Tiny Pause

In 2009 Toronto started charging five cents for plastic bags at retail stores. The reduction in plastic bags was significant, exceeding the prediction. I learned this while collaborating with the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) to implement a number of “green” initiatives at the condo tower I lived in.

The TEA representative explained by forcing people to take an extra step, i.e., pay five cents per bag, required people to think about what they were doing. It forced them to take a tiny little pause. Ultimately, this had a big impact. She mentioned this strategy as something we could use in the building. Or even how this strategy could be used to eliminate single-use plastics. For example, if somebody had to ask for a straw instead of including it automatically. Or if people had to request plasticware for take-out and delivery orders. Requiring people to take this little extra step could result in reductions, similar to the plastic bags.

I love this idea of changing something small, but big enough that it makes people think. And even more importantly, change their behavior in a positive way. I’m always looking for ways to implement this strategy at work and in my personal life.

Last week I finally had my car repaired from the fender bender. They also repaired a chip in the windshield. The chip was a new claim. When I arrived at the autobody shop, the admin had a blank paper form ready on her desk. I watched as she kept leafing back and forth between multiple pages in my (paper) claim file to fill it out! The information on the claim form was very basic. It included things like name, address, make/model of the vehicle, insurer, policy number, etc. In my mind, it was all the information that should have been kept in one central location. Even better, if she could have auto-populated the form based on my electronic file. Or at the very least printed out a label with the details. But no, she hand wrote everything.

Watching this process, I felt challenged to come up with a tiny pause for this diligent worker, so habituated to her routine. For me, using the paper form would be a tiny pause. However, maybe in this scenario, the tiny pause would be to eliminate paper forms. Or place them somewhere inconvenient to make the electronic option seem more appealing.

Summer’s Swan Song

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a summer purist. I cling on to the last days of summer right up to the autumnal equinox. Although the signs of summer waning appear much earlier. Right around this time, in mid-to-late August, the sounds of summer change. It’s always when I notice the crickets chirping through the night, or at least I can hear them above the perpetual hum of everyone’s air conditioner. The persistent singing of the cicadas in the hazy heat of summer is a favorite of mine. Somehow, the siren song of the male cicada signals the start of summer’s end and also the epitome of this glorious season.

Other favorite sounds of summer include children playing outside. Balls bouncing. Bikes, skateboards, and rollerblades scraping along the pavement. The joyous shrieks, giggles, and talking late into the cooling summer evenings. All these sounds have been there all summer, but they feel different in August. Perhaps it’s because they’re more noticeable now when it’s actually cool enough at night to keep the windows open. Or maybe it’s because I’m more aware of the nights darkening sooner and the slight chill in the mornings.

The weather in August is perfect for ripening tomatoes. Hot, sunny days and dark, cool, longer nights are the magic recipe for making tomatoes red. For weeks we’ve been watching the green tomatoes grow bigger, but not redder. Now, every day we see bright, red tomatoes peeping out of the greenery. I won’t get enough to make tomato sauce this year, but I’ll be gorging myself on tomato everything for a few weeks.

Late last week I opened my curtain one morning to see brown leaves all over the lawn. On Friday I went hiking at a park 30 minutes north. I was surprised to see a blush of red spreading through some of the trees already. Contrary to the relentless, forceful momentum of spring, who arrives despite the occasional blizzard or cold blitz to take center stage, summer seems okay to share the spotlight with fall. As if even summer outdid herself by blazing too bright and too hot for too many days. Days are hot, and even still a little humid. Nights are getting chilly and fall is already starting to turn the leaves, a gentle transition from one season to the next. But summer’s not over yet, we’ve still got three glorious weeks left.

Quality Customer Service

I’ve blogged several times about poor, frustrating customer service experiences. They often result in a lot of wasted time. Usually the resolution feels unsatisfactory or anti-climatic. This is likely because it takes so much effort to get to the outcome.

Positive experiences, by contrast, are resolved instantly and seamlessly. The unexpected and gratifying results often surprise me.

Recently, I needed to order a replacement piece for a water bottle. I couldn’t find it on the company’s website. I photographed the part and attached it to a good old fashioned email inquiring how I could order one.

The reply came twelve days later. I learned the name of the replacement is a “collar.” I also learned the company was presently out of stock, but had a few extra. They offered to send me one, for free! All of a sudden the slow, response time became an afterthought. I replied with my address. The following day the piece was in the mail.

A few weeks ago I ordered some new underwear from a new company in the States. It’s always risky to order underwear from a new company without seeing it. Despite the costly shipping fees, I took the chance. When it arrived, I could tell it was the wrong size even without opening the packages. I felt irritated about the mistake because I used a tape measurer to check with their sizing chart. All I could think about was the effort and cost of returning everything.

I contacted the company, yup, through email. They responded the same day with an offer to replace everything, for free! The order was small, so apparently not worth their time and effort to handle the exchange either. Before confirming the new size, I perused the comments section on their website. Comments seemed divided between those that had a perfect fit, or the same issue as me where the size was too big.

Last year I noticed a lot of wear and tear on a wooden toy I like. I contacted the company to learn more about caring for the toy to prolong its life. It’s at least ten years old. Again, I reached out through email and attached pictures of the damage. Surprisingly, the company offered to send me a new one. Just like that! I wasn’t even complaining. Perhaps good customer service also depends on being a good customer.

Moving Furniture, Changing Perspective

Recently I relocated a secretary desk from one room to another. It wasn’t a seismic change. However, it was enough to get a fresh perspective on two rooms. I had space in both rooms, so luckily only the one piece of furniture had to be moved. Sometimes when rearranging furniture, it results in a lot of heavy lifting and major reshuffles. Although it did require some major dusting and a quick run with the vacuum to get the new space prepped and the old one cleaned up.

With the new furniture arrangement, it opened up possibilities for reorganizing in a new way. And naturally, this inspired me to start chipping away at the pile of boxes, still unpacked from the latest move. I don’t like to spend time thinking about how long the pile has been there. It’s been there long enough to start collecting dust and become part of the landscape. In other words, too long. Time for some late spring cleaning.

During the clean up I found a copy of my book floating around. In flipping through it, I rediscovered one of my favorite tips: timing myself. Basically, timing myself means I sit down to do some dreaded, or undesirable task. The kind of thing I will literally do anything else instead of. Then I time myself to get a new perspective on it. Sometimes this helps get over the “hump,” especially when I discover the hated task doesn’t take much time at all to do, as in under 5 minutes.

I often use this technique when I’m procrastinating. Or if I notice routine clutter in one area and staying that way. For example, I have a bad habit of dumping my clothes in a pile at the end of the day instead of putting them away. I don’t have a good reason for this. Most nights this is the only thing standing between me and sleeping. Thus I can’t tolerate any delays, even for something that takes me less than 5 minutes to accomplish.

Having reacquainted myself with this valuable, useful tip, I plan on using it to whittle away the piles of stuff left exposed from the latest rearranging. Armed with my stopwatch, and established purging criteria, I feel inspired to finish unpacking.

Accidental Ammunition for the Infowars

I’ve been checking in on the trials against Alex Jones for a while. I still recall where I was when I first heard about Sandy Hook. Horrified and shocked by the shooting, I almost had to leave work early that day. I wasn’t surprised, however, that even this horrific shooting 10 years ago didn’t result in meaningful gun reform. Though I am continually surprised and horrified hearing how the grieving parents have been terrorized. This is mainly due to conspiracy theories on Infowars that Sandy Hook was a hoax.

This latest twist, of the wrong information ending up in the wrong hands, is an irony nobody could have anticipated. Apparently Jones’s lawyers mistakenly sent two years worth of texts to the plaintiffs. Some of the texts may be evidence that Jones perjured himself.

From my perspective, it highlights two important aspects of the digital age of information. Though I would never recommend hiring Jones’s lawyers, I’m glad they messed up.

  1. Making mistakes like this, i.e., sending the wrong information, is easy to do.
  2. There’s too much information to manage! This leads to human errors. .

I can’t know for sure how the lawyers exchanged information. However, my thought is that some of it happened through email. At one point or another, I’m sure we’ve all mistakenly attached the wrong version of a document. Or maybe hit “reply all” instead of to one recipient. Or maybe linked to the wrong source. Perhaps even emailed the wrong person. It happens.

There are lots of reasons why this happens. Many people don’t take the time to name their documents properly. I see vague, nondescript document titles all the time. Or worse, people leave the random computer/scanner generated name as the title. Another challenge is with version control. Many organizations haven’t implemented proper systems to manage document versions effectively. In these scenarios, it’s easy to circulate, or use, the wrong version.

This all leads to the second point. The volume of information we all interact with daily makes it unmanageable. Now I’m not excusing the incompetence of Jones’s lawyers. It’s their job to share the right information. I’m pointing out that when people are managing huge volumes of information from a variety of sources (e.g., texts, emails, images, documents, social media apps, etc.), things can get messy. But if it leads to an infowars win on the right side of things, I’m not complaining.

The Customer Experience Saga Continues

Almost a week after I submitted the photos for my accident claim, the auto body shop finally received them. By good old fashioned email! I was stunned. After that streamlined, efficient app experience, I really had high expectations.

Though we don’t know for sure, the auto body shop suspects my claim was sent prematurely. Basically, the insurance company sent the claim for a quote before I uploaded my photos. For perspective on the timeline, I started the claim Wednesday evening and added the photos Thursday morning. By the time I uploaded all the photos through my slick app experience, the auto body shop already called me. They were wondering why they got the claim but couldn’t see my photos.

Anyway, after a whole bunch of phone calls from me and the auto body shop to the insurance, the contact at the auto body shop requested to have them emailed. Otherwise, I would have had to go in person to get new photos taken, even after all my diligent efforts. Apparently, this is not a normal experience.

The auto body shop reviewed the photos. What followed was also disappointing. I received an email (!) with a quote attached from the auto body shop requesting my authorization. Naturally, I couldn’t e-sign the attachment from just any device. It was a plain, uneditable pdf. Ugh. I thought at least this part would happen through the app with sleek workflows and seamless options to review and approve requests. All from the ease and convenience of my smartphone. This was not the reality.

I’m waiting for parts to arrive. However, I remain optimistic the repairs will go smoothly.

Coincidentally, a week after my own accident, I witnessed a somewhat serious one. No fatalities, but it was surreal watching it happen, as though in slow motion, right in front of me. I found a place to park my car so I could give a witness statement.

I approached the officers at the scene. The officer collecting statements held a messy stack of papers. Each sheet contained a statement, dutifully handwritten by the officer. Once again, stunned! I gave my statement, feeling relieved I didn’t have to do the handwriting. Why isn’t this part of the process more streamlined, or at least modernized enough to collect typed statements. I have a hunch some poor soul had to scan and email those handwritten statements.