Be like Uncle Leo

This evening, I returned from a brief trip to a popular discount store to buy a pack of candelabra light bulbs. Since it was Saturday around 19:30, it was packed. All cashiers had 4–10 people in each line. Self-checkout registers were in use, too.

When I was in line, there were two people ahead of me. The first person being rung up ended up requesting two transactions, and the cashier was fine with it. That took about six minutes.

The cashier greeted the person in front of me, and rung them up fairly quickly.

Now it was my turn. Before the cashier rung up item, a colleague started griping to her about something that occurred elsewhere in the store. It wasn’t directly related to work.

My biggest concern: she did not acknowledge me until she handed me the receipt. Sadness.

Takeaways

Greet each customer if they aren’t preoccupied, especially when working at a register. Even if it’s a repeat customer, it could be the first interaction with you.

It’s more difficult to gain a new customer than retain existing customers. We’re creatures of habit, and trying someplace new needs to be as welcoming as possible.1

People watch the way you treat other customers while waiting in line, and can see when they’re snubbed. (If they aren’t on their phone or talking with others, they’re more susceptible.)

If you don’t know an existing customer, treat them as a brand new customer, and strive for a great first impression. You have no idea:

  • If they’ve had rough experiences in the past at your store.
  • How much they’ve spent there.
  • About their influence with other family, friends, and colleagues.
  • If they’ll discuss their experience coherently somewhere on the internet. (For example, anyone can create a free blog or website at WordPress.com!)

Disclaimer: I’m a Happiness Engineer (Community Guardian) at Automattic, the people behind WordPress.com (W) and other fantastic services. :)


  1. I’m not a new customer, but this point is worth mentioning. 

Lyft: My first three experiences

A few colleagues used Lyft from their phones while I was in San Francisco for UserConf in November 2014. However, I won’t count that as my first experience because I didn’t use it on my iPhone.

I worked a couple of shifts at the WordPress booth (by WordPress.com)1 at NAMM 2016 in Anaheim on Thursday and Friday, January 21st and 22nd.

A day or two earlier, I installed Lyft.

Along with my pal, Ryan Cowles, we took public transportation from Pasadena to Anaheim early Thursday morning.2 After arriving at ARTIC (Anaheim), we went to the pickup area, and I requested a Lyft driver. 3 minutes — cool!

The time estimate was accurate, and I also received a text messsage right when we saw the car. Nice. Davey was friendly, and the drive was smooth.

I love everything about the ride history shown in the Lyft app. Davey drove us from ARTIC to Anaheim Marriott Suites in eleven minutes. :)

Next, I decided to test Lyft’s Lost & Found procedure.

Not.

As we tried to find the place to get our exhibitor badges, it took me about five minutes to realize that I forgot my DSLR camera in his car.3

Doing my best to stay calm, I opened the Lyft app, went to Ride History, and spotted “Find lost item” at the bottom. I described my lost item, entered my Google Voice number, and waited.

Eight minutes after Hideto dropped us off, he returned my call, and said he could meet me where we were earlier. Happy ending! He was super cool about it, too.

With my camera in hands, I was like:

On Saturday morning, the third driver (Joshua) picked me up at Marriott Anaheim Suites for part of my journey back to Pasadena. Really nice person, incredibly gregarious (despite being sleep deprived), and the drive was smooth.

I thoroughly enjoyed my three Lyft experiences. Highly recommended!


  1. I’ll save that for a separate post. 
  2. Ryan took a couple of cool photos: Metrolink, and Track 1 to Los Angeles
  3. Canon EOS 40D + Sigma 30mm f/1.4. 

No, you aren’t “just” the messenger

A few days ago, Amy and I grabbed dinner at a restaurant chain that offers online ordering, and delivers to your car at designated spots in their parking lot. I’ve enjoyed going to this restaurant occasionally for at least 15 years.

We arrived four minutes early, and called their phone number (as instructed), then waited.

Fiften minutes passed before we decided to call again.

I remember “Jane” asking the name on our order, even though we just told them. They would send “Jack” out to our car. Before “Jane” had a chance to hang up, Amy asked in a polite tone why it was taking awhile.

I just answer the phone and I’m the messenger.

(Also: It was hectic, and although “Jane” offered a drink for the trouble, we never got a sincere apology from her.)

From our perspective, we were under the assumption that our food was ready 15–20 minutes earlier. Add the ten minutes needed to drive home, and I’m not sure it’d be in good shape anymore.

“Jack” brought out our food. While pointing to a sign in front of our car, this statement was the first thing I remember when asking him what happened:

You’re supposed to call when you get here.

How would you feel if you followed instructions, only to be subtly scolded?

Amy politely held out her phone to show that we called three times1.

Oh, that’s weird. We didn’t hear anything about it! I do apologize for that.

Again, we asked about the food and how long it was sitting there. “Jack” felt the outside of the bag and said it felt warm, but we could check, or ask to see the manager to get it remade or get it “comped”. We mentioned where we lived (to describe how long it’d take for us to get home), and he showed some sort of false empathy.

Oh yeah, me too.

(Wait. What?)

Yes, bring your leader to us because you’re doing it wrong. (I didn’t say that out loud.)

“Judith” walked out to our car a few minutes later. She was super nice, listened to our brief story (experience), asked us if we’d like our food to be remade, and asked if we’d like something else. We already requested a drink, but didn’t ask for anything else.2

We were curious if “Jane” would come out personally to apologize. She didn’t.

“Judith” came back out ten minutes later with our order, plus a piece of cake for dessert, and was very apologetic again.

On the drive home, I joked to Amy to “prepare our bowels for rage”. Fortunately, the food was great.3 :D

Takeaways

“Jane” — Your primary job is to help customers with their needs, and your method is answering phones and making sure colleagues bring out the orders. We understand. Since we didn’t get our grub, be proactive to help customers with their needs. Check how long our order has been waiting, then start a new, urgent order—if we were okay with it—rather than send “Jack” out with food that’s been sitting for 15–20 minutes. If you weren’t empowered or able to do that, skip right to the manager (not “Jack”) and brief them on the situation along with your proposal. (e.g. “‘Judith’, can we remake this order since it’s been sitting for a long time? The customer has been waiting for 20 minutes.”). Also, listen, and don’t be defensive.

“Jack” — Don’t make assumptions. Ask us what happened, and listen.

“Jack” and “Jane” — How would you feel if you received this kind of treatment? Consider and use those feelings to help guide your actions towards the right resolution. (Empathy!)

“Judith” et al. — Evaluate the process of this service by walking through all the steps. Determine and fix/minimize any gaps, especially when things are busy. Teach employees to listen. If possible, empower employees with the ability to make things right.4 It’ll give them the opportunity to learn and take responsibility for themselves.


  1. When Amy called the second time, they answered and hung up. 
  2.  I don’t remember if we brought up asking for the meal to be “comped” when “Judith” saw us. At this point, we had been there for about 30 minutes. 
  3.  I’m glad there didn’t appear to be a behind-the-scenes experience as depicted in the comedy film, Waiting. :D 
  4. We never said, “Don’t send ‘Jane’ out here or we’ll go ballistic,” so use that opening to make things right with us. 

Start with Heart

Take a deep breath. Imagine how you want things to unfold in the best version of the future. Or ask the other person what outcome they’d like to see.

It’s not about being right.

It’s about making the right things happen.

Fantastic post by Julie Zhuo reminding us to foster alignment towards a positive conclusion.

Focus your energy into that correct outcome, even if it means pointing them elsewhere.

Full post: The First Step in Hard Conversations — The Year of the Looking Glass

PayPal, I’d like to use my password manager

After news broke of the eBay security breach, I updated my account passwords for eBay and PayPal1.

With my trusty password manager, KeePassX, I cloned my current PayPal entry in preparation to generate a new password. To my horror, I saw the following password requirement pop–up:

Screenshot: PayPal change password screen

I’d like to use much more than 20 characters, and not be able to easily type my password. Kthxbai. :)


  1. PayPal is owned by eBay Inc. 

We’ll do our best, but you can’t please everyone

I meant to post this insight from Marco Arment last year:

Some people will find things to complain about. […] You will never please everyone. You will never win that battle.

We’ll do our best in customer support, yet it’s inevitable that we’ll interact someone who is extremely upset with us.

Our patience and grace can win their hearts over; I’ve seen it many times, and we usually post it internally to remind ourselves why we carry on. (We call them “hugs”.) After a follow–up response, the customer apologizes for their crankiness, grateful for our help.

That’s why we’re some of the best in the industry. :)

In unfortunate and rare circumstances, when they’re angry and continue to berate us, it’s super helpful to know that we can regroup with our coworkers internally, analyze the situation, and decide that we can’t win ’em all.

“Can’t win ’em all? What does that mean?”

Our replies to that particular person will no longer help, and we close the email. If they show a change of heart and send a follow–up reply, we’re happy to revisit.

For what it’s worth, I assure you we do as much as we can before we get to that point.

If this interests you, we’d love for you to work with us, especially since we always need Happiness Engineers. :)