Tuesday, August 30, 2005

...Coming Full Circle

My first full-time job after college was as a low-level customer service representative. Even though I got bumped up to sales within a year, I have always felt solidarity with people in similar customer service positions because I know what it’s like to work at a job where you’re guaranteed to undeservedly be on the receiving end of hysterical rants from irate customers on a daily basis, all for a salary that isn’t even enough for you to move out of your old bedroom in your parents house. I still get defensive when I hear people tell customer service horror stories where some poor customer service rep is inevitably portrayed as dumb, incompetent and apathetic. It makes me angry because I know this very likely isn’t the case; the problem lies in the fact that too many companies ironically give the least amount of authority to help customers to the department whose sole purpose, theoretically, is to serve the customer. I can’t tell you how many times I just wanted to scream into the phone, “Listen, I’m so low on the totem pole here I cover for the receptionist when she has to take a shit and I’m the guy who’s responsible for taking out the trash every Thursday. Do you really think I have the power to change long-standing company policies just because you asked me to?”

By far the worst aspect of the job was dealing with the company’s sales reps or “internal customers” in bullshit corporate lingo speak. Part of our job was to assist sales reps with things like inventory checks or giving them the status of their orders when they were out in the field and unable to access such information themselves. That wasn’t so bad. What was miserable was the fact most sales reps tended to extend our job description into the “pass off all the shit I don’t feel like doing myself” department.

I’d get sales reps calling me at 4:00 in the afternoon asking if I could have an order shipped overnight, even though our deadline for overnight orders was noon. Of course the decision wasn’t up to me (and they knew the decision wasn’t up to me) – it was up to our warehouse manager. But why call and pester him yourself when you could instead pass off the chore to me and then make me the fall guy if it didn’t happen? My favorite was when sales reps would send up orders with no actual part numbers and only the vaguest of descriptions, yet still expect us to instinctively know what product to send to their customer. One particular incident that stands out was when a sales rep sent me an order for a part described simply as “SHIPPING CASE”. Yeah, that really narrows it down, especially considering we carried literally hundreds of different equipment cases. Several voicemails to him later, trying to get him to be more specific as to what he was selling, I finally received a call back not with the information I needed, but to give me a severe tongue lashing for holding up his order. I really wanted to complain to management about the way he talked to me, but I knew the score – he was a guy who brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year of profit to the company; I could realistically be replaced by just about any semi-competent person with a pulse who happened to walk by the building. Whose side do you think they were going to take?

When I was promoted to sales I was absolutely ecstatic. Some of the excitement was for all the expected reasons: more money, a snazzier title, getting to move to Southern California into an apartment just minutes from the beach. But more than any of that, what made me so happy was knowing the period of my professional life where I was required to be somebody else's bitch was over forever.

Today, I am Vice-President and part-owner of a company that will do over a million dollars in sales this year.

And just yesterday I was instructed by one of my business partners, Kevin, to make him a shipping label.

This wasn’t the first time this has occurred. I swear I am in no way being compensated by United Parcel Service for what I’m about to say, but I couldn’t be happier with the ease of use of UPS’ web-site in terms of how simple and easy they make it to ship a package right from your computer. All you have to do is log-in, type in the address you're sending the package to (or, if you’ve already sent a package to the location before it will remember the address for you), enter in the weight and dimensions of the package, pick how you want it shipped (Ground, overnight, etc.) and your label is ready to be print.

Yet somehow Kevin, who works out of his house, cannot be bothered with learning how to do this. Admittedly, the guy is somewhat computer illiterate, but this is something I’m pretty sure I could teach my 1-year-old baby to do within an hour. When he made his first request for a shipping label a couple of months ago, I tried to be assertive by giving him instructions on how to do it himself instead of simply saying, “Yes”. I went through the motions, giving him our username and password, telling him where to click to get to the “Ship Package” page, etc. He sort of pretended to listen and then called my other partner, Bob, and had him do it instead.

It makes no sense. What is the logic in having Kevin write me an email with the address, weight and dimensions of a package, then have me log onto UPS.com just to enter in the exact same information he just gave me, print out a label and then fax the label back to him, when if he did it himself at least half of these steps could be avoided? It’s just seems like the height of laziness that he refuses to learn how to do something so incredibly simple. Ok, I realize in the grand scheme this is kind of petty, and Kevin is actually a good guy at heart who I like a lot personally, but here’s the thing of it: I came all this way just to go back to where I was at the beginning.

Monday, August 22, 2005

...The Marketing Geniuses Who Came Up With That One

I’m sure some comedian already has a routine on this, but what’s up with pet food manufacturers advertising their products as “great tasting”? (Here’s just one example). Our puppy is strictly forbidden from going upstairs due to her propensity for eating cat turds straight out of the litter box. When I was a kid I begged my parents to let my golden retriever, Bart, sleep in my room, only to have him proceed to barf all over my bed. Not a major problem, though, since he went ahead and ate it all right back up.

Clearly, it doesn’t appear as if dogs have particularly discriminating tastes, so to advertise a product on the basis that it has a “great taste your dog will love” seems a bit disingenuous. Kind of like promoting a new beer with the promise it “provides the great buzz your alcoholic will love”.

Reminds me of a funny story: When I was maybe around 9 or 10, I came home from school one day to find my older brother sitting in the back room ravenously munching away on an afterschool snack. I mentioned to him that our parents had bought a new brand of dog food for Bart.

“I know”, he responded, his mouth still full of food. “It’s disgusting”.

Friday, August 19, 2005

...A Very Fast Year

There’s this great “Leave it to Beaver” episode where Beaver and a group of his buddies all buy sweatshirts with pictures of these really grotesque-looking monsters on the front. The guys all promise each other to wear the sweatshirts to school on the following day. Of course, Beaver shows up in his sweatshirt the next day only to discover all of his friends have backed out on the plan, leaving him to take the fall for a glaring violation of the school’s dress code.

I had a very similar experience not all that long ago. I was out with a group of friends celebrating my 30th birthday. Several dirty martinis into the evening I found myself making a drunken pact with two other couples, who had gotten married within the same general timeframe as my wife and I, to start trying to have babies right away. The logic was that it would allow our wives to commiserate since they’d all be pregnant at the same time and our future kids would have built-in playmates (obviously inebriated thinking since none of us live within 30 miles of each other).

Considering the years I spent in a fraternity, you’d think I’d know better than anyone not to take late-night drunken promises seriously. Yet there I was by the end of the month with an expecting wife. What can I say, I guess I’m just super potent. Meanwhile Couple #2, nearly two years later, are still without child, while Couple #3, to their credit, did follow through on the plan, just a little while later (they’re expecting a baby boy this January).

Writing about my first year of being a father is tricky. On the one hand, the connection between a parent and child is intensely personal. At the same time, I’m sure my own experiences are no different than the billions of others who’ve had children before me, making it difficult to say anything about the experience that won’t come off as trite or cliché.

Little Gooch, thank you for the best year of my life. Happy Birthday.

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