Posted by Phildo |

So let me begin by apologizing for my hiatus. I'd give you a reason or this or that or the other, but let's just say that I'm back.

What atrocity, what outrage against mankind has brought me forth from the shadows? A recent customer service experience with the lovely bank known as Wachovia.

Let me begin by saying that I have been a Wachovia customer for about four years now, having switched over from Bank of America due to their heinous policies (O! The irony!) regarding overdrafts, deposits, etc. I have generally not had many issues, but that's because I'm not a power-banker. I don't do much with my money other than deposit it and on occasion spend it. Simple, right?

Fast-forward to October 28th, in the year of our Lord two thousand and nine. October has been a little tight on the old wallet due to some outstanding car repairs that needed to be made. And by outstanding I mean "wonderful" not "past due." Though I suppose both apply. I knew that my car insurance payment was going to post on that date and that I needed to put some cash in that day so that I could make sure that I don't overdraft my checking and get assessed an overdraft charge. I arrived at my local Wachovia branch at approximately 2:53 pm to make my cash deposit, understanding that cash deposits post the same day, hence my decision to step foot in a brick-and-mortar facility.

On a side note, I HATE going to banks. Do you? Some people hate going to the doctor, or the dentist or whatever. Me? I'm fine with all that mumbo jumbo, but banks drive me absolutely nuts. Everything from the Holiday Inn lobby decor to the sloppy area where the tellers work, it just irks me. So for me to step foot in a bank means that I've got some im-po-tent buid-ness to take care of.

Susie Q. takes my cash deposit, swipes my debit card to pull up my account, and hands me a receipt. Wonderful. Transaction completed at 2:58 pm.

"Thank you for banking Wachovia and have a nice day."

"No, thank you for using broken English. Thank me for banking with Wachovia. The last time I looked, prepositions were not on the latest missing child mailer. There are no amber alerts for the word 'with'."

On we go. Slumber comes to me later that day and I awaken on the 29th to find...Oh! How lovely! My account has overdrafted! Seventy dollars in overdraft fees have been assessed to my account! Pip pip cheerio, gov'nah, a spot of the old fuckey-doo!

I am the last person to complain about service. Having worked in service industries my whole life (particularly in the luxury segment), I understand what it feels like to have someone berate you about something you have absolutely nothing to do with. Conversely, I also understand that a few scarce drops of empathy and understanding can go a long way with an upset customer. I dial up my local Wachovia branch manager, who does a wonderful job of agreeing with me about how ridiculous it is and tells me to call the 1-800 number to get this issue resolved. And that's the first hiccup.

As a branch manager, what exactly do you do? Banks have always seemed very particular that certain things can only be accomplished by your branch manager. Canceling your account, for example, is something that must be done by your branch (we'll get into how I know that in just a moment). So, as a multi-billion dollar organization, merging with a large bank like Wells Fargo, you'd think that somewhere along the line they've worked on problem resolution skills, right? Wrong. I ask the branch manager why she can't simply remove the fees, since she seems equally appalled. She proceeds to tell me that the bank's hierarchy limits which functions a certain person can perform (reference: can only cancel account at your home branch) and that is just not one of them. If I am a branch manager for a bank, I feel pretty impotent at this point. I have an upset customer and I have to tell them to call a 1-800 number, instead of having my organization back me up in my decision to make a customer happy. Hmm. Limp.

I proceeded to call the 1-800 number and spoke to a gentleman who was EXTREMELY unhelpful in his response. No empathy, no "Yes sir, I can clearly see that you were making a deposit to prevent this very thing from happening." Instead I am quoted the policy. After 2 pm, all cash deposits do not post until the next business day. Simply wanting to understand this policy, I asked for the reasoning. What is different from 2:01 pm from 1:59 pm? Does cash become more difficult to handle after 2? Is it heavier? Or was this policy created by some clever pen-pusher who made his fortune by inventing a policy that results in millions of dollars in overdraft charges each year with this very same policy?

According to Business Week (I can't find the link but will continue to look), between 2005 and 2009, the banking industry made approximately 39 billion dollars off of overdraft fees alone! So you're telling me that my $70 is even a drop in that bucket? Ouch!

There is no reason for the policy, the gentleman proceeded to again quote me the policy and state that there was nothing he could do. I absolutely hate taking this step, but I asked to speak to his supervisor or manager. He told me that he was a supervisor. I asked him who supervises him. He said that he did not have an immediate superior. Really? You are the CEO of the company? How noble of you to answer customer service calls and then be a complete dick! Well played, sir. Well played. I expressed my amazement that he was his own boss in a company that seems to adhere very strictly to a corporate hierarchy and asked to speak to a fellow supervisor in his stead. I was gleefully connected.

The second gentleman, who shall remain nameless in all accounts of this tale except in my letter to the President of Wachovia, started out with an equally amazing response. When asked if the previous person had a direct supervisor, this man stated that indeed, "I am his supervisor." I asked what position the previous gentleman held and the supervisor told me that he was not actually a supervisor. Ouch. Points to the first guy for trying to say the buck stops with him (even though he did so in the completely wrong vein of response). But minus about 3 million points for the supervisor giving away his colleague's lie. I explained my situation again, realizing that by now it had been committed to memory as though lines from a play. I was in the midst of being quoted their 2 pm cash cancellation policy and how he would be willing to waive 10% of the fees (that's seven dollars, folks) when I postulated the following question:

"So you're telling me that you are willing to lose my business and that of my family and any friends who are willing to listen to me over $63?"

"Well, no sir. We are already making a generous concession by allowing the 10% refund. To leave our bank would be disadvantageous to you."'

Either he just threatened to whack me, or he just told me that I'm wrong. The problem with me, though, is that I am exceedingly clever. I decided to use my wits to ensnare him in a trap of his own creation. I asked him if he noted the time of my deposit. He saw that I had deposited the money at 2:58 pm. Confirmed. I asked him if he could see that my deposit was sizeable and certainly enough to cover the charges that went through at close-of-business on the 28th. He did. I asked him if the bank teller deposited the money that day or if she kept it on her person until the 29th and then deposited it. No, the money was accepted and deposited on the 28th by the teller. Instinct led the gentleman to start droning on about their 2pm deposit policy but passion overtook me and caused me to interrupt.

"In my business, a person has until 12 noon on the date of their arrival to cancel a reservation. If someone calls me at 12:58 pm and tells me they are not going to be able to make their reservation due to an unforseen circumstance, am I going to penalize them for that? Policy dictates that I must, but business savvy dictates that I would stand to gain more by showing my willingness to meet this person halfway and allow an exception to policy, thereby making it more likely that I will retain their business over the rest of their lifetime." I explained that in my business, a lost guest can equate to $125k in lost revenue. I went on to add that while I certainly do not know the statistic for a bank losing their customer, I am sure that sixty three dollars is not worth losing my business for the rest of my life. If he is concerned that I will proceed to abuse the system, why not make a note on my profile that I was granted this concession and then state that in the future I must follow whatever ridiculous procedure has been set forth by the big-bad-bank?

I have set the stage for this gentleman to be my hero. Save me, Don Miguel, saaave me! As you might expect, he drops the ball royally. For the third time in the call now, I am being quoted the 2pm deposit policy. I interrupt one last time to ask if this gentleman is prepared to be held accountable for allowing my business to go to another bank. Not only my business, in fact, but the business of my family and friends and anyone else who is willing to hear my tale. He states that his position exists to ensure that policy is adhered to and if he makes this exception for one person, he makes it for all. Ouch. Another mistake.

Nevermind that the customer is always right. Frankly, the customer is almost never right. But a smart businessman knows that in order to syphon my money from me over the course of my 85 year life, you give me a little nugget every now and then to keep me interested. There are no nuggets here.

I ask one final time for clarification: "You are prepared to lose my business over sixty three dollars?"

"Sir that decision is up to you. Please be advised that you cannot cancel your account over the phone, you will need to do that at your home branch location."

I informed him of my decision to move my money to another bank and close all accounts with Wachovia. I politely asked him for his name and an address with whom I may file a formal complaint (the last chance that he has to realize that ultimately he is probably going to be reprimanded for making a customer irate and turn the situation around), and he provides me with the address. I disconnect the call.

Folks, I could understand his position if I was being blatantly irresponsible with my money. I really could. But to penalize me for clearly trying to do the right thing is just plain-old bad business.

After hanging up, I decided to try one last tactic that has gotten results from people who file complaints with my business: call someone who has absolutely nothing to do with what you are complaining about and demand resolution. More often than not that person just wants you out of their hair. If they don't care, they transfer you to go and deal with someone just like the people you're complaining about. If they are smart, they give you what you want and wonder how in the world you got in touch with them.

I called Wachovia's 1-800 number again, this time under the pretense that I was looking to take out a loan for my small business. Enter small business loans consultant. I confess my deception to the chirpy voice of someone who is definitely groomed for sales, and she responds with genuine empathy and surprise. "Oh my. That would upset me, too." After listening to my complaint and empathizing with me, she asks if I will hold on the line while she pulls up the corporate standard to see if there is a workaround. Hmph! This is new! Why can you pull up a corporate standard to check for a workaround but the previous two oafs cannot? She comes back on the line noting that an exception can be made if the deposit is made within 1 hour of the cutoff time, depending on the circumstances.

Interesting. Piranhas are circling the waters around the two "supervisors" I spoke to before.

She says she would be so upset if she were me, and asks if I mind holding while she double checks with her leader to see if it's okay to waive both overdraft charges. After holding less than 20 seconds she comes back with the unanimous verdict of Not Guilty. The funds are instantly refunded to my account. I of course admonished her with praise for her helpfulness and asked for her full name so that I may note how helpful she was in my letter to the president of her organization. She gleefully does so and proceeds to give me a different address than the other person did, noting that she doesn't know where his address will put my letter, but that the one she provided me with will go straight to the office of the president. I thank her a few more times and hang up to see my new corrected balance on wachovia.com.

After ruminating over the subject for awhile and thinking about how ridiculous it is for an organization to offer inconsistent resolution across the board, I decided to place a quick call to a business contact I have with Wachovia, who, for reasons you shall see momentarily, will remain nameless. I asked my contact why there is a break in continuity between what the "customer service" representative was able to provide me with and what the small business loan consultant was able to provide me with. Under penalty of death, I was sworn to never repeat that these words came from his mouth...

He went on to tell me that the individuals I spoke to in the "refund" department are subject to different disciplinary actions than other employees within the organization. They are actually reprimanded for refunding money back to the customer. Any other department is not subject to this. Except local branches and their employees. Interesting, no? Wachovia seems to have stripped empowerment from the ladies and gentlemen who are manning the front lines and given it instead to the people that most customers would never think to call.

I plan to write a letter to the corporate headquarters of Wachovia and to copy the President, Vice President of Operations and Vice President of Customer Relations. How they handle their response will ultimately decide whether or not I continue to bank with Wachovia.

I sincerely hope that anyone reading this who operates their own business, or who fights the tough battles working as customer service representatives, will realize that sometimes it's easier to just say "Yes." Ultimately if a customer is passionate enough to complain to you, it's just as likely that they will complain to someone higher up than you until they get what they want. Somewhere up the line, a person within your company will realize that it costs less to resolve it now than lose a customer. Conversely, make sure you track that data. I can tell you firsthand that people regularly abuse this system to get what they want even when they are in the wrong. Customer service is about caring. Caring means putting yourself in the other person's shoes and understanding how they must feel. And when you do that, you'll see what it will take to make them happy. And ultimately, that's what you're there to do.

Until next time, don't think too hard (especially if you work for Wachovia).


Osama Bin Catten

Posted by Phildo | Labels: , ,

Let me begin by saying that I'm truly not even comfortable saying I'm a cat owner. I was raised with a dog by my side; hell, I was told I was not ever allowed to own a cat. It's sort of one of those things that my family was unanimous on. That, and tattoos, smoking and drinking. Let's review the four things I'm not allowed to do lest I face excommunication from the family:

  • Drink (check)
  • Smoke (*sigh* check)
  • Have tattoos (check)
  • Own a cat (check)
By all accounts, I'm fairly certain the eleventh circle of family-hell is reserved for me. However they've all been very supportive of the first three...it's just this damn cat thing that has been a bit tricky.

Let me begin by telling you how I got mixed up in this crazy world of cat ownership. See I have this friend who has this boyfriend. And this boyfriend was all "Hey you have two cats. I don't even like one cat so two cats is like...no bueno." And she replied "Well I mean I love you so I guess I'll have to get rid of the newer one of the two."

Weeks go by, she petitions everyone she knows to see who can take the little bugger, but there are no bites. She doesn't even think of me, knowing full well that I'm not too keen on the kittens. Well fast forward another week or so and I have a big bichon-frise shaped hole in my heart from not being able to see my God-dog very often and think "Well shit. There's this cat that's about to go to a shelter, Phil. A freakin' shelter. They rape animals in shelters (I know this is true because I watched a episode of The Wizard Goes to Oz on HBO (the lesser-known spin-off of Oz, featuring the cast of The Wizard of Oz)).

Pause. Double-parentheses-five! *slap* Resume.

So there I go. "Sure, gimme the cat." Meet Rambo (he has since been through several name revisions), aka Ninja-Cat, known for sneaking up on you and suddenly being on your freakin' face, purring like a jackhammer. For more antics and history on Rambo, check my twitter and search for "Ninja-Cat." We're not here for the full history lesson, we're here to talk about how my cat ended up on the FBI's most wanted list.

Tonight I come home from a totally sweet fourteen hour day at work (this is sarcasm, folks) and pour myself a nice stout adult beverage and prepare to dissolve into the fabric of my couch. I fully expect to hear the persistent meowing of a cat that spends more than half of each day completely devoid of any type of contact (don't report me to the humane society...yet). This is why I named him Cicero. The cat likes to talk.

A half hour passes and there is no yawning. No mewing. No meowing. There is no jackhammer on top of my head. So I start to wonder. I do a few cat-calls. But that was while on my porch wearing a hard-hat. I came inside to call the cat, and kept calling and calling but there was no response. I checked all his favorite hiding spots: my laundry hamper(s), the top shelf in the laundry room, under my bed, in the only open nook on my bookshelf and behind the TV. There is no cat. Relying on the lessons I learned from reading the Hardy Boys as a young lad, I first checked for a black sedan in my rear view mirror, and upon discovering none, I turn to Frank and say "Gee, where can this wily feline be?" I deduced through the brilliant use of observation that his food had barely been touched all day (a rarity) and there was not a mountain of poo in the litterbox. These both indicate an AWOL cat.

Like a mother in a grocery store who starts screaming "BOBBY!!! BOBBY!!!!! BOBBY WHERE ARE YOU!?!?!?!" when their kid disappears behind an Easy-Mac display, I switch straight into freaked out mother mode, lactating and whatnot. I try to call my estranged roommate who is notorious for never answering his phone, and you guessed it...he didn't answer his phone. I left him a few burly, frustrated messages asking him if he had been back to the apartment that day (which was obvious, the door to his room was open, Cicero does not yet know how to do this). No answer. I frantically searched the hallway, realizing that to escape he'd still have to have mastered the whole doorknob catastrophe (thank God I don't have a pet velociraptor). I proceeded to tear my entire house apart. No joke, I dismantled my roommates bed, moved his dresser six feet away from the wall, broke off a chunk of drywall to get to where my water-heater is...I mean I was busy. All the while I'm making a fool of myself, dancing around the apartment going "Cicero...Cissy? Meowsers? Bowser? FUCKING CAT! WHERE ARE YOU?"

I'm just about to give up hope when I realized estranged roommate is at his girlfriend's apartment which means that his girlfriend's roommate is probably parked on the couch next to them both. A quick ringy-dingy brings me to the person next to roommate, and eventually to roommate, who in a slightly intoxicated, overtly "duh, dude" tone says "Man, he's probably like, in my dresser. Check the drawers."


"Yeah, check the drawers. I bet that's where he is."

Because I haven't already done that. Regardless I check again. I come back and report my findings.

"I'm telling you, he's in my dresser."

I'm feeling like I'm in Zoolander and need to think dumber instead of smarter. "He's in the dresser!" I hit the floor like a NAVY Seal and instead of feeling underneath the dresser in a downward motion I sweep up. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Wait...was that an opening? Was that fur!?!?!? You BASTARD!

I proceeded to drag that cat out of there so quickly it was almost like a cartoon. His claws were dug into the carpet and I think I probably stretched his whole body a bit more than its meant to stretch. I shot him a dirty look, smoked a cigarette, chugged a whiskey and thought to myself: "What have you become, Phil? You just went fight-or-flight over a cat?"

If only my family could see me now.

As I contemplated water-boarding Cicero to make him understand that this hiding place was now and forevermore off limits, it occurred to me that the only other creature I've ever thought of that has hidden as effectively as this would be Osama bin Laden. So I'm seriously considering changing this cat's name for the third (or fourth?) time. Osama's a great cat name, right?

For those with the humane society's number in front of them and an itchy trigger finger, I decided not to water-board him, instead of that I gave him a ton of catnip to drive him out of his mind. Hunter S. Catson, you see. I'm pretty sure he has no idea where he is right now. So don't call the pet police on me, alright?

That's my story. I'm tired. But at least we know that if we want to truly find the real Osama Bin Laden that he'll be in someone's dresser.

Today's story was a lesson in thinking dumber, so now more than ever, please don't think too hard.


I Think I Have a Stalker...(Hint, click "Play")

Posted by Phildo | Labels: , ,

Yeah...not a lot to say here. Don't check your voicemail at 4am on a Saturday. That's what I learned this weekend.

That and if it looks like a lesbian, acts like a lesbian and tells you you're a cute guy - almost cute enough to not be a lesbian, then odds are, it's probably a lesbian, Chuck. So thanks for playing. More to come soon.

Until then, please cease all thought.


Poker is Better than Soccer (alternating Capital letters Title)

Posted by Phildo | Labels: , ,

OK, listen. We need to talk. So pull up a chair, put some shaving cream on that upper lip so I can laugh at you if I start to feel uncomfortable, and let's do this.

Wait, dammit. Two prefaces just to make this post work, we're off to a bad start, people. I just want to say unless you watch The World Series of Poker, this post will make absolutely no sense. I'll try to make it entertaining even if you don't watch it.

There are two hosts for the WSOP main event, one guy is sort of like your Uncle Jeff, who's a nice guy, has a barbecue grill at his house and is always hosting the family 4th of July gathering. The other guy is sort of like your Uncle Ted, the weird one. He's had six wives, has held random jobs ranging from car dealer to puppet-seller and thinks a short-sleeved collared shirt with a tie is "dressing up."

We're here to talk about the Uncle Ted guy. His name is apparently impossible to find on Google because God knows I've tried to find it. If you've ever watched WSOP, you know who I'm talking about, he's the guy who will hear someone put 330 down on a bet and say "I hate the sound of 3:30, it's when my kids get out of school," followed by the chuckle of Uncle Jeff.

What in the hell is going on with this guy?

"He can only win the pot by betting on it, kind of like how I lost my car to my ex-wife in a game of 21."

Who? Who writes these jokes for this guy? And how are they so readily available? I refuse to believe that one man can have so many one-liners about his marriage and not have a team of divorced, Jewish writers whispering to him in an earborne microphone. And the nasal voice, the awkwardly excited moments? I just...I'm sorry. I'm not all here right now, it's been a weird night. I probably should've written about that instead, but if I got paid for writing, my third ex-wife would have a lot more than my dignity right now. Hey ohhh!

I dedicate to you that at least once a week, as long as poker is on television, I will try to post one of his one-liners to help bring you up to speed with what I'm talking about.

I think for once, you are probably thinking harder than I am.

So shut up.

Oh and thanks for wearing the shaving cream on your upper lip. That really made it easier for me.


An Open Letter to Ben Stiller

Posted by Phildo | Labels: , , ,

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

To Whom It May Concern (And It May Concern None Other than Ben Stiller and Those Whom He Concerns):

Let me begin by saying that Ben, we love you. We really do. Your movies over the years have made us laugh, made us cry...or actually more likely made us cry from laughing too much. You have played some of modern cinema's most beloved characters, including (but not limited to) everyone's favorite trainer, Tony Perkis in Heavy Weights, Ted in There's Something About Mary and the ridiculously good-looking Derek Zoolander in Zoolander. You have written and directed or otherwise co-written and/or co-directed some of Hollywood's biggest comedies. You come from Hollywood friggin' royalty, man. And this is why I have to ask you:

Please stop making the "Awkward Comedy."

For many of us, life is awkward enough as it is. There is plenty of irony all around us, plenty of bizarre, uncomfortable situations (who can say they've never had to take a dump in a public toilet while the person in the stall next to you is performing an anal exorcism?) that we find ourselves in on a day-to-day basis that we don't need any more awkward. I got preposterously sunburned today, had to get on a flight piss-drunk and deal with TSA searching my bags ("Yeah, look, oh! Surprise! Shaving cream! What're you gonna take that, too?" And yes, he took it.), and have proceeded to turn into a burnt piece of flesh over the last 48 hours, but I'm not going to go and make a movie out of it. Maybe I should, though.

My point is, with the exception of There's Something About Mary (and the arguable few other moments of exemption in other movies), your most critically acclaimed (though often most financially unsuccessful) roles have been ones that exist in a world and within a script where the humor is not based off of situational irony, or your character's zany differences with other characters. The movies that come to mind as gleaming examples of commercial success but comedic lethargy are There's Something About Mary (largely carried to success by Matt Dillon's extremely dastardly Healy and the accessibility of Cameron Diaz's hotness), Keeping the Faith, MEET THE PARENTS (DID I MENTION MEET THE FRIGGING PARENTS? OH MY AWKWARD - IT's NOT FUNNY WHEN IT HURTS THE VIEWER!!!), Along Came Polly, Tropic Thunder and to a lesser extent the Night at the Museum movies.

I'm not going to insinuate that there are not memorable or comedically applaudable moments in any of these movies, but I will go so far as to say that based on what I know you can do, I'm not mad. I'm just disappointed.

So this is it, Ben. You and me are on our last ride together. IMDB says your next project is called The Marc Pease Experience. If I flinch, grimace or otherwise feel my testicles retract inside of me even once during that movie, we're done.

With love, hugs and kisses,

P.S. - "The Heartbreak Kid?" Really?? One of your worst, Ben. But I watched it all the way through. As Stan Bush once said: "You've got the touch. You've got the power." Just don't squander it on mindless scripts anymore, eh? Make me laugh with actual irony, actual satire and actual comedy.
P.P.S. - I would not be able to function as a writer without the existence of parentheses.


Coming soon...

Posted by Phildo | Labels: ,

Coming soon, a post on late-night advertising.

Making bald men look like pedophiles, making men with small, nonfunctional penises look like pedophiles, making people who require portable oxygen look like pedophiles...late-night TV is a virtual pedo-bank of advertising.

Also, an investigation on whether or not it is wrong that I do not enjoy golf more.



Posted by Phildo | Labels:

I have these damn flies flying around my apartment. I'm not hating anyone for doing what mother nature intended for them to do...but this is ridiculous.

You add a couple of potted plants to your apartment and next thing you know you're on a goddamn nature walk every time you're at home.

Also, it was brought to my attention that I sounded rather conservative in my previous post, I will offer a rebuttal soon. The last thing I want is to be associated with right-wing nutjobs who think that corporations are the bee's knees. Because they are not. I'm not even sure bees have knees, to be honest with you, so that would be an absurd postulation. I guess this is about to turn into my rebuttal...let me just clarify then:

I do not think consumers should be more appreciative of corporations. I just think that if there is not a careful balance (or a perceived balance) between what products and services a corporation provides and the price that a consumer pays for that good or service, you stand to lose as a consumer and as a business. Like it or not, major corporations employ a great percentage of our workforce. If the corporation goes under, so do thousands upon thousands of consumers. Consumers need big and small companies alike to provide them with the jobs that give them money to spend.

'Nuff said.

Now seriously, even I'm thinking too hard. And it's all your fault. Look at you! Thinking on your own. Yay America!

And now...the real bee's knees:



Perceived Value - Or: Why Consumers Cannot Continue to Rape and Pillage Businesses for Much Longer

Posted by Phildo | Labels: , , , ,

Let me begin this post in a way that I thought would never happen. In a way that is so utterly shocking to me that I...I...I just don't know how to handle it. I was hanging out with some new friends last night, and was told by one that I look like the very object of my admonition, Robert Pattinson. Those who read my last post will be familiar with how I feel about Mr. Pattinson. I really have nothing against the guy personally, it's just that he's sort of the harbinger of the end of times. And that's not cool because I have a ton of stuff that I need to do before the Pattocalypse.

Actually, his hair kind of bothers me.

But really, I just needed to start things off by getting that out of the way. Hey, if I'm unwittingly part of the Pattocalypse, then that's the way it's gotta be. But you deserve to know.

Anyway, on to the subject at hand. Perceived Value in a deflated economy. Now, I'm not an economist, but I am insanely wealthy (*ahem*), which automatically makes me an expert on all things economic. Or ecumenical? I'm not sure. But either way I'm an expert.

I won't lie to you, the economy is tough, so tough that we have to constantly refer to our current place in history as "these tough economic times," a phrase which I believe should never again be uttered. So here we are in TTET (so I don't have to actually say it); everyone's wallet is a little thinner, they're having to tighten the proverbial belts. From the top of the food chain to the bottom of the gutter, everyone, everywhere feels the pinch. Consumers in general are placing exponentially more importance on the perceived value of products and services, making sure they get their money's worth. Take Microsoft's recent ad campaign about how affordable a PC is and look at how Microsoft takes not-so-subtle jabs at their competitor, Apple and Apple's supposedly astronomically higher prices.

Meanwhile, we have Apple responding (as shown above) with their value statment. "Sure, our prices may be a little higher, but look at all this added value you get in terms of fewer head-aches, crashes, viruses and so on.

Another example would be Ritz-Carlton's new "One" campaign. The luxury hotel-chain has smartly realized that families may take fewer vacations this year, even if they could afford more. Coming up with a new branding campaign built around the fact that if a family is going to take "One" vacation this year, it should be the perfect one. So they manage to keep that which made their business luxurious before, the impeccable service and facilities, but repackage it into something that has the same perceived value at a lower cost. Stay for five nights and pay for three? I'm not sure but even at $499 a night that might be a lucrative enough offer for me. That would certainly make the difference between me staying at a lesser hotel where my nightly rate for five nights might be lower than $499, but the total cost comes out to be the same. Smart, Ritz. Very smart.

But let's look at this from the other side. From the side of these businesses that are taking the initiative to show that they can still provide the same (if not better) value than the competition, but do it at lower prices.

What is the number one way a business can immediately cut costs? Payroll. Who do you absolutely not need and how quickly can you get rid of them? Between the associated healthcare costs (assuming that the business in question pays for healthcare) and the immediate benefit of relieving some of the bloat on the company's checkbook, layoffs are the quickest way a company can restructure itself and its assets without a copious loss of stability. Can one person do the job that two used to do? Frankly, yes. I cannot think of a time in TTET that a week or even a day has gone by that more layoffs from another company are making headlines. Just today I read that California's unemployment rate has reached a record-breaking 11.5%.

What the consumer may not consciously be aware of is that they are asking businesses to provide better service and value than they did before, and do it with less labor force. What we're exploring here is the potential that this behavior has to cause our current economic model to collapse, like an inverse version of inflation wherein the value of the dollar stays the same, but the cost of services has to become lower. Now, no sympathy to the big corporations out there, because ultimately it is their decision to cut labor, not the consumer's; however, consumers, especially those with the means to still spend, are caught in a tug-of-war with corporations over just where the line is drawn between the juxtaposition of value and cost.

There is a very fine-line between what you can blog about and what you cannot, in terms of those of us who are otherwise employed outside the blogosphere. So I will tread lightly here. The finest example I can come up with to make my point is in the problem-resolution and customer satisfaction area of my business. Customers who experience defects in our products and services are no longer satisfied with a sincere apology and a simple resolution. Customers are keenly aware that any and every business right now is so desperate to hold onto their market share (much less grow their market share) that even the possibility of losing a single customer can be viewed as near-catastrophic to that particular business. This is especially true if your business is in an over-saturated market wherein consumers have a variety of options other than your business. If you lose one, you could lose them all.

In response to this awareness from consumers, who are already receiving better deals across the board (this is not just referring to my particular business, but a more aggregate market-related observation), companies are having to get more creative with their solutions. I have a friend who bought three cans of shaving cream from Gilette and found out when he got home that each one was faulty and there was no air pressure inside to push the product out. After attempting to return them to the store he purchased them at and being told by a distinctly un-savvy customer care representative that the store had a no-return policy on toiletry items, he decided to write a letter to both the store's corporate headquarters and that of Gilette, to lament over the fact that all three lacked pressure. He heard nothing for two weeks. No phone calls, no letters, no emails. Then, the third week, he received a $25 gift card and an apology letter from the drugstore chain and a package from Gilette, containing 3 brand-spankin' new cans of shaving cream.

Is this response the new standard? By all means, no. If you buy a BMW and don't like it, I don't think they'll just let you swap it out with another model without still taking you to the cleaners, but then again the automotive industry is worth a whole different post. I tell you this story to illustrate just how far these major corporations, who, a year ago, would have let one customer go on such a complaint, are placing such an enormous focus on engaging their customers and building brand loyalty, even if this means spending a little extra cash at the moment to do it.

If you are a business, and you're already seeing narrower profit margins from having to lower your prices while still paying your (possibly smaller) labor force the same or more than you did the previous year, you can scarcely afford to put out more capital, whether in terms of products, services or cash. But you have to keep your customers and in fact, gain more customers. That's simple math. If you are charging less, you need more customers in order to make the same amount of money you would have made before. What this means is you really can't afford to let any customer go, even if it costs you a bit in the short-run. You're betting that you'll make it back up in the long run. The whole thing is very similar to President Obama's stimulus plan, a short term burst of spending that may put companies (or in his case, the country) deeper in the red for the near future, but will hopefully cause a long-term stabilization.

Can we ask consumers in a capitalist economy to understand the balance between the perceived value of a product or service and the associated cost to provide it? No. Lower demand will always dictate lower supply, ergo forcing businesses to find cheaper ways to provide this supply and still make more money. Concordantly, an overabundance of supply will always dictate lower demand, which will cause the same end result - lowering prices to get rid of supply overages and then maintaining lower supply levels while still seeking ways to make more money.

It is my worry that if consumers and businesses do not quickly come to a consensus on where the bottom line really is, we'll see businesses unable to sustain the operations necessary to do business because consumer demand pushes prices below the margin at which point the companies can still make a profit.

So what am I asking you to do? Go with the flow. Still push for value, because that's what consumers will do. But don't abuse the system. Don't be the person that purposefully tries to get something for free off of a company and then brags about to their friends, causing more people to do the same thing. Be a part of the stimulus by putting your money into the economy, not a part of the deterrent by expecting too much for too little.

There, I've utterly confused myself. I'm too exhausted from writing this to edit it. I'm just going to hit post and revisit this one later to edit it to the New York Times' editorial standards. I hope you've enjoyed my rant on Consumer Rape, that you will be a good little consumer and say "Yes Sir" and buy whatever crap some company is peddling and that you'll keep coming back for more over here at Your Headlights Are Out.

Don't think too hard, you might poo your pants.


Why Robert Pattinson Will Bring About the Apocaplypse

Posted by Phildo | Labels: , , ,

WARNING: If you actually like "Twilight," or don't know how to interpret sarcasm, don't read this post. Actually, if you don't like sarcasm, get off this website.

I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about this. And I have become convinced that Robert Pattinson, of "Twilight" fame, will bring about a cataclysmic end to the world. Not just the world as we know it, the end of the friggin' world. This assumption is of course based on the fact that Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt have not yet caused our society to collapse under the weight of their assyness (hint: there's a kangaroo's penis mentioned here). You've all heard of global warming, you've heard of North Korea bombing the shit out of the world until Kim Jong-Il finally feels like his war-penis is bigger than everyone else's (note to self: do not go to North Korea - ever), you've heard of America becoming so obese that the country actually sinks into the sea.

Now get ready. Because this is the end of the world, douche-bag style.

It all starts out innocently enough. Circa 2008, some hack author decides to write a love story to compensate for the fact that she likely has more relationships with cats than humans at this point. Meet Edward. He's a nice guy, sort of, but a little on the weird side. The kind of guy who probably inexplicably wears clothes pins on his bookbag. That kid. Oh, except he sucks the ever-loving shit out of your blood whenever he gets the chance. Now, like the website I linked to above, I've only seen the preview for this movie, so everything I'm saying is based on that preview, and the fact that I have never been wrong before in my life. Ever.

So here we have Edward, then there's old what's-her-name, the angsty, pale, vampress-to-be who seems to not only have the uncanny ability of diagnosing that this Edward guy is a vampire, but is dumb enough to believe this is not a problem.

Lots of jumping, deeply misunderstood fighting and blood-sucking probably occur after this point.

Fast forward to the release of this film. Seemingly any creature on this planet in possession of a vagina made a bee-line to the box-office. Seriously. Did you see the ticket lines? It was like Noah's Ark, except there were no male animals. The book that some people said would overtake Harry Potter and subsequently the Bible in total sales became the movie that people couldn't help but see. It is interesting to note that I've seen Gideons soliciting hotels and asking permission to put copies of "Harry Potter and Secret of How to Be Weak" into all the guest rooms.

Now we already have the proper formula for what you could effectively call a world-takeover. Smash-hit movie. Women of all ages, from Tweens to post-menopausal are having Edward-fantasies. This is where it starts to get interesting...

Ask any woman you know if they like Twilight. I'm not even going to ask you what they're going to say. They're going to say "Yes" and instinctively start removing their clothes*. Now ask them "Why?" Can they answer you? No. Scared yet? We have an established pattern of women blindly in love with a fictional character who will promise you eternal love one moment and then dine on you like an all-you-can-eat blood-buffet. Yeah. Hook me up with some of that kind of lovin'. Come to think of it, that's probably what it's like to date Angelina Jolie.

So we have ol' Robbie-P (his name if he'd been a Backstreet Boy, I'm sure) getting mobbed in the streets of major and minor cities alike, women throwing themselves at him with reckless abandon; often admitting that they have no idea why (Wikipedia would not let me put this statement for lack of citation). We're in the year 2012 now. Three more movies have come out. Robbie-P, being a man (read: "horny") and an actor (read: "in need of constant self-validation through hollow, status-affirming relationships) begins mating with every woman in sight. And why not? Women seem to have lost the ability to differentiate him from his character, whom they love so much. Women who are not in his field of vision, so enthralled with the idea of their "beloved Edward" begin looking for men they imagine to be like him. The repressed bad-boys, the angry, misunderstood white supremacists, former hosts of E! Entertainment News, and last but not least, the entire fanbase of Slipknot. A generation later, there's a ton of illegitimate kids born to sweet, misguided women around the world and testosterone-infused, misogynistic and most importantly absent sociopathic fathers.

The perfect storm for a generation of permanently depressed/goth kids is at hand, people. With more and more men wearing the obligatory tight-jeans required to really pull off the depressed, "no one gets me because I wish I was a vampire like Edward so I can get some tail" look, sperm counts are sure to be lowered on a staggering scale. We're talking about the total disappearance of the male libido here.

And this is how it starts...more on the Pattocaplypse in the coming days. I have a lot of complex models and algorithms to work out to make sure my predictions are dead-on. Because we only have one chance to stop this threat. And only then can we rid the world of it's second greatest evil...

Until then folks, please try not to think too hard.

Image courtesy of xkcd.com.

*If you are a woman who does not enjoy the Twilight books or movies, and still instinctively feel the need to remove your clothes, then please, live the dream.


Bienvenidos. That's spanish for "Pay Attention, Kiddies"

Posted by Phildo | Labels: ,

First of all, thanks for coming. I'm over here on Blogger while I get enough content and readership to eventually make the move to my own domain. Let's get you acquainted with what it is I'm trying to do here.

The idea for Your Headlights Are Out came to me in the way that all great ideas come to all great men: while on the toilet. Let's face it. The lightbulb? Edison wanted to read in the bathroom (another hallmark of a great man). Gravity? Let's just say Newton realized more than apples tended to fall in a downward direction. I think you get the point. Your Headlights Are Out was created with a duplicitous purpose, one facet of which is to allow me the forum to spout off whatever nonsense happens to be percolating inside my noggin'; the other to help me illustrate to the masses (or to the one or two people that will read this...until everyone reads this) that we, as a people, have developed the tendency to accept whatever slop is fed to us from the media and treat that like reality. And that's just not OK. Other topics to include: technology, celebrity-obsession, republicans, current events, current affairs (OMG! KATE GOSSELIN WAS IN A BIKINI WITH A MAN ON THE BEACH! I SAW IT ON ASHTON'S TWITTER!) and so on and so forth. But don't worry, this isn't going to be some Rush Limbaugh / Joe DemocraticFundamentalistson type of preachy platform.

Oh, and Sarah Palin. We'll talk about her, too. Because she's a hoot.

So, welcome to the big show. We'll laugh, we'll cry, I'll make fun of people, and hopefully you'll be entertained along the way.

Coming soon: Why Robert Pattinson Will Be the End of the World

Until then, don't think too hard.