Category Archives: Personal

My Dad, the math superhero

I had a flashback memory earlier today from when I was a young boy, eating at Bill Knapp’s with my family. This was back in the day when the orders were handwritten in pencil on a paper order pad by the server, using whatever abbreviations they and the kitchen crew had worked out.

At the end of the meal, the server would bring that same order sheet to the table, now “the bill,” with the math calculated manually in pencil by the server. And then my Dad would double-check the math in his head.

Occasionally there would be a dispute over the math, and in my memory, my Dad was always right. But mainly I just thought it was so cool that he could do all of that math in his head, and I couldn’t wait for the day when I would be able to do that, too.

He was a math superhero.

And now I have an iPhone that will do the math for me…

Open During Remoldeling

Today, I passed a KFC that is obviously undergoing remodeling, but what caught my eye was the sign out in front of the restaurant, which said, “Drive thru open during remoldeling” (emphasis mine).

A couple of immediate thoughts I had…

  1. I don’t want any part of a food place that is “remoldeling.” One mold is bad enough; repeating it is worse.
  2. I definitely don’t want food prepped in a restaurant that is undergoing a remodel. “Would you like your chicken to be original recipe, extra crispy, or extra drywall dust? And would you prefer gravy or paint chips on your mashed potatoes?”

Just do us all a favor — close the restaurant while you remodel.

And fix the misspelling on your sign.

Only Time

When our son was a baby, we would frequently have music playing in his room at night, and very often, it would be the soothing music of Enya.

We played her music so much, in fact, that now, anytime I hear her song, Only Time, even ten years later, I have the most vivid memory of being up in the middle of the night feeding my son.

The lights were off in the room, except for a night light that provided a serene glow.

I was sitting in a bright green upholstered rocking chair that we bought before he was born to have in his room for moments such as this.

My son was snuggled in my arms, feeding quietly from a bottle.

My wife was in our bedroom next door, sleeping.

It was perfect.

Taking Seth Godin’s advice

On recent commutes, I’ve been working through one of Tim Ferris’ podcasts, with guest Seth Godin.

Two major things Seth has said so far about blogging have stuck with me:

  1. Blog every day. It doesn’t have to be a long post. Just post something.
  2. Turn off comments. You don’t have to interact with your readers about everything you write. Simply write for your own benefit.

So, starting with this blog post, I will take Seth’s advice. Here we go…

Rebirth book cover

Do any happy people do this thing?

Yesterday I started reading Kamal Ravikant’s book, Rebirth: A Fable of Love, Forgiveness, and Following Your Heart. From the book summary:

After the death of his estranged father, Amit takes his parent’s ashes to the Ganges to fulfill a deathbed promise. Instead of returning home, he wanders, his pain and grief leaving him confused about his future. Almost broke, unsure about his direction in life, and running from memories, he is led by fate to the Camino de Santiago, an ancient 550-mile pilgrimage route across northern Spain.

On Day One of his pilgrimage, Amit makes the following observation:

At the restaurant last night, when drunken pilgrims started sharing their reasons for this walk, all seemed to be going through something. Do any happy people do this thing?

I was struck by that question, “Do any happy people do this thing?” It occurred to me that if we were always comfortable and happy, we would probably never change anything or try something new. Why would we? We’re content with what we have. But difficulties and challenges force us to look at our lives and consider ways in which we need to change. From this, we try new things and have new experiences. And sometimes those new experiences bring us into the best journeys of our lives.

I am ______

Today I am…

Today is January 20, 2017, the Inauguration Day when Donald J. Trump has taken the oath of office and become the 45th President of the United States. This is a day fraught with emotion for many people, so I want to record my thoughts for today.

Today I am…

…convinced that God is in control

God has made it clear in the Bible that He has not only established government, but that He also controls who is in charge of government.

Romans 13:1

Let everyone submit to the governing authorities, since there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are instituted by God.

Psalm 22:27-28

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD. All the families of the nations will bow down before You, for kingship belongs to the LORD; He rules the nations.

Romans 9:17

For the Scripture tells Pharaoh, I raised you up for this reason so that I may display My power in you and that My name may be proclaimed in the whole earth.

Daniel 2:20-21

May the name of God be praised forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and establishes kings. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding.

Daniel 4:17

This word is by decree of the watchers, and the decision is by command from the Holy Ones. This is so that the living will know that the Most High is ruler over human kingdoms. He gives them to anyone He wants and sets the lowliest of people over them.

Isaiah 45:1

The LORD says this to Cyrus, His anointed, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and disarm kings, to open doors before him, and even city gates will not be shut: “I will go before you and level the uneven places; I will shatter the bronze doors and cut the iron bars in two. I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches from secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD. I am the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. I call you by your name, for the sake of my servant Jacob and Israel My chosen one. I give a name to you, though you do not know Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; there is no God but Me. I will strengthen you, though you do not know Me, so that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is no one but Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.”

Proverbs 21:1

A king’s heart is like channeled water in the LORD’s hand: He directs it wherever He chooses.

Matthew 28:18

Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.”

…thankful for President Obama’s service and leadership

Whether or not you agreed with his politics or policies, I believe that President Obama led this nation with courage and grace. He loved his wife and daughters with a deep commitment. He respected others and encouraged diversity. And he leaves the office with a legacy that is unmarked by personal scandal.

…praying for our new President, Donald J. Trump

I watched President Trump’s inaugural address today, and tried my best to do so with an open mind. I am praying for him as he leads our nation, that he will have integrity, wisdom, courage, and compassion. I acknowledge his position as president, and support him and submit to his leadership, as we are instructed to do in Scripture.

1 Timothy 2:1-3

First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it please God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

Jeremiah 29:7

Pursue the well-being of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the LORD on its behalf, for when it thrives, you will thrive.

1 Peter 2:13-17

Submit to every human authority because of the Lord, whether to the emperor as the supreme authority or to governors as those sent out by him to punish those who do what is evil and to praise those who do what is good. For it is God’s will that you silence the ignorance of foolish people by doing good. Submit as free people, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but as God’s slaves. Honor everyone. Love the brothers and sisters. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

…thankful to live in America

May I not take for granted this peaceful transition of power as one president leaves office and another takes the office.

May I not take for granted the opportunity to be involved in the election process, regardless of the outcome.

May I not take for granted the right to speak freely.

May I not take for granted the joy of worshiping God and attending church freely.

May I not take for granted the privilege that it is to be an American.

…looking forward to the day when Jesus Christ reigns forever

I know that I will not live in this world forever. My time on earth is limited. Yet I also have the promise and assurance of a blessed eternal life with God my Savior.

John 14:1-3

Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.

Isaiah 9:6-7

For a Child will be born for us, a Son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the LORD of Armies will accomplish this.

Revelation 19:11-16

Then I saw heaven opened, and there was a white horse. Its rider is called Faithful and True, and He judges and makes ware with justice. His eyes were like a fiery flame, and many crowns were on His head. He had a name written that no one knows except Himself. He wore a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called the Word of God. The armies that were in heaven followed Him on white horses, wearing pure white linen. A sharp sword came from His mouth, so that He might strike the nations with it. He will rule them with an iron rod. He will also trample the winepress of the fierce anger of God, the Almighty. And He has a name written on His robe and on His thigh: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

Finally, I close with this prayer of our first president, George Washington:

Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection, that Thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States of America at large. And finally, that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Books

2017 Reading Challenge

Tim Challies has issued the 2017 Christian Reading Challenge, “designed to help you read more and to broaden the scope of your reading.” In the challenge, Tim provides suggestions in a checklist format of different types of books to read.

The challenge offers four levels:

  • The Light Reader — read 13 books in a year, or 1 book every 4 weeks
  • The Avid Reader — read 26 books in a year, or 1 book every 2 weeks
  • The Committed Reader — read 52 books in a year, or 1 book every week
  • The Obsessed Reader — read 104 books in a year, or 2 books every week

Since I enjoy reading, and keeping track of which books I’ve read, I’ve decided to try this challenge in 2017.

I’ll be using Evernote, one of my favorite tools, to keep Tim’s list of recommendations, and to keep track of what I’ve read. You can view my progress at bit.ly/NTD-2017-Reading-Challenge.

You can also monitor the hashtag #vtReadingChallenge on social media to see what others are doing.

Will you join us?

Ronald Reagan's 1981 inaugural address

Ronald Reagan’s 1981 Inaugural Address

The following is the inaugural address that Ronald Reagan gave on January 20, 1981, when he began his first term as President of the United States.

Senator Hatfield, Mr. Chief Justice, Mr. President, Vice President Bush, Vice President Mondale, Senator Baker, Speaker O’Neill, Reverend Moomaw, and my fellow citizens:

To a few of us here today this is a solemn and most momentous occasion, and yet in the history of our nation it is a commonplace occurrence. The orderly transfer of authority as called for in the Constitution routinely takes place, as it has for almost two centuries, and few of us stop to think how unique we really are. In the eyes of many in the world, this every four-year ceremony we accept as normal is nothing less than a miracle.

Mr. President, I want our fellow citizens to know how much you did to carry on this tradition. By your gracious cooperation in the transition process, you have shown a watching world that we are a united people pledged to maintaining a political system which guarantees individual liberty to a greater degree than any other, and I thank you and your people for all your help in maintaining the continuity which is the bulwark of our Republic.

The business of our nation goes forward. These United States are confronted with an economic affliction of great proportions. We suffer from the longest and one of the worst sustained inflations in our national history. It distorts our economic decisions, penalizes thrift, and crushes the struggling young and the fixed-income elderly alike. It threatens to shatter the lives of millions of our people.

Idle industries have cast workers into unemployment, human misery, and personal indignity. Those who do work are denied a fair return for their labor by a tax system which penalizes successful achievement and keeps us from maintaining full productivity.

But great as our tax burden is, it has not kept pace with public spending. For decades we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children’s future for the temporary convenience of the present. To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals.

You and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing, live beyond our means, but for only a limited period of time. Why, then, should we think that collectively, as a nation, we’re not bound by that same limitation? We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow. And let there be no misunderstanding: We are going to be begin to act, beginning today.

The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades. They will not go away in days, weeks, or months, but they will go away. They will go away because we as Americans have the capacity now, as we’ve had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom.

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? All of us together, in and out of government, must bear the burden. The solutions we seek must be equitable, with no one group singled out to pay a higher price.

We hear much of special interest groups. Well, our concern must be for a special interest group that has been too long neglected. It knows no sectional boundaries or ethnic and racial divisions, and it crosses political party lines. It is made up of men and women who raise our food, patrol our streets, man our mines and factories, teach our children, keep our homes, and heal us when we’re sick — professionals, industrialists, shopkeepers, clerks, cabbies, and truck drivers. They are, in short, “We the people,” this breed called Americans.

Well, this administration’s objective will be a healthy, vigorous, growing economy that provides equal opportunities for all Americans, with no barriers born of bigotry or discrimination. Putting America back to work means putting all Americans back to work. Ending inflation means freeing all Americans from the terror of runaway living costs. All must share in the productive work of this “new beginning,” and all must share in the bounty of a revived economy. With the idealism and fair play which are the core of our system and our strength, we can have a strong and prosperous America, at peace with itself and the world.

So, as we begin, let us take inventory. We are a nation that has a government — not the other way around. And this makes us special among the nations of the Earth. Our government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government, which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed.

It is my intention to curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment and to demand recognition of the distinction between the powers granted to the Federal Government and those reserved to the States or to the people. All of us need to be reminded that the Federal Government did not create the States; the States created the Federal Government.

Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it’s not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work — work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it.

If we look to the answer as to why for so many years we achieved so much, prospered as no other people on Earth, it was because here in this land we unleashed the energy and individual genius of man to a greater extent than has ever been done before. Freedom and the dignity of the individual have been more available and assured here than in any other place on Earth. The price for this freedom at times has been high, but we have never been unwilling to pay that price.

It is no coincidence that our present troubles parallel and are proportionate to the intervention and intrusion in our lives that result from unnecessary and excessive growth of government. It is time for us to realize that we’re too great a nation to limit ourselves to small dreams. We’re not, as some would have us believe, doomed to an inevitable decline. I do not believe in a fate that will fall on us no matter what we do. I do believe in a fate that will fall on us if we do nothing. So, with all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal. Let us renew our determination, our courage, and our strength. And let us renew our faith and our hope.

We have every right to dream heroic dreams. Those who say that we’re in a time when there are not heroes, they just don’t know where to look. You can see heroes every day going in and out of factory gates. Others, a handful in number, produce enough food to feed all of us and then the world beyond. You meet heroes across a counter, and they’re on both sides of that counter. There are entrepreneurs with faith in themselves and faith in an idea who create new jobs, new wealth and opportunity. They’re individuals and families whose taxes support the government and whose voluntary gifts support church, charity, culture, art, and education. Their patriotism is quiet, but deep. Their values sustain our national life.

Now, I have used the words “they” and “their” in speaking of these heroes. I could say “you” and “your,” because I’m addressing the heroes of whom I speak — you, the citizens of this blessed land. Your dreams, your hopes, your goals are going to be the dreams, the hopes, and the goals of this administration, so help me God.

We shall reflect the compassion that is so much a part of your makeup. How can we love our country and not love our countrymen; and loving them, reach out a hand when they fall, heal them when they’re sick, and provide opportunity to make them self-sufficient so they will be equal in fact and not just in theory?

Can we solve the problems confronting us? Well, the answer is an unequivocal and emphatic “yes.” To paraphrase Winston Churchill, I did not take the oath I’ve just taken with the intention of presiding over the dissolution of the world’s strongest economy.

In the days ahead I will propose removing the roadblocks that have slowed our economy and reduced productivity. Steps will be taken, aimed at restoring the balance between the various levels of government. Progress may be slow, measured in inches and feet, not miles, but we will progress. It is time to reawaken this industrial giant, to get government back within its means, and to lighten our punitive tax burden. And these will be our first priorities, and on these principles there will be no compromise.

On the eve of our struggle for independence a man who might have been one of the greatest among the Founding Fathers, Dr. Joseph Warren, president of the Massachusetts Congress, said to his fellow Americans, “Our country is in danger, but not to be despaired of… On you depend the fortunes of America. You are to decide the important questions upon which rests the happiness and the liberty of millions yet unborn. Act worthy of yourselves.”

Dr. Joseph Warren

Dr. Joseph Warren

Well, I believe we, the Americans of today, are ready to act worthy of ourselves, ready to do what must be done to ensure happiness and liberty for ourselves, our children, and our children’s children. And as we renew ourselves here in our own land, we will be seen as having greater strength throughout the world. We will again be the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.

To those neighbors and allies who share our freedom, we will strengthen our historic ties and assure them of our support and firm commitment. We will match loyalty with loyalty. We will strive for mutually beneficial relations. We will not use our friendship to impose on their sovereignty, for our own sovereignty is not for sale.

As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries, they will be reminded that peace is the highest aspiration of the American people. We will negotiate for it, sacrifice for it; we will not surrender for it, now or ever.

Our forbearance should never be misunderstood. Our reluctance for conflict should not be misjudged as a failure of will. When action is required to preserve our national security, we will act. We will maintain sufficient strength to prevail if need be, knowing that if we do so we have the best chance of never having to use that strength.

Above all, we must realize that no arsenal or no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women. It is a weapon our adversaries in today’s world do not have. It is a weapon that we as Americans do have. Let that be understood by those who practice terrorism and prey upon their neighbors.

I’m told that tens of thousands of prayer meetings are being held on this day, and for that I’m deeply grateful. We are a nation under God, and I believe God intended for us to be free. It would be fitting and good, I think, if on each Inaugural Day in future years it should be declared a day of prayer.

This is the first time in our history that this ceremony has been held, as you’ve been told, on this West Front of the Capitol. Standing here, one faces a magnificent vista, opening up on this city’s special beauty and history. At the end of this open mall are those shrines to the giants on whose shoulders we stand.

West Front of the U.S. Capitol

West Front of the U.S. Capitol

Directly in front of me, the monument to a monumental man, George Washington, father of our country. A man of humility who came to greatness reluctantly. He led America out of revolutionary victory into infant nationhood. Off to one side, the stately memorial to Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence flames with his eloquence. And then, beyond the Reflecting Pool, the dignified columns of the Lincoln Memorial. Whoever would understand in his heart the meaning of America will find it in the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Beyond those monuments to heroism is the Potomac River, and on the far shore the sloping hills of Arlington National Cemetery, with its row upon row of simple white markers bearing crosses or Stars of David. They add up to only a tiny fraction of the price that has been paid for our freedom.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

Each one of those markers is a monument to the kind of hero I spoke of earlier. Their lives ended in places called Belleau Wood, The Argonne, Omaha Beach, Salerno, and halfway around the world on Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Pork Chop Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, and in a hundred rice paddies and jungles of a place called Vietnam.

Under one such marker lies a young man, Martin Treptow, who left his job in a small town barbershop in 1917 to go to France with the famed Rainbow Division. There, on the western front, he was killed trying to carry a message between battalions under heavy fire.

We’re told that on his body was found a diary. On the flyleaf under the heading, “My Pledge,” he had written these words: “America must win this war. Therefore I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone.”

The crisis we are facing today does not require of us the kind of sacrifice that Martin Treptow and so many thousands of others were called upon to make. It does require, however, our best effort and our willingness to believe in ourselves and to believe in our capacity to perform great deeds, to believe that together with God’s help we can and will resolve the problems which now confront us.

And after all, why shouldn’t we believe that? We are Americans.

God bless you, and thank you.

Customer and Contractor

Improving Your Company’s Brand Through Customer and Contractor Communications

We recently had some improvements made to our house, and after going through the experience, there were some things I noticed about the process that I thought could be improved. I shared my observations via letter with the president of the company, but I’d like to share them publicly, too.

To be clear, I won’t share the name of the company we used for these home improvements, for their own sake, but I am happy with their work — I would use them again, and would recommend them to friends or family who were looking for similar work to be done.

However, there were two main areas where I thought they could improve:

  1. Communication — We received more consistent and more informative communications from this company when we were still a prospect than after we became an actual customer. That’s not the right balance.
  2. Decision-Making — When there was a problem with our order, the lines of communication and decision-making between the company employees and subcontractors was unclear, so my wife and I felt pressured to make a decision that shouldn’t have been ours to make. That’s unfair to the customer.

Let me provide the story here, and I’ll make observations as I go, and then summarize at the end.

Pre-Sale

My wife and I had been discussing, off and on, the idea of making some improvements to our house. So one day in early October 2016, we were pleasantly surprised to return home and find some men from a company we had been researching who were canvassing our neighborhood, providing basic information and setting up appointments. We talked with them and set up an appointment for a salesperson to come to our house.

I was impressed with their pre-sales process automation:

  • October 13 — We received an Appointment Confirmation email. It was well designed, branded for the company (including a photo of the company president), and contained helpful information.
  • October 14 — We received a second Appointment Confirmation email. This email was a plain text message, but it was still helpful in reminding us of our pending appointment.
  • October 15 — The day of our actual appointment, we received another plain text email, but it provided our salesperson’s name. This is marketing genius — whenever a customer or potential customer invites your company and your employee into their home, put the customer at ease by identifying your employee by name before they arrive. Include a photo, if you can.
  • Throughout this time period, we also received a few text messages that helped keep us informed of when exactly our salesperson would arrive.

On Saturday, October 15, the salesperson arrived at our house for the sales appointment. He was immediately likable, which at least for many people, also makes him immediately trustworthy. He was very professional in touring our home, making notes of what work we wanted done, and explaining the process to us. He explained the different options that were available, and how they may or may not benefit us as a family. He provided lots of good information, and gave us a good, no-pressure quote. We were pleased with the price he gave us, and had no issue with immediately becoming a customer.

At this point, I was impressed with this company. They had a good lead generation system, they followed up on leads in a timely manner with a defined process that was obviously automated, and their salesperson was top notch. The danger here was that they had set high expectations from me as a customer regarding their communications ability, and the quality of their employees.

(There was one issue I had at this point — I was surprised that their sales process was still paper based. The salesperson had an iPad, but used it only to show us some marketing material. He didn’t use it to record the measurements, develop the price, or complete the sale. In an industry that relies on accurate measurements and communication of those measurements, why not develop a mobile app that simplifies the process for your salesperson and for the customer? This discussion will have to be a separate post.)

Measurement

Our measuring appointment was set for Thursday, October 20 at 10:00 AM. We were pleased that the measuring appointment was set so soon after our sales appointment. This was the appointment when a different representative from the company would come out to double check the measurements made by the salesperson, and verify that all of the information was correct.

For this appointment, we received only one email before the appointment — we received it the day before, on Wednesday, October 19, but it didn’t provide the name of the person who would be coming to the appointment. This seemed strange to me, that they could provide the name of the salesperson when we were not a customer, but now they could not provide the name of the person who would be coming to perform the final measurement.

To be honest, I couldn’t tell you the name of the person who came to measure our windows — not because I didn’t receive it in an email, but because he was completely unremarkable. I don’t expect everyone to be as likable and charismatic as our salesperson was, but I did expect the person who was coming to this appointment to be highly trained and knowledgeable. If anything, I expected him to know even more about the work we were having done. However, I remember having the distinct feeling that he wasn’t as informed or as fully trained as he should have been. I have confirmed with my wife that she had the same impression. This would be verified later in the process.

Post-Sale, Pre-Work

That email we received on October 19 was the last email we received from the company. Again, it seemed strange to me that now that we had agreed to have the work done, and were paying several thousand dollars for the work, we were receiving less information than we had received when we were simply a prospect. This is completely backwards.

We knew that the process would take a while after the measuring appointment — supplies had to be ordered, and parts had to be custom made for our home, and then of course we would need to schedule the time when the actual work would take place. However, we received no information during this time period. To me, this is a key time to maintain communication with your customer — keep them up to date on the status of their order. Reassure them that actual work is taking place on their behalf. This is where a relatively simple communication process and/or automation could go a long way.

Here are some examples of information that I as a customer would find extremely helpful during this time period, reinforcing the soundness of my decision to hire this company to work on my home.

Let the customer know:

  • When the measurements have been received and confirmed
  • Who has been assigned to oversee the order or project, and provide contact information
  • When the materials have been ordered
  • When the materials have been received by your company
  • When the project manager will be contacting me to schedule installation
  • Who will be coming to my home to complete the work

We received none of this information. We had placed our order on October 15, so when it came to December 1 and I still had heard nothing, I called the company. I finally was able to speak with an employee who confirmed that the materials had been delivered to them the day before (on November 30), and that “someone else” would be contacting me to schedule the installation. If a good communication process had been defined and implemented, I would have received that information via email, saving me the phone call, and saving the company the time that a representative spent on the phone.

After a week went by with no further communication from the company, I texted the salesperson, whom we had not spoken with since mid-October. He responded immediately, and later that day, another employee called to schedule the work on our home for Tuesday, December 20 and Wednesday, December 21.

Once again, we received no further communication from the company until Monday, December 19 — the day before work was scheduled to begin — to state that our installation would need to be pushed back a day, to Wednesday, December 21 and Thursday, December 22, because the installers were delayed at their current project.

This was a major inconvenience, as we then had to shift other things in our schedule to accommodate the work that would be done on our home. I was also frustrated by the lack of information — I didn’t know who to expect at our home (Are they employees or contractors? What are their names? How many will there be?), or what to expect when they arrived (Is there prep work we need to do? What will they do when they arrive?).

Installation

The morning of Wednesday, December 21, I received a phone call from a company employee who identified herself as our project manager. I was grateful for the call, but was surprised that this was the first time I had heard from her. As our project manager, I would have expected some communication from her much earlier in the process.

She confirmed that the installation crew would be arriving that morning between 9:00 and 10:00 AM, and provided the crew leader’s name. The installation crew arrived on time, their vehicle and trailer looked clean and professional, the installers looked cleaned and professional, and one crew member was even wearing a sweatshirt with the company’s logo on it, which I thought was reassuring.

But the crew leader introduced himself by a different name. It’s a minor thing, but it threw me off a little bit. I asked him about it, and he answered, “Oh, my first name is [the name the project manager gave me], but I go by [the name he gave me].” If that’s the name that the crew leader goes by and likes to be called, then that’s how the company needs to introduce him.

From the beginning, the installation seemed to go off-track. The crew leader began his walk around of our house, and noted that the measurements for one of the rooms — the room that represented just over half of the entire project — were wrong, and so the materials he had were the wrong size. This was not reassuring. Even worse for me, he didn’t seem to know what would or could be done about it — he needed to call his manager.

In the meantime, the rest of his crew started work on another room in our house. I didn’t know what to expect, and was surprised by how much demolition was involved to prepare for the new work and materials. Because we had received very little communication after we placed our order, and because the installers provided no information when they arrived, I struggled to envision what the finished product would look like, and my confidence level was low because of the wrong measurements in the other room.

When you are a contractor, you are accustomed to the work you do and what is involved. Do not assume that the customer has the same experience or knowledge that you do. Take a few minutes before you start work to explain the process of what will happen and what the customer can expect. This is their home, after all.

While the installers started working, I called our project manager to see what she could do to help. She didn’t know yet about the wrong measurements, and said she would have to call the installation manager for more information.

This is one area where I really became frustrated that day. In this type of work, I can’t imagine that this is the first time they’ve encountered this scenario where some information was wrong, or something would need to be fixed. I expected them to have a clear process of how to resolve the problem and communicate that resolution to me as the homeowner. I obviously expected wrong.

The crew finished the first part of the project, and I was very pleased with their work. They did good quality work with high quality materials, and everything looked nice when they finished.

As they continued working, the unremarkable measurer showed up at our house, apparently to be educated by the installation crew leader regarding his inaccurate measurements. The crew leader explained the problem to him, but the measurer was adamant that the crew leader’s method did not match with how he was trained to measure, and he seemed very self-defensive.

Even worse for me, there was discussion between the two of them of whether or not the installation crew could “make it work” — perhaps my least favorite phrase in home improvement — and both seemed to be looking to me to make a decision regarding whether I wanted to use the materials that had been ordered to “make it work,” or if I wanted to pursue ordering materials that would be the right size.

This seemed like a completely inappropriate expectation of me as the homeowner — I strongly believe that someone from the company should have stepped in to say, “[X] is the right way to do it, so we will make sure that [X] gets done, and here is what we will do to make it happen.”

I called the project manager once again to fill her in on what was happening — notice her lack of proactive communication when she knew there was a problem at our house — and she said she once again would need to contact the installation manager for more information.

Thankfully, in the afternoon, the salesperson stopped by to check on the installation progress. He confirmed that the measurements for the room in question were wrong, and that the right way to handle it would be to order new materials for that room. This meant that there would be a delay in that room, but I was perfectly fine with that — I would much rather have a delay and get the right materials than to try and “make it work.” I cannot begin to express how reassuring it was to finally have someone step in and make the decision on behalf of the company so that everything would be done right.

The installation crew finished the work in the other rooms, and we are very happy with their work and the quality of the materials that they used.

The next morning (Thursday, December 22), I received a phone call from our project manager to confirm that new materials had been ordered for the remaining room in our house, and that she would contact us again once the materials were received and ready for installation. I’m slightly troubled, based on our track record so far, that I have no idea how long we will have to wait for our new materials to be ready. We should be receiving regular updates as to the status of our order.

Takeaways for Improvement

Here are the areas where I think this company could greatly improve:

  • The post-sale communication process needs to be as polished (or more polished) than the pre-sale communication process. If the company can put that much effort into communicating with me before I spend a single penny with them, they can put that much effort into communicating with me once I’m a customer who has spent several thousand dollars.
  • All team members need adequate training, especially when accuracy is the key component of their job. Sending out a person to perform final measurements when they don’t fully understand how to measure all scenarios is a mistake that only compounds itself once the installation work begins.
  • A clear line of communication and decision making needs to be established, documented, and understood by all members of the team, including employees and contractors. The customer should never feel like they’re being asked to make a decision about a mistake your company has made — your company policy should be clear about how to make it right, and what that means for the customer.

Remember, each employee or contractor is representing your company, and providing the customer with an experience that is either positive or negative. Make sure you’re not overlooking key areas that can lead to your customers having a negative experience.


How did I keep track of these details? Evernote

iOS’ little-known Text Replacement tool

One of my favorite tricks when using my iPhone or iPad — an iOS device — is the little-known Text Replacement tool.

There are times when I’m sending a text message or an email to someone, and I’ve got a long word or phrase to include. I generally prefer to avoid a lot of the common texting acronyms — I would rather spell something out completely. This is where the Text Replacement tool comes in handy.

For instance, my favorite restaurant is P.F. Chang’s. But the restaurant name is a bit cumbersome and time consuming to type out on a small keyboard:

capital-P period capital-F period space capital-C h a n g apostrophe s

So I have a Text Replacement shortcut set up so that whenever I type “PFC” on my iOS device, it’s automatically replaced with “P.F. Chang’s.”

Setting Up Text Replacement Options

To set up Text Replacement options on your iOS device:

  1. Open the Settings app
  2. iPhone Settings

  3. Select General
  4. iPhone Settings General

  5. Scroll down and select Keyboard
  6. iPhone Settings Keyboard

  7. Select Text Replacement
  8. iPhone Settings Text Replacement

  9. Click the + (plus) icon in the upper right corner
  10. iPhone Settings Create New Shortcut

  11. The Phrase is the full phrase that you want displayed in your message (from my example, “P.F. Chang’s”)
  12. The Shortcut is what you want to type on the keyboard (from my example, “PFC”)
  13. Select Save
  14. iPhone Text Replacement Example

  15. Repeat as necessary for any additional shortcuts you want to set up

Sample Text Replacement Shortcuts

Here are some of the Text Replacement shortcuts that I have set up for myself:

Shortcut Phrase
appt appointment
btw By the way,
CFA Chick-fil-A
cmas Christmas
ily I love you!
myaddr 123 Main Street, City, State Zip
mygmail myemailaddress@gmail.com
omw On my way!
PFC P.F. Chang’s
wifi Wi-Fi

What do you think? What shortcuts would you set up for yourself?