Top 10 Tips and Tricks for surviving Paris

It was a last minute decision to spend Christmas and New Year’s in Paris and it was one of the best decisions we ever made. Though I still can’t figure out how we got out of the holidays with my in-laws or my family, but I digress. After giving up a planned vacation for a new job it had been 18 months since a proper vacation, and needless to say we were both thrilled to be on a plane to the City of Lights for nearly 2 1/2 weeks.

New Year's Eve at the Eiffel Tower

New Year’s Eve at the Eiffel Tower

Since we’ve been back stateside we’ve been asked numerous time “What was your favorite part?” or “What would you recommend?” and honestly it’s really difficult to answer. Most in part because there were sooooo  many favorites and so many recommendations.  Since I’ve had some time to mull answers over, I’ve decided to do a 2 part blog-series on our faves and the recommendations. In this post, I’ll share our  top 10 tips and tricks to navigate through Paris during the winter.

1.  First and foremost, Kyle and I fell in love with experiencing another culture’s holiday season and would highly recommend it to everyone and anyone.

Christmas in Paris

Christmas in Paris

There’s less tourists, the locals are out, and the people are in high spirits. Paris is definitely one of the cities you must experience and explore during the holidays. From the Christmas markets to the hot-mulled wine to the lights hung around every street corner, it was amazing on so many levels and unfortunately this photo doesn’t do it justice.

2. Speaking of hot, spiced, mulled wine. Make sure you get a cup or two or three of “vin chaud” to keep warm during the cold, windy, wet (and possibly snowy) winter season. It will keep you warm long after you’ve drained the last drop.

Vin Chaud: hot, spiced, mulled wine.

Vin Chaud: hot, spiced, mulled wine.

We fell in love with this beverage, so much so that we made sure to have a cup everyday. It was that good.  Also, avoid asking the proper wine folks about this as this is considered ‘beneath’ them. We were even told on one occasion that it wasn’t ‘popular’ only to find out 25 feet away were two carnival-like kiosks selling them.  Keep an eye out for sandwich, kabab, and sweets (churros, donuts, etc) kiosks….they have the best vin chaud. The cafe versions are twice as much and don’t taste nearly as good.

3. Trust me. Get a Museum Pass.

It’s 42 Euro/Person for the two-day pass and is totally worth it especially if you’re only in town for a few days. But be sure that it gets you into the Musee (museums) you want to go since it doesn’t work for Eiffel Tower. Also, these must be used in consecutive days, so plan your Musee routes in advance to get the most out of it.  Finally, all Musee (museums) have two lines; security and entry. Typically security is the longest and the Museum pass lets you bypass the second line (entry) so don’t get frustrated when you’re standing in the first line with the ‘non-museum pass’ folks.

4. If you’re in need for some tchotchkes (keychains, magnets, old books, old magazines) to give to your friends, co-workers, and family be sure to buy it from the locals instead of the hawkers. The latter stalk tourists in front of the Louvre, Versailles, and all the major tourist sites. The locals are located on the Seine River by the Notre Dame Cathedral.  These sellers only have green boxes to sell from and have to fit all their belongings in 4 crates. We learned that by law there are only 250 sellers allowed per year and the average wait list time is eight years. Which basically means that someone needs to pass-away. It may be the PNW in me but there’s something to be said for supporting the locals.

5. As shared in a previous travel post, eating out can get expensive even if it’s for the simplest things like water, fruit and coffee. MonoPrix is a local grocery store chain (more like Fred Meyers with clothes and toiletries) we visited at least every two days to grab bottled water and snacks that’s significantly cheaper than the museum, cafe, or restaurant food. A smaller, more express store associated to the Monoprix is the Monop…..less selection but still you can grab the essentials.

Monoprix

They  saved us when Delta lost our luggage and we needed beanies and umbrellas. Also, both the main and express stores take credit cards with no spending minimum which is a huge life saver esp if you just want a bottle of water or a coke.  Besides, this is where the locals shop and it’s always exciting to see the variations of products available in different countries.

6.  You’ll inevitably use the metro lines while you’re in Paris. Make sure you purchase the carne in packs (10 tickets for 13.30) at any metro station, as it’s significantly cheaper than buying individual tickets.

 

Paris Metro Stations

Paris Metro Stations

Be sure to download these two apps and you can thank me later.  “Paris Metro” app and  “Google Maps” for Paris. Download the latter to access without wifi connection in advance. You can zoom in and identify where you’re at (using your phone’s GPS) along with the nearest metro stations. Once you have this, figure out where you want to go and open up the Paris Metro app. Click on the “route” tab and enter were you are and where you want to go. It will automatically offer you the metro links you need to take. This app  saved our lives.  Note: The #1 line (Yellow) is the main line to all the main tourist attractions. 

And for goodness-sake don’t even consider renting a car unless you want to die.

7. The RER lines are separate than the Metros and depending on the line, and where you want to go, can only be accessed through certain Metros stations.  Use the “Paris Metro” app that I noted above to help you. For example, if you want to catch a train to CDG airport, you need to head to the Chatalet metro stop to get to RER B.

Paris Metro App

Paris Metro App

Also, the RER runs every 15-30mins and they are more confusing to figure out what platforms you need to be on, so plan more time for these, especially if you go to Versailles or to the airport. If you’re staying in the city, your carnet ticket can get you on the RER and the metro (for example if you’re going to see the Moulin Rouge in the Monmarte arrondissement (neighborhood) you don’t need a separate carne. But if you’re going to and from outside the city like Versaille, you’ll need to buy different tickets at the metro counters that cost a bit more.  IE) Versaille RT is 13.30.

8. Parisians get a bad rap for their stiff-arm, cold shoulder attitude. But, honestly that’s instigated from the tourists. Going up to a Parisian and speaking English isn’t going to win you points just like a Chinese person coming up to you in Seattle speaking Madarin won’t get them very far either. For the most part, Parisians are polite and you don’t need to be purchasing a new Louis Vuitton purse to be on the receiving end of this. From cafes to boutiques to bakeries Parisians will always say “Bonjur” and you respond accordingly. After 7pm “Bonjur” is now “Bonsoir.”

Get into the habit of saying “Parlez-vouz anlais?” (Do you speak English) or “Je ne parle pas francais” (I don’t speak French). It will be a headache saver. The “Speak Easy French” app is awesome to learn how to pronounce the phrases correctly. The only bummer is that you can’t access the app without wifi.

9.  Create a routine . Get into a habit of popping into your local, corner cafe for a cafe au lait (cafe latte) or cafe (espresso) on a daily basis for your morning java fix and then head around the block to your boulangerie (bakery) for a pain au chocolat (chocolate croissant).

Morning cafe au lait

Morning cafe au lait

If you can, grab a sandwich to for an afternoon picnic while you’re grabbing your croissant.  Regardless of how long you’re in Paris, these establishments and their staff will recognize you and give you better service. You’ll become a local in no-time!

Impromptu picnic with a veiw

Impromptu picnic with a veiw

This also means you should try to spend as much time in Paris if you can. We recommend a week or more. With so many museums, cafes, gardens, etc to experience, anything less is crazy!

10. The Eiffel Tower is a must and you can’t experience it from the ground. Reserve your tickets at least one to two months in advance through their website.  If for some reason you forget about this, you can can either stand in line for three to four hours (I’m not kidding) or you can pay double the price and go through a reputable third party vendor (what we did) to get in as a group. We recommend Fat Tire Bike Tours. They were great, prompt, and easy to use. The only downside was the price and there was a massive windstorm on the day we were scheduled to go up the Tower that the Summit was closed.  So be sure to book in advance and save your euros for a lovely, authentic dinner.

Have you visited the City of Lights? Post your tips, tricks, and advice below and be sure to check back for Part 2: Our Favorites.

 

Five Year Anniversary: Does wood cutlery count?

When celebrating one’s five-year anniversary, tradition says that gifts should be paper or wood. “Wood represents strength solidity and warmth- are the traditional material on the fifth anniversary.” A modern gift is cutlery. Does wooden cutlery count? Yeah, I didn’t think so either. 

This past August 16th, we celebrated our five-year anniversary. I still can’t believe it’s been five years. It feels like yesterday when we were toasting the bubbly, smashing cupcakes in each other’s faces (I believe I started it), I was in the most expensive dress I ever owned (still own, and still the most expensive), and it was the one of the happiest (and most expensive) days of our lives.

My favorite photo from our wedding day.

My favorite photo from our wedding.

Due to some major life changes…ahem….me starting a new job at an awesome company, I had to start earlier than planned and gave up my month of vacation that we originally looking forward to. I say that like it’s a bad thing but really it’s not.  I actually started with three weeks paid vacation and there’s no accrual. I can’t believe I just typed that. I’m not gloating, bragging; okay maybe I am, in the tinniest sense. But, after working for my old company for nearly eight years just to get three weeks of vacation, this feels like a gift from God.

I digress. Gone is a month filled with backpacking, road-tripping, camping on the beach, and possibly being eaten by a bear.  I’m now working (and loving it) at a fab company and Kyle’s on summer break. We decided to head out of town on a four day holiday to a four star campsite  (that’s like a five start hotel) for some down time to celebrate.

But this isn’t a post about ratings, stars and screaming children– I’ll save that for another day. It’s a post to celebrate the 5 glorious years we’ve called our own. While hiking up to Rachel Lake (my new favorite hike and lake), I decided to start a “Top Five” list of sorts. This was partially self motivated because Kyle had shoved a can of bear spray in his day pack and knowing I had no idea where we were going, it was safe to assume we were taking a jaunt into  ‘bear country’ and thus I decided we needed to talk the entire time to keep away The Bears.

The Top Five Lists

 

Though we did have a lot of similarities, we had more fun re-living the last five years with ‘remember that one time…’ than we did actually putting them into these lists.  Regardless of these lists, I know what you’re really thinking about….

No,I did not get Kyle wooden cutlery but I did think about it.  Instead, I got him a rad, new, minimalistic wallet for his ‘green paper.’ He’s been eyeing out these wallets from Bellroy which I do have to say, make some amazing, quality leather goods. I fully endorse this small company especially since their wallets arrive beautifully wrapped so you don’t have to do it!

Kyle in typically fashion out did me. He spoke to the wood-sey girl in me with gaiters and the girly-girl in me with a gorgeous Kate Spade necklace. I see these gaiters lending me to my passion for the outdoors… in the woods. And my necklace is green, which is the same color as the trees! DUH. See, we totally have it together.

Photo Credit: www.rei.com

Photo Credit: http://www.rei.com

 

The 5-year bling

The 5-year bling via @jackieostlie instagram

 

But, honestly I’m really not that high maintenance as these gifts makes me out to be.  Proof? Rainier and Freezer-Dried Beef Stroganoff for our 5-year anniversary dinner. Does it help that I picked it out?

The celebratory grub

The celebratory grub

Saving is more than investing, it’s about Word of Mouth

In the last month, guest bloggers from around the world share their good, bad, or ugly customer service experiences. It’s been a place to complain, rant, and highlight opportunities for companies to improve. But, this series has also been a place to celebrate when companies do well, processes work effectively, service representatives are our advocates, and we leave a situation as stronger believers in the product or service than we started.  I hope you’ve enjoyed these stories as  much as I have! 

The lovely Kristina!

The lovely Kristina!

Today’s blog post comes from the land down under. Kristina and her husband Jeff moved to Australia several years ago and are one of the reasons for our travel adventure inspiration.  There’s a lot reasons why she’s a fave but her passion for reading and love for her kindle are a few top reasons…oh and she’s one of the sweetest people I know! 

First a bit of backstory about me. I am a loyal bank goer since before I can remember.

I was set up with a kids saving account at Bank of America for my college fund. Years later when my dad started to work at Boeing and became part of Boeing Employees Credit Union, I too started an account with them (my Bank of America savings account still in tow) for checking, saving and car loan.

After finishing college my BofA account was no longer needed as the funds were depleted but in turn I got one of their Alaska air miles Credit Cards so I could put all of our wedding expenses on there and get miles.

I never thought I would leave BofA or BECU as they have always been great to me and very helpful. But then the Big Move happened. We were moving overseas and both companies did not have branches overseas. Then started my search for a new company. I knew we would open accounts down here in Australia but I was loyal and wanted to stay with my companies.

After much talk, I continued our stay with BECU as they continued to allow us to keep our account even though there wouldn’t be much activity and we will still get/receive all our loyalty rewards. BECU was so helpful and accommodating I knew that we had made the right choice to stay with them. But when it came to our credit card with BofA we weren’t so lucky. So we started shopping around for a new credit card. I wanted a card that I could get miles for (as we would be travelling even more now), didn’t have a huge yearly fee and would work with us that we were living overseas for the time being. I fell upon Capital One. Now at first I wasn’t too sure about this company as all I could remember or think of for this company was their Viking commercials which concerned me a bit. But after so much needed research I decided to go with them as their fee was less than what I was paying with BofA, their air miles went to any airline (I wasn’t just locked into one airline), they were so accommodating of us being overseas, they have no international transaction fees (so even when we travel we can use the card and not get charged extra fees) and how cool is it that I could put whatever picture I wanted on there:

Photo Credit: Kristina Gutherie

Photo Credit: Kristina Gutherie

Ok that was a lot of rambling but I wanted to give you some back story before I shared my great customer service story.

As I said before Capital One has been excellent about us being overseas. They have always been helpful when it comes to weird charges and such and always willing to have me call collect or even call me back so I don’t have to pay the international calling fees (I just use Skype though so there is no worries there but it’s nice to know that service is available).

I always pay my bill on time (even early in most cases). But this month our internet went down for about a week (now you don’t really understand how much you use/need internet until your internet has went down but in any case it was done) and it was right during the time when our bill was due. So when our internet came back up I got on to do all of our banking and realized I had missed our due date (this has never happened but alas it did). I was getting ready to just suck it up and pay the fee as I knew it was our fault for being late.

I was talking to my husband and he said ‘just give them a call and let them know the situation and see if there is anything they can do.’ I highly doubted that they would do anything, as most places would say that we need to pay on time and not make excuses. So I called them, still thinking that I would have to pay the fee but wanted to ask anyways. Expecting to be on hold for awhile, I was shocked when someone answered the phone within a minute (points in my book) and it was a real person not a computer (another point). I then explained to her (I have forgotten her name unfortunately, as she was awesome) the situation: our internet was down and I missed paying our bill on time but was there anything they could do. First off, she was so understanding about having our internet go down and seemed genuinely empathic. She then said she could look into for me if I could give her a few details. I did and within seconds she was telling me that she would gladly reverse the charge and I should see it in one to two days on my statement. I was off the phone with the situation resolved in less than 10 minutes, that’s unheard of! She was so helpful and understanding it made me realize another reason why I am so thankful I changed to them.

I have recommended Capital One to so many people over the last three years and I will continue to share their amazing company with as many people as I can. I can’t say enough good things about a company that is so understanding, helpful , accommodating, and downright a joy to work with.

Thanks for following this month’s customer service blog series. I hope you’ve enjoyed these bloggers stories, experiences, and hopes as much as I have. Has there been a particular story that has resonated with you? Would you respond differently if you were in their shoes?  The one consistency I see in all these experiences, regardless of the #goodbadugly, is the customer’s initiative to respond and take action.  By doing so, you’re paving the way for companies to reinforce positive behavior or identify areas to improve.

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There’s no exchange of moolah behind these blog pages, pro-deals, or freebies with this series. What you see is what you get; real stories from real people who are sharing their experiences to challenge the status quo, inspire companies to take action, and ultimately build a life long customer. Be sure to check back this week!

July 30: Sometimes $20 makes all the difference by Meeka Kullberg

July 28: Changing the world one white mocha at a time by Stacy Wong

July 18: A Stranger in a Strange Land by Sandra Boedecker

July 15: I have renamed my WiFi network “TimeWarnerisHorrible” by Chris Miller

July 13: Our love affair with the world’s most hated airline by Kayla Robertson

July 12: Treat others how you would want to be treated. by Kristin

July 10: Where’s the Line? by Kristin McGunnigle

July 8: Do customers dream of electric sheep? by Stephen Ellis

July 5: Nike earns an A+ by Jackie Ostlie

July 3: How to Please the Queen by Katrina Taylor

July 1: Are you kidding me? by Evelyn Wolf

Sometimes $20 makes all the difference

In the last month, guest bloggers from around the world share their good, bad, or ugly customer service experiences. It’s been a place to complain, rant, and highlight opportunities for companies to improve. But, this series has also been a place to celebrate when companies do well, processes work effectively, service representatives are our advocates, and we leave a situation as stronger believers in the product or service than we started.  I hope you’ve enjoyed these stories as  much as I have! 
My bestie and "third" sister.

My bestie and “third” sister.

Today’s post comes from Oregon and my best friend Meeka. She’s one of the funniest writers I know and I can always depend on her for her honesty, humor, support, and transparency. Meeka’s the mother of two beautiful boys and shares her adventures, mishaps, and daily life on her blog, Surprised by Joy

 

I’m not a big bargain hunter. As a mom of two little boys, I find a lot of my time {and money} dedicated to them, versus shopping for the best deal. And I’ll admit, sometimes, I see a small mistake on the receipt or a missed deal and I just let it go, because though it might cost me a couple dollars, seriously, the time spent explaining, haggling and waiting for the fix, while also wrangling my kids? Depending on the day, that might just cost me my sanity.

I should probably just build that into my budget.

This is why company customer service attributes that impress me as a consumer usually have to do with response time and accessibility.

Customer service line waits longer than five minutes? Or I can’t call you? There’s no email? No online chat? No response to the online chat? Done, man. I probably won’t be back. Because there are just too many companies that are ready and available.

And even if I do have to pay a few dollars more, well, as mentioned above, a few dollars is nothing compared to the fact that my kids just disassembled my washing machine while I was sitting on hold.

Which is why a recent interaction with home furnishings giant Williams-Sonoma hooked me as a loyal return customer, and it only cost them $20.

My in-laws had gifted me a generous $150 gift card to Williams-Sonoma and after looking around a bit, I’d decided to use some of it on a Cuisinart Griddler. It was already on sale for $70 when I ordered it. After I clicked purchase, I sort of forgot about it. That is, until I got an email three days later that they were now having a “20 percent off electrics” sale. Of course they were. And on the day my now overpriced griddler was set to arrive.

Photo Credi: William Sonoma

Photo Credi: William Sonoma

I opened the box and it was great {a panini maker and a griddle all in one!}, but the situation kept gnawing at me, I mean, seriously, if I’d only waited, I would have had $20 extra dollars to spend! So I decided to give them a call. I mean, it never hurts to ask, right?

While looking for the customer service number, I found a handy internet chat icon. Have you ever used those? I’ve had minimal success with them. The lag time {if they answer} can be really atrocious and in general, I find people are nicer on the phone than on the internet {as we all know from reading YouTube comments}.

But I thought I’d give it a try, and imagine my surprise, when right away, a nice customer service representative named “Justin” popped up. I explained my issue and after a few moments, he came back on and explained that though they do price adjustments for a

certain period of time after purchase, they do not honor email code promotions after the fact.

I have to admit, I wasn’t surprised. But I was disappointed. And a little annoyed.

Williams-Sonoma is high end and it’s not like their prices are the best around. In fact, if I didn’t have the gift card, I probably wouldn’t even have been on their site in the first place. However, that’s when Justin’s chat box popped up with the second half of his response. He went on to say that although they don’t usually honor email code promotions, for this time only, they were willing to and would be sending me a gift card in the mail for the refunded $20.

Well, let me tell you, that totally made my day. Williams-Sonoma is a billion dollar company, but the fact that they enable their employees to be generous with consumers over such a small amount, absolutely won my heart.

As my husband said, “Of course they did, what can you buy at Williams-Sonoma for 20 dollars? They just garnered themselves another way to get you to spend more money there.” And yes, he’s absolutely right. But I will happily be back and I’ll tell all my friends, because even though they are a large and often expensive store, they still treat their customers with respect.

And I have the $20 to show for it.

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There’s no exchange of moolah behind these blog pages, pro-deals, or freebies with this series. What you see is what you get; real stories from real people who are sharing their experiences to challenge the status quo, inspire companies to take action, and ultimately build a life long customer. Be sure to check back this week!

July 28: Changing the world one white mocha at a time by Stacy Wong

July 18: A Stranger in a Strange Land by Sandra Boedecker

July 15: I have renamed my WiFi network “TimeWarnerisHorrible” by Chris Miller

July 13: Our love affair with the world’s most hated airline by Kayla Robertson

July 12: Treat others how you would want to be treated. by Kristin

July 10: Where’s the Line? by Kristin McGunnigle

July 8: Do customers dream of electric sheep? by Stephen Ellis

July 5: Nike earns an A+ by Jackie Ostlie

July 3: How to Please the Queen by Katrina Taylor

July 1: Are you kidding me? by Evelyn Wolf

Changing the world one white chocolate mocha at a time.

Over the course of  July, guest bloggers from around the world share their good, bad, or ugly customer service experiences. It’s a place to complain, rant, and highlight opportunities for companies to improve. But, this series is also a place to celebrate when companies do well, processes work effectively, service representatives are our advocates, and we leave a situation as stronger believers in the product or service than we started. 
Stacy: Lover of Starbucks and birthday wishes

Stacy: Lover of Starbucks and birthday wishes

Today’s blog comes from Nebraska via Hawaii. Stacy is a good friend from high-school, has the most infectious laugh, and is one of the most positive people I know. I think it also helps  that her older sister is my life-long BFF. 

 

So I am sitting here in my local Maui Starbucks working on my pile of “to-do’s” from work.  As I glance over at my cup, I noticed the barista spelt my name right, which most people don’t since it’s not the most common way of spelling, “Stacy”. There’s something about your name being spelt right that just makes you smile.  It then reminded me of my awesome customer service experiences I have had with this company.  A company which many believe is too corporate or commercialized.

The first goes back to January.  It was my birthday, and my birthday drink didn’t pop up in my Starbucks app yet.  I was looking forward to my drink, along with all the well wishes a birthday usually entails.  Well, the app hadn’t come through and neither did the well wishes.  It was probably the worst birthday I’ve had.  Though I’m not the type to like to be in the spotlight, for some reason, it bothered me that no one remembered.  To top it off, work was stressful and I just wanted to go home and have my free birthday drink.  But it still never popped up.  I went home and my husband told me to call customer service and ask them about my birthday drink.  I was so fed up with the day by that point that I almost didn’t call.  Eventually I called and spoke to a customer service representative (I wish I knew his name).  After explaining the reason for my call he said, “Well first of all, Happy Birthday!”  He was the first person, besides my husband, to tell me happy birthday.  He had just made my day! And to top it off he said he would also load three more drink rewards and $15 as a birthday gift!  I was floored by his kindness and generosity, and quickly exclaimed, “You just made my birthday!  Thank you!”  I’m sure he didn’t fully understand what that meant to me, but it was the kindness of this stranger that turned my whole birthday around.

It's all about the personal touches.

It’s all about the personal touches.

My other experiences have to do with the joy you feel when someone remembers your name or simply spells your name correctly as I shared earlier.  I am a Maui girl transplanted to the land of corn in Nebraska.  I had gone into my local Starbucks in Grand Island and I had another discrepancy in my Starbucks Rewards account.  The date on my drink reward was the previous day, but it still said “available.”  I went in to ask, not expecting much since the date was actually expired, but it doesn’t hurt to ask right?  So they tried using the code, which of course showed up as expired and unavailable, but before I said anything the barista said he would just put the drink order through.  Having originally ordered a hot drink, he asked if I had ever tried the frappuccino version since it was so hot out.  I pondered the offer, but initially declined since he had already written on my cup.  He insisted that if I wanted the frappuccino he could easily change it and that it was no big deal.  So I said okay.  It was almost 95 degrees out, so why not?  After I got my drink I thanked the baristas for being so awesome and friendly.  As I walked out I noticed that they had written my name on my cup, as they usually do, but then realized that he hadn’t even asked for my name!  And to top it off, he spelt it correctly!  It made my day that I was recognized by my local Starbucks baristas (I’m sure your name pops up when they scan your card, but it still makes me feel special), bringing a personal touch to what feels like such a commercial world.

And now that brings me to today.  I’m home on a short vacation, but that can’t take away from my typical routine of finding a Starbucks to sit down and get some work done.  Yes, it is a simple thing to get the spelling of your name correct, but that’s probably the most personal and defining thing about yourself…besides maybe your birthday!  So, I suppose Starbucks has gotten two things right.  They’ve touched me on a personal level through their customer service and I appreciate all they have helped me get through:  from countless all nighters for exams and projects, to my past birthday, one white chocolate mocha at a time.

 

 

Have you experienced such positive and uplifting experiences from a company like Stacy has? What was your experience and how has it reinforced your support of the brand or product?

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There’s no exchange of moolah behind these blog pages, pro-deals, or freebies with this series. What you see is what you get; real stories from real people who are sharing their experiences to challenge the status quo, inspire companies to take action, and ultimately build a life long customer. Be sure to check back this week!

July 18: A Stranger in a Strange Land by Sandra Boedecker

July 15: I have renamed my WiFi network “TimeWarnerisHorrible” by Chris Miller

July 13: Our love affair with the world’s most hated airline by Kayla Robertson

July 12: Treat others how you would want to be treated. by Kristin

July 10: Where’s the Line? by Kristin McGunnigle

July 8: Do customers dream of electric sheep? by Stephen Ellis

July 5: Nike earns an A+ by Jackie Ostlie

July 3: How to Please the Queen by Katrina Taylor

July 1: Are you kidding me? by Evelyn Wolf

A Stranger in a Strange Land

Companies should be treating their customers with the best care and experience, regardless of if you’ve got the budget the size of Nordstrom or REI. It will pay off in the short and long term for all parties involved. We’ll be your biggest advocate or your worst enemy. Need proof? Check out the lesson learned from FTD Flowers, Time Warner Cable, Blog Hosting Company, and Ryanir. Over the course of the month, you’ll read posts from fellow guest bloggers from around the world sharing their good, bad, or ugly customer service experiences…all of them very real. 
Photo Credit: Sandra Boedecker

The trendiest multi-tasker I know.

Today’s post comes from China (and the U.S.). Sandra is a dear friend, amazing editor/word-smith, and quite possibly more of my twin than my own sister.  Interests, fears, passions, pet-peeves, need for order and planning, you-name-it we’re pretty much identical. Even our husbands are alike in so many ways! But that’s a completely different blog post.  Read on about Sandra and her husband’s adventures while living abroad. How would you respond if you were in their shoes?  

As Americans it’s easy to forget that not every country has the same standards of customer service that we’ve come to expect as a constitutional right.

As a traveler, it’s good to remind yourself of that fact before you start banging your head on a brick wall … or the Great Wall, as the case may be.

Photo Credit: Sandra Boedecker

“The Great Wall of China.” Photo Credit: Sandra Boedecker

My husband has spent quite a bit of time in China for work over the past few years and I’ve been able to join him for some of it, thanks to a stellar boss and work team, the wonders of Skype and Dropbox, and the not-insignificant-advantage of working ahead several time zones. And while it goes without saying that success in navigating everyday life in China is dramatically affected by the quality of your Mandarin skills, we’ve had two experiences that offer lessons about customer service that hold true anywhere in the world—regardless of what language you speak.

Case study #1: China Southern Airlines

A couple of years ago we were flying from Shenzhen (near Hong Kong) to London via Beijing for a highly anticipated vacation. My unease began when we pushed away from the gate … and sat there for two hours.

I should explain that in China the plane will always push back even if the pilot knows with 100 percent certainty that he won’t be taking off anytime soon. After all, someone else needs the gate—there’s a billion other people waiting, right?

My worst fears were realized when we arrived in Beijing well after our connecting flight was scheduled to leave. As it transpired, that flight had been cancelled along with 400 others that day; we could immediately see that the “bad weather” being blamed for our delay was nothing more than stupendously bad pollution—as in, hazardous-to-your-health, looks-like-a-nuclear-winter, keep-the-elderly-and-babies-inside. We were going to have to stay the night.

Were there organized, efficient airline employees to meet us, take us to transportation that would whisk us to comfortable accommodations, and greet us the next morning to guide us to our rescheduled flight? Like how it worked for Todd when a Northwest Airlines flight arrived late in Japan due to a mechanical?

Um … no. No, there were not.

There were plenty of airline employees around. It was just that none of them seemed capable or desirous of offering any type of assistance. With every staff person we asked, we were repeatedly directed (vaguely) elsewhere, eventually joining ourselves to a frenzied, milling crowd at a ticketing counter and finally rushing to join a group of people who were getting on a bus to a hotel (feeling fairly certain that had we not, we would have been sleeping on the floor of the airport).

You could just see in the employees’ faces that they didn’t give a rat’s left butt cheek.

Fortunately things changed the next day when we returned to the airport and found the right person. After the requisite “strategic positioning” in line (fail to assert yourself and you will get NOWHERE in China), my unfailingly polite husband differentiated himself from the crowds of shouting Chinese by speaking calmly to the ticketing agent, expressing his appreciation for her efforts, and commiserating with her situation. Voila—a coveted spot on the standby list.

Of course, we almost missed our chance at that day’s flight because we weren’t warned more than two minutes in advance that we needed to run for the tram or the plane was going to leave without us. But that’s China for you.

 Moral: Be nice, and you might move ahead of the hordes.

Case study #2: Specialized Bicycles

Being something of a mountain biking fanatic, Todd decided to buy a bike in China to keep at least some of his sanity and physical conditioning.

 

Photo Credit: Sandra Boedecker

A ‘clean’ Todd. Photo Credit: Sandra Boedecker

 

While he is far from the local Specialized shop’s biggest-spending customer, their service is nothing short of jaw-dropping. The easygoing proprietor, Shark (note: Chinese people choose their own English names, sometimes with humorous results) will gladly:

  • Completely clean and detail a mud-splattered bike for next to nothing—even when it’s a different bike that Todd later brought from home (fanatics must have options …).

    Photo Credit: Sandra Boedecker

    A ‘muddy’ Todd. Photo Credit: Sandra Boedecker

  • Store the bike securely while Todd is out of the country and have it prepped, tuned, and ready to roll upon his return.
  • Add air to the tires, check brakes, and make small adjustments for free any time a customer stops by the shop.
  • Take a van to pick up a rider with a mechanical problem if they call from anywhere in the nearby region, at no cost.
  • Reassure a foreigner whose folding bike was just stolen from outside a local mall, and who calls him for advice, that she should not bother with the police, who will simply waste her time by collecting information that they will do nothing with. (That was me. Yes, it happened. Yes, I’m still sad.)
  • Give said foreigner a discount on a new bike to replace the stolen one. (Well, I guess I was a repeat customer … but still, a sympathy discount? Pretty nice.)
Photo Credit: Sandra Boedecker

The replacement. Photo Credit: Sandra Boedecker

Moral: Find good people to do business with, and stick with them.

Experiences with customer service in China have alternately made us smile in amazement and shake our heads (if not our fists) in disbelief. And they’ve given us some great stories—and lessons—about how to get what you need, whether you’re a local or a laowai.*

*mzungu, gringo, foreigner

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There’s no exchange of moolah behind these blog pages, pro-deals, or freebies with this series. What you see is what you get; real stories from real people who are sharing their experiences to challenge the status quo, inspire companies to take action, and ultimately build a life long customer. Be sure to check back this week!

July 15: I have renamed my WiFi network “TimeWarnerisHorrible” by Chris Miller

July 13: Our love affair with the world’s most hated airline by Kayla Robertson

July 12: Treat others how you would want to be treated. by Kristin

July 10: Where’s the Line? by Kristin McGunnigle

July 8: Do customers dream of electric sheep? by Stephen Ellis

July 5: Nike earns an A+ by Jackie Ostlie

July 3: How to Please the Queen by Katrina Taylor

July 1: Are you kidding me? by Evelyn Wolf

I have renamed my WiFi network “TimeWarnerIsHorrible.”

I’m a staunch advocate for treating people, especially your customers with the best care and experience, regardless of if you’re Nordstrom or REI. It will pay off in the short and long term for all parties involved. I’ll either be your biggest advocate or your worst enemy. Need proof? Check out the lesson learned from FTD Flowers here and here. Over the course of the month, you’ll read posts from fellow guest bloggers from around the world sharing their good, bad, or ugly customer service experiences…all of them very real. 
Chris Miller

“Just like Tom Selleck … but without the mustache.”

Today’s customer service post comes from Kansas City. Chris Miller is one of the funniest people I know. Definitely in the top three.  I think it might have been the huge orange wig he was wearing when I first met him as part of a Team World Vision event he was at. Don’t believe me? I guarantee you will be easily entertained by his Twitter handle or Facebook feed.  

A few days ago I was asked to write a blog post around a customer service experience. I was told that it could be either a positive or negative experience. As I thought this request and began to ponder which experience I would write about, there was one that immediately came to mind.

But I said no. I repressed the thought. I wouldn’t go there. I couldn’t. This post should be positive. It should reward one of the many good companies doing good work.

I began to think about the good experiences I have had. Receiving a kind reply from a Brooks Running employee on Twitter. Being calmed down by an Apple Store employee after my MacBook refused to start. Chatting with an Amazon employee when I accidentally purchased the wrong software, and thought I had just thrown away a hundred dollars. All good. And would make good stories.

But that one bad experience kept creeping up. I couldn’t shake it. Like a shadowy figure in a dark alley, stalking its next victim, it lingered just out of sight, waiting to take ahold. It haunted me. I couldn’t escape…

Time Warner. Time Warner Cable.

Since moving to Kansas City two years ago, they have been the bane of my Netflix-watching, Facebook-posting existence. From the slower-than-promised download speeds to faster-than-expected calls to upgrade to the premium package, they have proven themselves to be a consistent annoyance. But it wasn’t until an experience two months ago that they became the reason for multiple trips to my therapist.

I had just come home from work. I had a paper due at midnight. I had to get online. I sat down at my computer and dove into my research. Or I intended to. Instead, I found myself staring at the “no networks found” dialogue box on my screen. So I called Time Warner.

The menu. I dial my phone number. Wait? They need my account number too? I opted for paperless billing. I need to get online. I can’t. My phone. Switch to speaker. Open email app. Search. Click the link. Login. How do you find your own account number? The recorded voice prompts me again. My blood pressure is rising. Took too long. Must start the call again. Menu again. Phone number again. Account number again. We are in. Wait. More options. Which department?

Photo Credit: Chris Miller

Photo Credit: Chris Miller

After five minutes of this a got a person, a real life person. I could tell he was real by the “I-hate-my-job” tone in his voice. He checked the area for an outage. Nothing. He said it must be something on my end. We unplugged the router, the cable box, computer, toaster… Everything plugged in was unplugged. We waited five minutes. We replugged. Still Nothing.

For twenty more minutes we tediously completed every step in the Time Warner Cable Tech Support Handbook. I was still not online and running out of time to finish my paper. I think he could hear my panic. He decided to take a closer look at my account. He then noticed that it had been deactivated. He didn’t know why.

We then got on a conference call with someone from accounting. She was confused. She went to get the manager. That left me and the tech guy on the the line, awkwardly listening to hold music. It was like being on an elevator alone with someone who may or may not want to murder me. I was scared.

Finally, she came back. She explained that my account had been closed due to a lack of payment. She said I should contact my bank. I explained that I was set up on Time Warner’s auto payment system. They were debiting the money directly out of my account. She was baffled. She did not know that Time Warner had this service.

She checked with a co-worker. They concluded that Time Warner does indeed have this service, but they have turned it off for my account. She didn’t know why.

She turned it back on, but explained that I must pay the balance. I agreed and got my credit card out. She then informed me that this can only be done through a customer service representative. I asked to be transferred.

They couldn’t transfer me. (That was beyond the capabilities of their system.) I was told I must hang up and call a different number. Once completed, I must call this number back to reactivate my account. I asked for a direct number. They informed me I must go through the phone menu. A single tear fell down the right side of my face. They broke me. In that moment, they broke me.

Forty-five minutes later, I was speaking with my fifth Time Warner employee of the day. The gruffly voice of an overworked technician explained that he could turn my connection back on, but it could take up to twelve hours to activate. All hope was gone. My paper would be late. I would receive a lower grade.

Unfortunately, I am still with Time Warner. There is no viable alternative in my area … yet. Google Fiber is on the way. Until then, I have made it my goal to inform my family, friends, and neighbors of their shady ways. And, as a constant reminder of their bad customer service, I have renamed my WiFi network TimeWarnerIsHorrible.

Chris’ story hits a nerve. I know we all can recall a single time we have been stuck with no other alternatives to leave a brand despite your best efforts. It may be due to uncontrollable circumstances or an industry monopoly. But companies should be reminded that these situations do not create long lasting customers. Rather obligated, disgruntled, and an un-loyal customer base. If you were in Time Warner’s shoes, wow would you turn their reputation and response around? 

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There’s no exchange of moolah behind these blog pages, pro-deals, or freebies with this series. What you see is what you get; real stories from real people who are sharing their experiences to challenge the status quo, inspire companies to take action, and ultimately build a life long customer. Be sure to check back this week!

July 13: Our love affair with the world’s most hated airline by Kayla Robertson

July 12: Treat others how you would want to be treated. by Kristin

July 10: Where’s the Line? by Kristin McGunnigle

July 8: Do customers dream of electric sheep? by Stephen Ellis

July 5: Nike earns an A+ by Jackie Ostlie

July 3: How to Please the Queen by Katrina Taylor

July 1: Are you kidding me? by Evelyn Wolf