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If your business deals with customers via telephone, and you would prefer not to piss your customers to hell off:
  • Do not have a robot answer your phone, and then ask customers to tell it what they want. These systems do not work for any but the most basic requests. You will annoy your customers less by asking them to push buttons in order to navigate a menu tree. Really.
  • Do not ask your customers to push a button in order to select an action without giving them at least ten seconds to do so. Many if not most people are calling you from a cell phone (and many of the rest from a cordless handset). They need time to take the phone from their ear and press the key. If they're smartphone users, they may also need time to turn on the keypad. And if they want to hear what you say after they press the key, they may also need time to turn on speakerphone. Doing all those things as quickly as possible only to discover that you've been hung-up on is seriously fucking annoying.
  • If you're using a computer voice to read sentences to people
    • Spend some money on a good one
    • Use it to speak entire sentences to your customers. Do not record it saying sentence fragments with blanks in them, and then have it speak individual words into the blanks.
    • Especially do not have it speak into the blanks at a significantly lower volume than the pre-recorded parts of the sentence. While there is a certain entertainment value in listening to a computer mumble, it is not entertaining for long, and not something you want your customers to associate with you.
  • If you put your customers on hold, tell them how long to expect to be on hold, then play them some innocuous music for the duration. Do not interrupt the music every fifteen seconds to tell them "Your call is important to us." The next voice your customer hears must be a human being who is there to help them. Your customer is a busy person, just like you. The time they spend on hold with you is time they can also spend doing something of value to them. When a voice comes from the phone, it distracts them from that something, and if that distraction is not also of value to them, their time on hold with you becomes a net loss.
In short, even when you are expressing your actions through a computer, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
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When I was little, the Sears catalog was a fixture of our house. Most of our clothes came from it. So did most of my dad's tools, and much else of what little we had. Some of our neighbors lived in houses that had been ordered from the Sears catalog, shipped flat-packed, and assembled on site. Sears was where you good, solid stuff for a reasonable price.

I remember how I used to love to page through their catalogs. In those pre-internet days, I learned a lot about the world from Sears catalogs: from what kind of tools people in various lines of work used to what girls looked like in their underwear. One of the things I loved about them was the attention to detail: Everything where you might possibly care, be it a suitcase or a toolbox, an end-table or a chain-hoist, was accompanied by exact dimensions. Reading about a vise with eight-inch jaws, I would go into my dad's shop, find his tape measure, and measure in the air around his vise to get a concrete sense how big it was. Those catalogs, with all their obsessive detail, fed my nerdy little imagination like little else.

Today I was browsing the web for medicine cabinets, and when I clicked on one that looked like the one I grew up with, found myself on the Sears web site. Looking at the web page for a medicine cabinet that almost entirely fails to actually describe it. What little description there is in the "Product Overview" is ungrammatical. ("Each piece is made from MDF and have a white finish with glass windows.") Nor could they be bothered to hire competent web monkeys. (The word "décor" earlier in that paragraph renders in my and presumably any non-windows user's browser as "d?cor".) If you click hopefully on "Specs" the entirety of the new information the page now displays consists of three words: "Type: Bath storage."

There are no dimensions. None whatsoever. No width. No height. No depth. No weight. Not even so much as the number of shelves. It is, in short, an entirely non-descriptive product description. For a product, I might add, available "online only."
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In the late 1980s, Larry's Markets redefined the supermarket in Seattle. They carried everything you expected at a supermarket, at prices I never found to be significantly higher than most other stores. But that was just the baseline. They had stuff no other store carried: I once counted the mustards; IIRC there were 37. They had vegetables I'd never heard of, a wine and beer selection on par with a good specialty store, a spotless meat department, what would now be called "artisan" bread, a deli counter with prepared foods you were happy to serve your guests. The stores were airy and well-lighted; the staff were pleasant, friendly, and knowledgeable. They had a policy of putting more checkers on immediately if the lines got more than three deep. When they got popular enough that it started to get hard to find a place to park, they started offering free valet parking. Grocery shopping stopped being a chore and became a pleasure.

Over the last fifteen years, whenever I would think about what I missed about Seattle, Larry's Markets would be somewhere on the list. Not in the top ten, but in there. When in recent years I would visit Seattle for a week or so, I'd do my grocery shopping at Larry's, and find that they were still head-and-shoulders better than anyplace around Boston.

This morning I was getting my morning NPR fix by listening to the Seattle station online, when I learned from a little local interest item that Larry's Markets has gone bankrupt, and a sporting goods store, of all things, will be taking over two of its biggest stores. Sigh. One less thing to miss about home.


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