Oh, Starbucks, you broke my heart…

This is going to come as a shocker, but I have a complaint about a Starbucks…yes, you read that right – Starbuck, you’ve done me wrong!

Last night my wife and I decided we wanted a late evening Starbucks. When I say late evening, I am talking close to 8pm – unfortunately that’s late for us these days… We pulled up to one of our favorites and I sat in the car with the kids, while she went to get the coffees. To my surprise, my daughter immediately said, “Look, Mommy is coming back.” Mommy is coming back! What do you mean Mommy is coming back! I panicked – could this mean no coffee?  The prospect of not having it was tearing me apart! I took a deep breath, and waited to see what was wrong – maybe she just forgot something, I thought calmly. Unfortunately, that was not the case. She sat in the car and explained that as she went up to open the door, the barista came over and told her they were closing. When my wife proceeded to say it’s not even 8 o’clock yet, the barista just laughed and said “yeah, I know”, locking the door. Okay, well, that person’s days as a barista should be numbered because it’s bad enough you are telling me I cannot have my coffee, but you laughed in my face while doing it! Even worse, it was only 7:55pm, so guess what – you’re open for another 5 minutes! If you’re going to lock the door on my face at 7:55pm then your sign should read 6am – 7:55pm!

This leads me to one of my greatest peeves of retail – if you are suppose to be open to a certain hour, then you are open to that hour. Don’t tell me the store is closing in 15 minutes, so you have to come up to the register now. Don’t tell me we aren’t brewing anymore coffee because we cleaned the pot 20 minutes ago; open means open for business!  If you are open until 8pm, you serve until 8pm; otherwise, tell me your open until 7:45pm. I understand this barista’s watch could have been running 5 minutes fast, so maybe he thought it was 8pm, but here is the catcher. The thing that leads me to believe his watch wasn’t necessarily running fast – the entire store was cleaned, the chairs were up and he was ready to roll. The store was all but closed at least 10 minutes before he even locked the door.

Many people who have worked retail will now probably start telling me how much time it takes to clean a store and get customers out. How tired they are and how they are just trying to be efficient and clean as much as they can, since in many cases, there are no customers coming in late in the day anyway. Fair enough, as a manager, I am all for my employees – but you shouldn’t do it to the point you look close, or give the impression the customer is being inconvenient for coming in close to closing time.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. I’ve gotten dirty looks for coming in late, have been told I couldn’t try something on because they were closing in 10 minutes, informed hot food wasn’t available because the grill was already cleaned, and the list goes on. This is not good service and worse of all, for a mere 15 minute head start, you lose sales and possibly loyal customers. The opening shift has to come in to prep, so it should be expected the closing shift is staying late to close. It’s not a difficult formula. In fact in my job, I have been asked to stay late on many occasions – I expect it. I don’t just tell my customers that it’s 4:45pm, so they need to start wrapping it up for the day. So when I do leave on time, it’s a nice surprise.

Marathon runners don’t strive to stop 5 yards before the finish line, Football players don’t purposely stop 1 yard from the end zone (unless you are MJD), the year doesn’t end on December 29th (well, maybe on the 21st in 2012, but that’s a whole other topic), and the last day of school is not really the 4th to last, so when you say you are open until 8pm, you should not close at 7:55pm…



Privacy Matters

Unfortunately, I cannot review Places for Facebook because I cannot get it on my phone. No biggie, because from what I have heard, it is nothing special, especially if you already use Foursquare. So instead, I am going to concentrate on a worldwide phenomenon that has recently taken place and was long overdue – people are concerned about their privacy on Facebook!

With the introduction of Places, I have read numerous articles about how people are up in arms about their privacy. Stalkers will know where they are located now, big brother will be watching, companies will use the info against them and the list goes on. I believe there is a misconception to Places – if you don’t check into a place, no one will ever know where you located. The functionality does not automatically “check” you in, so the only person who can take your right to privacy away, in this case, is you. In addition, you can control who sees what and what you see of everyone else. So if you don’t care where your friends are checking into, then you can turn the feature off. If you want to use the feature, but don’t want everyone to know where you are, you don’t have to broadcast it. It’s ironic though, because the concern over Places leads me to this question – If you are worried about losing your privacy over Places, where have you been the last 3 years!

Forget about checking in and telling people your exact location, most people have already posted enough information on their Facebook page for a social engineer (one who manipulates people to obtain and gather confidential information) to clone them and their entire family. Do you happen to have the following on your site – a photo of your house, your car’s license plates sitting in front of your house, photos of your family including pets, your birthday, job history, phone numbers, and photos of your property from different angles to name a few? Do you leave statuses that say you’re away, you just dropped the dog off at the kennel, you received a ticket, your grandmother passed away or your neighbor is a vampire and only comes out at night (you never know)? Social engineers use to work hard to get this info, but now they, in many cases, just need to be a friend of a friend on Facebook!

So what’s my point? I am not saying you need to pull down your Facebook account, cut off all access to the internet or relocate your entire family to a deserted island, but you should be aware of what you are posting and most importantly – who has access. I love Facebook and think it can be a great asset.  I have been connected with people I would never have seen again, if not for Facebook, but I have also been proactive, when it comes to matters of privacy.  Like the dilemma Spider-man faced, with great power, comes great responsibility…  Hold yourself accountable for making sure your privacy settings are setup appropriately. Facebook has many custom privacy settings that will allow you to lock your account down to more granular levels. Unfortunately, the default settings are not very secure, so you need to take matters into your own hands and go out to a website and learn how to lock your account down.  I cannot tell you how many times I checked out a photo of a “tagged” family, displayed on my news feeds page, and started paging through the album, only to find I was in someone else’s album, I didn’t even know. Didn’t know that could happen? More importantly, did you know that’s the default setting (allowing friends of friends to see your photos)? If not, you need to take some time, sit down and read up on Facebook privacy settings.

Thanks for calling ChatStu, How can I help you?

I have been around the block when it comes to speaking with customer care representatives because of a service or product dispute. From Verizon to Amazon, I have been in many different scenarios that required me to talk to various account representatives. Some of these conversations were pleasant and ended with delight; others made me wonder why the company even had a hotline to call.

I was also on the other side, working a brief stint of time for a cable company. It was a very enlightening experience, which allowed me to learn a lot from it in the short time. I learned to appreciate what the job entailed and understand what representatives were dealing with on a daily basis. The fact that as soon as I said, Thank you for calling [Cable Company], how can I assist today, they hated me was pretty funny. I was public enemy number one!

Talking to customer care can be challenging at times and getting what you want can make storming Normandy during WWII seem like a game of Candyland. The bottom line is most of the companies out there believe in their customers and want to do right. It’s just a matter of taking the right approach. Below I have put together some of my best tips, when trying to state your claim with the people on the other side of the call:

  1. Make sure you take a “no”, from someone who has the authority to say “yes”. The one thing if you get nothing else out of this posting is make sure you get the answer from the right person. I once called a mobile provider to ask them for a replacement phone at the subsidized discount price (early upgrade). I had lost mine and I had no other way to get back on my plan because my older phone was phased out. I kept hearing the same thing, “I am sorry sir, but I am unable to allow you to buy the phone at the discount. I wish I could help”. This was a problem – key word being “unable”. You see, even if the representative wanted to help, they did not have the authority to do so – they were “unable”. So in essence, discussing this issue any further with them was useless. At that point, I immediately asked them to put someone on the phone that had the authority to say “yes”.

    If I am going to hear “no”, let me hear it from someone who actually has the authority to say “yes”. Then at least a choice will be made, unlike the representative that had no choice, but to say “no”! Eventually, I received my new phone at the discount.

  2. Clearly define the issue at hand – too many times people ramble on about how mad they are but never clearly define what they are upset about. Define the issue and provide possible ways it could have been better.
  3. Know what you want – ever tell someone you are upset with the service that was provided and the company needed to do something about it? Well, 4 out of 5 times what they do is not going to be what you wanted. Why? Because most people don’t express what they want in return for the bad service or issue. If you provide what you want, you will have a better chance of getting it.
  4. Be reasonable – okay, your cable was out for a couple of hours. The cable company is likely going to divide the time it was out with your monthly bill and give you a rebate – many times this is pennies! I agree – this is not going to cover the agony of staring at a blank screen on your only day off during the year. At the same time, asking for 6 free years of cable is not reasonable. Make sure the retribution fits the crime. I recently purchased a digital camera for $50 more than I expected at a retailer. The extra $50 was the result of an online policy that was unclear to me. I paid the extra $50, but immediately contacted customer care, explained the issue and specifically asked for a $50 credit to the store. It was specific and to me, reasonable. Within an hour, I was forwarded a $50 gift card.
  5. Be respectful – the representative on the phone likely didn’t directly cause your issue. Yes, they represent the company and they are expected to deal with issues, but they are people that deserve respect. Don’t berate them or get personal. You will likely get more with honey than vinegar. During my time as an account rep, people would yell at me because their bill was late. One person actually said they were going to come down to the payment office and tell the desk “Stu sent me!” Okay, that’s fine, but really, I didn’t do anything wrong. You can be angry and stern, but respect the person like a professional.
  6. Calling will get you further than e-mail – I am not sure if entry level positions get to respond to the e-mails, but they are usually canned responses and less flexible. It’s also easier to tell someone “no” over e-mail. Use the phone if it is an option.
  7. Know when to throw in the towel – sometimes you just aren’t going to get your point across. Maybe you were asking for too much? Maybe you were just giving it a shot and knew the odds were against you? Maybe you were adamant about your claim and it is time to move onto a different company – blog about your experience? You’ll know when enough is enough – again be respectful.
  8. Don’t assume overseas is a pointless call – I know people that won’t call certain companies because they know the call is going overseas. Don’t assume you won’t be helped. I have had success with representatives overseas. If you don’t make the call, you only have yourself to blame.
  9. Think through the call or read over the e-mail and make sure everything is logical. Think about how the representative will respond, and think about how you will respond back. The last thing you want to do is be a babbling idiot because you will lose creditability during the call.
  10. Use your leverage – if you are a customer that has been with a company for 15 years, make sure they know it. Chances are, if they are trained correctly, they will already be aware. It is harder to let a customer go when they have been loyal. Loyal customers are hard to find these days and there are associated costs with bringing in new customers. It’s sometimes less expensive to just let the loyal customer have what they want, then risk them walking away. Again – be reasonable!

A little can go a long way…

It was only a matter of time before Starbucks made its way into my blog, so here we go…

If you are a Starbucks fanatic, like myself, than you probably heard of their rewards program. Basically, you need to create an online account with Starbucks and register a gift card to your account.

Once signed up, you can register multiple cards to the account and then move the funds around or consolidate, which is great if you get multiple gift cards during holidays. You can even replenish the cards online, or have it setup to sweep money right from your bank/credit card, when the gift card hits a certain minimum (similiar to something like EZ-Pass). I myself do not do this because while I would be very well caffeinated, I would likely end up bankrupt.

You start at Green status, and anytime you use a Starbucks gift card that is registered in your name (tied to your online Starbucks account), you receive a reward point. When you reach 30 reward points in a given year, you earn Gold member status for a year. Each subsequent 15 points gets you a free drink coupon, and each subsequent 30 in the same 1 year period, gets you more gold year extensions. So, if you are like me and receive 90 points in the first 6 months, you would have earned 5 free drinks (you get a freebie on #30), and 3 years Gold card membership.

Given my addiction and the fact that whenever I see a round green sign with a two-tailed mermaid I start to shake, I easily became one of the first gold members within my Starbucks “crew”. Over time, many followed and we all had the same positive reaction when we hit that 30 mark and knew our Gold Card was in the mail!

The ironic part of the whole situation is if you asked me what the difference between Green and Gold status was (besides getting a personalized Gold card), I couldn’t tell you. In fact, if you ran both Green and Gold benefit lists through 60 different algorithms, the delta would probably come up null. Other than some extra coupons and exclusive deals (non of which I have seen yet), there are no major differences.

The funny thing here, is Starbucks really isn’t giving anything special away. Instead, they are just making people feel a little more special and enpowering them to walk in with their Gold card, saying I am one of your top customers. A top customer that spends more in here than most other people and probably will have to force my kids to work at a Starbucks to pay for college – but that’s besides the point!

The card cost to Starbucks is minimal – it’s pretty much the same as a credit card company providing a personalized card to you. The free drinks are more than made up for when you pay for the 15 to get to the free one. By having you use a Starbucks card and replenishing it, you are almost surely going to buy more because let’s face it, once that money goes on the card, it’s not real anymore. You ever put $15 on a gift card – you know the feeling. Oh, I have $15 on this card, well, let me buy this and that while I am here. It’s not like it’s coming out of my pocket; the loss has already been realized!

The whole concept, while simple, is genius for Starbucks. It seems Starbuck’s plan is to market the gift card. With this program, they not only marketed their gift card, but they made it so the customer actually had to earn the right to use what they were marketing! It’s little things like this that make companies successful. By making the customer feel appreciated and giving them something they can say they “earned” to become unique, creates brand loyalty and happy customers. I am not trying to make a point that Starbucks is ripping their customers off. What I am saying is with a little creativity and minimal capital, they have provided a process (the reward program) that is actually seen as a commodity, especially to their best customers.

I was addicted to Starbucks well before gold member status, but now I feel almost like a guardian or the sheriff of Starbucks. Whenever I see that sign, it is my duty to stop and make my presence known and checkup on the store. I can flash my gold card, with my name on it, stake my claim, and get my coffee. No money left on the card you say? That’s okay, just put $20 more on it…I’ll be back. The baristas know me by name now – I’m part of the Starbucks Family.

Check out the Rewards program at https://www.starbucks.com/card (see, I even provide free advertisement…because it’s my duty)

Video Games and Kids – Friend or Foe?

I just read an article detailing how video games were good for kids. I agree with that statement not because I like video games, but because I truly believe that the games today (and even in the past) can have a positive impact. They take lateral thinking and decision making to be successful. Kids learn teamwork, when playing with friends. Hand and eye coordination can be improved. These are all positive attributes that can be beneficial.

I will not sit here and argue that there aren’t negative points to video games, but anything in excess or not controlled can have a negative impact. Arguments against video games being good for kids seem to concentrate on the violent nature of many of these games today. I agree, many games are violent today, but that does not take away from the fact that many games can have a positive impact on kids. TV is violent, yet how many of us grew up with Sesame Street? Would you now say TV doesn’t have a positive impact on children? Sure, if my six year old is watching Law and Order, or decides to sit down one night and watch A Nightmare on Elm Street, there is something seriously wrong with such scenarios. The issue though is not TV being bad for kids, but certain TV being wrong for kids. The same goes for video games. Video games are not bad for kids, but certain games and game playing out of moderation or in the wrong setting can be bad. It is the responsibility of the parents to know what their kids are playing and to control the playing time.

One of the problems I see today is that industries and public services are taking the heat for issues that really lie with the parents. If Rockstar releases Grand Theft Auto, then it is my responsibility as a parent to make sure my six year old does not play that game. The game company should be responsible enough to advertise and target adult audiences, but as a parent, in the end, the buck stops with me. When is the last time you saw Grand Theft Auto advertised on the Disney Channel anyway?

Video games have many positive attributes, and while there are some games that could have a negative impact that is the parent’s responsibility to assure they play the correct games, in the proper moderation. Not understanding or knowing anything about video games is not an excuse for parents either. How many parents didn’t know Algebra, yet they learned it to help their kids. How many parents monitor their kids on Facebook today – that’s a good move and becoming a popular practice. You need to take an active role in your child’s life and stop deferring everything to the outside world around you. Instead of blaming the world around you, become more aware of it. True, you cannot control everything and sometimes the forces against you might seem greater, but I think in this case, video game play is controllable. Maybe even take some time and play the games with them.

It is also important to make sure your child is not getting the wrong message from games. If my child plays Mario Kart, they need to know driving people off the road is not right and is only make believe. I am confident my child has sense enough to know that because I taught her good values and something like that is only okay in a game. Just like my parents taught me great values. I was a huge fan of Donkey Kong, but I don’t think my parents stayed up at night worrying I would throw barrels at people or try to hit them with a hammer.

Parenting is a job; a full-time one. If your kid brings home Mortal Kombat, you should be able to figure out that might not be a good game for them. If they like to play video games, don’t discourage them because they can have a negative impact; instead, take an active role, so they gain something positive from it.

The New Blackberry Torch goes to AT&T – Conspiracy in the Making?

Well, the long awaited announcement has come and the Blackberry 6 operating system is right around the corner, which will debut on the new Blackberry Torch. The Torch 9800, will be a touchscreen phone with a sliding keyboard, something not available on any other Blackberry to date. The phone will be available on AT&T’s network.

What I had found interesting, which is now confirmed with today’s news, is the new phone will be on AT&T’s network and not Verizon (at least not at launch). While I am sure some people are shaking their heads, I think I have a theory.

There are 3 major players in the smartphone market today. Blackberry, Android, and Apple’s iPhone. Sorry Palm and Microsoft, but in my opinion, at this time you are not major players.

Blackberry is your best corporate solution at the time of this write up. I say at the time of this write up because technology in the mobile space is changing so quickly that by the time I hit ‘Post’ on this blog, it could all change! Blackberry provides the most secure and best messaging system. It allows corporations to setup Blackberry Enterprise Servers (BES) to connect all the devices, securely to the internal network, and control the level of security. Blackberry is proven, but in many cases, less “sexy” than the other players.

Apple’s iPhone has been around the block a few times now and it is definitely more innovative and better from an application perspective than the Blackberry. Apple has many cool features and definitely appeals to all different end users. Apple has two major issues right now holding it back. Verizon does not have the iPhone. It’s unfortunate because Apple approached Verizon first and was turned down. AT&T capitalized with securing an exclusive deal, but now the AT&T market is saturated and it is time to move on. The iPhone also does not do as well as the Blackberry (yet?) on corporate networks. This takes serious business users out of the picture.

The Android is Google’s mobile operating system, aimed at competing with the other major players in the mobile market. According to multiple reports (one specifically on Bgr.com), while the smartphone market has grown 62% in Q2 of 2010, Android has posted 886% growth. This can likely be contributed to Verizon’s influx of Android based handsets. We have seen the introduction of three very impressive devices – Droid, The Incredible and Droid X, with Droid 2 right around the corner. Since Android is open source and very developer friendly, the Android Marketplace has been very successful in the early stages. Google is also well known for its innovative ideas and as a result, the Android operating system has delivered some really cool features. Like the iPhone though, the Android system does not bode as well on corporate networks. This is not to say Android is not taking strides towards being more corporate network friendly, it’s just Blackberry is still the better choice in the corporate space (in my opinion).

So with AT&T taking on the new and improved Blackberry phone, what can we read into this move? Well, for those who know me well, I like conspiracy theories; it passes the time. What I see here, is a shift in AT&Ts strategy to proactively protect itself in the marketplace. Ask yourself, what is the bread and butter of AT&T today? What really allows AT&T to compete with Verizon? It’s not their customer service or network. It’s not the fact that they are GSM over CDMA – most people who own a smartphone probably couldn’t even tell you the difference. The one thing AT&T has over Verizon is the iPhone and once Verizon also has the iPhone, AT&T could be looking at some troubles ahead.

AT&T’s exclusive contract with Apple has been up since the beginning of this year. My gut tells me that Verizon would have already made a move to get the iPhone; except, that would have cannibalized the up and coming Android phones. Instead, Verizon is taking on as many Android users as they can (probably worked this out with Android vendors to keep them happy), locking them into the Android system (Verizon is offering a deal where you can get an early upgrade to one of the new smartphones, if your contract is set to expire anytime this year). As soon as the year is up and Verizon locks as many users as they can into the Android that is when the announcement will come; iPhone to Verizon. Now the hold-outs will be able to get onto the iPhone and anyone who was on AT&T, just for the iPhone can defect. In addition, anyone locked into the Android, who really wanted an iPhone, will end up paying full price for the iPhone – and people will do this! Some consumers will likely be angry with Verizon, but in the end, Verizon wouldn’t have done anything wrong. In fact, it would have all been a pretty good business move, to keep most parties happy.

So what is my point? What does this have to do with the new Blackberry being on AT&T? Well, while the Android and iPhone are both competing for the innovated user who likes the “toy” factor on their smartphones (toy in a good way), the Blackberry is the one phone meant mainly for the corporate user. If your AT&T, you have had your time with the iPhone and can only now sit and watch to see how your user base reacts to Verizon finally putting it on their network. If you are Blackberry (RIM), you might not be too happy Verizon has a new love called Android. So the new Blackberry going to AT&T seems like a match made in heaven. AT&T starts concentrating on the corporate end user space, allowing Verizon to cannibalize itself between the Android and iPhone systems. In addition, with AT&T being on the GSM network (which can be used virtually anywhere in the world), corporate end users that travel globally make a lot of sense.

Looking towards the future, I see a shift of end users between Verizon and AT&T. Verizon is finally staying on top of new and innovative phones, and gone are the days of waiting 2 years for yesterday’s best smartphone. AT&T on the other hand will continue to compete in the Android and iPhone market, but will shift it’s interest to Blackberry and the corporate end users. While these are all conspiracy theories wrapped around some factual evidence, I throw in the caveat that it might be far from the truth. The only hope is that considering the theories at least passes some time away. : )

The Tipping Point – Mobile Communication Devices

In the book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell, the author describes points in time where certain trends, social behaviors or ideas cross a threshold, tip and spread like the plague. These tipping points are the points in time when epidemics are born, products take on a new level of popularity, and fashion designs become the trend.

Over the course of the last few years, I have witnessed an event in my household. Three years ago, I was the only one in the house with a smartphone. Having a smartphone required a data plan, which was considered ridiculous because I had to pay an additional $40 a month. Texting was considered anti-social and a waste of time. Why wouldn’t I just pick up the phone and call the person, I heard over and over.

Time warp to the present day and I am not alone with the only smartphone in the house. In fact, I don’t even have the latest and greatest phone anymore. Text messaging has become the norm and now people wonder why I would call someone, if I can just text them real quick. Data plans are no longer the exception, but the rule. The world seems to have caught up to my ways and thinking when it comes to mobile devices!

As I watch the major players set the stage for what is to come over the next few months, I believe we have reached that tipping point with mobile communication (many might argue we already tipped). Verizon has taken a huge step with its smartphone inventories, releasing various Droid phones over the course of the last 3 months, with the prospect of more to come by the end of this year. I remember when it took Verizon 3 years to announce the prospect of a new smartphone, and it was usually already out on another network for sometime. There is also chatter about the iPhone being released for Verizon at the beginning of next year, which is long overdue. I use Verizon here as the example because they were always so conservative with the release of their phones, yet their model is evolving with the new demand.

The introduction of the iPad has set-off another campaign when it comes to mobile communication technologies. Blackberry seems to be working on a “pad” of its own and Google has already teamed up with Dell to release a “pad” utilizing its Android operating system. Gone are the days of the Palm Pilots, which were too small, and the tablets, which were too bulky. Someone actually figured out how to come up with a very usuable portable portfolio. These devices are giving people even more of a reason to utilize mobile technologies in the communication space. They are putting an emphasis on the data plans and helping the industry tip.

The advent of the new digital “pads” and flood of smartphones leads me to believe we are tipping. We are tipping into a new age where mobile connectivity to the web and web based applications are the standard, even for someone who had no previous interest in technology. (Remember the days your grandparents swore they would never give in to cell phones)

What I see on the horizon are a flood of new mobile technologies, some great, other sub par, as the companies try to secure their claim in the market. For those who get discouraged from buying the latest and greatest on the market to only be out done 2 weeks later, it’s gut check time.

The industry standards will also be changing, which AT&T actually already followed suit. What was once an unlimited data plan attached to a voice allowance will likely reverse. You will start seeing unlimited voice plans becoming the norm, with tiered data plans. Data is becoming the bread winner these days for the wireless companies and I expect they will capitalize on it.

It won’t be long until all those people who looked at us gadget freaks have the devices we use to come home with so excited to show-off. We won’t have to justify all the applications and features anymore. Instead, we will be teaching and showing everyone how to work their new device. Grandma will be updating her Facebook status from her new Droid, while she asks us how to upload a Youtube video of the grand kids playing outside.