Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Now THAT's customer service-- or why you really should consider joining Twitter

For those of you who don't know me via Twitter, WH and I are currently working on remodeling our bathrooms. It appeals to me because a.) new bathrooms, woo hoo! and b.) it's like a crafting project, but on a much larger scale. It appeals to WH because a.) new bathrooms, woo hoo! and b.) he gets to use all sorts of tools and be manly and rip things out of walls and such.

Somehow, he gets all the destructive fun and I wound up being the painter and tiler (yeah, the last one is kind of a mystery to me, too, maybe because I said I'd helped my dad do a floor once?)

So last week, I was on one of many, MANY trips-- that day-- to a local home improvement center, and when I actually needed help in the lumber department, it was like everyone wearing an apron disappeared. And I mean that in an "am I on TV?" kind of way. I watched two guys watch me approach, take OFF their aprons and walk in the other direction. I watched another guy turn the corner away from me before I could say anything. I saw two more people at the end of aisles in front of me but they all managed to disappear before I could get their attention.

Then I got frustrated and just wandered up and down the aisles of the lumber department for ten minutes, encumbered by the giant cart of wood paneling I had to take everywhere with me, walking through a wasteland of customer service. Apparently everyone who'd disappeared was fleeing lumber. Part of me started to wonder if I should leave, too. If maybe a t-rex was about to come start pulling things down from the top shelves to do a re-stock or something. I like t-rexes, especially gainfully employed ones, but they're not exactly careful, ya know? And they're kind of loud. All stomp-y and yell-y.

So in my frustration, I did what any sensible person would do and whipped out my phone to tweet.

"[Home Improvement Center] employees must have a sixth sense. They're literally everywhere until you actually need them. #poof #gone #HELP"

And then, only a few minutes later, I randomly got an email that "[Home Improvement Center] is now following you on Twitter."

At first I laughed. By this time I was knee-deep in having just given up and gone to a register to ask for help, which somehow still managed to involve me wheeling that darn cart all over the front of the store to various counters for various reasons, but at last the problem was solved. It wasn't until later that night, at home, that I saw that I had a new mention from someone at Home Improvement Center, apologizing for the problem and asking if I managed to find everything I needed.

That, right there, floored me. That a nationwide chain has people monitoring their keywords on freaking TWITTER and asking people in real-time if they can help them is stunning to me. In a good way. It completely replaced all the frustration I'd built up in the store, even though I seriously doubted the guy would have been able to help me if I told him I was looking for such and such at a particular store. The fact that someone cared enough to notice I had a problem and then actually talk to me about it helped way more than I ever thought it could.

Now, I've been in customer service for a long time, myself. I know that this is one of the first rules of customer service: even if you can't solve their problem, acknowledging that they have one is just as important. So it's not like this was a new trick or anything. What's mind-blowing is that a chain of this size must have literally thousands of mentions on Twitter in any given day, and yet they still have people read through them all and offer help where needed. That's devotion to that rule, right there. And it means that where that experience may have shaped me in a way to avoid that store in the future (even though it really wasn't anyone's fault, just bad timing and a bad mood on my part), it actually made me like them better. Willingness to shop there= up.

I will say, every experience I've had there since then has been beyond positive. And believe me, I'm practically living at that store right now, what with all the "oops forgot we need that" going on around here.

I have to say, even though I spend way too much time on there, and way too much time off of there trying to think of clever things to say in less than 140 characters, I still don't really fully get Twitter. But this experience made me think more about it in other terms. It really is a useful tool for connecting, even between two things as big as a nationwide chain store and as small as a single customer. I already knew it was great for networking between individuals (and cyber-stalking my favorite writers and agents), but between entities was something I hadn't really considered yet.

No matter what, my experience that day would have been far different if I hadn't tweeted my frustrations. I would have gone home, probably without buying what I'd come there for, complained about the whole thing to WH and then avoided going there again for as long as I could (which wouldn't have been long, but yeah). Instead, I was impressed by their devotion to customer service and have continued to be with the positive experiences since then.

So yeah. Join Twitter, because it's really pretty cool. And you never know who might start following you!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Writer's Beginning Guide to Horses: Let's Talk Feet

This is another big one. I'm thinking a lot about feet right now because I can't find anyone to take care of my horse's and she is now way overdue. That will all make sense by the end of this post.

To start off on the most basic level, the foot of the horse is called a hoof. It's a keratinous structure, like fingernails and hair, surrounding a bone. There is a membrane inside that acts like a sponge, pumping blood through the hoof. At the bottom of the hoof is a V-shaped piece of soft tissue (soft only in that it's not bone or hoof) called the frog. The frog is made of what feels like hard calloused skin, but can still be easily cut or damaged.

There are channels that lie on either side of the frog and these must be cleaned out with a hoof pick regularly to ensure that no rocks or other debris is stuck in there. A rock stuck in the hoof can cause sole bruising, which can be very painful and make the horse lame. If the frog is cut too deep, it will bleed and the horse will limp. The horse also must be cared for to ensure that there is no chance of infection.

For your reference, here is a picture of the sole of a horse's foot:

The horse pictured above is unshod, meaning, it has no horseshoes on.

Horseshoes are used for horses who travel long distances on trail or on concrete or asphalt, to give the horse extra grip and prevent their hoof from wearing down too quickly. They are used for corrective shoeing, which means that they help correct hoof shape or angle or one of the many other myriad things that can make a horse go lame. The most common type of horseshoe rims the edge of the hoof with the exception of the frog, and is nailed into the hoof wall, so while the hammering can cause some discomfort, it's not painful for the horse to be shod. There are other special types used for corrective shoeing, but I won't go into those here.

I will also say that horseshoeing is a highly contested area of horse ownership. This is my knowledge, and I'm trying to make it as general as possible, but it is quite possible you will hear other opinions. This area tends to fall more under what you believe than anything else, though I personally am of the school of trying whatever you need to until something works.

The hoof is the most important part of the horse. In the wild, horses run or walk about constantly. Their hooves grow and are worn down by the consistent movement and rough terrain. Domestic horses don't necessarily move that much and must have their feet trimmed every six to eight weeks by a professional, called a farrier or a shoer. Most farriers are also blacksmiths-- they have portable forges and will shape and heat shoes on site for the particular horse they're working on.

But if one foot is hurt, injured, or tender, the horse will be crippled. Most horses weigh upwards of 1,000 lbs. Imagine that much force even on four feet, and carrying that much weight on an injured leg equals some serious pain. Since horses are herding, prey animals, if they cannot run away from a predator, they are as good as dead.

You might think this isn't true in domestication, but horses were built to stand-- they only lie down briefly to rest or sun, or for longer periods of time if something is wrong (a horse lying down is often the first sign of illness, injury, or impending birth). Their rib cage isn't built to support long periods of time lying down, and can have compromising effects on their digestion and respiration. So a lame horse, even a domesticated one, is in serious trouble. Especially if they go lame far from home.

Lameness from the hoof can be caused by any number of factors: the above mentioned rock in the sole, diet, bad hoof care, and so on. There are also any number of other reasons a horse might go lame unrelated to the hoof: stretching or injuring a tendon or muscle, etc.

A lame horse should generally not be moved more than necessary if it has a hoof injury. And they definitely should not be ridden, or asked to do work of any kind. These can greatly aggravate an injury and turn it from something minor to something major rather quickly. Not to mention, it's just mean.

So there you have it. Hopefully you understand now why I'm upset that I can't get a farrier to do my horse's feet! If you have any particular questions or want something cleared up, leave it in the comments!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Etymology Day: Apartment

WHOA it's been a long time since I did one of these. But you know what? I'm doing one today. And it's a doozy. Are you ready for this?

According to www.etymonline.com, the origin of the word apartment is as follows:

"1640s, "private rooms for the use of one person within a house," from Fr.
appartement (16c.), from It. appartimento, lit. "a separated place," from appartere "to separate," from a "to" (see ad-) + parte "side, place," from L. partem (see part). Sense of "set of private rooms in a building entirely of these" (the U.S. equivalent of British flat) is first attested 1874."

So now when someone pulls that old joke about "Why do they call them apartments when they're all stuck together?" you can answer with your new smarts. "Actually, the word apartment dates back to . . . "

You're welcome.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Broken apart and stitched back together-- or, the writing of a novel

Such a large part of writing is lonely. I know loneliness all too well right now. Four hours of my day (at least during the week) is full of the companionship of new marriage, and that's often the best, most peaceful four hours I have. But then he has to go to bed, and I'm still not tired, and then I'm alone again. As much as I wish they did, the cats don't really count for company. No matter how much I talk to them it's always a one-way conversation.

I find myself more and more often following him to bed anyway, unable to sleep but unwilling to stay up by myself any longer, content to let the characters roll around in my head and talk amongst themselves until they at last let me go and I can drift away.

Such a large part of writing is lonely. And the definition of crazy, I might add: people in my head, talking to me at all hours of the day. People no one else can hear, or see, or even imagine, at least not until I set my fingers to the keyboard and tap out their lives. I must be mad.

A mad and vengeful god. I torment those people to within an inch of their lives and sometimes beyond, and I bring them back for more, and I yank them and twist them and shatter them until I feel that they've had enough, all for the sake of my own imagination, and another, even more mythical creature: the Reader.

And then I lament. I type "The End" and I go back over the whole thing and writhe in agony that no, no, that whole bit is just WRONG and I fix it and I wish I were a better writer and I obsess over several uses of the same word, even while the characters STILL won't let me sleep at a decent hour.

When I finally both can bear it and can't take it any longer, I let other people into my sad, sick little world, and I wait. And those people-- the real people-- they become that mythical creature: the Reader. And they read what I've written while I practice wearing grooves in hardwood floors and eating large quantities of sugar.

And that is when writing isn't lonely anymore. Suddenly, my world is populated with other minds. Other minds who know my characters. Other minds who grapple with their desires and their fears. Other minds who get. it.

That is why I write.