Lessons from waiting for customer service at IKEA

IKEA-IMG01618-20091107-1839Here I am, waiting for my turn for exchanging a piece of kit (no pun intended). I've got two baskets of 80 cm where I do need two of. 100 cm. So, I took a ticket, numbered A413 for exchanges and after a look at the current number I see that they are at A 372. The wait is starting. 20 minutes later, and one of their crappy 'hot dogs' I can't resist, we are at 386.  A little interpolation tells me that I am in for 40 more minutes.

Lesson 1: using visual cues makes it easier to the nerves

It is great to see how things are moving forward. What would be cooler is to have an estimate of how long things are going to take. Given the amount of statistical data they would have, it is definitely doable.

Lesson 2: providing a way to snack is a good idea

Lesson 3: providing a bench on which I can sit is a good idea

Lesson 4: do not come to IKEA early in the month on a Saturday evening

So, 391 now... There is still some benefit to this wait. I do not have to wander inside IKEA, which I truly hate. My wife enjoys it since she doesn't have to deal with me being grumpy. She sends me pictures of what she likes via her mobile phone and we discuss her proposals.

Lesson 5: have your wife's phone MMS enabled!

I am noticing that there is no music in here. Waiting without music is hard.

Lesson 6: bring headphones when you come for customer service at IKEA

Hey, 398! Some skipping due to people thinking that the wait will be too long and calling quits. Good for me!

Lesson 7: if there is a large gap in numbers, a lot of them will be skipped.

This makes me notice that there are a lot of people waiting here and only 3 clerks servicing everybody. On a day like this, it is not very useful. I wonder how they allocate work. It seems that there are 3 queues: A, B, and C. Each is allocated to one person. It would be efficient to rotate the jobs among the people.

Lesson 8: optimize allocation based on the duration of jobs

Hey, 400! What is great about having a BlackBerry is that I can continue working everywhere. I just answered email from a new prospect, which will for sure be very interesting to work with. This in turn makes me think about another lesson;

Lesson 9: use web applications that are light and working even on a EDGE connection

Because there is no 3G or Wi-Fi here and I am using Project Pier to manage almost all of my projects. No AJAX, no fancy effects, and all works nicely on my small screen! 405! Just got a call from TLC (The Lovely Catherine) who is about to end her visit. They added extra clerks, now my queue as two workers!

Lesson 10: Watch closely as you may miss your turn when there are more workers added.

Watching the queue panel and not the clerk's panel is the best idea. They almost got me by surprise! Two to go, 411! I think that it will be the last lesson, bar the final one based on how they will treat my request. I got the goods taken back, they have no more stock for a given rail I had to replace (objects being put out of life is a recurring issue at IKEA). All in all, it went well. That's one key point, the clerks are efficient and well mannered. That's good. And now, back home. My screwdriver is waiting for me 🙂

What did I learn this week?

I had a week with the flu. Seasonal flu, not the H5N1, or A, or whatever version. I also had a week with a bad Internet connection (and counting, this lasts for 3 or 4 months already). And this was also a week of holidays. Which turned to be a week of sickness. So, with that in mind, what did I learn?

Lesson 1: Stay at home when you are sick and let your body recover as fast as he can

Energy must be used internally to kill the virus and not to perform external tasks. Everytime I attempted to do a task, no matter how mundane, I ended up sweating a lot, feeling bad vibes, and it hurt in almost every joint. Even picking up some groceries proved to be hard. I ended up worse than I started everytime. So, at the end, just laying on the couch was the only practical task to do. This was helping in recovering.

Lesson 2: Be presistent if you want your Internet connection fixed

I wanted to watch some movies on VOD but my Internet connection just keeps on failing on me. Well, this is nothing new. I am using VOO as a triple-play provided. But it is already 4 months, and the connection still sucks (big time). By the way, Pingplotter Standard is a great tool for helping you show how bad the provider is. Here is a view on my connection yesterday (every red line means: DEAD) Pingplotter Screenshot I got the tech guys "fix it" and it worked for an hour. To provide me with the next nice version: www.google.com-20091105-1923 The only time it worked (the green bit) is when I hooked my mobile phone to the machine and used it as a modem trough the 3G link.  Otherwise, big nothing. Then I got the tech guys today and they replace a "coupling" device. Their measurement devices told them that there was indeed a problem. I was then good to go and the connection seemed right. But this was short lived... Today, at 17:03, things started to go haywire. Look at the crap below: PIC www.google.com 2009-11-06 17 How cool is that? I called in the support. Then, it took me 10 calls to get someone. Maybe they were ending their day because I was able to reach someone after 10 calls (yes, ten!). I moved trough voice hell just to be hooked on. Persistence! Then I talked with the on-guard person and he confirmed that he saw only 3 out of 4 packets coming back to me and that was when I was lucky. So, back to square one, I've got an appointment with a technical person on monday... The neverending story redux. Then you'll ask why Belgacom is a monopoly and VOO is not loved by the users... I am not mentioning the fact that you get the arrogant guy every once in a while if you have an administrative issue. So, the lesson here is to be persistent if you want to have something fixed. I do not care *if* this is going to be fixed. Because it is going to be fixed. The only question is when, followed by how much damage costs they will have to owe me. After this, I think that I will call in the CEO of Tecteo and tell him a bit about how to improve they way of working and the associated performance. I was told that I should become a customer's customer if I wanted to understand the challenges they faced... Now, this is done, and in DEPTH, for MONTHS. Stay tuned for more nice charts... I was told this is the green era. I would love to see more green and less RED on my charts for sure. And I am now running Ethereal as well to have a deeper view on things.

Lesson 3: Accept fate and relax, anything else will make matters worse

I wanted to catch up on TV series on the web and given my bad fortune with the connection, I was left with TV. Ok, digital TV, HD 1080 TV, but nothing too great to see. All interesting stuff is on the web. So, I wanted to have this fixed and it made me nervous, which was bad for my flu. So, I ended up reading books for a change. Guess what, I ended up reading Greek tragedy. The Eschyle's AGAMEMNON one. Where Clytemnestre ends up chopping Agamemnon into pieces with an axe. Looks like those greeks were a bit too lax with killing. Agamemnon goes to Troy, kills about everybody, comes back, 90% of his ships are sunk. He survives and then is killed by his (soon to be ex ...) wife because he killed his own daughter before leaving for Troy. Loop closed. You wish. The remaining son will bear the sins of the parents and continue the problems for two more tragedies to come. So, yeah, accept fate and relax, do not see revenge or it will come back to haunt you.

Lesson 4: Have a backup link

That's where I come to love Proximus 3G. The BlackBerry Bold saved my life again, allowing me to send all of my proposals (that I wrote when I had an hour of clear mind, mostly in the early morning). Also helped me keeping up with some news and email. For email, I got everything on that little box, so I can deal with appointments etc. I am considering using a second provider to be sure I am always on. This will double the cost for the connection and I 've to think about what's the best approach. I may end up back at using Scarlet or Belgacom. Jesus, this is why I went to VOO, to avoid these. And they push me back in the arms of the competition... How fun. So, have a backup link. And a backup's backup. I've got a Mobistar Internet Everywhere USB key for mobile internet access just in case I would lose my phone or have something break. Call me paranoid but he opportunity cost associated with the trouble is just too high.

Lesson 5: Discipline, planning, and follow through are key factors for success

I had to send my newsletter as part of my normal marketing activities. As far as you may want to know (not sure you want tough), this is one way to stay top of mind of people. Every month, send something of value. Again, emailing a newsletter became trouble some due to the network connection. My list is 500+ and growing so, it takes a while to send everything from my box. This made me find SMTP.com which could come handy one day or another. I am also considering iContact or Sarbacane but I will stick to my current NewsletterEase solution, which is frankly easy to work with and costs me zero additonal money. But I digress. Issuing a newsletter every month may seem easy but you've got to come with content, publish it, ensure that it worked properly and so on. Doing this is something I do have a tendency to delay, and delay... But then, you miss the window for the month. And the outcome is lost. So, discipline on planning and execution (even if not flawless) must occur. I've now come to realize that I need to manage all that like a "project" (not really a project, or a very long term one). That's why I've put a project in place in my Project Pier tracker (a clone of BaseCamp but free and a little bit easier for newcomers). Planned articles to write, newsletters to issue and the like. It helps. And it shows all my missed deadlines in red with a days count... So, there is no way out, you need discipline, planning, and follow through to get somewhere. "Just do it" is really working. Do not ask yourself if you feel like it. Do things. Make them happen. Improve everyday.

Lesson 6: SaaS applications are as good as your network connection is

Case in point: this blog. It is WordPress installed on my server and if my connection to the web is bad, no way to update... Same with my project tracking systems. Same with documents that are on Google Docs or Microsoft Live Workspaces... When the link is bad, you'd better be on holidays or unable to do anything due to the flu. I am working alone here, so this is only affecting me. But if you work in a large organization, the network connection really becomes vital. And the cost may shift from the servers in the company, to bandwidth, monitoring systems, and fast resolution systems. A very simple SaaS I do use is this damn VOIP phone that is paired with my Internet connection. So, VOIP+SaaS can really let you in the dark if the network fails... So, I am now feeling better, two days to go before getting back to work. I hate having been sick and unable to enjoy holidays. But let's turn this the creative way. I'll blog a bit about that and how it could improve the day! Until next time, enjoy your Internet connection. I am jealous!