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Posts Tagged ‘customer service’

  1. My customer service story

    July 23, 2016 by Glorajean

    Party Land
    39 West Ctr
    Orem, UT 84058

    To the Owners of Party Land in Orem,

    I want to tell you about the exceptional service I received today, July 23, 2016!

    I came to your Orem location and purchased a large Disney Mylar balloon for $9, along with a balloon bouquet for my mother’s 75th birthday. The balloons were inflated and placed in a large plastic bag for easy transport.

    I took them to Provo for the party. When I removed the bag, I discovered that the Mylar balloon was deflated.

    Following the party, at about 6:30pm I brought the balloon back to your store to ask what could be done. I was very curtly told that if the balloon had deflated in the parking lot, they could do something for me. Since it did not, there was nothing they could do. I reminded your employee that I had paid $9 for a balloon which was either defective or improperly tied off, but your employee did not care or express the least hint of compassion or empathy. Even if there had been signs of the problem in the parking lot, I would not have known it because the balloons were in a balloon bag.

    Frustrated and upset, I left your store and went to Dollar Tree, which is located about 0.9 miles away at 501 N State St in Orem. I purchased a few of their Disney Mylar balloons, as replacements for the deflated Party Land balloon, and as the employee was filling them, I explained to her what had happened. I asked if I could pay them to inflate your balloon? The Dollar Tree employee cheerfully said she would be happy to do it for me at no charge.

    I went back to my car and brought the balloon inside. She inflated the balloon, and pointed out a noise of leaking air. She took her time to inspect the balloon and identify the source, which was a small tear on a seam. She attempted to repair the balloon with tape, and then inflated it again a second time. It seemed to be holding better. She then taught me how I could manually inflate the balloon by blowing into a tube. Of course this would not allow the balloon to float, but would allow me to inflate balloons in the future for display after the helium has escaped.

    After the rudeness and ingratitude I was shown at Party Land, I was wowed by the time, attention, and effort that your competitor showed in taking care of me!

    When I have the opportunity to recommend a place to purchase balloons to my friends and family, I will not hesitate to tell them of the exceptional service I received at Dollar Tree! If you have dissatisfied customers in the future, you may also choose to direct them there too, as they know how to make a satisfied customer!


  2. Grocery Shopping

    July 28, 2012 by Ryan

    Grocery shopping.

    Don’t mention grocery shopping.

    I seem to have a special talent surrounding it.

    If I go with a mental list of two items, I will forget one and buy the wrong thing for the other.

    Writing it down, and my chances of getting it right improve only slightly.

    Today I took the girls and a list of items – the description, quantity, and price written carefully down. The list was even divided roughly into food types (dairy, produce, etc).

    Somehow, I ended up with the wrong brand of noodles and 7 wrong brands of pudding, each costing about 3 times what I expected to pay, and throwing off the needed “on sale when you buy in a group of 10” requirements.

    And the hair care stuff rang up at full price when it should have been half-off.

    I didn’t notice this until I came home. Glorajean pointed it out.

    She is good at reading the receipts like that.

    Glorajean did it all with gentle kindness. I’m the one that is way to hard on myself, and take these mistakes as some sort of personal failure to operate as a normal human being.

    So I went back to the store to return those and try again.

    The clerk at the customer service counter was very kind. He said that this particular sale had confused a lot of people, and he had made a lot of returns. He apologized profusely, took great care of me, and did everything right from a customer-service angle.

    My reshopping experience went better. I was much more careful in selecting 10 new things. The deal went through. The transaction was successful.

    We then went to another store.

    The entire family came along, stopping on our way to visit her parents.

    Glorajean’s eagle eye for clearance deals spotted Tide laundry detergent. We scooped up several boxes, for us and for her parents.

    As we loaded the car, we talked about going back to get more. We decided to do so later, if they still had some. Besides, she could look over the ad and see what else we might want, and look for coupons for the detergent.

    Later, she sent me out with another list (another buy-10 type of sale) and a coupon. There were now only two boxes of detergent left, which I grabbed. I carefully shopped for the rest of the items, and checked out.

    Though the price worked out, I bought several packages of “whole-grain” noodles instead of the regular white flour noodles.

    We are not sure if the intended audience will like the taste.

    I shake my head and try to laugh.

    If I laugh loud enough I might cover my wounded pride.


  3. Fresh Courage Take

    May 6, 2011 by Ryan

    My boss was overwhelmed with big projects and needed to write the motivational message for the support-department monthly newsletter. I saw his need and ghost-wrote this for him. Presented here is the second-draft version, created after he sat with me for 10 minutes and asked if I approved a few minor edits. Then, in his hurry, he forwarded the first draft on to the editor anyway, and it was published.  Yes, this feels like a cheesy motivational message (because it is!), and I am slightly embarrassed to reread it.

    Have you ever went to a large store and stood in line at the “returns” counter? Go take a place in the back of the line. Observe the people in front of you, and the attitudes they convey. Often, the employees are “beaten down” from the constant stream of negative energy put off by their customers. They move slowly; they don’t smile; and they seem disinterested. Never do they have someone wait in line, and when they reach the counter, exclaim “The things that I purchased here at your store are working great! I have no issues, and I’m enjoying them tremendously! Thank you for selling quality products and providing exceptional service!”

    Being in a support position carries much of the same mental risks. Taking phone calls from customers who generally are not happy with the product can take a toll on support agents, who might begin to change their attitudes so that they only see the “wrongs” in the world. They risk becoming like gloomy old Eeyore of the Winnie the Pooh stories, who always fails to see the good things going on around him.

    To counter this potential workplace hazard, each technician must find ways to take fresh courage. The antidote will be a little different for each person. Find ways to continue to smile. Mentally always seek ways to count your blessings and always stay alert to the good things – to the people you enjoy working with, or to the exciting features of the software that work very well.

    True is the axiom “There is always a choice about the way you do your work, even if there is not a choice about the work itself”1 You always have a choice about the attitude you retain. Your attitude is contagious. Your coworkers will catch it. Your customers will feel it.

    1 “Fish!: a remarkable way to boost morale and improve results”; page 37; Stephen C. Lundin, Harry Paul, and John Christensen.


  4. Action and Adventure: Trying to play a movie on the COBY MP600-4G

    September 27, 2010 by Ryan

    I’ve enjoyed the COBY MP600-4G MP3 player (that I received as a reward for collecting bottle caps from My Coke Rewards). It has been a very good little MP3 player for me, but the time had come to figure out how to transfer a movie onto it.

    The Project

    My specific goal was to convert Disney’s The Princess and the Frog from DVD to the COBY player. To quote Lewis from the movie, “Oh, I tried once. It didn’t end well.” Also, whether or not this is legal per copyright laws, I’ll save for a discussion on another day. For now, I’ll just say that I did purchase the DVD, I intend only to use the copy for my own personal use, and my conscience doesn’t bother me.

    The Equipment

    My computer is running Windows XP Service Pack 3, with 2 Gig RAM, and an Intel 2.66 Ghz Core 2 Duo processor. I’m also using the Sony DRU-500A DVD rewriteable drive. All “older” equipment, but still very functional.

    For playback of videos on the computer, I have installed K-Lite Mega Codec Pack (current version is 6.40). You may or may not need this, but I thought I’d mention it because I do have it installed and it is possible that the codecs it provides (software that decodes and plays back various audio and video formats) may have unknowingly helped the process behind-the-scenes. If you do not have this free program already, I highly recommend it anyway.

    My COBY player is the model COBY MP600-4G. My instructions and testing will probably be the same for the MP600-2G model (which is identical except for the amount of memory). Your mileage with other models may vary.

    Get Ripped-Off

    My first task was to “rip” the movie from the disc and into a file on the hard drive. Music CDs are very easy to rip, but DVDs can be a lot trickier due to copy protection mechanisms that the studios place on the discs.

    The Anatomy of a DVD: If you place a DVD into a computer drive and browse the contents, you will find that there are two folders (AUDIO_TS and VIDEO_TS). Typically, the AUDIO_TS is empty and unneeded (at least, I have never found a use for it). The VIDEO_TS then is the main folder to deal with. In this folder you will find files that end in .INO, .BUP, and (most importantly) .VOB. The files are encoded in a way that, if you attempt to simply copy the files from this folder onto your drive, the copied movie will usually not play correctly.

    In order to make a copy, you must use a decoder program. The decoder will essentially simulate the playback the movie, interpret the video and audio data, create a new version of the files. This idea is not really much different than actually playing a DVD. When you play a movie, your DVD drive reads the information, decodes it, and sends the picture and audio signal to the television. In this case, that picture and audio data are instead being saved in another file on the hard drive, along the way removing any special commands that the DVD disc has established.

    Another problem with commercial DVDs is that they may contain up to 9 GB (gigabytes) of data, while DVDs burned at home are typically 4.3 GB. Often, the structure of the DVD has the movie as the largest portion, then the individual scenes are duplicated again; plus menus, bonus features, previews, FBI warning, etc. that I don’t need. In the process of ripping the movie, I’m interested in only ripping the movie and stripping the rest out.

    My long-time program of choice for DVD ripping / copying has been DVD Shrink (version 3.4). Although it has not been updated for many years, it is still a very good program – so long as your DVD does not come with newer copy-protection methods. In the case of The Princess and the Frog, I received the error “Cyclic Redundancy Check” which brought a halt to the process. As far as I can tell, copy protection on this DVD is designed to create an intentional mathematical calculation overflow problem when you attempt to straight copy, or also when DVD Shrink tried to read the file structure.

    To get around this problem, my online searching lead to a program called DVDFab. I loaded it on with its 30-day trial, and found it was able to rip my DVD effortlessly. In fact, I found it much easier to use than DVD Shrink, and more versatile. I’m still trying to decide if it is worth $50 to me, but I do still have a few more days left to make that decision. Supposedly the “HD Decrypter” feature of the program can be used for free without expiration, but I have not yet figured out how to work that in conjunction with DVD Shrink.

    40 minutes later and DVDFab ripped the main movie to my hard drive (sans menus, bonus features, language tracks, subtitles, etc.). I now moved to my next challenge – converting it to the right format for the COBY player.

    Resolution: Can You Picture That?

    I glanced over the spec sheet (http://www.cobyusa.com/files/specsheets/MP600_SP.pdf) and learned two things that might come in handy: My Coby player has a display resolution of 128 x 128 pixels, and likes a video format called “MTV.”

    Resolved: let’s talk about resolution: Pixels are dots wide and tall on your screen. In the United States, a traditional “square” standard definition television is 720-pixels-wide by 480-pixels-tall. That is, from top-to-bottom there are 480 rows of dots, and from left-to-right are 720 dots that, when individually changed to different colors, make up the picture (HDTV is obviously bigger, but since I’m dealing with DVD and not BluRay I won’t go into that discussion today). The proportional relationship of the DVD movie (720×480) compared to the size of the portable player screen (128×128) sets up a complication. The best news here is that the size of the file for the portable movie will be considerably smaller than the DVD file size (in this case, my ripped DVD movie comprised five .vob files totaling 4.3 gig, which would be bigger than the total 4 gig memory of the portable player). On the width measurement, dropping 720 pixels down to 128 pixels is a reduction of 563%. The file size should also reduce about as much, because it can drop much of the picture information. The downside to this: because a TV is not square (slightly wider than it is taller), and the screen on the COBY player is truly square, the height will have to be reduced to less than the player is capable of displaying, or else the picture will look tall and out of proportion. In this case, to keep the ratio correct, the height will be 96 pixels and those famous letter-box black bars will appear on the top and bottom of the already small movie window.

    My next issue is that I’ve never heard of an MTV format (a cable television network, yes; a video file format, no). I installed the Coby Media Manager and looked at the User’s Guide documentation (June 2009 edition). I found it lacking any real useful information. About all I got out of it was that it supports “movies and other video files.”

    So, it was back to Google for help.

    http://mympx.org/forum led me to a download the converter software for COBY players. They had two versions available (1.12 and 2.9), so I tried the newer version (2.9) and installed it (actually, in this case, there was no install – just uncompressed the files and ran the executable program). For the video source, I browsed to my ripped files on the hard drive, and selected the first alphabetical .VOB file there. Unfortunately, I was greeted by an error message (Load Video Failed). That their program would not read .VOB files directly did not really surprise me – I’ve found that very few programs will read DVD Format .VOB files directly.

    Somewhere in all of my Interet searching, someone suggested that the MTV format was just an offshoot of an AVI format, and if I could convert my video into an AVI format, I could then sync it to the player using the Coby Media Manager. It was worth a shot, so I downloaded the latest version of Any Video Converter (AVC) Free. I clicked Add Video, and added all 5 of my VOB files from the ripped hard drive copy.

    For my first experiment, I chose the following settings in Any Video Converter:

    – In the Profile menu (top-right corner,) I chose “Customized MP4 Movie”

    – I selected all five .vob files and from the Edit menu, choose “Merge Output”

    – For the Framesize options (bottom-right), I chose 15 (as I’d seen numerous recommendations to do so in my browsing)- For the Video Framerate, I manually typed in 128×96

    – From the File menu, I selected the output folder where I’d like my final file to be saved.

    – Then I clicked Convert, crossed my fingers, and waited.

    The result of experiment number 1: It produced a nice 234 megabyte file. I played it on my computer, and it looked like a very tiny little movie – but played well and sounded good on the computer speakers.

    Next, I made my attempt to get this movie onto my player. Again, in all of my Internet research, people suggested that you cannot drag and drop movies into the “Movie” folder on the device (as you can with Music or Photo). So I opened the Coby Media Manager (version 2009b0703). I chose Video, and found my movie. I right-clicked the file, and chose Synchronize. It began counting down various percentages and progress meters until it appeared to be finished. That honestly made me a little nervous – I hoped that the Coby program would not need to convert anything. I’d already ran a conversion, and if that format was acceptable, there should have been no need to convert it again.

    Now came the test… I played it on the Coby device. The video was now upside-down and mirror imaged, and the sound was decent but had a bit of a “tinny echo” especially on the high registers – though it did play. This was far better than the results I’d seen a lot of online forum posters have, and it might be good enough for my daughter to watch on her next airplane ride. But being this close to success, I was determined to try again and see if I could find a better format.

    Experiment Number 2

    Back to Any Video Converter, I tried these settings:

    – In the Profile menu I chose “Customized AVI file”

    – From the Edit menu, I kept the “Merge Output” setting

    – For the Framesize options (bottom-right), I chose 15

    – For the Video Framerate, I manually typed in 128×96

    This file was smaller (193 MB) and again played back very nicely on the computer.

    As Colby Media Manager performed its sync, those bad-omen progress meters appeared again (transforming percent and copying percent) appeared, and I discovered that when it was done, the file on my player had a different file ending (.AMV) and a different file size (171 MB). Most importantly, again the video was upside down and mirrored, and the sound tinny and popping.

    Experiment Number 3

    Just for fun, using Windows Explorer I dragged-and-dropped (copied) the AVI file directly into the movie folder. I pressed play on the player and read “Format Error” centered nicely on my screen. End of Experiment 3; the online people were right.

    Experiment Number 4

    I took that AVI file, and opened the MTV Video Converter 1.12. I selected the settings, and clicked convert. It ran through its percentage meter, and produced a file that ended in .MTV. I opened the COBY Media Manager, but that program could not see (or did not recognize) an .MTV file. I attempted a direct copy of the file to the COBY device, but it also could not see any valid files.

    At this point, I’m running out of ideas and my confidence is beginning to tank.

    Experiment Number 5

    I took a step back and went to DVDFab again. In the DVD Ripper section, it has an option to convert directly from DVD to AVI. I selected the source as the already-ripped movie on the hard disc. Then I got lost in output settings.

    I started off with the “Generic.AVI.dvix.audiocopy” setting, and edited the options. I chose a framerate of 15 fps (frames per second) and a frame resolution of 128×72. Then I noticed the Video Effect Settings button and clicked inside. I created a customized size of 128×128, and was impressed with the instant preview showing me how this would look in letterbox format. Further, I clicked the Crop tab and saw that I could change the selection from letter-box to pan-and-scan, which would eliminate the black bars but would chop off the extreme left and right sides of the picture. I decided to go with this option and see what I could do.

    After this conversion, Coby Media Manager also wanted to transform it and then sync it. And the result… same audio issues, and this time the video switched the black bars to the left and right sides, elongating the picture tall.

    So far then, my first experiment was still the best one, and still left lacking.

    Experiment 6

    I went back to DVDFab, and switched up the settings this way: I chose avi.h264.mp3, again at 15 fps and a custom size of 128×128, but no cropping this time. This conversion took about 10 minutes, and created 3 files (.avi, .idx, and .sub) totaling 66 mb. I especially like the small file size, if this works. Playback on the computer looked great. I synced it with Coby Media Manager, which took about 2 minutes of “transforming” and another 2 minutes for copying. Playback on the COBY was again mirror imaged and decent but tinny sound.

    I Surrender

    I started to wonder if my diy project was worth the trouble?

    No matter if I do eventually find the right format, I know this: I will still end up with a very tiny picture on a 1 inch screen, and imperfect sound quality. I would certainly not try to watch a movie I’ve never seen before – this screen is just too small to enjoy it. I’d have to be in it for a listening experience rather than a visual one.

    At this point, I’ve invested several hours of time. 40 minutes to rip the movie. A couple hours worth of time trying to convert file formats here and there. And still not the results I’d hoped for.

    I’m very disappointed with the COBY company for not providing clear instructions. In fact, the only instructions they provided lead me to a file format that the player didn’t recognize. A good rule of business is that consumer products should not frustrate the consumer. In my situation, I didn’t actually pay any money for my device, and I don’t have any serious need to play video on it. This device still works great for Music and FM radio, but I can’t justify much more of my time trying to get the video work.

    If you have stumbled on this article hoping to do the same thing, I hope this helps to put you closer to your goal. If any of my research can help you, I’d be curious to hear it. And if anyone can figure out the magic formula to making the videos work, I’d especially be grateful to know the missing piece to the puzzle. My email address is:
    Email me with questions, thoughts, comments, or suggestions


  5. Writing at work

    August 16, 2010 by Ryan

    At work, I routinely answer questions from customers. I can usually handle most questions thrown at me. I’m pretty good at crafting a thoughtful response. But this one had me stumped. Removing the identifying information, the customer complaint was as follows:

    “We have recently been adding some new computers to our [office]. One has Vista Ultimate and 3 more have Windows 7 (pro). These are new systems with 3+ gigs of ram. We have a dedicated Win Server 2003 server machine… . These newer machines are all slower [running the same program] than our older 1 gig of ram XP machines. I am stumped.”

    This particular question baffled me. Let me see, you are using the familiar computer program on a different computer with a different operating system, and yet you are “stumped” as to why you are getting a different performance? My process is usually to first let out the creative, flippant, and/or sarcastic thoughts, and see what sticks…

    “I used to eat apples, but now I eat oranges, and they taste different. I am stumped.”

    “I used to swim at an indoor public swimming pool. But recently I tried swimming in the open ocean. Even though I was doing the same thing, it was slower and more difficult in the rougher, colder waters.”

    “Remember how you used to be able to go through the airport quickly and easily. And then they tightened up security checkpoints? Yeah, welcome to Microsoft Windows Vista and 7”

    Those out of my system, I next try to compose something a little more professional. After several rewrites, here is what I came up with.

    Microsoft Windows Vista and 7 represent significant upgrades to the operating system, and as such, present new challenges. New boasted features include increased security. Network activity is scrutinized more closely by Windows, in an attempt to prevent unwanted files or access to your system. Unfortunately, the tradeoff for this sort of protection is a slower performing system. Your software is continuing to do the same job as before, but it is hindered by the additional security checks that the operating system is undertaking.

    Also consider that, because you are running a different operating system, you are most likely running different antivirus or firewall software than your Windows XP machines, which may also be contributing to the perceived slowdown in performance.

    You would be best advised to consult with a good hardware technician who can tweak some of the security settings and/or services being ran by the operating system, antivirus, or other services installed on these new machines, so that network traffic is still secure – but not impeded in performance.

    Yes, that is sounding pretty good. I like it.


  6. The ayes have it

    August 7, 2010 by Ryan

    By the Powers! I’ve been visit’in an enjoyable, entertain’in place.

    I admit that when I first heard of a new restaurant called Pirate Island, I immediately thought it be another Chuck E. Cheese, where kids could eat pizza and play games. Shows what a sprog I ’twas.

    I took me hearty and little buccaneers with me for lunch. Outside the restaurant were bulky, hefty wood doors, which were me first clue that there be someth’in different await’in inside. I opened them, to find a dimly lit lobby with a pirate scene that reminded me of the ride at Disneyland. The animated pirate skeleton was surrounded by doubloons in the middle of a dark, foggy swamp – I knew instantly that this was go’in to be fun.

    The greeter, dressed in moderate pirate costume, asked how many there be in our party. He seated us in the Bayou section of the restaurant, kindly point’in out were to find things as we ventured along. This was a perfectly themed, dimly lit area, with trees and fireflies about. The background chantey and chirping crickets completed the atmosphere (very much reminiscent of eat’in at Disneyland’s Blue Bayou).

    A great difference from the Chuck E. Cheese experience was that a server came to our table. She was very kind, and explained where to find everything in the restaurant. She asked what we would like to drink, and then came a incredible, fantastic blimey: they serve Apple Beer! Shiver me timbers and load me to the gunwales with me grog!

    We opened the menus and found the next bolt from the blue: they offered much more than just pizza or a salad bar. We ordered from the lunch specials, which included a drink.

    Me hearty ordered the barbequed chicken personal pizza, but felt like she be waste’in her calories on the flavorless, tasteless crust and sauce. I tried it and agreed. I mark the scallywag who prepared it with the black spot! Make the scoundrel walk the plank! On the other hand, me daughter ate the cheese pizza and loved it. So for the wee little ones, it be a good choice, but for the grown ups, there be better pick’ens to plunder.

    I also ordered the lunch menu, and chose the three fish sliders and chips. Sink me again! Instead of serving the American counterfeit of french fries, these chips be sliced potatoes, freshly fried – genuine authentic chips!

    While eat’in, there was a small show where a storm blew, a skeleton talked, and cannons fired. From where we were sitt’in, it was tricky to tell that the show had started. It only ran every 15 minutes, so it might have been nicer if the show ran more frequently, or if we had a cue to know to look at it before it was half underway.

    We explored the rest of the restaurant. Ye be enter’in through a cave to scrub ‘yer hands at the washroom, but be warned that cannons fire as ye pass by. The dining area at the other half of the restaurant is themed as a city ripe for plunder’in. Pass through another cave to enter the Aargh-cade and play area for the wee ones. Another word of advice: Ye best be order’in ‘yer tokens from the wench who serves ‘yur table, for ye get more coin for ‘yer pieces of eight that way.

    The table server would prove to be a mixed bless’in. At the start, the wench put us at ease and made the experience a pleasure; but at the end we didn’t know if it be proper to leave the table to go play, or wait to pay the check, or be leaven the leftovers wait’in there, or be haul’in them along with us. It was a little bit awkward, unfamiliar feel’in in me gut. We left our drinks, a few portions of pizza, and some coupons that we didn’t use this time (but thought we might be bring ’em back again another day). After hav’in our fun, we found the table wiped clean ‘an our loot mislaid.

    Yo-ho-ho – we will be back to try some more vitals (perchance including Pirate Pasta, Corsair Clam Chowder, Chicken, Fish and Chips, Sandwiches, Burgers, and Wraps). For Pirate Island be a good time enjoyed by all and great place to get me pirate on!


  7. Customer Disservice Award Winner

    April 17, 2010 by Ryan

    Today, we are please to present the Customer Disservice Award to Bryant, an expressionless young male cashier sporting a gaudy large black earring at the Springville Utah Walmart store. Bryant made a significant contribution this evening to keeping the checkout lines long and deep.

    Throughout the stressful job of fumbling through the products to locate the very technical and complex computer bar codes, Bryant managed to avoid sharing any words of greeting or thank you to his customers – showing off the tremendously difficult and increasingly commonplace skill of indifference.

    Bryant had a special opportunity to demonstrate his apathy when one of our intended purchases scanned at the incorrect price. When Glorajean pointed out the error, which was on a product that had the correct price clearly printed above the universal product code that he had just scanned, Bryant took great pains to locate the item and void it from the bill of sale rather than correct the price, thus saving the entire Walmart organization the embarrassment of actually heeding their slogan “Always the Right Price. Always.”

    Such lackadaisical enthusiasm deserves recognition from all levels – from the pesky customers all the way to the top management. May we be the first to offer our congratulations to Bryant, our customer disservice award winner of the day.


  8. Do they have French Fries in France?

    February 3, 2010 by Ryan

    Today, I’d like to make a comparison of two popular hamburger chains that have been around for a while, but are fairly new to my area. I’ve finally had a chance to taste them both, and so I offer my review of In-N-Out Burger (www.in-n-out.com) vs. Five Guys Burger and Fries (www.fiveguys.com)

    Let’s start with comparing the burger…

    In-N-Out:

    Their claim is that their ingredients are never frozen. The burger tastes very fresh. The patties are smaller than Five Guys, but satisfying. The price is considerably lower than Five Guys too.

    I made a mistake of ordering a cheeseburger with onion. The onion was just fine, but I wasn’t expecting it to be as thick as the beef patty! I found that a very unusual tactic to serve it that way, and was turned off by too much of a good thing.

    Five Guys:

    Their claim is that everything is cooked in 100% peanut oil. In fact, you will find warnings on the doors advising you not to enter the building if you have peanut allergies. Their prices are almost triple what In-N-Out charges.

    The beef almost seems hand pressed to me – not consistently cut and measured. I could be wrong on that, but I can certainly say that their serving is more generous. It also seems juicier. Five guys serves the burger wrapped in aluminum foil, and it retains its juices. The peanut oil gives it a good, unique flavor.

    Other thoughts – Carl’s Jr. serves a “Ranch Burger” for $1, of comparable size to In-N-Out. It doesn’t taste as fresh, but my experience with the onion overload may have turned me off a little and built a bias against In-N-Out.

    My Vote: Five Guys has the better tasting burger. For the money, In-N-Out is the better bargin. Just hold the onions!

    And how about the Fries…

    Five Guys:

    They offer two kinds of fries – regular and (my favorite) Cajun (Cajun is not really spicy, just seasoned). Their potatoes cooked in 100% peanut oil. These are the kind of fries I really get into. Fresh Cut. Thick. Seasoned just right. A very nice touch is that they have a white board in the store telling you where the potatoes came from. It doesn’t enhance the product necessarily, but is kind of fun to know that the spuds being served today came from Sugar City, Idaho.

    In-N-Out:

    I was not impressed with their fries at all. There is very little substance – shoe string potato fried up so that it seems like you are eating some processed food.

    Winner: An easy choice for me: Five Guys.

    Staff:

    While Five Guys features approximately five pleasant but typical fast-food employees running the restaurant, I was fascinated to watch about 30 people scrambling around like worker bees at In-N-Out. Everyone facing the public had a smile on their face (though I noticed a few in the very back of the kitchen that were not smiling – perhaps they were concentrating). I saw one employee stop for about 10 seconds and visit with another employee, and they both still maintained their cheery smile. They wear white clothing, and a couple people just keep patrolling the place, picking up trash and keeping it spotless. It reminded me of Disneyland. I’m sure the payroll is higher, but their attention to detail and service was phenomenal! I’m pretty certain this comes from their being a private company, rather than a franchise.

    Customer Service: In-N-Out

    Overall – If cost is no concern, Five Guys has better tasting food. But because I’m a cheapskate, I’d pick up the Cajun fries at Five Guys, head over to In-N-Out, and enjoy some burgers and the show.


  9. I have to be dreaming…

    December 1, 2009 by Ryan

    I was woken up by the phone ringing around 6:00 am. I answered it, and found it was someone from my temporary employment agency calling me. I did not recognize the male voice – I had never worked with him before. He said that he was sorry, but my services were no longer needed.

    That message seemed strange to me. The back story details suddenly filled my mind: Two days before, I had been “let go” from my job. One day previous, I had been rehired by my previous employer as a temporary employee. I had been a little bit upset that they did this to me after five years of service to them – presumably so they could have me work for them at a “starting-over” salary and without benefits for 90 days. But I had reported to work. My two-week assignment was to teach the manager of the temporary office how to use the company’s specialty software, inside and out. That assignment had not completely made sense to me. The software is very specialized to the dental industry, so why would the temporary employment agency manager need to learn it? But figuring that it was a paying gig, I took the job. And so the day before this phone call, I had completed day one of my work.

    That is why this call seemed out of place. The male voice, whom I had never worked with before at the agency, then said my name and goodbye. But he didn’t say my name correctly. He had hung up so quickly, I could not ask about it. I thought he must have made a mistake – my assignment was for two weeks, and he did not get my name correctly, so he must have called the wrong person.

    I decided that, since it was time to wake up anyway, I would start my day and report to work as I knew I was supposed to.

    I went to work, which had relocated overnight to the location of my old high school. Next door to my high school was the old seminary building, a building owned by my church and used for “release time” religious class instruction for the high school students who elected to take it. I walked through the seminary building in my route to my high school / new work location.

    As I walked in the building, the impressive pictures inspired by the life and miracles of and prophecies about Jesus still greeted me on the walls. I walked down the hallway, and I remembered the good feelings and memories of classes I had taken in that building.

    Then I came to a roadblock. Two seminary teachers, one dressed in a suit and the other dressed in a dress (because one was male and the other was female) stood in the hallway blocking traffic.

    By traffic, I mean “me.” I was told I could not go that way, as they were setting up for a show. I could see the area yellow-taped off, but felt that I could easily navigate through it. I protested and explained that I was just trying to pass through to get to work. But they insisted I would have to wait until the show was over. It would be starting soon anyway.

    When the show began, I discovered it was the Muppets performing there in the hallway. Except these were not the main-stay characters (Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, or Miss Piggy); this show was entirely made up of the “Muppet What Nots” (those background one-time characters that are used in a couple of sketches and then never seen again).

    Having no choice, I watched the Muppets perform their highly entertaining program. While I ordinarily would have relished such an opportunity, I was a bit edgy at this time because I needed to get to work, and I was eager to find the new location of the training room where I would be working in. I eventually recognized that the Muppets were going to be performing for quite some time, and so I backtracked out of the building and hurried along the path outside to get to my high school / work.

    As I walked toward the high school building, I naturally slowed my step, as memories of that time of my life came flowing back. I wondered just how much changed the facility would appear now? I walked toward what I remembered having been an entrance, only to find it was no longer there. Apparently, I was going to find the building changed considerably from what I remembered. I hunted for a while, panic again returning as more time passed and I still did not know a way inside.

    I finally found an entrance, but was dismayed to see another coworker was leaving the building carrying his personal belongings in a non-descript cardboard box. He was crying, and I tried not to make eye contact. Apparently, they were firing a lot of people. I hoped that he would get his job back the next day, as had been done for me. If that is what he wanted. I really didn’t know if he would want to come back after being treated such a way. I was still a bit upset over my treatment. But I had decided that a job was better than no job.

    Which reminded me – I needed to get inside the building to go do my job.

    I entered the building, and was again surprised to discover that what used to be a high school had now become a three-story shopping mall.

    As I wandered around, desperately trying to find the location of the training room where I needed to be, I found myself on the third floor. Although I really didn’t know where anything should be, my gut feeling told me that the third floor was wrong. So I decided I should make my way down a level and continue searching.

    That’s when I discovered that I was not wearing a shirt.

    I was about to pick-up the cell phone and call my wife, to let her know that I needed her to bring me a shirt, when I noticed that she was right beside me. I told her about my shirtless dilemma, and how I was concerned that I would not have time to go back home, get a shirt, and still make it back to find the training room on time. In her wisdom, she pointed out to me that we didn’t need to go home. We were in a shopping mall. We could purchase a new shirt at one of the stores. She is so smart – just another reason why I love her!

    Concerned that my financial earnings had just went down due to my firing and rehiring, we agreed that we would try to find a shirt on clearance rather than pay full price. But if that could not be done, we’d get a shirt so I could get on my way.

    We walked around a bit, but only saw women’s clothing stores. Then we passed the mall’s nursery. We both stopped short at the sight of a couple dozen babies, all peacefully playing or sleeping in car seats. The seats were set up on shelves three rows high. Babies sitting there in their car seats, dropped off by parents who had come shopping (or maybe workers at the stores, I suppose too). Fortunately, all the babies were pretty happy. We looked all over but could not see anyone in charge – no nurse, no babysitter, no worker in charge of the day care store at all. This was incredible! What a dangerous situation, leaving all of these children unattended like that, sitting unbelted in infant car seats, on shelves high up in the air!

    What was somebody thinking!


  10. A Clunker of a Government Program

    August 30, 2009 by Ryan

    I write this in response to questions I’ve received about where I stand in the current health care debate. To answer that, I don’t want to talk about health care at all. Instead, I want to talk about another recent government take-over of a private industry, and the tremendous successes it is! That is, of course, the American auto industry.

    Very recently, our current government officials took under their wing the inefficient and broken-down system of leadership of two of the three major car dealers. They assisted them through bankruptcy proceedings, and carefully and expertly guided them through the company rebuilding experience. At the suggestion of the President of the United States himself, the president of one of these private companies even lost his job. That doesn’t matter though, for in the end, our heroic government created two much leaner and more efficient car manufacturing businesses, one-of-which the federal government was now part-owner! Hurray!

    But as part of this “trimming of the fat,” there had to be some very sorrowful cutbacks. Not at the car manufactures themselves, mind you. But at the privately-owned dealerships that day-in and day-out took the risks and made the sales of those vehicles. By order of the bankruptcy recipe, the manufactures had to cut off distributing to the people who would actually sell the cars. Why not? It makes perfect sense! Produce cars and reduce the amount of places that can sell the cars. The dealers take the risk upon themselves, and employ and sustain large parts of the tax base and economies in the cities, counties, and states that they reside. So let’s cut of their supply! It had nothing to do with the financial troubles of the car manufactures, but it had everything to do with punishing local dealers who donated more money to the Republicans rather than to the Democrats. Those folks are just going to have to sell used cars now.

    Next, our the wise government leaders saw a need to boost sales for their newly-acquired properties, the auto manufactures. How best to do this? Hmmm, let’s think… Oh, I know! Let’s offer people to bring their “clunker” cars in, and we will trade them for far more money than they are worth, taking tax dollars to pay the “rebate” costs. We’ll require those people to buy a brand new car (which they might not be able to actually afford).

    Now, what should we do with the “clunkers” we have collected? Oh, I know, let’s destroy them! Require that nothing be salvaged from the car – I mean, we can’t go saving save the “clunker” horn, “clunker” plastic light covers, or even the “clunker” oil cap and sell those for scraps now, can we?! The junk dealers, who make their money off of this kind of business, will just have to look elsewhere for their junk parts to sell, because the clunker parts are going to be destroyed! Oh, and no matter that many of those clunker cars still had plenty of life in them – we can’t have them resold to some teenager on the used car market. No No No No No! Can’t even let those dealers that we just cut off from selling new cars have them. Uh-uh, no sir, that would be Un-American through and through. Used cars will now have a short supply, and feature a low starting price of $4500 or more. What is that you say? People who are shopping for used cars can’t always afford $4500 – that is why they are in the used car market? No matter – they should just get a new one instead with this great program the government has provided for them!

    Then the reports came in, one week into the clunker program – it was “wildly successful” and had ran out of money. The budget was one billion tax-dollars (your taxes used to help buy a new car for your neighbor), but they were out of money in one week. Now, if we accept the notion that giving away tax money to some of the people is a form of welfare, and we can gauge the success of the program as “wildly successful” because it gave away all of its money months before it was budgeted for, then what is the only appropriate response? Ram through the congress a quick bill to triple the budget of the program! And even at that, it still ran out of money two weeks earlier then forecasted! Wow! That is one wildly successful, highly-efficient government at work!

    So how did the dealers feel about this voluntary program? They were kind of stuck participating. I mean, if they didn’t, the dealer down the street would, and they would lose the sale. So they had to play the game. For every car they took in on the program, they had to take the $4500 out of their own pocket to make the sale, and then turn in the paper work to be reimbursed. Some dealers were out $300,000 or more of their personal money – money they ordinarily would have used to buy more cars and restock their lot. Instead, they were waiting for the government to reimburse them. And how was that going? The government was so overwhelmed with requests for reimbursement that they were just completely caught off-guard. They didn’t have the manpower or computer server power to handle the requests. So as the program was ending, they were just about ready to catch up to the necessary staffing levels to handle it all. I stand back and marvel at the efficiency of the operation, as I’m sure the private dealers do too. It turned out that some of the dealers quit playing the clunker game several days before the program was officially to end, because they couldn’t afford to take the risk of not knowing if and when they would actually be paid. That shows the confidence they had. Personally, I just don’t understand how anyone could not have confidence in the government!

    And what was the success of the program? Eight out of every ten cars were foreign made automobiles! On the bright side, that means that two out of every ten cars sold under the wildly successful cash for clunker program mean an American car rolled off the assembly line. Let’s take a minute to applaud that fact. ‘Course, as soon as it was done, business dropped like a rock, and is expected to stay low because many who bought then were planning to buy later, so they just pushed their purchase up sooner. Dealers are expecting some tough and lean times in the coming months.

    So after I’ve pointed out my observations of of our current efficient government, and how they seamlessly play with and compliment the economics of the private sector, who is ready to talk about health care?