April 29, 2007

By Any Other Name…

Filed under: General — Cory @ 9:17 pm

I’ve been using ants.wynand.com for my domain for over 2 years now, and people still can’t remember. As I mentioned a couple months ago, I recently bought antsonthemelon.com as well, and as of today I plan to begin using that as the primary domain for this site. I’ve set up redirects for all the old links, and everything should forward to www.antsonthemelon.com automatically. If you have anything bookmarked, read my RSS feed, or link to my site, you might want to update those now.

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April 23, 2007

Is Providing Good Customer Service Really So Hard?

Filed under: Business,General,Idiots — Cory @ 12:26 am

For the past few years I have been paying a lot of attention to customer service. I’ve always cared about customer service, but when I became a customer of Rackspace almost 5 years ago I experienced what it was like to really love being a customer of a company. I told everyone about Rackspace, and recommended several people to them. Finally, I decided I wanted to work there since I thought this company was so great. How many companies affect their customers so much that they actually want to become employees? I am not the only one, I know of 4 other individuals who worked at Rackspace that got there by being customers first.

This post isn’t about Rackspace, it’s about the other end of the customer service spectrum. This is about the companies, big and small, who just do not get it. So, the following are a few experiences I have had lately.

The Unremarkable

Sapore’s Pizza

A couple weeks ago in San Antonio Sandy and I were trying to think of places to eat, and I mentioned Californa Pizza Kitchen. Not the best pizza restaurant, but not too bad either. Sandy suggested instead that we eat at Sapore’s Pizza since it was a small operation run by an Italian man who seemed to do everything there. “Sure”, I said, since I prefer to support small businesses anyway.

We got there at 8pm on Friday night, and noticed they closed at 9. There was a sign advertising “pizza by the slice,” so Sandy asked for a slice of some specialty pizza they had on the menu. She was told that it was too late, “sorry.” This was somewhat understandable since it was late, but they should probably mention that on their menu. Since I just wanted a cheese pizza, we decided to order their $8 medium, half cheese and half with the four toppings that Sandy wanted. He rang it up and the total was $14, which quickly made me suspicious. It turns out that the toppings are $1.50 each, and she ordered 4 of them, so $6.00. I said “but she’s only getting half a pizza of the toppings, shouldn’t that be half the amount for the toppings?” His response was “sorry, no.” I asked again, hoping maybe that we had only had a misunderstanding, but no, they wanted to change $1.50 for covering half of a pizza with basil! Now, I could understand if I had not pointed this out to the guy, but not only had I brought up the issue, but I asked him twice if this was correct. Simply acknowledging the ridiculousness of the situation and taking $3 off the pizza would have made me really happy, and probably a returning customer. Instead, for $3, I will never return there, and I am making it known that Sapore’s Pizza deserves to be overrun by the competition.

Sushi King

Shortly after moving to Houston I discovered a few sushi restaurants in town, and after my first visit to the Sushi King on Kirby and Richmond I decided that I liked the food there the best. Several weeks later I returned with Sandy, after telling her how much I liked it there. On my previous trip I had ordered a tuna sashimi and when it arrived I noticed that it was cut quite a bit thick for my taste. So, this time I ordered it again, but asked that it be sliced a little thinner. The waitor seemed a little confused, and said that he would have to check with the sushi chefs to see if this was ok. When he returned he told me that there would be an additional $1 charge for it to be thinly sliced. A $1 additional charge on an already expensive $18 order! I wasn’t asking for more food, I was just asking that they slice it thinner! I have not been back to Sushi king since then. All because of $1. The funny thing is, if they had have just baked the $1 cost into the price of the sashmimi to begin with, I would never have had a problem with it. It would have just simply been priced at $19 on the menu rather than $18, and I would have probably ordered it anyway.

Blue Fish House Sushi Bar

I had a similar experience at the Blue Fish House Sushi Bar on Richmond Avenue in Houston. I ordered tuna sashimi thinly sliced, the waitress asked the sushi chef, and they refused to do it! Not only were they turning down the opportunity to make an extra buck like Sushi King did, they simply told the customer “No.” Again, I have not been back since.

Grand Lux Cafe

Recently Sandy and I went to Grand Lux Cafe for brunch, and had a pretty good meal. In fact, we were so impressed with the food that we were anxious to come back to try other things on the menu. So, today we returned for brunch.

Grand Lux Cafe is a chain owned by the Cheesecake Factory restaurants, and it has a similar feel inside. Like Cheesecake Factory, Grand Lux seems to care about maintaining a high level of service. As I have noticed recently, its easy to make it seem like you have great customer service while things are going as planned, but the real winners stand out by how problems are handled.

Our service today at Grand Lux was so-so, and the waitor just did not seem to pay attention to us as guests. We were seated at a table for 4, but were only on one end of the table, facing each other. This is minor, but twice when the waitor brought things to the table, he moved our drinks out of our reach to the other end of the table so that he could put a plate or basket in front of us. Imagine two people sitting at one end of the table, and their drinks at the other end. Fine, so he was oblivious to small things like this, I can live with that.

After we finished eating he returned to the table and begin stacking all of the plates on top of each other, without placing the spoons, forks and knifes together. After the third plate was placed on top the stack became really wobbly, and a spoon full of raspberry sauce fell on my shirt.

Now, as someone who has waited tables in the past, I understand this, and sympathize, especially since a lot of people get angry and make a scene. I wasn’t upset, I just sort of sat there to see how this would be handled. He apologized and then ran off to get a glass of club soda for me to clean my shirt with. When he returned he told me that the manager had been notified and would be coming by the table shortly to work things out. He also took the opportunity to say that “it isn’t really a big deal,” and that it was “just a mistake.” Hum… strike one. When the manager comes by a few minutes later he says that we have two options, either:

  1. I can get the shirt dry cleaned, and they will pay the bill, or
  2. They will remove the cheapest item from our bill.

I am not really interested in getting a t-shirt of a filthy Stewart Gilligan Griffin dry cleaned, and I tell the manager this, and also that I would prefer that more of the $30 meal be comp’d, rather than the just the $6 appetizer. He repeated the two previously mentioned options. I asked what would happen if they paid for the dry cleaning, and the stain didn’t come out, to which he replied, “we would need to see what happens with the dry cleaning first.” Strike two. So, in reality there are three options:

  1. They pay for dry cleaning that might not be able to remove the stain, and the fate of this situation is left in the hands of a guy who has already proven he doesn’t understand customer service,
  2. I take the $6 credit for the appetizer, or
  3. I argue with the guy over an additional $9 credit to my meal

I prefer not to make scenes, especially over $9. I also don’t want to deal with dry cleaners, receipts, trips back to the Grand Lux, dealing with the manager for a credit, and everything else that would be involved in getting this thing dry cleaned. So I end up with the $6 credit. And it is clear to the manager that I am not happy about this. Again, here is a situation where the manager had the opportunity to do something that would make me a loyal customer for life. All he had to do is credit my entree, and if he wanted me to tell my friends about how wonderful the service at the Grand Lux was, he could have comp’d the whole meal, a measly $30. Instead, he chose to take the cheapest thing we ordered off our final bill, and leave a customer obviously not satisfied. Strike three.

You Say I Expect Too Much

No, I don’t think I do. I realize that there has to be some point where the customer is being ridiculous. You can’t give the customer anything they want, because there are unreasonable people who will try to take advantage of you. I also don’t think I was being unreasonable in any of the above situations. In each case, the person I was dealing with had the opportunity to make the situation remarkable, as Seth Godin would say. (I really enjoy reading Seth’s blog, as he frequently gives examples of the good and the bad of customer service). In every case it would have been very easy to do something so good that I would tell my friends about it. Instead, they did something bad enough that I am telling the whole world about it.

And Now For The Praise

Houston’s Restaurant on Kirby

Saturday night Sandy and I decided to try dinner at Houston’s Restaurant on Kirby since Nathan keeps recommending it (and that guy knows food). Although the food was pricey, the service here was excellent. As you can tell, I notice a lot of little things (moving drinks out of reach, etc), and I noticed something like this at Houston’s as well. I typically use a Discover card for most purchases, and occassionally I come across a business that does not accept Discover. Normally it goes something like this. In other words, they say something like “We do not accept Discover” in the same tone that they would probably say “your card has been declined.” However, the waitor at Houston’s had much more tact and politely asked “oh, do you happen to have another card?” This was a completely different way of getting the same message across, and I appreciated it. I imagine if someone at Houston’s had spilled raspberry sauce on my shirt, they wouldn’t have taken the cheap way out.

Osaka Japanese Restaurant on Westheimer

Friday night we wanted Sushi, and since Sushi King and Blue Fish House are out of the question, we decided to go to Osaka. I had been here a couple times before, and it seemed pretty good. I ordered a sushi roll, edamame, and miso soup, and Sandy just ordered a roll. After a while the sushi rolls came out, and after we had finished eating those I flagged a waitress down to ask about the edamame and miso soup (which would normally come before anything else). After bringing this to the attention of our waitress she literally ran to the kitchen to get them for me. Afterwards the manager came over to our table and offered us each our choice of ice cream, on the house. Yes! Osaka is my new favorite Sushi restaurant! See how easy that was?

Even The Best Have Bad Days

I also realize that even some of the best screw up every once in a while. One of my all time favorite restaurants is The Tillerman in Las Vegas, and every time I have been there I have had amazing experiences, both for the food and the service. I have taken friends there, and they were equally impressed. Last fall a friend was out in Vegas and after hearing me talk so much about The Tillerman he decided to go there with several friends. I was shocked to find out that they had a horrible experience, with both the food and the service. I love this restaurant so much that I personally felt hurt that they didn’t enjoy it, and I just couldn’t understand how they could have such a bad experience. I guess it is possible that some of the bad experiences I have had were just bad days for the restaurants, but that’s too bad. “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once — shame on — shame on you. You fool me, you can’t get fooled again.”

It’s Everywhere!

This lack of acceptable customer service isn’t just limited to restaurants either. I had a horrible experience with the U.S. Post Office just this week (although that isn’t too shocking). A couple months ago we stayed at the Hotel Valencia in downtown San Antonio. We weren’t planning to check in until around 6:00, so I called about 3:00 to make a reservation at the hotel restaurant. I got a recording saying that the restaurant was closed from 2-5pm, and to call back later or leave a voice mail. How hard would have it been to forward the phones to the front desk and let them make the reservation?

It just doesn’t seem that anyone at these companies is spending any time trying to see things from the customer’s perspective.

Or maybe I just spend too much time thinking about these things.

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April 22, 2007

Dirty, Foul and Covered in Irony

Filed under: General — Cory @ 8:46 pm

[ Dirty, Foul and Covered in Raspberry Sauce ]I bought this shirt of Stewie because I liked what was written on it: “I’m a dirty, foul, little boy.” Although I bought it about 2 years ago, I’ve rarely worn it since and on Friday I rediscovered it in a box of t-shirts. Well, this morning I decided to wear it again out to brunch since it was a nice, sunny day.

As the waitor was taking our plates, he dropped a spoon covered in raspberry sauce right on my shirt. I was a little annoyed until I realized the irony of the situation: that I was now a dirty little boy. (Well, kinda)

The raspberry sauce went much better with the beignets than it did with my shirt. I should have told the waitor “no raspberry sauce on my shirt,” like Stewie would:

No sprinkles. For every sprinkle I find, I shall kill you! – Stewie

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April 19, 2007

Upgrade to Firefox 2

Filed under: Technology — Cory @ 10:21 am

I like to check the monthly stats for browser market share and operating system market share, and I have noticed that it seems like a lot of people are still using Firefox 1 or 1.5 rather than the much improved Firefox 2 (which was released nearly 6 months ago).

If you don’t know what version you are running, go here and look in the right side column. It should look something like the image to the right here, if not you should consider upgrading.

Some of the new features are spell checking, session restore (if you quit Firefox, when you restart it all your tabs will open to where they were), better tabbed browsing, and search suggestions. It’s also a lot faster than the older versions. You can download Firefox 2 from getfirefox.com.

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April 17, 2007

Don’t Buy Stuff You Cannot Afford

Filed under: General — Cory @ 7:54 pm

Groundbreaking new financial ideas, brought to you by SNL.

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April 16, 2007

Ripped Off at the Checkout

Filed under: General,Idiots — Cory @ 9:58 pm

Recently I have been paying more attention to how much money I spend at restaurants, coffee shops, and the like. Since I have been trying to cut back on my expenses, I have been putting more thought into what I buy, and what the total amount should be. What I have found is a little scary, and has made me pay even more attention to my receipts.

I’ve been keeping an eye on these things for about a month now, and it seems that about 1-2 times per week I catch a cash register attendant overcharging me. The first time or two it happened I thought it was just a simple mistake. But then it kept happening, and now I notice it a lot. Whenever I am suspicious I ask how much each item costs, and typically the attendant seems to know right away that there was a problem, act(?) dumb, and say something like “oh, I must have touched an extra key.”

I wonder how much I have been overcharged for in the past?

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April 15, 2007

Using screen and irssi to connect to multiple IRC servers and channels

Filed under: Technology — Cory @ 11:46 pm

I never was really big into the whole IRC scene, but I do have a few channels that I like to keep an eye on, mainly because they are just groups of friends from different points in my life. For a while now I have been using irssi in a screen session from a server I maintain, so that I always have a history of the conversations even when I am offline. Tonight I decided I wanted to figure out how to get irssi to keep separate windows for each of the channels I follow across multiple servers.

First, you don’t need to edit a config file, because irssi can save out its configuration via the /save command.

I want to connect to efnet and freenode upon startup, and join a couple channels right away. We first define a couple “networks”:


Then define the servers for those networks, and tell irssi to automatically connect to those servers:

/SERVER ADD -auto -network Efnet irc.efnet.org 6667
/SERVER ADD -auto -network Freenode irc.freenode.net 6667

Then tell irssi which channels to join by default:

/CHANNEL ADD -auto #ubuntu-houston Freenode
/CHANNEL ADD -auto #blahblah Efnet

To make it easier to switch from window to window without having to type /window goto 2 or /window goto #ubuntu-houston I added a couple aliases:

/alias ubuntu /window goto #ubuntu-houston
/alias blah /window goto #blahblah

This allows me to simply type /ubuntu and /blah (using tab completion) to switch between channels.

Now that I have the settings the way I want them, I can save them to the startup config by running:


And that’s it. The next time I run irssi it will automatically connect to the right servers and join the channels I want it to.

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April 5, 2007

Understanding Spotlight and Searching Python and Ruby Files

Filed under: Technology — Cory @ 12:11 am

Tonight I spent a little time learning more about how Mac OS X’s Spotlight system works. Specifically, I wanted to know how it indexes a drive, where it stores the index, and how to trigger a re-index.

Apple has a page of Spotlight tips, but it doesn’t really give much information on how to manage the indexing process. This page offered some interesting insight into the md* commands, which I had also read about in this macosxhints.com article.

It turns out that there are two common ways to tell Spotlight to update its index.

The first way, and the Apple recommended way, is to drag your “Macintosh HD” icon into the box in the “Privacy” tab of the Spotlight preferences, and then drag it out again. By doing this you are telling Spotlight to ignore that drive, and it removes the index, which is stored in the root directory of the drive in a directory named .Spotlight-V100. When you drag the drive back out of the Privacy box, it begins to re-build the index. Apparently this can take upwards of an hour on an average Mac with an 80-100 GB drive.

The second, and apparently less predictable, way of forcing a re-index is to use the Spotlight command line tools. The following can be used to initiate a re-index from the root of the main volume (mdutil must be run as root):

sudo mdutil -E /

If you just want Spotlight to re-index a certain folder, you can use the mdimport command (doesn’t need to be run as root):

mdimport ~/Documents

Another interesting thing about Spotlight is that there are “importers” for certain types of files. These importers are used to extract metadata about certain types of files. For example, peeking into a PDF file is different than looking at an MP3, so Spotlight is designed to load lots of different importers to help it index your data. You can see a list of these imports by running the following:

mdimport -L

Also, you can see the default importers, and rearrange their ordering in search results, by going to the “Search Results” tab of the Spotlight preferences.

When I ran the above mdimport -L command I noticed that there were several custom importers on my system. I did a quick Google search (searching about searching, how meta!) to find out what other importers were out there and I found this page on Apple’s site. It turns out that people have written quite a few custom importers, including one to index Python files and another to index Ruby files.

The Python importer automatically begins indexing after you install it, so be aware that your processor may spike for 10 minutes or so after you have installed the importer. The Ruby one does not automatically index, but if you install it before the Python one, Ruby files will be indexed at that time.

Apparently I had never set up a default application for Python and Ruby files, because when they showed up in search results there was no little TextMate icon beside them. To correct this I just located and clicked on a Python file and a Ruby file, pressed Command-I, selected TextMate in the “open with” section, and clicked the “Change All” button to apply this to globally. Now when a Python or Ruby file shows up in search results, selecting it automatically launches TextMate.

There are a couple of other cool importers that I installed as well. I have a lot of zip, tar/gz and tar/bz2 files on my Mac (I keep everything I ever download), and I noticed that there are importers for zip files and tar files, so I went ahead and installed those too!

One other neat thing is that you can do Spotlight searches directly from the command line using the mdfind utility:

$ mdfind firefox
/Users/cwright/Library/Application Support/Firefox

Apparently Apple is improving Spotlight in Leopard by making it faster, allowing it to index and search network shares, and allowing more specific searches. Woot!

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April 4, 2007

Buy Yourself a Web App

Filed under: Technology — Cory @ 9:44 pm

For the past year or two my buddy Ken has been working on a web app to make building online databases easier. That app is now up for auction on eBay. If you are interested in this sort of thing, go check it out and play with the live demo. And if you happen to know someone who is looking for such an app, and has some spare change hidden in their couch, point them to the auction.

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