Sunday, November 26, 2006

Satisfy me

Handling a Disgruntled [Customer] Me

2 WEEKS AGO – After booking my Easyjet flight to London and the Gatwick Express (tip: book this from the Easyjet website and you get additional discount, aside from the discount you get for booking online), I decided, upon Queen Victoria’s insistence, that I book my train to Sheffield ASAP. She said that it’s best to book advance so I get a seat reservation. The football match between Manchester United and Sheffield United might cause a rise in passenger booking, so I should not be risking buying last minute tickets, she added.

OK fine my dear Queen Victoria, I am your obedient and loyal subject, thus I will obey your order. I am going to book online. Now.

So as told, I went to Midland Mainline’s website. Typing into the keys of my laptop, I thought - ah great, online booking is the greatest internet invention after blogs.

Quickly, I browsed through the timetables and right away experienced a severe headache. Ugh, whoever designed this? I proceeded to enter the details of my trip on the “book tickets” section. It was amazing how the train schedules in the book tickets section did not match the timetables that I earlier checked. No wonder I was confused.

Anyway, the train schedules from London St. Pancras to Sheffield showed up in the window screen. On the top right of the page, it says Step 1 of 7 --- Huh?

Now tell me genius. What is wrong with this picture?

Simple, the STEP 1 to 7 is the big mistake. To buy or book something online in 7 steps is just damn too long! Online marketers, do you not understand that customers nowadays do not anymore exhibit the virtue of patience? We now live in an instant world. Instant fotos, instant publishing, instant coffee, and instant noodles. In the western world we call it the microwave mentality. We all want it now.

And there is more. The doomed Midland Mainline website asks for a postcode. Not just any postcode. It must be a UK postcode otherwise you cannot continue with the booking. I was like - eh, huh? So my friend, Queen Victoria, who was on the telephone with me the whole time I was circumnavigating the complicated Midland Mainline online booking system, gave me her postcode.

Alright, I am on the 6th step now, time to enter my credit card details. I got my card out and started typing in the numbers. Then I saw something that caught my eye --- credit card holder’s address must match the postcode and address entered earlier. Huh? *my blood pressure now rising* WTF is this?!

To make this long story short, I spent half a day booking unsuccessfully a damn train ticket to Sheffield, until I said – GRRR, I GIVE UP!!!

The Midland Mainline online booking does not work for international customers. The stupid limitation of the postcode requirement function during booking says enough. Other than that, the website is spewing continuously with error messages and the process to book is too complicated and long – hello, 7 steps. It makes you wonder why they started their online sales channel anyway. Queen Victoria had to go to the train station to ask what other options are available to book tickets in advance. They gave her a telephone number to call, which I used. I was able to purchase tickets - well they gave me a code instead, through a live person on the line.

Because I lost my precious time, I was fuming mad. Provoked, I emailed Midland Mainline my complaints. Yes, that’s with an s. It’s plural.

The next day, I received a response from Midland Mainline apologizing for my awful experience with them and thanking me for my suggestions (a 7 step process is too long and their website is complicated!). The agent added that the company is at the moment busy and engaged in the development of its website and an upgrade will soon be realized, which will enable international customers to book online.

Even though my online booking experience with Midland Mainline was unpleasant, I shall say that they successfully pacified a very disappointed and disgruntled customer. The agent, who exclusively handled my email complaint should be rewarded, lol. Good job!

See, I am not hard to please at all.

A Satisfied [Customer] Me

SATURDAY - While Dutchman and I were having our brunch, the telephone rang. Dutchman picked it up, murmured some undecipherable Dutch words, turned his head towards my way and said that the call was for me.

“Goede morgen mevrouw Dutched Pinay, ik bel namens OHRA...” [Good morning miss/madam Dutched Pinay, I am calling from OHRA]. OHRA is my health insurer by the way and I have been their customer for 2 years already.

The lady on the telephone continued to speak, in a very polite manner, and asked me if I have any complaints with OHRA. I said no. She then asked if I have received my renewal documents with the new premium and if I have any questions about it. I said, yes, I have received the documents but I have no questions. She furthered and asked another - if I have any suggestions to OHRA on how to improve dealings with customers. I said --- It is very important that when a customer sends out a claim, the health insurer must respond quickly and clearly. So far, my experiences with OHRA has been very good. I am a satisfied customer.

“Oh, het is altijd goed om te horen dat een klant tevreden is!” [Oh, it is always good to hear that a customer is satisfied!]

I guess I made her day, ha-ha.

Like I said in my earlier post, I am not a hard to please customer. I am not like the Dutchman who will nitpick about everything (watch out, the Dutch will always find something to complain, lol). However, I can complain and make myself heard if I don’t get my money’s worth, when I am in the mood.

A quick testimonial: Last winter, one of my fingers was injured during wintersport in Austria (read here: 112 Calling!), and not because of skiing. The Dutchman accidentally dropped the car’s trunk door on my fingers! Anyway, we first sent out the claim to our ABN Amro Travel Insurance. After a week, we received a denial letter saying we first have to submit our claim through my normal health insurance, which was OHRA. We did it and after a few days I received a letter saying they have received my claim and I will be reimbursed in a matter of days. It was very fast. And even with my previous dealings with them, they were always clear, fast and efficient.

In the norm of things, humans tend to gravitate towards the dark side of things. Most consumers do not really talk about their great product experiences. We prefer and are itching to yank and bitch when we are duped and when we have a bad hair day or product experience. Human nature it is. Bad news travel as fast as the speed of light while good news a bit slowly. Sometimes even with delay.

Which is the point of this post; I am giving a big round of applause to OHRA for being the ideal health insurer, at least for me. (hmm, pay me for the advert! lol)

In fact, I have been thinking, just thinking out loud actually, of switching to the health insurance my company is offering. The switch would save me some euros, but, taking into account a more broad perspective - the hassle and risk (switching at the end of the year is a risk in this country because the Dutch system is not at all flexible; it is rigid like plowing the field with a carabao) versus my great experience with OHRA, I decided to stick with the latter.

When a customer is satisfied, the customer will stick around and that’s what I did.

Friday, November 24, 2006

English Football: Manchester vs Sheffield

Last weekend was so busy! I went to the Manchester United (Devils) vs. Sheffield United (Blades) football game in Sheffield, UK last Saturday together with old friends. It was my first time to watch an English football game. I knew about the hooligans and how passionate the English are about football but nothing tops the experience when you are actually there to witness football religion in action—with a rowdy crowd of fanatics.

My train from London arrived in Sheffield an hour and 10 minutes before the game began. My friends picked me up and we immediately proceeded to the stadium. The streets were already speckled with excited football goers dressed in red stripes and aggressive fans who are howling like crazy. Yes, they were howling, haha. There were as well unbelievably so many police.

While passing through a busy street, we saw this big tourist bus that just arrived parked adjacent to the big dome. The bus was full of eager Manchester United supporters. Unfortunately, they were not allowed to get out of the bus just yet. The police guarded the bus well, and the rest of the uniformed team were stationed further a block away, watching everyone and filtering all passers-by.

We had okay seats, we sat in the first and second rows near the corner of the stadium. Since we were at arm’s length from the field, we could clearly see the players warming up in front of us. One of the Man U players (didn’t bother to check his name) who was all the time warming up, i.e., running, jumping, and stretching his muscles, was teasing the extremely—and I am not exaggerating okay, fuming Sheffield fans. LOL The heat intensifies every time he is near the border of the field ring. I thought it was so funny. The Blades manic supporters totally went berserk launching a series of word war with him instead of watching the match, haha.

And can you believe these girls I knew since 30+ years ago? We all went to the same girls school since our kindergarten days up to high school. Time fly so fast.

Figures: There were about 35,500+ individuals who showed up during the football match. The stadium was bursting with super enthusiastic screaming fans and they were singing the whole time. It was adrenalin pumping!

Final score was 1-2. Helaas, Sheffield United lost to Manchester United (I see people nodding, like this has been predicted a year ago by the crystal ball) with the popular Rooney scoring twice. A sad day for Sheffield, indeed.

Anyway, the £34 experience was worth it. It’s always nice to mix business trips with pleasure.

Travel Period: November 2006

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Evolution of Beauty

Thanks to Dove - Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer goods giant for spilling out the golden secret of advertising and media companies. Wowsers, everyone can now become a super model?! Wahoo!

While we are at the subject of super models, er, I mean photoshopped super models - I wonder when Adobe will start banging on Unilever’s mighty door. Or perhaps, Adobe loved the extra attention (free advert) this photoshopped Dove commercial clip has brought to the media?

Like what they all say, any publicity, good or bad, is always a publicity.

Oh well, so much for caring [insert sarcasm] what real beauty is. It’s all about the money people. What else. Wake up. Slap.

Bottom line is the profits, Dove needs to get its cash cow products milking and maintain its market share dominance. Controversy sells so not clueless at all, marketing and creativity at its finest.

But, I sill love the clip. Brilliant!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Women on shopping

Every first Sunday of the month is Koop Zondag in the Netherlands. The predictable sleeping cities and towns in the flatlands come to life during Koop Zondag. The big warehouses, some of the specialty shops, and even the street vendors selling loempia (lumpia/spring rolls) and fresh cut flowers joins the city street camaraderie.

This means a lot to us individuals who work fulltime and work in another city because we do not have the extra time to get off from work to shop during weekdays. Stores in this part of the planet close early (read: 5PM) during weekdays, and they are also close on Sundays (except for Rotterdam I believe and a few shops in Amsterdam center).

Since shops close early on a Saturday too, to realize non-food shopping chores is sometimes not possible. There is just not enough time.
Saturday for me is THE day when I don’t want to wake up with my eardrums torn apart and hanging outside my ears because the blaring alarm clock orders me to get my ass up and out of bed. For me, it’s THE day when I finally can sleep-in and come out of bed less harassed.

This sleeping-in during weekends (Saturdays and Sundays) is a non-negotiable necessity. I have even elevated this necessity to being a personal obligation. Anyone who disturbs me during these hours will be shot.

So I was glad to wake up on Sunday – at 11AM, to find out that it was Koop Zondag. I need to buy a few important personal items that I wasn’t able to do last Saturday. I like to shop, really, but... sometimes only, really. And, last Sunday was one of those out-of-need days that I badly need to get out and accomplish the duty.

Utrecht Oudegracht on a cold yet quite dry Sunday afternoon: Remnants of multihued autumn... before winter steals the final show...

Sunday afternoon went uneventful except for successfully wrapping up the needed toiletries in my list and adding 5 accidental purchases: a pair of black leather gloves, a humongous black scarf, a grey knitted long sleeve vest and 2 turtleneck shirts.

Q: Why is it that we women just can’t control ourselves?

On the other hand, I justified my accidental purchases that they are my NEEDS, anyway. End of story.

When I got home, I quickly took out my purchases from the plastic bags, cut off the cardboard tags, and together with the receipts slipped them in between the paper pile in the paper recycling basket in our library. Yes, I recycle paper tags and receipts. Anything that is of paper base will not escape my recycling prejudices. Greenpeace should give me an award.

The Dutchman is due to be back before dinner from his Sunday afternoon rollerblading and that is about anytime from now(!). I don’t want the nosy Dutchman to see what I have just bought because I am sure he will inspect them, and ask the million euro question - even if the money spent was from my own pocket: How much was your damage for the day?

So to avoid these monetary confrontations, I employed some sharpness, quickness and shrewdness talents, he-he. Yeah, we women can indeed be very, very naughty... and clever! Perhaps, way, way clever... for men.

I know it’s silly to hide purchases from our partners, and even though I know for sure that the Dutchman doesn’t really mind what I do with my own money – he is just generally curious like a cat, still, I have this tiny throbbing weird feeling whenever my shopping bill tops over the €50 mark. I just can’t help myself but feel guilt-ridden. Is this perhaps a positive sign of being financially responsible? (lol)

Here is the interesting part --- when I had a discussion about this shopping with remorse scenario with a female colleague, I FOUND OUT THAT I WAS NOT AT ALL ALONE?

The elusive fact remains that we women as a whole have the tendency to hide away what we have shopped from our partners! The good news is most men don’t know any better.

Koop Zondag if translated literally means “Buy/Sale Sunday”.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

New EU travel legislation at airports

The new travel regulations in the European Union will be implemented tomorrow Monday, 6 November, 2006.

We have been alerted by the operations department at work 2 weeks ago about the new travel rules and the restrictions they follow. Today, I received an email in my personal inbox from KLM explaining the details together with a visual of the ONLY items and the maximum quantity of liquid a traveler can bring onboard the plane.

I’m flying again in less than 2 weeks and since I can’t do without the laptop, I will have to settle with my laptop bag as my handbag.

*deep sigh*

In this circumstance, apart from the minimal items (toiletries) allowed onboard, losing the hand bag is another travel disaster for us women, especially when we are to choose it between a laptop, although, it does have its plus point: less load to carry.

Some scenarious to ponder about:

(a) Duty Free shops will soon go bankrupt

(b) Lots of harassed or ugly-looking women sitting in long haul flights, lol.

(c) Instead of going to the airport 2 hours before the flight, make it then 3 hours.

(d) Hmm, what else?

New EU-legislation for hand baggage at all airports in the European Union

Effective November 6, 2006, new rules for the contents of hand baggage will apply for all airline passengers throughout the European Union (EU). Passengers may only carry small quantities (max. 100 ml per container) of liquids, gels and aerosols in their hand baggage. The packaging of these products must also meet specific requirements. This applies for all passengers departing from or catching connecting flights at airports within the European Union.

This is a sample visual of the items and amount of liquid (creams included) that are allowed to be carried by passengers onboard within the European Union.

The new rules apply for liquids such as water and other drinks, but also extend to gels, pastes, lotions, and the contents of aerosols. This includes toiletries such as toothpaste, shaving cream, hair gel, lip gloss, facial creams, mascara and liquid lip balms.

These are the rules for liquids in your hand luggage:

(1) You can only bring on liquids and gels in containers of no more than 100 millilitres.

(2) These containers must be carried in a transparent plastic bag.

(3) There is a limit of one transparent plastic bag per person.

(4) The volume of the transparent plastic bag may not be greater than 1 litre.

(5) The transparent plastic bag must be re-sealable.

(6) You may bring a suitable plastic bag from home. During the introductory period, free transparent plastic bags will also be given out at all concerned airports.

There are two exceptions to the above rules:

>>> Baby food needed during the flight;
>>> Medicines needed during the flight.

Purchases in duty free at the airport:

>>> If your trip includes a transfer in a European Union country (including French overseas territories), the retailer must place your purchases in a bag. This will be sealed and must remain so until the end of your trip. This bag must be accompanied by a proof of purchase that will be checked when you transfer at the screening inspection point.

>>> In Paris, if you are transferring between Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Paris-Orly airports, you are authorized to carry these duty free articles in the cabin of the following flight only if you retain your bag sealed, accompanied by the corresponding proof of purchase.

>>> If your purchase occurred in an airport located outside the European Union, and you are transferring to a European Union country, you will not be authorized to carry your purchases onto your next flight. They will be taken away from you.

Onboard purchases:

If your purchase occurred onboard an aircraft belonging to a European airline departing from an airport located outside a European Union country, it will be accepted when you transfer in a European Union country, as long as it is placed in a sealed bag accompanied by the proof of onboard purchase.

Separate presentation of contents:

When passing through security control, you will be required to present all liquids separately. The transparent plastic bag should accommodate all containers and be easily sealable. You are also required to separately present your coat, jacket and larger electrical equipment, such as laptops, when passing through security control.

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