Taking Care of the Niggly Things: How to Power Through Them

It seems every time I clean up, I always find random scraps and bits that don’t seem to fit anywhere. This happens whether I’m tidying up physical or electronic stuff. For example, I organize emails with folders and labels. However, I usually have at least one email that doesn’t fit anywhere. Then I have a dilemma, do I create a special place for one email? Leave it floating around? Or try to shove it somewhere it doesn’t quite fit hoping to remember where later. 

With electronic stuff, I have the option to search for things using keywords. In the physical world, if I put something somewhere and can’t remember, it’s lost. Usually this results in a time-consuming hunt around the house. 

When these niggly things hang around for too long, I often end up shoving them in a bag or box, in frustration or desperation, as a to-do later. Believe it or not, this strategy has benefits.

Strategy Pros and Cons

  1. The mess is “neatened” up and strategically all located in one place, even if it takes me a while to plow through if I’m looking for something.
  2. I have a starting point when I’m feeling motivated to purge and organize stuff.
  3. It gives me a chance to evaluate if I really need the stuff that didn’t have a home. Chances are if I don’t remember it, or think about it, for months (years), then I probably don’t need it.

There are also downsides to this strategy.

  1. I have to touch something multiple times before making a decision.
  2. The mess isn’t resolved. It just moves around from box to bag to corner to pile.
  3. Finding things is sometimes difficult. Plus the clutter builds up.

Powering Through

The main goal is to make sure I can find things when I need them. Hopefully I can locate them with minimal effort and searching. I like to use a combined strategy.

  1. If I find something unique, I leave it for a while to see if I will receive other things that fit with it. This gives me a solid starting point for organizing the items.
  2. I set my timer for a short period of time over a week to chip away at things with a slow and steady pace.
  3. Finally, when all else fails, bagging stuff up for later works in a pinch as a temporary fix to maintain my sanity.

Tech Success: Hands-Free Driving

Every once in a while I’m pleasantly surprised when tech works (mostly) as expected without a lot of frustration involved. When driving, I frequently hook up my phone to the car. I do this so I can view the map as part of the dashboard display.

Learning how to use it was seamless. And easy! It works (almost) perfectly. When I plan a trip using my phone, I’m able to add multiple stops. This way I can move around the stops to plan the most efficient route. However, when I sync the phone to the car, one of two things happens.

  1. The trip planning from the phone disappears. This means I have to re-enter all my stops.
  2. I still haven’t figured out how to add in more than one stop. This means I have to complete one stop before entering in the next one.

I’m sure it’s possible, but I haven’t figured out which setting controls this.

Managing Audio Controls

I love listening to the radio when I’m driving. Or podcasts. I haven’t yet discovered the magic of audible books, but I’m sure I would love them if I drove on a regular basis.

Initially when I synced my phone to the car, I assumed the radio volume would automatically lower, or stop, when I received navigation instructions. However, this wasn’t the case. It was pretty annoying to hear radio and directions simultaneously. Luckily my keen orchestra-trained ears were able to keep them separate. But still, it was very annoying.

I also love listening to podcasts. Recently I discovered if I play a podcast from my phone through the car’s audio, then the podcast will pause when I receive directions.

The podcast and radio, will also pause if I listen (and reply to) an incoming message. It seems strange to me that the audio adjusts for two types of interruptions, but not all of them. It only pauses for the ones coming directly from my phone. However, since the phone is syncs to the car, I would have thought the radio would also pause, or lower, when I’m receiving directions.

The whole experience has been seamless and satisfying. The best part is I can now listen to my podcasts when there’s nothing good playing on the radio.

Fragmented Customer Service

To add to last week’s post, Customer Service Failures Due to Poor Information Management, one challenge I didn’t name specifically is how fragmented customer service has become. This fragmented service also leads to poor results, confusion, and a lot of wasted time and effort. It’s quite common for companies to offer a variety of methods to get in touch. This includes chat services, email, phone, writing letters, and various social media applications like Twitter and Facebook. However, on the backend it’s likely that separate teams are managing all the feedback differently. This leads to information sprawl, ultimately resulting in poor experiences and lengthy resolutions.

Here’s another epic customer service failure I experienced precisely because of this reason. Something malfunctioned in my fridge causing it to make a loud, grinding noise. Luckily the warranty was still valid. The first time I called for service. A technician came to assess the problem. He determined I needed a new part. He gave me a ticket number and instructed me to call back to have the part ordered. I paid nothing for the visit.

For the follow up, I decided to try the online chat service instead of calling. This way I could avoid the long waits and irritating hold music. Here’s where the service derailed. Somehow the chat service couldn’t access my file. Instead of ordering the part, they sent a second technician to assess the fridge, from a different company. The second technician gave me the same instructions as the first time. I paid for this visit, expecting to be reimbursed.

Finally, the repair technician came. I paid for this visit, too. With the problem resolved, I submitted the receipts for reimbursement. The company paid for the repair technician, but not the second assessment because I’d already had one. After many frustrating calls and emails, I finally reached the manager. Basically he told me I shouldn’t have had to call for anything except the first assessment.

In hindsight, I realized part of the problem was switching from calling to chatting midway through the process. Though this shouldn’t have made a difference. The other problem was their miserable backend processes and poor system integration.

From my perspective, one possible solution is to centralize the systems and assign customers a unique identifier, e.g., an account number or case number. This makes it possible to search for the disparate pieces of information across the sprawl.

Customer Service Failures Due to Poor Information Management

I recently experienced an epic customer service failure caused by poor information management (IM). When I tell people I work in IM (or the fancier sounding information governance), I often get quizzical looks. Or a long “hmmm” followed by, and what does that mean, exactly? If I do my job well, it means a seamless experience for both the customer and the customer service rep. Here’s what happened and how proper IM could help.

In May, an HVAC technician repaired our AC unit. He left us with a major gas leak, an uncleaned work area, and an AC unit not properly sealed. The damage he caused took less than 4 hours. The repair job took about 6 weeks, including 5 visits from different technicians and multiple phone calls. This included one visit from the original bozo who caused the damage.

The gas leak was an easy fix. Though even that took more than one call and escalation to the manager. Following that, it took many tries to get the right technician. We needed an installation technician. The company kept sending a service technician. On the third try, an installation technician came. However, the service notes weren’t accurate and the technician didn’t have the right equipment. He sent photos and an email to the company. I called the company again. Once more, they sent a service technician. This technician also sent photos and an email to the company.

Eventually, I escalated the situation to the manager. The manager asked me to send him photos. I did, wondering what happened to the photos previously sent by two of the company’s technicians. Following my email, the company sent the original bozo. Needless to say, I didn’t let him in. The following day they sent an installation technician who came with the right equipment. Finally!

The Fix: Proper Information Management

From my perspective, this type of failure was caused on multiple levels. However, the main failure was a lack of communication and updated information between the company’s service areas. The company sent the wrong type of technician multiple times. This wasted time and effort.

Secondly, it took weeks to get a visit from the right technician. When he arrived, he didn’t have the right equipment, another waste of time and effort.

Lastly, why weren’t all of the photos of the AC hack job compiled and noted in my customer file? Instead, three different people sent the photos.

Soul Food: Lunching with Friends

Last week I had lunch with a couple of friends, in person! Afterwards, I kept marveling at how extraordinary this ordinary event felt. We’ve basically been in lockdown since November 2020. I hadn’t seen these friends, or really anybody, in person since last September. Things that had been easy pre-pandemic, such as lunching with a friend, now felt new and energizing in a different way.

Coincidentally, later that evening I watched, “Fuel,” the third episode of a Netflix series call Human: The World Within. As you might imagine, fuel refers to the food we eat. However, my lunch experience was about everything but the food. It was about the company and the human interaction, though we were socially distanced and outside. Talking freely in real time without video/audio delays, poor image resolution, and the worry of being recorded felt novel.

The episode felt like a very one-sided dimension of food. It seemed to miss many aspects of our life it nourishes. I can recall many delightful events centered around food. Yet, I almost never remember the “fuel.” Instead, what I remember are the laughs, the discussions, and the connection I felt to others. The food may have been the reason for getting together, it may have even been the central event. But more often than not, it’s not what I remember later.

My one-hour lunch date with friends was short, but engaging. It brought new meaning to the term “soul food.” Food is so much more than just fuel for our bodies. It’s memories and comfort. It’s about connections, joy, and discovery. I love the sensation of eating something hot and spicy when I have a cold, even better if someone else makes it. Packing chocolate and cookies into the lunch bag for a day at an ocean beach is mandatory for me. The salty air intensifies the sweetness of the treats and ultimately my beach experience.

Diminishing the value of food to simply “fuel” misses the whole point of eating.

More Online Form Failures

I’ve blogged about forms before. In one post I ranted about the inefficiencies of poorly made online forms. But the second one offered a more optimistic future of easy, available online forms. The pandemic accelerated this change. It’s a good change and one that I hope more places adopt.

Last weekend I had to get a routine test done at a lab. After my tele-health appointment with my doctor (another pandemic perk!), she sent me the test requisition through a secure online portal. Knowing that most places preferred not to handle paper, I saved the requisition to my phone.

The instructions on the lab’s website were murky about making an appointment, checking wait times, and how the lab worked in general. It was close enough to my home that I decided to go in person to figure everything out. The lab had an option to upload a requisition through their website. However, with multiple locations available, I wasn’t confident where the upload would end up. Or if the location I visited would be able to access it. Though I felt confident with an electronic copy ready there would be a solution once I arrived at the lab.

When I arrived, I was the first person in line to enter the lab, though other patients were already waiting in the actual lab for their tests. The lab’s administrative assistant instructed me to email my requisition to the lab’s email address. Then, I waited. And waited. And waited. In the meantime, the administrative assistant helped all the other people behind me with printed requisition forms! All the paper pushers got to enter before me.

I waited patiently in the doorway while the assistant downloaded and printed my form from the email attachment I sent. Then the assistant handed it to another assistant who diligently pecked all my information into a new system. They printed a label. And finally, it was my turn.

The twenty+ minutes I waited, gave me ample time to observe and think about this process. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have an online admitting form? One where I could type in my own information? Surely health records are one place where it’s critical not to have silly typos and spelling mistakes by entering and re-entering data across multiple systems.

Going forward, I hope more businesses take advantage of streamlined systems with less paper and less data entry.