Thursday, May 30, 2013

Technology vs. People

Sometimes I think I’m at war with technology, from my PC to printers and software.  When it works as it should, peace reigns.

On occasion, I discover a feature I didn’t know I had.  That’s like getting a gift from an ally.  I recently learned that my color printer came with a nifty device for scanning 35 mm negatives.  Figuring it out was easy, it works like a charm, and, because you can do a strip at a time, is much faster than scanning individual pictures. You can also choose to exclude some frames.

But when technology doesn’t allow you to do what you need to, your stamina, mood and more are put to the test.  Troubleshooting is time consuming and can be exceedingly frustrating whether you try yourself or enlist the aid of customer support.  The Gainfully Employed often have the luxury of an IT department to resolve problems.  Feelancers usually don’t.  A Mac friend often helps, but my latest issue was with a Windows update. So I went straight to the source: Microsoft’s Answer Desk.

(If you’re wondering why I don’t just get a Mac...despite using said friend’s Macs, another during a three-month internship a couple of years ago and many recommendations to switch, I’m a PC.)

Connection to the Answer Desk via online chat.  I’d rather talk on the phone because it’s faster, an option offered on the screen, but learned that the techs prefer chat.  You’re given a case number if you have to leave before resolution, but each new tech I encountered had a different approach and wanted to start over.  You can grant remote access to your PC, allowing them to do all of the troubleshooting while you provide passwords and permission as necessary.  It’s a bit creepy watching your mouse move seemingly on its own, files opening and closing, programs running, but it’s faster than doing complicated msconfigs, regedits or whatever yourself.
Fifteen hours over several days later, after multiple fixes including reinstalling Windows 7, more than 150 updates, and 50+ reboots, they’d  escalated my case to a technician who made appointments with me to follow up and figured it out.  My PC is much faster.

With their help, I won this hard fought battle.   

Thursday, May 23, 2013

U.S. Cellular has sold its Chicago customers to Sprint, forcing me to get a new phone (though my Samsung SIII is only about a year old) and change providers. Sprint promised “exclusive” offers for switching, but what they just sent via postcard isn't much better than anyone can get online.  And who knows what the * followed by fine print will do to said offers, such as "subject to availablility." And a two-year contract is required, with an early termination fee of up to $350! 

I'm not sure I'll find another provider that can replace all of USC's benefits.  I have free incoming calls and texts. Unlimited data. Better reception and service even on subways than friends with iPhones and AT&T who I’ve traveled with to several states, including New York, Michigan, California.  I've heard others say that even in their own homes AT&T service is inconsistent.  The only downside : slightly slower phone recently lost a race with a friend's AT&T/iPhone to view directions.  
USC also offered a reasonable rate with sufficient minutes and free battery swaps.  And excellent and knowledgeable customer service reps, to me is an important feature. 

Now what? I’ve been doing some research and asking for recommendations. Some suggested pay as you go plans. A few nods each for the major carriers. But no concensus.
I can't go by ads.  First, many now focus on phones' video features, not my main concern.  Second, they all make promises that sound too good to believe.  And I wonder if the providers are spending too much money on marketing instead of upgrading their service and products.
Decision coming soon.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Life presents constant temptations, from the urge to drop whatever you’re doing to respond to your phone’s insistent notifications (because that random text is more important than getting work done) or take social calls (as if you can’t talk to friends another time) to having another piece of pie to playing hooky on a nice day or at a friend’s suggestion to spending more money than you should. 

For some, giving in to temptation can be easily justified.  I want to.  I deserve a break (even if I haven’t made a dent in my to do list).  I need that, right now.   

If you resist temptation, what happens?  When you push yourself to work out instead of going out for drinks, or to finish that project that’s been on your plate for months instead of going out for lunch on a weekday?  Does the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment trump guilt over consuming too many calories or racking up more credit card debt?   

What seems like overindulgence to one may be rationalized by others.  They convince themselves succumbing is preferable to restraint.  So what if I have a hangover and am fuzzy-headed today, I had a great time last night.  So what if I ate that bowl of Alfredo pasta big enough to feed a family of four, it tasted delicious.  Would you still have had a good time if you consumed fewer drinks or took home leftovers?
Some believe treats and breaks are rewards for a good day's work, and are best enjoyed in moderation.  Others will have to deal with the consequences of excess. 
Which are you?

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Is rejection failure?

Many platitudes and sayings about failure espouse the theory that it’s not about falling down, it’s about getting back up again.  Presumably you just dust yourself off and start over again.

As if it’s that easy when something you worked diligently toward and gave your best efforts to doesn’t yield the results you wanted...whether it’s a book submission, an audition, a job interview, getting into a certain school or even a relationship. 

Instead of lamenting our letdowns, we’re supposed to put on our game face and keep going, be grateful for all we do have.  If we tell our friends, we should get sympathy and support, at least in the short term.  Good friends know the right things to say to shore up our feelings.
If we don't tell, no one except those doing the naysaying will know.  But if we've put it out there that we submitted to X editor or, as some do on FB, auditioned for Y role, some are bound to ask how it turned out.  "They went in a different direction," you might say.      
Certain careers are rejection prone--acting, freelancing, sales, writing.  If you get a “no,” put another iron in the fire and believe something will come to fruition eventually.  Or you may wonder if the time has come to choose a more stable career.  

Perhaps the key is not to get your hopes up.  Simply go about the business of pursuing your dreams with no expectations.         


Thursday, May 02, 2013

Customer service--good or bad?

Many of us rely on customer service to help with and resolve product orders, problems, use and malfunctions.  I’d like to know which companies supply great, even good, customer service. 

My building has DirecTV.  Recently, my service went out.  I did all the standard troubleshooting and determined it was the satellite, not my equipment.  My local DTV provider eventually agreed, and assured me someone would come fix it the next day.  Meanwhile, I had no TV, nor could I access previously recorded programs. Late on the repair day, still nothing.  I called.  They said the guy had been out but couldn’t access some equipment room.  Did they call to see if I was home and could get into said room?  Did they call when the guy left without making repairs?  No.   

Next they’d send a guy to my place on Saturday between 9 and noon.  Of course you know about windows.  He showed up at the end with a new box.  Very cheerful, helpful, knowledgeable.  And though the building engineer had made a special trip to get me the keys to that supposedly all-important room, no access was needed.  (Later I heard that my neighbor was having the same issue, but they didn’t coordinate our repairs.)

The guy got my cable to work, but I lost all of my recorded programs...some of which I’d saved while out of town. Then a week or so later, another receiver showed up.  Which I didn’t order or need.  The letter that came with it said to call my local provider, who said to call DirecTV. The first call got nowhere.   

I found a different number.  Apparently DirecTV automatically sends out a new box even if the repair guy supplies one.  And they don’t even include a return label.  What a waste of money and everyone’s time (though I guess it's good for the post office).

After a tedious process and providing all kinds of information, I was promised a return label.  Over a week ago.  Now I’ll have to try again. 

I’m also having issues with one of my domain providers.  And a friend recently suffered a long saga of mishaps with Best Buy.

Poor customer service is not only frustrating, it makes me want to patronize other companies.  If you could find some with good customer service.

I'm sure part of the problem is the disconnect between management and the field.  Maybe those CEOs should go on Undercover Boss.