How to Find Joy, Love and Peace

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What’s up bitches? I know, it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from me. I had a busy holiday season, traveling to St. Louis, Walt Disney World, and Kansas City for a wedding. Above is my favorite picture from the trip. The moment I saw this view, I knew I had to capture it.

Oh, what’s with my blog title? Well, if you were read this far I might a well tell you. I have no idea either. You probably should read goop.com or something. I hear Gwyneth has some advice for what to do with jade eggs.

Disney Freaks Update

Disney moved their annual marathon up to the weekend we were there, making it an extremely busy time to visit. We had fun, but I felt bad for anyone there for the first time.If you make reservations for early January in the future, you’ll want to make sure the marathon doesn’t coincide with your trip. We were there January 1-6.

Alligator warning signs and fencing are now in place, wherever lakes are present. These areas include the Magic Kingdom and Boardwalk area hotels.

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Most of you know about the June 2016 alligator attack at Disney’s Grand Floridian. A precious 2-year old boy visiting from England was killed, as his horrified parents fought to free him from the alligator’s grip.

Far fewer of you know, that this was not the first time an alligator attacked on Disney property. In 1986, an 8-year old boy was bitten by an alligator at Fort Wilderness. Unlike June’s attack, the boy had non-life threatening injuries. Yet despite this, and repeat alligator sightings preceding the tragedy, Disney failed to warn guests. Those unfamiliar with where this happened, probably don’t realize how the young victim (Lane) was in the center of it all. He was not on the fridges of the resort, in a remote place. He was within steps of the lobby, in a beach area frequented by families.

During our visit, I thought of Lane several times and how preventable (I feel) his death was. Prior to then, there were a few “no swimming” signs, but no one realized that simply being on the beach, playing in shallow water, could lead to such tragedy. Maybe someone familiar with Florida and the alligator risk present. But, certainly not myself, Lane’s parents and most other people immersed in Disney’s fantasy world.

I read that Disney removed all their alligator references in the park, but this is not the case. They may have removed some merchandising, but everywhere animated/mechanical alligators were present before, like Jungle Cruise, were still there.

Back to my visit…

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Above, my gorgeous husband & 8th grade son, who confused people with his St. Louis Cardinal’s T-shirt, U of Michigan hat, and Purdue Shorts.

I couldn’t wait to go on the new Frozen ride. My expectations were high, especially given the 5 hour waits present during it’s opening weeks. During our visit, the wait was generally 2-hours, which proves patience isn’t (your) virtue. It’s just something you pretend to have, when your little brat HAS to go on the ride.

As soon as allowed, I booked my fastpass +, which in Epcot meant it was the only big attraction I could reserve (in Epcot) that day. As a Disney Resort guest, you can select 3 fastpass+ + selections in one park each day, on disneyexperience.com. In Epcot, you can’t pick Soarin, Test Track and Frozen in one day. You can only pick one, along with 2 other “less popular” attractions, like Ellen’s Energy Adventure. Ellen looks about 20-years younger in the video. I am pretty sure she’s holding an ABC executive captive, because otherwise, I can’t figure out why they haven’t updated it.

In Magic Kingdom, you can pick 3 popular attractions, as part of your initial fastpass + selections. In theory, you can select additional fast passes after you’ve used your 3, but when the park is busy, there may be no more left to give out. This is why using your fast passes early in the day, rather than later, can be advantageous.

What did I think of Frozen? Unless you have a fast pass, I wouldn’t go. In fact, I am not sure it’s worth wasting a fast pass on! If you’ve ever gone on the Norway ride you’ll realize Frozen is on the same track. In the same boats. Sure, there are animated figures and Frozen music, but the ride is so short you barely appreciate it. Waits for this ride exceeded 2 hours while we were there. 2 hours for what seemed like a 2 second ride, on the same boat you went on 2 years ago, through Viking territory. Buy your kid an Elsa doll and call it a day.

Soarin’s new film, which takes you around the world now, WAS worth waiting for. The way you move seemed the same, but the visual experience was completely different.

We also tried Sanaa, which is a fairly new restaurant in Animal Kingdom Lodge. It’s in the second (newer) building, called Kidani Village. We liked the lunch menu better, so we went during the day. The Naan bread service with 9 different dipping sauces was amazing.I copied the menu below, so you could see the additional bread options offered. You can order additional bread for under $2 each, which makes this one of the better – more reasonably priced – appetizers at Disney.

Indian-style Bread Service

Choice of Five Breads – Traditional Naan, Garlic-Ginger Naan, Spiced Naan, Onion Kucha, or Paneer Paratha. Choice of Accompaniments – Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, Mango Chutney, Tomato-Date Jam, Tamarind Chutney, Coriander Chuntey, Garlic Pickle, Red Chile Sambal, or Spicy Jalapeño-Lime Pickle

 

We asked for a table by the window, and got one, although the hostess said normally you’d need to check-in early for your reservations to secure that. I thought the restaurant and the view were amazing. While you wait for your table, there is an area just outside the hostess stand, filled with rocking chairs, and beautiful views of the resort and it’s animal residents. I have included pictures below.

For lunch, my daughter and I ordered the Tandoori Chicken. The spice on the chicken tasted more like Indian food, than Middle-Eastern food like I hoped, but my daughter loved it.My son and husband thought their food (Kenya Coffee BBW sandwich and Sanaa Burger) were OK. I suggest going here, but I’d stuff myself on the Naan bread and skip the rest.

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We were disappointed that our favorite lunch place, Chefs de France, is now serving their dinner menu all day. We weren’t made aware of this when we made our reservation 9 months in advance, which is necessary when visiting the park during peak times.

When you book at Disney, you have to give a credit card deposit equal to $10 a person. If you don’t cancel 24-hours in advance, you are charged that fee. We looked around, and everyone was eating side salads and appetizers, not the heavy steak and duck main courses, we were now expected to order. What we always loved, their delicious monte crisco type sandwich (can’t remember the french name) wasn’t even available upon request. It was frustrating, since we couldn’t just get up and leave.  Considering how busy Disney was, the likelihood of finding sit down service anywhere else was remote. So, arguing too many items were removed since we booked, wouldn’t have solved our problem. We ended up ordering appetizers and leaving. I know, #firstworldproblems. Poor Northville mom couldn’t get her overpriced sandwich and had to eat flat bread instead. I almost feel stupid writing about it, but I know my loyal Disney followers need to know these things. Hi to the 3 of you, LOL. Kidding aside, sit down meals at Disney are about twice their going rate elsewhere. So when you replace the lunch menu with a choice of $30 dinner options, you have to expect some disappointed Disney fanatics like myself.

Best new find: Sprinkles in Disney Springs, F.K.A. Downtown Disney. Best cupcake ever! Usually I throw away half the “cake” and focus on the icing. Not this time.

Cat Freaks Update

For those of you that like me for my CATS, I am pleased to announce they made it through our 2 1/2 week absence perfectly fine. We made sure we left a really big bowl of water.

Oh yes, and we had a cat sitter come every other day. She’s a sweet high school freshmen who made sure she played with the cats, other than Cookie who refused to come out. Cookie is not as “easy” as the other two. He likes to get to know people  through snapchat first. To us, he’s a cat. To the hot blonde in California, he’s a 30-year old navy diver who’s facetime isn’t working for some reason.

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My husband (Rich) read a book over break, which said pet owners don’t realize how much their house smells like their animals. You are probably familiar with Febreze’s “noise blind” marketing campaign .Well, Rich decided he’s going to fix our “problem”, even though none of us were concerned.

Rich sprayed Cookie’s favorite hang out, the cat tower in our family room. This is the place where Cookie hides his face behind the pillar, when he’s sick of you petting him. Like, I don’t notice his giant tail and body sitting there. Rich’s second location was Blackie’s favorite place, the brown throw on our (white) living room love seat. Fortunately, J.J.’s favorite spot, Kayla’s lap, remained untouched.

I didn’t know any of this went down. All I knew was that suddenly, Blackie wasn’t sitting on his throw, which was the only thing saving my couch.  Instead, he was sitting on the arm of the love seat, a strange place that was throw free, and covered in black cat hair. Now, after almost a week, Blackie has begun sitting on the throw again. This is a positive development. Maybe we’ll start talking to Rich again in a couple days.

Cookie took longer to convince. After vacuuming and spraying with cat nip, he did return to his tower, but this was only after a week. He’s not nose blind apparently. During Cookie’s tower protest, he sat on his second and third favorite places,  the Restoration Hardware towel on my bath tub and the family room couch. Not on one cushion mind you. He always makes sure he takes up two.

Cookie is known as our bougee cat. When I tried to replace my RH towel with something less expensive, he meowed in the middle of the night, until I put it back. He likes his towels like his match.com dates; thick, soft and dark brown. What? That’s what my towel is like!

Now you are caught up on my cats and Disney trip. Time to sign out. Peace and love, Northville Mom.

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My new Dicken’s Village building. J.J. will love lying in front of it next Christmas.

 

Bitch, It’s Christmas

Update: I can’t figure out how to get the feature photo to not cut off the top (see above). What it says is.”We hope our Christmas card alerted you to how much better our family is doing than yours”.

It’s almost Christmas, so what better time to finally write a new post for my blog? Well, to be truthful, Christmas doesn’t exactly scream B L O G, but it has been a while and I don’t want to lose my faithful followers. If I don’t make myself post something, I can’t claim to be a blogger, which is what every girl grows up hoping to be. Well, that and Melania Trump, less the old dude.

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My cats love the holidays, up until the point we leave town. Anyone who says cats aren’t loyal to, or miss their owners, haven’t met mine. Our middle-child (J.J.) will chew on my daughter’s shoes if we don’t remember to hide them. It’s the only time he’ll do something like this, which makes me think it’s his passive-aggressive way of saying, “Bitch, you said you’d never leave me”.

In case you missed it, our youngest (Cookie) is underneath the tree. He’s made sure I can’t use curly ribbons when wrapping presents, because EVERY TIME he rips it off the package and puts it in his food bowl. What is it with cats? You don’t see me taking Kate Spade purses off the shelves at Nordstrom’s and putting it in my Chicken Shawarma.

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Look at this a-hole, J.J. I decided to put felt on my glass table, so that my Dicken’s Village could have “snow” underneath the buildings. Now, my turn of the century English village is dusted with orange cat hair. He loves when I turn the lights on in the buildings. I hear he set-up a Tinder profile and is hoping the cute blonde he’s talking to will meet him outside West Lott Chapel.

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Bad news J.J., she’s a dude who hasn’t been able to leave his house in 2-years.

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Then there’s this guy, Blackie. Is he staring at Rich because he wants a pet or is he waiting for the poison to take effect? I am starting to wonder if we’re supporting the Black Cats Lives matter movement or making bad jokes. Not a day goes by that we don’t talk about Blackie not being able to drive with us to St. Louis, since the cops will see him and pull us over.

Which brings me to what I am doing today; which is getting my Christmas cards ready to mail. Every year, I rope a friend into coming over while we wear coordinated outfits my 14-year old son objects to, before he even sees it.

Isn’t it arrogant that people assume you are dying to get a card with their picture on it? I know it is a complete a-hole move, yet I’ve done it every year since my daughter was born (2000). Each year, I tell myself I am going to buy a beautifully crafted card, filled with robins, holly, and glitter. Yet, when the time comes I find myself sending another family photo.

Over the years, the cards I get in return have dwindled, which makes me sad. Part of it is I quit working, so obligatory “I care about you” card and gift exchanges no longer exist. But the main reason is people don’t feel societal pressure or the need to send cards. They communicate using social media instead; it’s easier and immediate. Thus, the custom of sending cards has nearly disappeared, other than when it comes to old fashioned gals like me. The “sad” part is that a Facebook post isn’t something you can put away, and remember another time.

I’ve kept every card we’ve received as a family since our inception, and find comfort in reading words written by those no longer here with us. Even seeing my grandma’s signature on the ugly variety set of cards she bought at Walgreens, brings a smile to my face. Now, let me warn you, you need really tall beds to save anywhere close to the amount I have. I even have letters written to me in 1985, by people I haven’t talked to in nearly as long. I don’t even claim to be born in 1985- yet, I know that my pen pal in New York loved the new song, Raspberry Beret. I never liked it, or Prince, which Blackie finds racist. See, I am at it again.

I remember watching Sex and the City, and Carrie lamenting about how many seasonal social engagements she had. I wish! I haven’t been blessed with a large extended family, or at least one that talks & sees one another. So, I think my desire to receive cards is tied to my desire to feel like I am celebrating the seasons with an extended community. I know I am not alone in that. There are plenty losers like me, who wish they had what they don’t. Before you shed a tear, I should tell you I celebrate Christmas or New Year’s every year in Disney. That MF’er Mickey knows how to party.

So, what’s my point in all this? First of all, if you read this far you are truly a good friend. You should seriously DM me and admit you care enough to read this dribble. If I don’t actually know you, I feel like you are a really cool person. I bet you like cats though, because seriously. Why else would you read this?

Okay, back to my point. I don’t know if you are lucky enough to have your grandmother still. And if you do, whether she’s a nice person that gives great advice. But, let’s pretend she’s dead and you really liked her. This is what she’d say:

Send cards, the old-fashioned kind.

Send newsletters filled with bragging and only good news.

Take a family photo, even if your son wants to pull off his collared shirt and is mad he’s missing the Purdue game.

These things stay. They are there 15-years from now, when your daughter is having her own family. Hopefully with a really kind, handsome, rich guy who lives only 10-minutes away.

 

 

 

No Soup for You! A journey into health care ambivalence.

soupIf you don’t remember Seinfeld episode 116, season 7, you are probably confused right now. In it, a guy nicknamed “Soup Nazi” refuses to serve Jerry and his girlfriend (Sheila). Their PDA in line annoys the restaurateur, and he refuses to serve them, shouting “No soup for you!’. What could this possibly have to do with my blog? Wait and see. 

Dear Diary,

I have lofty aspirations, each night I drift off to sleep. The problem is, when I wake up, I feel exhausted. It doesn’t matter how much I’ve slept or how much caffeine I drink. Sleepiness follows me, and I find myself doing very little on my mental to-do list.

I was relieved when my doctor prescribed a medication, one he said would reduce my daytime fatigue. After gradually increasing my dose, I found myself awake more than I’d been in months. I still find myself sleepy sometimes, but having any measure of improvement is a gift.

Last month, I requested a refill of my medication online. Unlike my previous refill, this prescription was billed under a new insurance policy. I was with the same insurance carrier and used the same pharmacy; but this time, the plan insuring me was different. Under this plan, I have to use express scripts when ordering re-occurring prescriptions.

Express Scripts name is ironic, because there was nothing express about my order. When things are routine, express scripts is fine. You tell your doctor to fax his script and the medication is sent to you, without any shipping cost. You can also set up your account, so that refills are automatically sent.

If you need something outside the normal process, good luck. Since my medication won’t be covered at a retail pharmacy, I just have to take it. I am express scripts’ bitch. Competition would normally push express scripts to get their act together, but since so many of us are their bitch, express scripts can pretend they are giving the superior service their messaging claims.  As you can tell, I plagiarized some of this wording from a 1950’s text book. Keep it between us.

If you work in client service, Innovation, simplification, and quality improvements have to be an everyday part of your day. Unfortunately, many in the field are just trying to get through the day. Some focus on the clock, others on the number of people “served” and some on the amount they’ve earned. You even have those that take pride in finding ways to do less work! Regardless of your role, there are opportunities to make things better. When you deal with companies like express scripts, you can’t help but wonder if anyone is focused on improvement. It’s especially hard to do this, when your team is struggling with obstacles, such as depleted resources or Commodore 64 level technology.

You never want to leave the impression you are one of those places. You know, the kind that is perpetually unstaffed, it’s frazzled team using computer systems resembling a 1985 Atari game. If you’ve shopped at Michael’s or Macy’s, you know what I mean. Neither store has many sales associates walking the floor. I won’t subject myself to the frustration, unless there’s a particularly good deal there or I need something quickly.

When shopping at these stores, there’s nothing about my experience that says they are focused on it. But, I don’t feel obsessed enough to write about past shopping excursions. I know I can go elsewhere. With express scripts, I feel trapped. Like I am just a number, a number they see as a dollar sign rather than a patient. It’s that feeling of powerlessness that ups the ante, and makes the problems I experience more frustrating than they’d otherwise be.

In business, as in life, someone is always going to be nipping at your heels. I think of my friend’s Yorkie, Cocoa, when I say this. Cocoa is a boy dog, in case you thought otherwise. If you become complacent, your status as a client service leader won’t last. When you don’t have competition, as is the case with express scripts, goals easily slide downward. You may just focus on being good enough to hit numbers set by someone else. This is what I believe is the problem with express scripts. Being the best isn’t what they are striving for; they are instead striving to be good enough. I argue they haven’t done that either; but, if their expectations are low enough, they may feel they are exceeding client expectations. Whose I don’t know. Maybe the guy whose bonus is tied to express script profits.

I am sure express scripts would say my experience is an anomaly. Even if it is, alienating a sub-set of your customer base so badly is never “okay”. Particularly when you think of the business they are in. I’m not having issues with my strawberry & banana pancake order. We’re talking about medication that a specialist determined was best for my wellbeing. The very stuff that keeps me awake for TMZ live and my son coming home from school. Although people can lose their shit over pancakes, it’s exponentially worse when it’s medication in dispute.

My adventure with express scripts started innocently on 9/19 (Monday), when I placed a refill order online. On the surface, my experience was like every other order. However, what I didn’t know was that pre-authorization was required before my prescription could be filled.

My doctor received a fax from express scripts on 9/21. It was faxed back that same day. Yet, I didn’t receive my medication until 10/18. I only received it then, because of persistence and the help of my husband’s employer.

At first, I did what a normal person does. I dealt with express scripts directly. After that didn’t work, I made a call to my insurance carrier, Blue Cross. Surprise! They had no idea what was going on and gave me inaccurate information. Regardless of how pleasant everyone was, no one could tell me why my medication was delayed. Every time I, or my doctor’s office called, we were told something different. When I told express script that, the reps simply repeated themselves, certain that they were right.

At one point, I insisted that I be transferred to a manager. I give this manager (Lynne) credit for coming up with the most inaccurate story of the bunch. It takes skill to be that confused and then sleep night after night, knowing you completed fucked up. * Since I asked for Lynne’s extension, I had the opportunity to leave a follow-up message. I stated that her own pre-authorization department’s information conflicted with her own. I wasn’t warm and bubbly, but I also wasn’t threatening. I simply asked Lynne to call me back. I wanted answers; an apology. A sign that Lynne respected me as a client and wanted to help. I never got that sign because 2 weeks later, she still hasn’t called me back. *Gasp, I cussed and wrote the WHOLE word out. There is really no other word for my conversation with Lynne.

Lynne, if you are reading this, I have something to share with you. Ignoring my call was infinitely worse than giving the wrong information. People are forgiving. If you apologize and let them know what you can do, they will welcome your call. It would have shown you care, you are human, and you truly wanted to solve my problem. Unfortunately, 2 of these 3 things clearly do not apply to you. I am not even sure you are human; zombie robot outsourcing would explain a lot. So next time you are lamenting you aren’t paid enough, you aren’t appreciated or that you should be promoted, remember this. If you don’t take pride in your work, and welcome the responsibility of caring for your clients, you will find yourself constantly behind. Behind where you want to be, behind in your work and behind in market share. It may seem like we don’t have a choice now, but if you make enough people mad, our voice will be heard.

Express scripts’ online experience wasn’t any better. Hardly any statuses caused the site to update. I wasn’t told when they got my doctor’s fax, when it was initially reviewed or when my order was in queue for a final determination. Instead, I was instructed to call client service, who didn’t know anything more. They were good at pretending though.

A clear, continually updated web site, can do the work of hundreds of men and women. I much rather go online and see where I’m at than be put on hold, asked scripted question, and verify my birthdate for the 10th in a week. What a wonderful tool it would be to pull screen shots of what I saw on various days, just to figure out how communication can improve. I haven’t seen anything at express scripts that suggests they’d actually do this.

Here’s my advice express scripts. Bring your team members into a room and play the phone calls I’ve had with them. Ask how they would feel if they had to worry about receiving medication on-time. Go through the automated calls and online messaging that were part of my voyage. Have technology, marketing and senior leadership in the room, ready to make changes. Get people to feel what it’s like being your client. It seems like they’ve forgotten.

I am not suggesting that there’s no one who cares at express scripts. I am suggesting instead there is a culture that inhibits caring. One that is tied to performance expectations, leadership communication, and a lack of technology and escalation alternatives.

De-sensitization is a common occurrence among those in the client service field. If you keep hearing the same complaint every day, it seems normal to you. For example, say you work at a carpet company and you constantly hear “I haven’t gotten my estimate yet, and the install is scheduled next week!” After a while, it seems reasonable to provide this information late in the game. You may even roll your eyes when someone says this, telling your cube neighbor, “This bitch has no idea! Yesterday, we told that lady how much her carpet install would be, after we put her carpet in!”

I call this phenomenon “lost perception syndrome”, and it’s rampant. Over time, client service simply forgets what it’s like to be the people they serve. It can happen to any of us, even top tier team members that lead reports, receive compliments, and boast years of seniority. It takes effort on everyone’s part, from the front line up to the CEO, to prevent this syndrome from taking hold.

A great example of “lost perception syndrome” occurred when I was assigned a point of contact at express scripts. This lucky guy, Dan, came to me after my husband’s employer got involved.   Even then, express scripts still took 2-days to call. When Dan did, he had as much information as the zombie robots I spoke to earlier. However, Dave didn’t pretend to know what was going on, which was a welcome relief.

I asked Dan how long it normally takes to complete a medication review. He said “2-weeks”, without the slightest hint he was unsettled by it. Dan agreed my 3-week wait was too long and apologized, but I couldn’t help but stop him. Dan, I told him in my radio-ready voice, you’ve probably been at express scripts a long time, right? He acknowledged he’d been there a while. “You’ve lost your perception. You think 2-weeks is reasonable, but it’s ridiculous.” Dan didn’t know what to say, so I bored him with the fact I used to lead a large client service team. How I couldn’t imagine giving that kind of service. Five apologies later I gave up on the topic and focused instead on how much longer the approval was going to take. A couple days, Dan hoped, but he assured me he’d watch my account along the way.

Before my express script days, I had my choice of retail pharmacies. I preferred Walgreens, which handled the occasional pre-approval with ease. I don’t recall waiting more than a day, which is exactly what any of us expect. However, Dan doesn’t have the same expectations we do. He isn’t complaining to senior leadership, when he sees delays like I experienced. He isn’t coming up with ways the process can be automated. He is simply getting through the day. This may be for a variety of reasons. Even if he agrees my experience is unacceptable, he may feel any suggestions he makes will fall on deaf ears. He may not have time to breathe, let alone make flow charts of the process.

You may picture a doctor reviewing my medical history, carefully determining if the prescribed medication should be approved. Think again. Based on the limited information Dan shared, a client service employee initially denied my order. I don’t know who the actual person was, but rumor has it her last job was folding sweaters at Old Navy.  Let’s pretend her name is Audrey, she’s the daughter of a good friend of mine who always reads my blog. Holla to Molly, what up gurl?

Audrey made her determination after considering my diagnosis and what was being treated (fatigue). Since my medication prescribed wasn’t on their approved list, Audrey hit the denial button and cropped her ex out of another Facebook photo. Then, my request was routed to a queue that has an uncanny resemblance to a black hole. There it sat, for over 2 weeks.

When Audrey made her decision, there was no communication from express scripts. It was only through repeat calls I learned that “my plan” wanted me to try ADHD medication first. Researching these medications, I read such things as “habit forming”, and “prone to abuse”. I already knew my doctor didn’t recommend taking these drugs, since most fibromyalgia patients can’t tolerate the side effects. Never mind the fact, I lay on the couch for hours watching “Say Yes to the Dress”. If that isn’t focus, I don’t know what is. Although Dan couldn’t tell me why the plan preferred I try ADHD medications, the price seemed like a likely culprit.

Once a customer service rep denies an order, it is sent to a queue that (supposedly) a pharmacist reviews. Like Audrey, this person doesn’t have my full medical history. All he/she knows is what I have and what symptoms I am trying to control. This is where (I think) my order languished, in a line full of other patients, just wanting to get their prescribed medication.

At one point, I was told my doctor needed to call the pre-authorization line, because his fax was sent to the wrong place. When the office called, we heard about this second queue and that they were sorry, but they are “a little behind”. It should just be another day or two, we were assured.  Yet, those days came and went with no word. I was lucky though, my medication only helps keep me from sleeping. What about people who need their medication to live? It sounds dramatic, but when you deal with people’s health, it’s a lot different than saying your out of chicken noodle soup.  People tend to want to know these things, hours, not weeks, after they’ve placed their order.

When the final denial came through, I got an automated message. I was told my doctor ordered a quantity above my plan limit. Huh? It seems the robot is as confused as my mother, trying to use “the google”.

With this in mind, I’ve penned a love letter to express scripts. I use the term love loosely in this context. I don’t love them at all.

Dear Express Scripts:

Well, you finally got around to breaking-up with me, after 3 weeks. I am not giving up though! We were meant to be together; sort of like cheese and tortillas. However, in this case I am not cheese and you are a stale tortilla, being shipped to a dollar store.

You must not spend much time on automated messages. The robot that called was completely confused. I guess you use the same message for all denials, because quantity is the most frequent issue you see. Good for you! I am sure it felt great getting out of your meeting early, knowing your message makes sense some of the time. You can’t bat a 1,000, am I right? LOL.

I can read my cats minds, and I think I can read yours too. I don’t think you frequently (dare I say ever) study your process from start to finish. Maybe you do when it comes to a routine order, but all those pesky other scenarios, not so much.

I say this because each step of my process was disjointed.  Is there any one person that feels responsible for the total client’s experience? Everything about my contact with express scripts tells me no. I get it, being responsible for the entire thing, start to finish, sounds overwhelming. If it doesn’t, you aren’t considering all the things that touch client experience. Even if you know what should be improved, how can you get everyone- from web design, to sales, to shipping, and so on to listen to you?  Especially you, the kid in the corner wearing ill fitted hand-me down smurf pj’s. You can’t, right? That’s why you are probably ok just knowing Dan apologized to me; if you are aware of my experience at all.

In all fairness, I appreciated the laughs we shared. Like, when your rep answered “I don’t know” 3 times in a row, and then asked “did I answer all of your questions” per script. Or how you called me, you know my voice, and we’re continuing a conversation, but you still have to verify my birthdate and zip code.

Even if you read my letter, I am not sure you are prepared to fully invest in fixing problems like mine.  I can hear a manager (not Lynne, she’d throw my letter in the shredder) saying, “We’ll have some of our people work on this, when they have time”. It just doesn’t work that way. At least not when there’s many different processes, impacting thousands of clients.   I’m not saying only expensive business consultants can make a difference. In fact, I think it’s best if people really close to the process get involved. If you don’t experience what you are solving, you can’t really get to the root of the issue. Just sitting down with the people who talk to clients and actually doing something with what they say, would be a great start. You should try it sometime.  I bet Dan has some feedback for you.

Express script could easily invest in technology that expedites the review process. With fewer humans needed, secondary reviews could happen quickly. Yet, many client service teams struggle for technology resources, competing with areas of the business that are considered profit centers. Client service is often left feeling their ideas are nothing but thoughts on paper. Getting resources assigned to work on your ideas or money to purchase technology, can be difficult. Especially if work-arounds exist and company leaders don’t value client service the way they should.

How do you put a value on happier clients? We know that happy clients refer their friends. That they keep coming back. But unless you have strong ways to track this, which again takes technology, it’s hard to know the benefit of exceptional client service. It’s nearly impossible really, and in many cases the benefit is something you won’t see until well into the future. If you service mortgages, for example, it could be 10 years before someone will even consider using your services again. Therefore, it’s hard to argue your need is more important, when you can’t measure the benefit and it may not come for some time.

Many in client service are friendly caring souls, who can hold their own with clients, but become meek when surrounded by senior leadership. This is why focusing on measuring the things happening around you and producing clear and convincing data is important. If you don’t know how many of your clients are experiencing a certain problem, you haven’t even begun understanding the problem. If all you can do is a tick sheet, to measure how many times something comes up, that’s a start.

I am nowhere close to a math savant. In fact, the closest I’ve come to that is having a son in honors math. I took statistics as a 20 year, and had no clue that it was probably one of the most important classes of my college career. I was more of a Deviant Social Behavior kind of gal. This was before the internet, so a lot of the things I read about were news. Somehow though, I remembered enough to make myself look like a genius. Not just about deviant behavior, but also statistics.  It wasn’t hard to do, because many in client service just aren’t numbers orientated.  They can talk their way out of Kim Kardashian’s Paris hotel room, but the terms control limits and independent variable gets them every time.

If you only remember one thing from my blog, remember this. Numbers without context are useless. If complaints are up 20%, but your business has doubled, you are actually doing better than before. But, if you only look at the number of complaints coming in, you’ll never know that. You always have to look at anything that may influence what you are measuring. If you find yourself responsible for reviewing data or requesting it, you should at least watch some YouTube videos or read a statistic for dummies like-book. If you don’t want to do that, at least ask yourself “how can I keep this in context”, when reviewing reports.

It wasn’t until the later part of my career that I focused on numbers the way I should. I learned the hard way that your biggest problems are what you aren’t measuring. For example, how many times have you been put on hold and the call “accidentally” disconnects after 15 minutes? Things like this may be happening more than you think. Your team members may not be able to make themselves available for the next call, because they are away from their desk completing steps. The time these steps take, may surprise you. All of this is discoverable with the right reporting, but first you have to ask yourself what needs to be measured. Even if you don’t work in a call center, just about every client service position has aspects to it that are quantifiable. What those things are cannot be found on a general list. It is truly unique to the type of business you are in, how you do it, and how many people make up your team.

I love food. I use butter and cheese, and eat way too many desserts. I am not as thin as I’d like, but I look decent. If I stand the right way, crossing my ankles to hide the width of my thighs and no one is behind me, I look great in a bikini. Because of my hobby (eating) I go to a lot of restaurants. I’ve never worked at one, but I can think of several things I’d measure if I did. How long does it take to turn over tables by waiter, comes to mind. Maybe one of your waiters is slow to serve clients and as a result, his tables are filled longer, increasing your wait at the door. Those patrons may be frustrated enough they change their mind about ordering dessert. Next time, they decide to go to your competitors. All of this may be hidden from your view, but it can be uncovered with careful observation and measurement.

The least express scripts can do, is make sure they are expedient in reviewing their client’s medication orders. I don’t think wanting that, is demanding too much. But if express scripts doesn’t measure the right things, and actually talks about what they see, they may not realize how bad their experience has gotten.

When the final denial came through, I was unwilling to give up. My doctor prepared a letter, explaining why the medication prescribed was preferable. Within hours of receipt, express scripts approved my medication. The order was shipped over night the next business day. I wondered why the appeal process was so fast compared to everything else. If this letter was enough to get my request approved, why didn’t express scripts ask for it earlier? With more questions than answers, I was left with little confidence in express scripts’ ability to serve me in the future. After all, there was reason to believe I’d still be waiting, if my husband didn’t complain to the right person at work.

There are many lessons to take-away from my express scripts experience. If a multi-disciplinary team reviewed my process in full, they could solve problems experienced by many clients. They could improve their messaging, determine necessary web site enhancements, and how training and technology can come together to create an exceptional client experience.

The sad thing is I don’t believe this review will take place. A company committed to making these changes is not likely to be okay taking 27 days* to ship medication. Now, I could be overly harsh in my analysis. Maybe express scripts recently had incredible pharmacist turnover. The ones they have, may be already working 18 hour days. But, seeing how flawed communication was and considering past experiences, I believe express scripts has a systemic problem. This is more than temporary resource issue.

*Based on the date my doctor faxed the requested form and the date my medication was shipped via UPS.

My husband joked express scripts should hire me, to fix their issues. Since hiring and initial training play a big part in creating a client service culture, anyone trying to fix express scripts has their work cut out for them. However, small incremental changes are not beyond express scripts limits. It’s a goal that I hope everyone, from the reception desk to the board room, will undertake. It may take an earthquake to shake express scripts up, but if employers demand multi-faceted service level agreements of them, it may just happen. Let’s just hope no one dies while we wait.

The Mountain, the Pool and Pop-Corn Kernels. No cats were present.

vheynne

 

Dear Diary,

We went to Colorado Springs this summer for a few days. Not only is Colorado Springs a premier travel destination with a plethora of things to do, it is also home to a historic luxury resort, called the Broadmoor. I’ve been traveling to it since childhood, even being introduced to John Wayne there in the 70’s. The nightly rate can vary significantly, so when it’s more than we can spend, we stop by for drinks or dinner. Just walking the grounds is a pleasant experience, and I highly recommend it for anyone traveling to the area.

Note: What you are about to read is a rough draft of a chapter in my book. It’s about client service and is geared towards people in the industry or those who can’t stand being treated poorly. I have no idea if anything will come of my ramblings, but if you have any suggestions or comments I’d love to hear them! Don’t be mean though, and remember this is copyrighted material.  I know I had to say that, because you were just going to publish it in the NY Times. 

I wish I could say I stayed at the Broadmoor this time, but the nightly rate was over $500 for a standard room, which with me not working (who we kidding, even with me working) was outside our limit. I was determined to find a resort nearby, that was still luxurious but under $300 per night.

Based on TripAdvisor reviews and a professionally designed web page, I was drawn to Cheyenne Mountain Resort. Their web site proudly stated they could provide the quintessential Colorado experience! With their “naturally breathtaking landscape and exceptional hospitality” I was assured the opportunity to “give in to your wanderlust or simply discover a place of rejuvenation for the soul”.  Wow, sounds great doesn’t it?

You’d have to click through many pictures to realize the resort comprises of several multi-unit buildings. The main lobby and aquatics center require visitors to walk or drive to it. It’s not the end of the world, but it meant my surroundings consisted of many parking lots. Since there weren’t many flowers or shrubs on the grounds, I felt like I was staying in an apartment complex.

The view from our room consisted of mountains and a golf course, which was nice. But, I can’t say our room was without problems. The safe didn’t open; it was locked by a previous guest. The alarm clock was several hours off and there wasn’t an obvious way to change it. My husband, an engineer with 2 master’s degrees, couldn’t figure it out either. The toilet ran randomly, maybe it’s programmed to if you just think about using it. The shower drained slowly. With the resort fee, we were still paying close to $275 a night. We expected more. It seemed like basic things like checking the time on the clock, whether the safe is operating, and if the water is draining would be on the top of any maid’s check-list.

We don’t feel comfortable having people in our room when we’re not there. So, waiting for maintenance, when we could live with these issues, didn’t make sense. We figured when the front desk clerk asked how our stay was we’d explain what needs to be fixed, and leave it at that.

After 2 days we were running low on towels, so we took our electronics with us and left the no disturb sign off the door. Returning several hours later, I was shocked our beds were unmade. Yet, the $5 tip left on the desk was gone! Upon close inspection, we noticed only 1 of the 2 trash cans were emptied. The towels were replaced, but considering we brought people back to the room with us, it was disappointing. We looked like slobs.

I called the front desk, certain I’d get an apology. I could tell the person I spoke to was surprised, but she didn’t manage to say anything more than she’d get with her manager and “figure out what they’ll do”. I explained we’d be leaving again soon and figured things would be taken care of. I hoped maybe the $5 would be returned or a chocolate treat would grace my pillow.

As my daughter and I left our room, we over-heard several maids talking about the situation. They were mad whoever cleaned our room and how lazy she was. I get it. We are all going to complain about people we work with. But did they really have to do it in the stairway, right below our room?

When the $5 and chocolate didn’t materialize, I was hopeful there would be some kind of gesture at check-out. There wasn’t. I never asked for anything, but I found it surprising there wasn’t at least a message or hand-written note from the manager. I’ve stayed at much less expensive hotels and have never had my beds left un-made by housekeeping. It was pretty weird and to not apologize, even when I called, or follow-up in some way seemed really strange.

Relaxing by the lobby pool earlier, I couldn’t help but notice additional housekeeping issues. There was a small concession area with 2 people inside, but they seemed more interested in gossiping than actually looking at the pool area. It was messy and the concession area was slow, it wouldn’t have taken much to complete a walk-through and spruce thing up. One time there weren’t clean towels, which may not have been in the concession team’s purview, but surely could have been avoided with proper monitoring. Let’s face it, you are a resort, with a resort fee, and a pool. Clean towels are hardly an amenity, it’s a basic need.

The hot tub, which displayed “no children under 12” signage, was a toddler Mecca. I’ve never had a 3-year old practice kicking in a hot tub, but there’s always a first time. Even better, the next day the hot tub was surrounded with pop corn kernels and an unattended toddler. The kid had a suspiciously full swimmer’s diaper, but thankfully also wore a flotation device. This was a relief, since daddy was busy flirting with some lady, who was also ignoring her kid. As I stared at the overfilled trash can and ease-dropped on the conversation, I smiled at the romance unfolding before me. I was even happier a few minutes later, when housekeeping arrived. Finally, I’d be able to turn 360 degrees without having to see trash and abandoned wet towels! I watched as the worker emptied the trash container, but nothing else. I wasn’t angry at him. I was angry at the hotel’s leadership. Clearly they hadn’t hired enough people. set the right expectations, or verified work was properly done. Whatever the case, I knew at that moment my TripAdvisor review was going to be 3 stars. I told my husband, don’t they know I am a level 4 contributor? He agreed that the hotel has issues and that they have a lot of work to do, before they’d deserve a 4 or 5-star rating.

Part of our resort fee was an adult only hot tub, pool and boat rentals at the resort’s aquatics center.  Yet, the hot tub was completely full when we got there, just like the one by the lodge. It was obvious when the resort was full, the amenities were in short supply. This was particularly annoying because of the way the hotel sold itself and the resort fee I was told brought me additional amenities. Can you tell this resort fee really got to me? The thing is, I’ve stayed at other hotels with this fee and never obsessed about how it wasn’t deserved. But, when things go wrong and there aren’t the amenities you hoped, the resort fee is a slap in the face. Not like the way my cat slaps me, but more like a “ha-ha, we got your money” kind of way.

Being at a destination full of outdoor activities, it seemed bad enough the aquatics center closed at 7pm. At that time, sunset was approaching 8:30pm. So, we cut short our plans so we could rent a boat at the resort beach, to the delight of our 13-year old son. Oh wait, that amenity ends at 5:30pm we were informed, even though it didn’t say that anywhere in the information provided.  Frustrated, my daughter spotted an Arnold Palmer Light, which normally goes for 99 cents at the gas station. I expected it would be marked-up, but the $4 charge was beyond reason. Given the marshmallows available for roasting on the property’s patio were $11, it shouldn’t have been surprised. Yes, I am talking about plain jumbo marshmallows on a stick. The very thing that could have enhanced a family’s evening and left them with a warm feeling, which is exactly what you want when they are a level 4 TripAdvisor contributor.

Finally, it was time to check-out and head back to Denver. Curious how the conversation would go, I accompanied my husband when he checked out. I was secretly hoping they’d insist on refunding a day’s resort fee, but wasn’t planning on asking directly. At the desk, was a young woman, with long dark hair. I mention this because her hair covered up her name tag, which I really wanted to see. For purposes of our story, I will call her Carolyn.

Carolyn greeted us with the typical “Can I help you?”. We both waited for the normal, “How was your stay” question. But to my surprise, it never came. Finally, I asked Carolyn if she wanted some feedback, and she responded that she did.

My husband pulled out his note, and began explaining all the things wrong with our room. Every one of these things would have been noticed by the next guest. It was the equivalent of throwing a flotation device to a struggling swimmer. Notice I didn’t say drowning swimmer; I didn’t want to be overly dramatic.

Suddenly, my husband stopped talking. At first, I wasn’t sure why, but it became obvious when he asked, “Aren’t you going to write any of this down?” I watched as Carolyn stood there confused, and said nothing. My husband repeated his question, which finally registered. Carolyn fumbled to find a pen and wrote a couple words down on scratch paper. She was barely able to write anything. I starting getting that feeling, where I am a geyser at Yellowstone, ready to erupt.

I asked for a manager, which seemed like a no brainer given it was prime check-out time. Although this was a huge property with hundreds of rooms, no one would be there until 3pm. I was given the name of someone (we’ll call her Lisa) and a generic business card. Carolyn said she’d let her know I’d be contacting her. Somehow, I didn’t believe that unless Carolyn pre-emptively told her about the unreasonable lady checking out of room 245.

We continued our trip and once home, resumed our life as an incredibly attractive suburban family.  I didn’t take the time to write Lisa, or even check if she really was the manager.  I amused myself thinking how unlikely it was that Lisa would proactively call me. I’d hope she would, but I had to be honest that even when I had a similar type job I didn’t always do that.

About a week after our return, I got a generic survey from the resort with a greeting from the general manager. I had a name of someone who may actually care. I called the resort and got his e-mail address. I sent a detailed account of our stay, and sat back and waited. I fantasized that Carolyn was in a room where words like, “empathy” were written on a white-board.

A couple days later, I received a generic canned reply from the operations manager. However, at the end he added a sentence asking if it would be okay to call me. Normally I wouldn’t want to re-hash what was already said, but I am writing a book and needed material. I also (still) secretly hoped he’d insist they refund a day’s resort fee.

Dave seemed like a nice enough guy. He apologized and gave the impression he cared. He mentioned how they’ve already coached some of the team members and something about a storm taking out many of their flowers and new ones being on order. There was a huge hail storm that made the national news, but it was hours after we checked-out. Although I can’t be sure, I think he rationalized some of my feedback, saying it was the result of a storm that happened after we left.

Dave didn’t address many of the things I mentioned. He focused on a few main points, asking twice if my experience, “Ruined my trip?”. I said of course it didn’t, but I didn’t have as good of an experience as I hoped. I wonder now why he asked that question. Was he trying to gently nudge me into giving a better review? Was he using this answer to gage what he should do for me? I don’t fault Dave for not getting into how they price their Arnold Palmer. But, if he and his team similarly only addressed a few of the issues, they truly lost an opportunity to make their resort into something great.

Dave informed me that next time we’re in the area, I should contact him and they’ll “take care of me”. He’s been at the resort 12 years he said, he’s not going anywhere. Famous last words! I was at my last job approaching 20 years, and I thought the same thing. It wasn’t clear to me if Dave was simply upgrading me, which he said at one point, or giving me a free stay. Which leaves the possibility I will assume he’s doing much more for me than he intended

I told my husband (Rich) what Dave said, uncertain if he’d stay at the resort again. I had mixed feelings because when you travel that far, you really want enjoy yourself. I thought that maybe, if the room was a suite, it would make-up for pop corn kernels under your feet. “I am not staying there again. I don’t care, “was Rich’s response. Damn, I should have said my trip was ruined. Maybe I would have gotten that illusive resort fee back!

Cheyenne Mountain resort has a lot of things going for it. It’s location, it’s view, a beautiful lobby, and a large (albeit under-utilized) aquatics center. But, the sum of these things fail to comprise guest experience. It’s really all the little things we experience, that form our impression.

Take for example the French Quarter Inn in Charleston, SC. My kids were elementary school students when we first stayed there, hardly decision makers when it comes to where we stay. Or, are they? When we mentioned we were going to South Carolina again several years later, both lobbied diligently for a return stay at the Inn. They have a bowl of M&M’s in the lobby, they said excitedly, as they watched The High Fructose Adventures of Annoying Orange*.

If I want to relax outside, I don’t want to see wet discarded towels, pop-corn kernels, and over-flowing trashcans. That’s what I am going to remember, more than the mountain view from my room. When I share these problems with the hotel, I want to feel like they are outraged and that immediate corrections will take place. I just didn’t get that vibe when talking to Dave. Quite honestly, I rarely get that feeling when talking to anyone about problems I’ve experienced. You may get a heart-felt apology of course, but I never feel like meetings are going to take place, training curriculums will be reviewed or that bonus structures will be tailored to change un-desired behavior.

I am sure there are leaders who care enough to do these extra things. I know that, because I was that kind of leader, in my former life. I’d dissect complaints and determine what went wrong every step of the way. We’d meet with team members, review our training curriculum, covered miss opportunities in weekly huddles and newsletters My leaders and I would review technology and processes to see where changes were necessary, because let’s face it. Even the best team member can remember everything! Wherever we could make technology simpler and prompt the right action, we’d request change. And, we’d follow-up on this change to make sure it really did happen. I was proud of how we took the time to understand our client’s experience and the actions we took to learn from it. My every day interactions with businesses tell me what we did was really special.

What’s odd is even companies that take this additional step, sometimes forget where this valuable feedback came from. It came from a person, who had a problem and wasn’t happy. If all you are doing is sending a canned e-mail or apologizing, you are missing the opportunity to assure the client THIS IS NOT YOU. I recommend actually telling the person all the steps you are taking to prevent this problem in the future. Tell them how each person they spoke to will meet with their team leader, so they can learn from this situation. Why are we so fearful of telling it like it is? I do not know, but as a consumer I always want to know that the time I took to explain my dissatisfaction mattered. I also want to know if I chose to do business with this company again, that my experience will be positive.

If the person you have communicating with the client doesn’t know that such care will be taken, it’s advantageous to have an escalation team member follow-up. When I say it’s advantageous, I am speaking about increasing brand loyalty, creating positive word-of-mouth, and neutralizing negative feelings. Clearly, it is not advantageous when it comes to the number of team members you need or the technology and processes necessary to manage a follow-up queue. Some of us don’t work for a business that invests adequately in client service. Your value may be partly based on the number of one-call resolutions you have, and you are fearful of sending something for follow-up. I get it. Money talks and sometimes your employer just isn’t that concerned about “feel good” follow-up or worse yet, providing confirmation that a situation has been rectified.

When your resources are limited, you can train your team to convey your process when receiving a complaint. You can help them always put themselves in their client’s shoes, so that they don’t becomes de-sensitized to issues. Even if you have to be selective regarding what issues you review in detail, know that reviewing just a random sample will likely lead to the improvements necessary to resolve many other issues as well.  The important thing is to not lose sight of how your client feels and thinks.

It takes work to do that of course. Like, pulling all the frustrating calls the client had, looking at how their online interface appeared, and talking about the timeline of your client’s issue. Talking through just one of these issues at a monthly meeting can do a lot, to keep your team members level of awareness high. If you can’t do anything more than that, you are still accomplishing something worthwhile.

*If you can’t tell by the name, this isn’t a high-brow adult program. If you watch Downton Abbey, chances are this isn’t your thing. The plot, as described by Wikipedia, “follows the lives of Orange and friends: Pear, Passion Fruit, Midget/Little Apple, Marshmallow, Apple, Grandpa Lemon and the (sometimes) antagonistic Grapefruit.” Need I say more?

The cat, the pole and the book

bettyford

Beautiful Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail, CO
This has nothing to do with my blog, I just like the picture.
We visited in August.

First, today’s cat story.

I don’t have a great one this time, although I easily could have if I got a video of Cookie the other day. The cats enjoy a 3-level carpeted tower overlooking the woods. The tower sits in our family room, in immediate view as you enter our home. I never thought I’d have a cat tower in such a visible place, but my desire to see those little fur balls overshadows my desire to impress people with my decorating.

Cookie, like most cats, gets upset if you touch his back paws. He also isn’t always in the mood for pets, but he’s faced with a conundrum when this happens. He doesn’t want to leave his tower but he also wants the harassment to stop. So, he does what any reasonable cat would do. He takes his head and hides it behind the pole, thinking we’ll forget he’s there. I’ve taken a picture of the pole, without Cookie, so you can imagine it. It would have been much better if I had a video of Cookie doing this, but for now this will have to do. Every time I get my phone he stops hiding, knowing potential payments from YouTube are at stake.

towerI know this picture needs to be rotated, but I can’t figure out how to do it in wordpress. This is one of the reasons I am an unpaid writer.

Now, today’s post.

I’ve read many times successful blogs have a focus. You should concentrate on one thing, which in my case could be cats, Disney, book reviews, fibromyalgia, client service, or dead presidents. But, I am all over the place because I accept my blog will never be a big hit. I am never going to have a social media following other than a few faithful friends, and people who marked me as unfollow in Facebook, but didn’t have the heart to unfriend me. I feel okay saying that, since you know they aren’t reading this anyway.

In the spirit of being all over the place, today’s blog is a review of 2 books:

Based on a True Story, possibly by Norm MacDonald
Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction, by ABC’s 20/20 anchor, Elizabeth Vargas.

As usual, I got both at the library and didn’t drop Bailey’s on either this time!

I have always loved Norm MacDonald and thought if I met him in real life, we’d get along. Even if I was single, I don’t think we’d date, because I am not 20 years younger than him. That’s the minimum when you are in Hollywood or a man over 40.

I heard Howard Stern’s interview with Norm about his book*, and couldn’t wait to get a hold of it. What I didn’t know is that everything interesting, was talked about in that interview. Literally, everything. The rest of the book was semi-funny fake stories, that you weren’t sure were fake until you read the entire chapter. And even then, you weren’t always sure. There were several pages written by a supposed ghost rider that I thought were really cool, until the stuff he wrote got even weirder and he killed himself. The character was completely fake, just like many of the other people in the book, making it hard to know what part was memoir and what part was comedy. I don’t even know who wrote the book.  I think it’s sad that Norm, a guy who has been in the business for decades, didn’t feel he had enough life experience to actually write a memoir.

The best chapter in Based on a True Story was Norm’s favorite jokes on Saturday Night Live’s weekend update. But I found one I liked even better on his Wikipedia page. It followed the announcement that Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley were divorcing. “She’s more of a stay-at-home type, and he’s more of a homosexual pedophile”. Oh I know, I’m horrible….

Later Felicia (meaning Norm).

norm

Now to Elizabeth Vargas. First let me say, this bitch looks great for 54! I am not saying she’s 54 in this picture, but she pretty much looks the same today.

elizabeth

I heard a couple years ago that Elizabeth entered rehab for alcoholism for the second time. I was surprised.  She never seemed like someone who would be blacked out on a park bench; but she was. That day, and many others, Elizabeth found herself in the hospital, being treated for alcohol poisoning.

As someone who drinks infrequently, it’s hard for me to understand how someone can be compelled to drink, despite the harm it is causing them and their family. I know in my brain, that alcoholism is an illness, not unlike cancer or heart disease. But, in my heart I found myself getting angry at Elizabeth when she talked about her illness, and the neglect it caused her family. Elizabeth says she was self-medicating a life-long anxiety and panic disorder, which when you hear her life story was understandable. She went through an incredible amount of anxiety each time she went on air, but you’ve never know it watching 20/20 or any of the times she hosted ABC World News Tonight.

Elizabeth’s ex-husband comes out sounding very much like a jerk, which made me curious. What would he say, if given the chance to write his own book? I wondered if he’d look back and think he was wrong to be angry at Elizabeth. That he’d wish he supported her more and brought the kids to visit her in rehab. I also found it annoying how Elizabeth kept mentioning how she was the sole earner, requiring her to be away from her kids continually and to leave rehab before she was ready. Elizabeth’s ex is a Grammy winning songwriter and performer (Marc Cohn). He was on tour for part of the time Elizabeth was battling alcoholism. Therefore, the constant reference to her being the only breadwinner seemed odd. While she probably did have to work the hours she did, traveling internationally, it’s likely this was only to keep her lifestyle, which may have been unnecessary and/or unrealistic. Then again, being a news anchor and walking out of a trailer in Jersey is probably not realistic either.

Of the 2 books, Elizabeth’s was by far the most interesting and well written. It’s a must-read for anyone who seeks to better understand alcoholism and the challenges those battling it face. I am glad I read it and feel that Elizabeth did a great service in writing it. I hope that she likes cats, because that would make me feel really good about recommending her book.

*My husband can’t believe I listen to Stern. He thinks it’s tasteless and crass. Every Time he turns it on, that’s exactly what’s happening on the show. But, I’ve assured him the News with Robin and Stern’s interviews are really good, and that it’s not weird I listen to the show. Truthfully, I can’t stand the wack packers or the phoney phone calls. That’s when I turn on Dr. Laura, another show he can’t stand.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Client Service Direction (and a cat story)

For all you cat lovers out there, here is a picture of our middle child, J.J.

He loves hanging out on my daughter’s former doll bed. J.J. almost died this year from a partial urinary blockage and acute kidney failure. I am pleased to say he’s completely recovered and is better than ever! The vet is doing better than ever too. She finally has the money she needs for that vacation home in Charlevoix. Bottom line: Make sure your cats drink plenty of water, give them wet food occasionally, and request a prescription for cat food that promotes urinary health. This is most important in male cats, under age 10. In our case we found that the cats didn’t like drinking out of a metal bowl. Now that we’ve placed 2 ceramic bowls in different locations, they are drinking A LOT more.

Now, the New Direction in Client Service

Those of you that know me, are aware of my desire to write a book about client service. Until 2015, I was in the industry, and through my experiences I felt I had a story to tell. The problem is that I have fatigue issues, and something about sitting at a computer triggers my symptoms. That, and the text book like draft I was working on, was boring as hell.

Most of my followers, all 2 of you (kidding, it’s a little more) like me for my cats. They have quite the personality. One of them recently took a small stuffed animal from my son’s nightstand. He was wondering where it went. Well, it showed up outside my daughter’s room, undoubtedly as a gift. Meaning, those a-holes took my son’s stuffed animal and gave it to his sister. They like her better and there’s nothing he can do about it.

There, I got my cat story out of the way.

I have been keeping a diary of my client service experiences. I am wondering if this is a better format for a book. Instead of telling people how to do their job, let them discover how to through real life examples. So here, is a first peak into my diary. You won’t find sex and drugs, but you will figure out how much of a demanding bitch I am.

If you think it’s good, bad, or you rather I stick to cats feel free to leave a comment. Just don’t ignore me completely because that drives me nuts!!

Dear Diary,

It’s been a couple months now, but I have to tell you about my experience at La Pita. It’s a large, nicely decorated middle-eastern restaurant about 30 minutes from my house. Overall, I’ve had great experiences there. The food quality is great and the wait staff is attentive. I always get their lunch portion of chicken shawarma and have never had an issue substituting soup for salad or asking for double-rice instead of humus and rice. Hey, the menu didn’t say “no substitutions” and I took advantage of that.

My newly permitted sixteen-year-old daughter somehow got us there. I only screamed once, so it was a successful drive. There, we met my friend Jo-Set and her seventeen-year old daughter, Erin.  They live close to the restaurant and often order carry-out. My husband also works nearby and often takes business associates visiting the Detroit area here to dine. Our business is important to them, whether they know it or not.

I didn’t like our waitress right away. She seemed irritated by our substitutions, which I’ve never experienced there before. She didn’t say no to anything, but I got the vibe she thought we were high maintenance. My friend and I ordered with a smile and said please and thank you. It wasn’t like we were a couple of demanding bitches, so the attitude struck me as odd but I ignored it and went about our evening.

When the meal came, I noticed that my daughter’s double rice looked smaller than my son’s single side of rice. I was told it was the shape of how it was served, which I knew wasn’t right but I didn’t feel like arguing. Later, I realized my son and daughter’s meals had been switched, which is why her rice portion was smaller than his. Our waitress should have figured that out.

One of my favorite parts of the meal is the garlic sauce, called Toum by legit Lebanese people. The chicken just doesn’t taste as good without it. My friend’s daughter asked for a side of it also, since her meal (lamb) came with a different sauce. She orders carry-out all the time, and her meal always comes with garlic sauce for no additional charge.

When our meals first arrived, I noticed my sauce was missing entirely. And, when I asked for it to be brought out, the small cup was only filled half-way.  I didn’t realize I needed to point that out, because I never thought there would be an issue if I needed more. Little did I know my future request would begin what I refer to as the “garlic sauce shake-down”.

When I asked for more sauce, our waitress curtly informed me that my meal only came with one sauce. An additional sauce would be 75 cents. Now, keep in mind my meal was $13, which should be enough to allow an additional garlic sauce. I wasn’t dining in mid-town Manhattan. I was in Dearborn, just minutes from Detroit and close to Ford World Headquarters. Dearborn has the largest Muslim population outside the middle-east. Garlic sauce should not be hard to come by.

I wanted the sauce, so I said something like, “really” and figured I’d deduct it from her tip. I was sure no other waiter would have passed on that charge, and considering I would be eating what this lady brought me, arguing didn’t seem wise.

Things we’re okay until the bill arrived. Not only was there 75 cents for my additional sauce, but Erin was charged this same amount. When she asked for the sauce, there was no mention of the additional charge. And, she always has it with her lamb when ordering carry-out. Why the difference?

When I get upset over things like this, I feel my blood pressure rising and have to talk myself down. I seriously feel like I may have a heart attack when I get like this, and based on my family history it’s not far-fetched I would.  Still, I wasn’t terribly rude to the waitress when sharing my displeasure.  I kept telling myself we aren’t talking about big money here. It’s 75 cents.

Our charming waitress informed us that Erin’s meal came with tahini sauce, not garlic sauce and that mine only came with one, not two. She was unmoved that my first sauce cup was only half-filled or that we’ve never been “nickeled and dimed” at La Pita before.

Then, my friend asked the waitress if we could have a few extra pieces of pita bread to take home with our left-overs. I cringed in my seat. Although we’ve had plenty waiters offer extra bread as we were leaving before, I knew this was not one of those times.  Before I could say, “that’s okay, I don’t need it” the next shake-down occurred.

“I’ll have to charge you for that”.

WTF. This place is literally called LA Pita. We hadn’t ordered much bread during our meal. So, is this how it’s going to be? We should order copious amounts of pita bread, so we can stock pile it for our left-overs, and avoid an additional fee?

By this point, Jo-Set was besides herself, wondering if she stepped into a parallel universe. One where bread and garlic sauce was in extraordinarily short supply. She reasoned with the waitress, explaining we’ve never had to pay for bread before. Out of frustration or guilt, who knows, the waitress said she’d give us 4 pieces each (8 total for the table) but this was an exception and we normally would be charged for this. I don’t think either of us even were looking for 4 pieces. It’s like the waitress assumed we wanted the pita bread loaded into our car trunk, and she was the only thing stopping us.

I couldn’t take it anymore. Surely, the manager of this fine establishment would want to know what we’ve endured. A professionally dressed, attractive, middle-eastern lady in her 30’s approached. I instantly felt a sense of relief. Boy, was that short lived.

Now I understood where the waitress got her attitude.

I always go nuts when people apologize for my feelings or “any inconvenience” because that’s the equivalent of saying there’s nothing wrong here, you are just unreasonable. So, after a couple carefully worded half-hearted apologies, I was told how expensive garlic sauce is to produce. I’ve made it before, not well but I made it. It’s a head of garlic, lemon juice, canola oil, salt and pepper.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/recipes/garlic-paste-toum/14095/

Here’s the best part. Because I ordered chicken and not lamb (like Erin) the fact I needed a second cup wasn’t as big of an “offense”. Therefore, she will talk to the waitress about being more forgiving in situations like this, but that garlic sauce charge for the lamb is a different story. THAT makes sense.

We then got to hear how they only use the best halal butcher and travel hundreds of miles to get the best meat. She’ll be happy to show me her receipts, so I understand the expense they incur. I explained I had no issues with the price of the meal or the quality of the meat. I simply thought they should charge a price that wouldn’t require them to “nickel and dime” me if I wanted an additional sauce. Well, she explained, she gets complaints about the price all the time.*

When I mentioned they probably throw away left-over sauce regularly, I was told they PRECISELY measure it and know exactly how much they need. They must also employ a psychic, because I don’t know any restaurants that know exactly how much sauce they are going to consume each night. If they have any extra, they use it the next morning. You can’t win with this lady! She didn’t even disagree that charging for pita bread, to accompany your left-overs, was unreasonable. Remember, our meal comes with hummus for goodness sake, last time I checked you need something to eat it with.

The most frustrating part of this whole thing is the manager didn’t believe us when we explained we’ve never been charged for extra sauce or bread. I explained that if they are going to have this policy, which I disagree with, they need to make it consistent.  In fact, Jo-Set had a carry-out receipt from this place dated just a few days prior. She didn’t have it with her then, but it clearly showed garlic sauce listed with “0.00”.

I haven’t been to La Pita since, but I’ve sure been to the middle-eastern restaurant closer to my house, and have decided that their food is just as good as La Pita’s.

This is what happens when you give your customers the feeling they are being shaken down and you aren’t committed to their experience. Although the manager sort-of apologized and removed the charge**, we both knew she thought we were a-holes. This one visit was enough to turn our positive impression of this place into a negative one. The extra 75 cents for garlic sauce cost this restaurant many times more than that in future profit.

I am confident that the manager had these policies a long time, but the wait staff knew better and didn’t want to risk their tip. They were smart. Our waitress may have done a much better job of following the rules, but she certainly cost La Pita years of future business.

* I thought of saying, “That’s it. My son won’t be having his Bar Mitzvah here!” But these clever quips, and the nerve to say them, never come at the right time.

**My friend and I received separate checks. The manager took the garlic charge off hers but never came back to get my receipt. I am sure it was unintentional, but still, I am still thinking about it aren’t I? I know it’s a little weird that I am, but it’s more the experience in total that gets me. Not so much the charge.

 

 

What Have You Been Doing?

 

meatwalloon
Northville Mom Enjoying a New “Up North” boutique hotel
Hotel Walloon, located near Petoskey, MI.
We were trying to look casual as we verified the person sitting outside my room was Ashley from Hard Core Pawn on TLC (it was)!

When I see friends they often kindly ask, “What have you been doing”.  I worry my answer is boring and that eventually, they’ll no longer want to hear it.

When I was young, I never imagined living with daily chronic pain. Like most people, I expected to feel fine well past my child-rearing years. It was something I knew people struggled with, but I expected it to go with things you can see. Like a car crash, a bulging disc on an MRI, old age itself. Truthfully, I don’t think I thought of it much other than the fact I hurt sometimes, even as long back as high school. I blamed it on minor car accidents, scoliosis, and being out of shape. I would get better and my mind would go elsewhere; thankfully my nativity carried me through.

Almost 18% of American adults deal with severe levels of pain. Although some of these people will improve, the numbers are staggering. Through your social network, it’s likely you know someone, maybe multiple people, going through life-altering medical and emotional events. You know you have it “better” and feel guilty even indulging your mind in your problems.

I have a friend who has been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, neuropathy, and Parkinson’s Disease.  All devastating conditions that severely impact her mobility and quality of life. Yet, she always prefaces her latest challenges with the fact she could have it worse. I find myself echoing those words in my mind hoping that I can somehow will myself to stop feeling. To stop feeling tired. To stop feeling like getting through the day is challenge enough. To finally have an answer about what I’ve been doing, other than taking great care of my kids.

Anyone suffering with invisible chronic pain goes through times when they wish they had something to show for it. Maybe that way they won’t feel guilty taking the only remaining seat on the bus. Their employer, spouse or friends may understand why every decision and future event starts with thoughts of pain. Is it too much to do? Will I enjoy it? In reality though, Fibromyalgia and other chronic pain suffers know they’ve been blessed. They can assimilate and look perfectly healthy. They can pretend they are “normal” and sometimes if they are lucky, they may have periods when they almost feel that way.  We know barring the unforeseen tragedy, we will live another day, another week and hopefully many more years. Sometimes I say to myself, well if this is my “thing” then I am lucky; it could be much worse!

That’s what carries me though. Reality and knowing that everyone has their struggles. This just happens to be mine.And in the scheme of things, it really isn’t that bad. I am here, writing this blog and I know that I can get up and walk and enjoy another day with my kids.

So, what have I been doing? I’ve been getting through the day. I’ve been trying to stay positive and enjoy the moments and people who make life worth living. To me, that seems like success even if it’s not what I used to think it was.

PS: Look up Fibromyalgia images or go to a community message board on the subject. You see postings like the things below. I don’t want to be the “poor me”, “look at me”, “I deserve your empathy” person. I don’t always succeed; especially on bad days. But I’ve come to realize that’s okay too. It’s part of what I am doing…..

fibro1