking each other or wrestling. They don’t fight that often; although, my wife insists that any time they do is too much. But a couple of times a day, Indy will go up to Jinx and start licking her. Jinx licks back. They do this in an increasingly aggressive way, giving each other dirty looks. I find it extremely amusing to see aggressive licking. It reminds me of two people giving each other increasingly nasty backhanded compliments. If one of the two doesn’t back off, they’ll begin to wrestle. This will end relatively quickly, and the worst that happens is that Indy gets a clump of Jinx’s hair stuck into his mouth. Jinx sheds like mad, and I assume that she uses her shedding ability as an analog to the quills on a porcupine.

As noted, Indy usually goes up to Jinx to start the licking fight, but I’ve seen Jinx go over to Indy and just smack him in the face. She also has this one move where she rears back, hunched on her hind legs and one front paw lifted, and thump rapidly on Indy’s side, one-two-three thumps. I find that one hilarious. These will usually regress into quick wrestling matches and then guttural grows and a pathetic high-pitched meow from Indy. He’s clearly dominant in these situations, but it reminds me of Michael Jackson in the “Bad,” video yelling, “You ain’t bad; you ain’t nothin’!” Jinx finds it convincing, and will roll on her side in a submissive position. Indy, clearly unschooled in the etiquette of catfights, will jump on her. They’ll roll around with Jinx making an awful screech which actually scares both cats (and any humans in the area), and they’ll jump off each other with that embarrassed, “I don’t know what you’re looking at” position house cats are so good at assuming.

I do spend too much time with these furballs, but they amuse me endlessly.

I’m old–and new things scare me!

Especially when the new things are hundreds of years old and sound Muslim!

Found on MSNBC:
Headline: "1 in 4 young adults has used a hookah," from MSNBC website

I have no desire to read the story. It may even be positive, since it is believed that hookah smoke is safer than directly inhaling smoke from a burning source, like cigarettes or pipes. But the only reason that this would be a story on a national news site is to freak out the whitebreads who think that hookahs can only be used for illegal drugs and would only be used by alien cultures.

Don’t tell anyone that some young people eat hummus and wear pajamas.

My cat’s breath smells like carrots

Look, I completely understand the desire to eat well-rounded meals. It’s great that we’re ever concerned with eating more fruits and vegetables, reducing white starches, increasing our sources of protein. But I’m here to tell you: Your pets don’t need it.

A few weeks ago, I was struck by the increasingly needless crap manufacturers are putting in cat food. I was looking for a high protein food for my two cats, because, even though we limit the amount of dry food we feed them, I have one 17lbs flabby fuzz-ball, and the smaller 10lbs cat is beginning to gaining weight. The second ingredient in almost every dry cat food is cornmeal, so I figured that the cats were gaining weight because almost a third of what they eat is carbohydrates–and cats need no carbs, ever. Instead of finding higher protein dry foods in premium brands, I found ingredients like brown rice, carrots, and even fruit.

The only time a cat would ever naturally eat a piece of fruit is if it were in the digestive system of a small animal that became kitty’s din-din.

Don’t buy these premium “natural” or “holistic” cat foods. I think it’s great for humans to eat natural foods. I’m not even opposed to the word “holistic” if it’s applied correctly and not attached to chiropractic nonsense. But a cat’s body doesn’t do anything useful with fruits or grains. Cats need milligrams of fiber, normally supplied by the undigestible bits of their prey, so a pot of cat grass is more than enough if their food doesn’t supply it. But cats and humans share one digestion issue–unused carbs are stored as fat. Since cats’ digestive systems don’t readily break down sugar for energy, however, almost all carbs are stored as fat.

At any rate, after looking at the protein levels in dry foods, I checked the moist food labels, assuming that having recognizable chunks of meat would mean more protein, but I was surprised by what I saw. Moist food usually has around 10–15% protein, and 4–6% of fat. (Not a big concern for cats. Cats cannot get high cholesterol or suffer heart problems from diets rich in fat. Fats do have more calories, so there is potential for a cat to gain weight on a high fat diet, but it’s not an issue in and of itself.) Cat foods often have ash and other questionable undigestible bits, but dry food lists around 30% protein. Even with cornmeal or brown rice the bulk filler in most dry cat food, the dry seems to have over double the amount of protein.

Recommended human intake is 20–25% of total calories, and cats should have well over double this amount. Their whole metabolism is based around high protein diets. This would make dry food look like the ideal choice, except that ounce per ounce, the wet food actually far higher in protein. The dry food labels are stating what each kibble contains, but the wet food labels are showing the percentage of the entire can, which contains far more water. The hyperbole on the dry food packaging explains how well-rounded the cat food is because it has wholesome grains. But the grains are just filler; the cats don’t want it, although it does fill them up faster. And parsley or sweet potatoes or blueberries? Useless. Beyond useless. Wastes of money and food. Again, any carbs that are not passed as fiber are broken down into fat, rather than energy, cats gain weight quicker on dry food, and are susceptible to kidney disease and diabetes.

Cats can’t even taste sugar. How can they get diabetes? We’re basically poisoning cats by thinking that they need or desire a “well-rounded” diet. Cats aren’t gourmets; they are carnivores, and unlike humans or canines, they can’t live on plant proteins or even an exclusively seafood diet.

O hai!

I gots me some new software and updated my stylin’ sheets. Welcome back!

There are some bugs in the styles right now. If you see anything weird, send me a message. I’ll probably get to it eventually.

Starbucks Winter 2009 offerings

Tazo Tea Lattes

London Fog: Very good; very sweet. First time I had this, I didn’t take the Earl Grey tea bag out, and by the end of a Grande, I was sick of the taste of Bergamot. Take the tea bag out before drinking.

Vanilla Rooibos: Even better; also very sweet. Floral tea doesn’t overpower the drink. The Starbucks employees tend to pronounce rooibos like it was French: roo-bee. Apparently, it’s Dutch (Afrikaans more accurately) for red bush and pronounced roy-bosh (very soft sh, close to ss). Still, I like ordering a Vanilla Ruby more than a Roybush.

Black Tea: Apparently, when I had tea with milk and sugar as a kid, I was drinking a Black Tea Latte. Who knew? My grandparents were very ahead of the curve.

Cupcakes

Double Chocolate: Way, way too sweet. The cupcake tastes like it’s made with artificial sweetener. The icing tastes like sugar with a chocolate liquor aftertaste. Not particularly chocolate-y.

Red Velvet: Excellent sour-cream-y tasting icing. Red sprinkles that launch off the cupcake and into clothing with every bite. The cupcake is kind of chocolate-y, but is that a fruity, almost cherry-undertone? Red Velvet is not supposed to taste like cherry, or any fruit. Black Forest is chocolate and cherry. Red Velvet is just red Devil’s Food.

Vanilla Bean: Sorry, I don’t buy vanilla cupcakes. I don’t order vanilla ice cream, either. It’s a hang-up I have. I’m all like, why didn’t you finish making this dessert? Isn’t there supposed to be something else in there? Vanilla? Really? It’s like ordering tea and getting a cup of hot water. Oddly, I love a vanilla soda and vanilla yogurt. Anyway, vanilla cupcakes are too boring for me to order. Get it yourself.

Tazo Fruit Infused Teas

Berry and Apple: My sister-in-law tried the Apple and said it was intense. She had to water it down. I won’t get the Apple, but I will probably try the Berry iced. Even if it’s too sweet, the ice will help water it down. Going to wait until the local temperatures around here average a bit higher than 20 degrees, though.

Further notes from a commuter

12/2 10:23 pm

— I have a button on my messenger-bag that says “I read banned comics.” It’s a fairly old button, and I got it because it the late 80s and early 90s there were a few comics that were being banned. I don’t think I actually read any of them, but I supported the people who did. It wasn’t so much a rebelious thing as an act of solidarity. But those days are gone. I don’t really read new comic books, and I couldn’t tell anyone what’s being banned, if anything is.

I Read Banned Comics button

Outside of my necklace, the most-commented part of my apparel is that button. Most of the folks I work with are 25 years-old or younger. Someone at work will see that button and ask me, “You read banned comics? What comics are banned?” Truthfully, I answer that I don’t know.

I’m sure in some small communities there are people who are trying to ban works of fiction, but today there just isn’t the nationwide push to ban supposedly dangerous comic books like there had been starting from the 50s. I’m pretty sure this is because of the Interweb. Not only does it make attempting to ban something pointless, but it’s changed the distribution model, too. If some young Turk wants to put out something so edgy that no publishing house will touch it, the artist can skip the publisher all together and get it to an audience online. He won’t make any money, but that’s not what edgy, dangerous art is about anyway. Rarely does a boundary-pusher live comfortably.

— That Marley-covering busker was back in Penn Station. He did this medley of “Stir It Up” and “The Tide Is High” by Blondie. It lasted like 10 minutes. I purchased his CD.

12/5 10:09 am

— Having a regular schedule is soothing. I’m sitting on the same seat on the train coming in to the City and going home. I’m getting the same parking space in the morning at the train station. It’s oddly relaxing to have these things be consistent from day to day. I’ve never understood why humans desire this, but now I certainly appreciate the mindless joy of it. I’m guessing that this has something to do with the primitive part of the brain, the animal instinct. And I’d also guess that it’s the same part of the brain that believes the past is more comforting than the future. It’s the conservative mindset. I wonder if having a rigid schedule makes one less likely to accept radical ideas and change. I wonder if they go hand-in-hand.

12/16 10:23 pm

— An unfortunate combination: a loud, grating voice and my train ride home. Oh, well, gives me a reason to listen to some tunes. Oddly, I don’t often listen to music on the train. But I will tonight. Thanks, woman who is just blabbity-blab-blabbing two seats in front of me.

— My poor phone. Today, before I left work, I put the phone on a chair when I had to do something with two hands. There’s a setup here. The chair is in a stairwell against a wall facing out, on a landing, one flight up. The stairwell almost, but not quite, butts up against the wall, leaving a one-inch gap between the stairwell-landing floor and the wall. The chair is plastic and slightly slopped towards rear of the chair, and the chair back is open and does not meet the seat of the chair. See this setup? I put the phone on the chair, where it slides towards the rear of the chair and out the space between the back and the seat. The phone falls perfectly into the gap between the landing floor and the wall and falls one story to the concrete floor below.

It falls so quickly that all I have time to do is laugh, because I can’t believe that the phone would fall so perfectly into that tiny gap, but, of course it does! There wouldn’t be anything funny or interesting about this anecdote if it didn’t fall through that gap.

I run down the stairway to the first floor hoping I didn’t bean anyone with it, and it’s face down on the floor–and intact.

I should mention that I have an Agent 18 case, which is plastic like the seat is, explaining why my phone was so slippery on its surface. But the Agent 18 case extends over the phone a bit. This gap prevented the glass surface of my phone from shattering into a spiderweb of misery.

I’m surprised as anyone that my phone continues to function as it had before the fall, but as soon as it happened, I thought it was not only something that I could write about, but also a great story to tell customers at work when they ask me about cases for their phones.

— Last night in Penn Station, a guitar-playing busker sang “Babylon Sisters,” by Steely Dan. Never–not in a dozen score years–did I expect to hear “Babylon Sisters” covered by anyone. It’s a fairly complex song, musically, and he did it pretty well. It’s really ambitious to play it solo, for sure. He said afterwards that he thinks it was written about women from Babylon, a town on Long Island, a busy stop on the LIRR. I think he was serious, unfortunately.