Rogers: boob behind the tube


When I signed a 2-year digital TV contract last July with Rogers, it was following a long and painful price negotiation with their customer service department. Unhappy that they had increased their prices last summer, I argued to get it at the previous price. Plus additional discounts for invoicing screw-ups. Now, 9 months into the contract, this month’s invoice displayed a sudden hike in the amount due. Of course, I called them up immediately.

(Following several minutes of unbearable Muzak)

Me:  Hi. The amount on my invoice is higher than usual, and I’d like to know why.
Rep:  Yes. Rogers has increased the price of some of their programming packages, including the one you’re subscribed to.
Me:  When I signed up, I agreed to a particular price. I’m not interested in, nor do I intend on, paying more.
Rep:  Unfortunately, they’ve decided to increase the price. Rogers is constantly making improvements to the levels of service they offer their clients.

(Play along. Benefit of the doubt.)

Me:  Okay. Can you tell me what these improvements are?
Rep:  Well, um, Rogers is always bringing improvements to existing services, to better serve their clients.
Me:  Yes, I got that part. Can you tell me how this will benefit me, specifically, in my day-to-day experience, when I watch TV?
Rep:  Um, unfortunately I can’t really say… specifically…
Me:  That’s what I thought. Once again, I was already paying more than I’d like for cable, and I have no intention of paying more. So please change my invoice to the price I used to pay.
Rep:  Unfortunately, I can’t change the price of the packages.
Me:  Sure you can. I’ve negotiated with you guys before to get better pricing.
Rep:  Yes, I can see you have discounts on your invoice.
Me:  Yes. So just adjust that so that I don’t pay more. You can call it a credit, or a discount, or whatever label you need to on your end, as long as I don’t see an increase. Look, it’s simple. I know I’m screwed to stay with you for the 2-year duration of the contract. But you have a choice: you can keep me at the increased price and know for a fact that you’re losing a client after the contract, or you can work with me and keep me as a client.

(Pause.)

Rep:  Okay, here’s what I can do. We have a promotion right now, on the package you currently have. It’s 20% off for 12 months. But your current discounts will no longer be valid.
Me:  That’s OK, because the 20% off more than compensates for it. (Translation: in the end, I’m still paying less, which is what I wanted)

(Note: Always ALWAYS repeat what you THINK they’re saying, to make sure you’ve understood correctly.)

Me:  So you’re telling me that for 12 months, as of today, I will keep the exact same package I currently have, and I will get it for $X less than I am currently paying.
Rep:  That’s correct.
Me:  Great, let’s do that.

But clearly isn't.

But clearly isn't.

In conclusion:

–  Never, ever accept a random change in service levels or price unless it’s in your favour.
–  Never, ever accept their initial refusal or dismissal. Push back. I’ve never called anywhere without getting something in return, with varying degrees of success.
–  I’m appalled that it would take a client threatening to leave before being offered a better deal. Shouldn’t the better deal be offered automatically, as a thank you for clients’ continued business? Oh wait. That would involve some notion of customer service.
–  I’m still getting my package for less. Again.

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Cup of Joe?


It’s so simple. You walk into a coffee shop, order yourself a cup of joe:
– black
– with cream
– double-double

However you like it. In whatever size you want – small, medium, large.
And it will cost you anywhere from $1 to $2.50.

And then there’s Starbucks. The problem with Starbucks is that it takes all these simple givens, chews them up, and then spits them back out in a way we don’t understand, and charges you double for it.

Starbucks is pretentious. Everything they serve pretends to be something else. They refer to their regular coffee as a “Caffè Americano”. Even their cup sizes are camouflaged and ask, “Who, me?”
Take what you and I would call a small coffee. To obtain its Starbucks equivalent, you need to ask for a Tall Caffè Americano. Tall. It’s like they’re afraid of giving the small cups a complex. Next size up is a Grande, followed by Venti.

I won’t get into the more complicated beverages available at Starbucks. There are Web sites devoted to demystifying this, such as:

1. Broken Secrets
2. eHow
3. wikihow

Besides, you can try for yourself at one of the hundreds of Starbucks available within a 10-km radius.

Then there’s the staff. I’m not sure whether they seek out know-it-all metropolitan Gen Y staff, or whether they have to lobotomize them upon employment, but every Starbucks I’ve been in has them. Same blank expression, different piercings. If you don’t order correctly, they wait calmly and trendily for you to catch on, and then gleefully repeat your order back to you with the correct terminology. Your momma must be proud.

But what gets me is what they charge for coffee. Don’t get me wrong – I make a decent salary, I occasionally splurge on a trip to the spa, enjoy shopping. But out of principle, I refuse to pay 2-3 times what other coffee shops charge. It’s coffee. Adding a dollop of whipped cream, a drizzle of caramel or a squirt of flavouring doesn’t change that.

Last week, after months of avoiding Starbucks, I walked in with a few people for a meeting. I ordered a small tall peppermint mocha coffee. The smart-ass behind the cash asked for $4.15, to which I replied an indignant “For a small?” (see what I did there? I said small) Response: Blink, blink. “Yes, that’s right.”

But a picture is worth a thousand words, and so, free of charge, I offer an updated logo with a frank appeal:

Old Starbucks logo vs. honest depiction

Old Starbucks logo vs. honest depiction

Something for Nothing


You know that when I’m not happy about a product or service, I call the provider to fix it. In fact, about 80% of the times I call a provider, I get something in return: a credit on my account, additional services free of charge, etc.

Today, I’ve topped myself. I got something for nothing, when in fact my original premise for calling was wrong.

We recently switched to Rogers Cable. I really wanted Teletoon Retro, a wonderful collection of old-school cartoons from my childhood: Looney Toons, Scooby Doo, Superfriends, the Flintstones and lots more. I love these… I mean, um, my kids love these.

We’d watch Teletoon Retro after we got home, as I made dinner. After a few weeks, the channel stopped coming through. Last week, I called Rogers to explain the problem, and they said they’d look into it and get back to me. Big surprise, they didn’t. I called back and explained the situation to a different rep. I said that since we’d been without this channel for a few weeks, I’d like some sort of compensation. The rep, after some discussion, offered me a handful of additional bundles, free of charge, for two months. He even programmed in the end date, so I don’t have to call and cancel, hence avoiding the probability of my forgetfulness incurring extra charges on my invoice.

A-HA! So they can, in fact, program in end dates to bundles, programming etc. They just prefer to get you to call, hoping you’ll forget so they can charge you. We don’t have to bend over and take it!

I later returned to the Rogers web site, and discovered that I had been wrong – our original bundle didn’t include Teletoon Retro. Those first few weeks had most likely been a free promotional period.

So I got two months of freebies, all because of something I wasn’t meant to have in the first place. Not exactly David and Goliath, but it still makes me all warm and fuzzy inside to think I got something not only for nothing, but due to my own mistake – and ultimately theirs too.

Ding dong, knock knock


Ding dong. Knock knock.

Evidently someone’s at the door.
As I walk down the stairs toward the front door, I can’t see anyone outside. I open the door and still can’t see anyone, so I look around on the ground in case anyone’s left a package.
Nothing.

I step outside and look around, to find a tall, gangly 18-ish year-old guy, who had obviously stolen Gilligan’s hat, and who was too busy looking at my driveway to say anything to me.

Me: “Did you just ring my doorbell?”
Gilligan: “Yes.”
Me: “Do you always walk away from doors after you ring or knock?”
Gilligan: “Yes. I offer driveway repair services and I can’t give you a price if I haven’t seen your driveway.”

Mistake number one: you make a dumbass opening move and don’t follow with “Oh, pardon me” or something equivalent.
Mistake number two: you’ve obviously not made a killer impression, and before even telling me anything I actually give a crap about, you announce that you want to sell me something.

Me: “Here’s a thought. Try taking a look at someone’s driveway *before* you ring the doorbell.”
Gilligan: “Oh, OK.”
Me: “We’ve already received other offers for these services. Thanks anyways.”

I shut the door.
Mistake number three: being an overall putz.
Hope Gilligan doesn’t make sales his life aspiration.

Walk a mile in these shoes


I’d like to know who designs flip-flops? Cause I’ve got a bone to pick with you.

It’s almost June. We’ve wallowed all week in hot, sunny weather. Women all over have been kicking off their shoes, peeling off their socks, and painting their toe nails in anticipation of wearing pretty sandals and cute flip-flops.

I was out shopping for a pair of flip-flops. Although I love sandals, walking around excessively with a new pair will only yield blisters, regardless of how much you spend. Since I’ve never been a fan of wearing sandals with either blood or band-aids, my solution is wearing flip-flops to and from work, and changing into sandals at the office.

After shopping, I came to two conclusions:

1. most flip-flops for women look obscenely cheap (even for flip-flops)

2. most flip-flops feel worse than they look

Usually, the sole is absolutely flat. It offers no comfort whatsoever, which is surprising for footwear basically made of compressed foam or rubber. The top is usually made up of cheap, stiff, too-often bedazzled man-made material, assembled by a small underfed child in China. Whoever designs these shoes hates women. Even the Airwalk and Nike varieties are designed as a form of punishment for feet.

I’ve found the men’s flip-flops to be marginally better. From Airwalk to American Eagle, the sole is thicker (although still hard) and the strap on top is often made of a cotton weave or leather strap. But I still wouldn’t wear them daily, even less if there’s a $30 price tag attached to them. $30. For flip-flops.

I used to laugh at people who would pay an outrageous $40-$50 for a pair of Crocs. What a gimmick! I’m sorry. You’re not going to sucker me into buying Crocs, no matter how big that crocodile smiles. First, they are nearly $50. Second, I’m not 12 years old.

Crocs clog

Crocs clog

Until the day I actually tried a pair of Crocs flip-flops. My feet discovered the soft, comfortable, lightweight, superior-gripping, non-marking and odor-resistant caress of Crocs’ proprietary closed-cell resin. The sole acts as a cushion, absorbing shock as you walk; and – can it be – arch support from a flip-flop! It’s the way walking was meant to be.

I happily dished out the $45. Because in the end, I’d rather pay a little more for a superior product. I still hold that the original Crocs clogs are best suited for children and tweens (and yes, both my daughters wear them), but I was happy to see the gift of comfort being extended to many other footwear styles, from sandals to high heel shoes.

More Crocs styles

More Crocs styles

On behalf of sore and tired feet everywhere, I declare Crocs the undefeated casual footwear hero.

All-inclusive — ish


We just returned from a one-week vacation in breath-taking Samana, Dominican Republic. It seems many people aren’t familiar with Samana, which is testimony to the fact that unlike Punta Cana or Puerto Plata (both of which are nonetheless beautiful), it is not overpacked with resorts. Rather, resorts are spread out few and far between along the coast in the countryside. Samana is nearly an hour and a half away from the airport, on long and winding country roads boasting unspoiled mountains, small communities and glimpses of sparkling ocean.

We stayed at the Gran Bahia Principe El Portillo, a secluded resort in Samana, near the small town of Las Terrenas. A true scenic treat: beaches covered in soft white sand, coral reefs to tempt snorkeling enthusiasts, and picturesque sunsets and sunrises.

Sunset on the beach

Sunset on the beach

Sunrise on the beach

Sunrise on the beach

The resort itself is quite exquisite – from the carefully landscaped terrain to beautifully assorted tropical gardens to sidewalks lined with flowering shrubs and hibiscus. There were large open dining areas right on the beach.

Tropical garden

Tropical garden

The buffet was decent. The variety of meals was good, and the fruits were always fresh and plentiful. I did, however, get weary of the same sliced ham, salami and mystery cheese present at each meal. I say mystery cheese because aside from colour, it was difficult to tell the rectangular, humid slices apart. The à la carte restaurants were good for the most part. The variety and quality were enjoyable. And regardless of where you ate or drank, the restaurant staff was consistently friendly, and came by frequently to refill your water/wine/coffee.

The resort’s main services and areas earned their 4 1/2-star rating. The rooms did not. Oh, the accommodations had their charm: warm, colourful rooms adorned with paintings; curtains that matched the bed covers and sitting area; pretty wicker table and chairs near the patio room to the balcony; and bathrooms equipped with jacuzzi tubs and large ceramic-tiled stand-up showers.

But owning a sports car won’t do you much good if you don’t know how to drive. It’s like they woke up one morning and decided, “I wanna be a high-end resort today”, but didn’t quite know how.

The pretty matching beds contained old, uncomfortable mattresses. Never mind the fact that they were double beds, when they clearly advertised Queen beds. A sore back is the gift that keeps on giving.

The room was equipped with a mini bar – not to be confused with a mini-fridge. This device was non-electric: a brown upright cooler with a fridge-type door, for extra confusion. Nothing like a nice warm beer or Coke on a hot day.

The shower almost warrants its own blog entry. In a nutshell: there was no temperature control – the water continuously fluctuated from uncomfortably hot to offensively cold. As mature adults, we can deal with that; but 3- and 5-year-old kids aren’t nearly as reasonable. Ick factor: the shower wouldn’t drain!! The water level would rise to a good 2 inches in the shower stall, and would take up to 5 minutes to drain once the water was turned off. Note to self: introduce staff to Drano. We also ran completely out of water, not once but twice. Every room of every hotel on the resort. Thankfully we had already showered when it happened.

But hey, at least we were surrounded with pretty colours and ceramic, and after waking up, our girls got to enjoy a few of their favourite shows dubbed en Espagnol on a 19-inch screen TV. Did you know Curious George was fluent in Spanish?

See what I mean? No follow-through. There’s definite potential, but until they go that extra mile (or ten) , they’re still only playing pretend. Their accommodations get a whopping 3 stars from me, on a good day.

I ended my week on a great note – with a visit to the Bahia Spa. I enjoyed a package that involved exfoliation with coconut milk and corn meal, a pure coconut butter wrap, followed by a coconut and mango oil massage. That was a supremely welcome treat. The spa is clean and pretty, and the services were friendly and professional. Chef recommends.

Although we love the unspoiled beauty of Samana, Chris and I have agreed that our next all-inclusive vacation will likely be at a Riu resort. We stayed at the Riu Bambu in Punta Cana for our honeymoon in 2003: now they know what a 5-star resort should look like. It’s all about attention to detail. If you do it right, you’ll have your guests wanting to book their next vacation with you before they’re even done this one.

Stop and smell the espresso, part deux


Come to Momma!

This morning, UPS delivered a relatively large parcel to our home. Finally – after two years of dutifully accumulating Air Miles, and thanks to SuperJan’s commendable customer service, we are now the proud owners of the highly anticipated, the one and only, this-is-what-espresso-should-be-like Jura Ena 5 espresso maker!

See how right and cozy the machine looks on our kitchen counter?

Our new Jura Ena 5

Our new Jura Ena 5

The other coffee accessories took to it right away: the espresso spoons hanging from their magnetic plate smile down warmly upon it; the chocolate dust anxiously awaits to be sprinkled ever so deliciously upon each cappuccino’s steamed milk; and the Kicking Horse Cliff Hanger espresso coffee (certified organic & fair trade), which by the way is the best damn coffee I’ve tasted so far and worth every penny, happily sacrifices itself in its duty to help create a fine cup of coffee.

Excuse me while I wipe a tear from my eye.

So before signing off for a little over a week, I’d like to thank SuperJan and Air Miles once more – not only for the Jura Ena 5, but for giving me hope that exemplary customer service from major corporations may not be as endangered a species as I thought.