No cell phones allowed in Green Bank, WV

Can you imagine a place with no cell phones? It is harder and harder to find. You almost have to go to a remote island, or a place with no cell phone reception (see these seven locations where you can escape the Internet). Last week I was traveling for work, and while in the airport waiting for a flight, I saw on the news a mention of Green Bank, West Virginia, and that cell phones are not allowed. They are part of the “National Radio Quiet Zone.” See the picture in the link — the zone is enormous.

Intrigued? I was. It is often hard to imagine a place where cell phones do not exist. Green Bank has a population of 143. Why no cell phones? The Green Bank Telescope (GBT). The GBT is part of the reason that it is a law in Green Bank that you cannot have a cell phone. The GBT is the largest, fully steerable radio telescope in the world. This excerpt from a National Geographic article explains it a bit more:

“Because of its vast size and sophisticated design, the GBT is exquisitely sensitive to even the faintest radio pulses coming from space. For the same reason, it is also extremely susceptible to electronic interference. Any device that generates electromagnetic radiation—a cell phone, a television, a wireless Internet router—can skew its data. And so the people who live in these parts must, by law, forego some of the gadgets that most of us take for granted.”

Would you want that kind of life? Maybe for a vacation, but could you handle it 365 days a year? I am addicted to information and I am not sure how I could go without the Internet. A phone – yes, I could probably go without a phone, but not the Internet. Check out the National Geographic article for more details on all the discoveries that have been made due to the GBT. Oh, and they need another 9 million dollars if you are interested.

Have you heard of Flight Car?

There is always a new venture looking to simplify our lives and the world. We now live with endeavors such as airbnb, Uber, VRBO, where individuals can make money using their own homes or car. There is a new one that just launched in Portland called: “Flight Car.”

It is an interesting idea. You go to the airport, park in a Flight Car parking lot. Take a free shuttle to the airport and while you travel another fellow traveler can “rent” your car while you are out-of-town. Flight Car also will wash and vacuum your car before you return. Take the free shuttle back and pick it up. If your car is not rented you still receive a free car wash and vacuum. It sounds like a great idea, and in many ways is not much different from airbnb or VRBO.

Yet, why does it feel odd to me? Of course you are making money, and the longer you are away the more money you make. For me it feels different to have someone rent my car than my house. Many individuals that rent out their airbnb do not rent out their actual residence, rather depending on the city, it is an extra property, and sometimes it is only meant as income. I do not have a really good reason, but my car feels slightly more personal to me. You could have a manual car, and the individual that “rents” it has no idea how to drive manual. You do not know when you get your car back that they have basically killed your clutch. It will not show right away.

While Flight Car indicates that they have insurance up to $1M, it still just feels strange to me. Maybe because in a house you can often fix things easily or replace them. Cars are sometimes not replaceable. If you have a specific year and model of a car, it might mean that it is nearly impossible to get again. You might have the last year and model of that body style. The Flight Car “renter” wrecks your car. It would not be the same as replacing a hole in the wall in a home. I am all for fewer cars on the road and conservation, I just do not think I could rent mine out.

Would you leave your car at Flight Car while traveling?

Precious moments: dads + sweatpants

Parents. Love them, hate them. You start life being inseparable with your mom (your dad too), but you are the clingy kid, as we grew up, we all went through phases when we loathed them, they got on our nerves, or we thought they were just not cool. Then you grow up, life happens you win some and lose some, and your parents mean something much different to you. I know I am not speaking for everyone, some have closer relationships, and some have nonexistent ones, still the circle of life continues to ebb and flow.

I can remember one time in high school, or it might have been college, arriving at the Indianapolis airport (back when someone could meet you at the gate), and my dad was there to pick me up. He was wearing these horrible sweatpants and white high top sneakers. These were not name brand (at the time I cared). Additionally as horrible was his sweatshirt and one of his trucker caps. Of course I was glad to see him, and grateful to be picked up from the airport, but I was embarrassed. This was the era of “wear my brand name on the butt” aka Guess jeans, ESPIRIT. It mattered to me at the time. I was horrified that I would see someone I knew and that they would judge me.

Now I just think wow, this lonely man, my dad, was probably so happy to see me and be with his daughter on my school break and I put up walls because I did not like his sweatpants (well to my favor, men + sweatpants + public = not a good idea). In any case, we cannot go back and redo life. I have that memory and it brings tears to my eyes for all the moments I missed out with my father.

I thought I would share two precious father/daughter moments to inspire you. Whether you are the father, or the daughter (or the mother for that matter), I hope it inspires you to cherish every moment with each other. Moments are precious. Make sure you burn the good ones in your mind, not ones with purple sweatpants (oh did I forget to tell you they were purple)? The first video is a dad who returns from Afghanistan and surprises his little daughter:

One more link, (also precious). It is to a photo slide show of a father/daughter in their home before they move. The mother died at 31 due to lung cancer and the photos recreate similar angles to the couple’s wedding photos in the same house. Definitely worth checking out, but get a kleenex first. Father/daughters are something special. Wish I could hug my dad today.

 

The Perfect Airport Experience?

I know this article is from almost a year ago, but the ideas are still valid. It is a Harvard Business Review article called: “Is Kindness a Strategy?” It is about how an American Airlines employee treated a customer (Frank) with kindness (read the article for his full story). The employee decided to help Frank, who was late for his flight. She made an extra effort to get him through security and onto his flight at the last-minute.

Ah, do you dream of that happening to you? Have you not wanted to go to the airport, have someone take your car and park it for you? You then go to security and get moved to the front of the line, walk to the gate and walk right on the plane, immediately they shut the doors and the plane takes off. There are no delays on the runway, and you are in the air and land on time. The plane goes immediately to your gate, you are at the front of the plane so you get off first, and someone has a car waiting for you when you get outside the airport. Is it a dream? Is it your reality? There are some that might valet their car, go through the First Class line in security, and go right on to the plane, but it is not the reality for most of us that fly the friendly skies.

I wish this could be the experience of all of us when we travel. Even though it is not, it does make me think about what is possible. Travel companies could definitely be more creative to find ways to WOW their customers. Which makes me think back to the title of the article: “Is Kindness a Strategy?” Maybe it should be. I agree with the author, American will now be Frank’s favorite airline. It would be mine, if I had Frank’s experience. What can travel companies do to make us more loyal? Surprise us. Give the upgrade when there are seats in First Class. Give a free rental car because they can tell we have had a rough day. Empower their employees to have more flexibility to make these types of decisions.

It may make a world of difference to their customers.

 

Want to keep me as your customer?

What do you do when you have a good customer service experience? How about a bad one? I am kind of a nut. Okay, Chris would say more than a nut. If I have a bad experience, I can guarantee that I will be alerting the company. If I have a good experience, I can guarantee that I will be alerting the company. Below are two recent – shall I say – adventures!? One was annoying and the other started out annoying and the company eventually tried to fix it.

Late last week Chris and I were dropping his parents off at the airport. We decided to stop by IKEA on the way home to return a comforter cover. (Who knew that IKEA sells covers that are not the same size as regular US comforters. I should have thought of that!) What a bummer of a customer service experience that was for us. We had to wait for 30 minutes. In that time they called 15 numbers. Now you might think that 15 numbers meant 15 customers, but it did not. Many of the individuals with numbers before us left. They had waited too long. Many times during the 30 minutes we were there waiting this is what was happening.

Returns desk at IKEA

Returns desk at IKEA

As you can see in this photo, there are no customers being helped. There are 4 representatives at the desk, but no customers. It was a frustrating experience to say the least. You might think that I am complaining about just one experience, but I am not. Just a week before we were dropping Chris’ brother off at the airport, and we decided to venture to IKEA with Chris’ parents. Chris stood in line at the Returns area for a similar amount of time (he is patient)!

I will definitely think again before I purchase something at IKEA. I will make sure that it is something we have no desire to return, because I am not sure I can handle going back to the Returns area! Have you had a similar experience with IKEA?

My second experience was with Shoebuy.com. I ordered a pair of slippers just before Christmas. Had I been faster with my purchase, they would have expedited it so I could have it before Christmas. I was not in any rush, so I made the purchase, got free shipping, and 25% off. Always up for getting a deal I made the purchase on December 21. My order arrived today. When I opened the box, and tried on the slipper, it did not fit. I then noticed that the slipper was a different size than the size listed on the box. They were an entire size smaller. Annoyed? You bet I was. I had waited 2 weeks for my order and it was incorrect. Most likely a mistake at the manufacturer, since the paper in the shoe box did not look like it had ever been touched.

I called Shoebuy and asked what they could do for me. Nothing. The only option was for me to print the mailing label they were going to email me, and return the slippers. Once they received them they would proceed to send me a new pair. So all in all I was probably looking at another 3 weeks. That would be the beginning of February. By then, my mind starts to think about flip-flops, not slippers. I continued to push, and explain that it was not my fault. Would they be able to expedite them? No. Could they send them now? Only if they charged me again. The representative was nice, but kept saying there was nothing they could do.

I am a bit of a Zappo’s evangelist. I probably should just have paid full price at Zappos where I know the customer service is creative and top-notch. (Maybe next time I will). In the end, I pushed her to speak to her supervisor and call me back. She called me back within 10 minutes, and said we could start a new order, where she would charge me $10 for expedited shipping and give me 10% more off. I would be charged all this and later the billing department would credit me for the extra $10 shipping charge and give me 10% off. Exhausted and frustrated I decided to take this step. I should have my slippers in a few days, and they will then credit me for the ones I return. Yet, that only happened because I pushed, and allowed them to go ahead and charge me again. Otherwise, you know February and flip-flops on the mind.

My issue is why not empower employees to be able to fix customer service issues quickly and easily? Why does it have to take a 30 minute phone call and a frustrated customer? In the end, I have to return the slippers and watch that I am refunded the money, and I have to watch that I am credited for the shipping and 10% off. This puts the work and follow through on the customer, not the company. I do not really care about the money, it is the principle of what it takes for a customer to have quality service. If Shoebuy empowered their employees to do what they need to do to fix a mistake, they might find quicker call handling times and happier customers. If IKEA noticed how long their customers were waiting, should they maybe hire more individuals? Add more computers for Returns? Or maybe they want you to decide returning their product is not worth the wait.

What do you think?