Friday, October 16, 2009

Offers for Support Continue

I never cease to be amazed by the overwhelming support from friends and family as it relates to this film. We have been working on it for quite some time, and the offers to help keep coming in. It is the only way something like this happens, for certain.

Brian Thacker, an improviser/marketer/entrepreneur, just called me to offer help in scanning. Not only did he offer his own scanner, he is coming over tonight to work on the project with me. And while writing this, another loaner for a scanner has come in from my friend Paul. The network of people helping make this film grows daily, and it is a sign of so many wonderful things. I am so humbled by the continuing stream of willing volunteers to make it take shape.

There have been moments of solitude while working on this film, and others of loud and outright joy about it. Oh, how anxious I am to share the final product with everyone! I ache to say that it is finished, and available on DVD! I ache to send invitations to screening events in Raleigh, Chicago and D.C. I ache to host a wildly exciting fundraising party, where celebrations of finishing the project can be heard and felt from blocks away.

But aching doesn't get a project finished. And being hopeful about the outcome doesn't get you one step closer to wrapping it up. Sitting down and working on the thing is the only way to get it finished, and I am happy to have clarity of thought to make that happen. The past few months have seen a lot of change in my life. A lot of change. And so the project has not seen as much progress as I wished for it.

My friend, Doc, who has helped me with sage advice and digitizing tapes, told me many months ago that post-production is a great roller coaster of emotions. How right he has been! This part of the project has been so challenging for so many reasons.

Surry and I were riding in the car one day, and I laughed at how challenging the process has been. How foolishly I was to think that it could have been finished in merely a few months! We have poured our blood, sweat and tears into this project, for sure. While driving past the Irregardless Cafe with Surry, I sighed a breathe of relief at the thought of doing a second film. How much easier that one will be, now that I have learned so many lessons the hard way. How much simpler it could be to start and finish a second documentary, now having had the experience of working on this first one.

It is days like this, where support floods in, that I am able to keep my head down and focus on finishing this project. Therefore, one of my next posts will include a projected timeline for finishing the film. It will be done.

My cup runneth over.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

OfficeMax - Part II

On Tuesday, I wrote about the time wasted with OfficeMax in relation to a failed scanner. The photos and slides from Vietnam will be used in the film--only if we get them scanned properly.

After several hours on the phone with customer service representatives, one of whom blatantly hung up on me, I was finally escalated to a woman named Vivian who finally seemed capable of finding the answers I wanted to hear. She connected with the scanner manufacturer, had them send me a new one, and gave me a ticket to mail the faulty one to California free of charge. But I'm stuck with a phone bill that is twice what it should be, and an extra trip to drop of the faulty scanner when all I wanted was to return what I bought from the store originally.

It's unfortunate that it took several hours, and five OfficeMax representatives to finally find a mildly-satisfying resolution. Shouldn't the response, "Here's how we can make this right," be the first one? You would think so, but I suppose OfficeMax doesn't empower its employees to handle the situation right out of the gate. They have to stick to policies so they don't get fired, and even phone center supervisors are willing to hang up on a customer before extending some level of understanding and support.

Years ago, I read a book that highlighted Van Eure's customer service. If you're not familiar with her name, she helps run a little place called The Angus Barn here in Raleigh, N.C.--one of the nation's most successful restaurants with $10 million plus in annual sales. What can OfficeMax learn from Van Eure? The commandments of customer service, for sure. Not only does she get it, but she empowers her employees to help the customer as well.

One of the sections from Eure's chapter has stuck with me for many years. The book is Nine Lives: Stories of Women Business Owners Landing on Their Feet by Mary Cantando with Laurie Zuckerman. Here are excerpts from the book that I continue to enjoy:
This focus on the customers rather than the trappings of the business is the hallmark of Van's managment style. and she has learned that hiring the right employees is the foundation of customer is not uncommon for Angus Barn managment to interview 100 applicants to fill two positions. From dishwasher to office staff to head chef, each applicant faces elaborate reference checks and a series of interviews. Then, before a job offer is made, everyone involved in the decision must give a unanimous thumbs up. A safecracker could break into Fort Knox more easily than a mediocre employee could get on the Angus Barn payroll. As a result, all 240 employees wear their Angus Barn employment badge of honor. And, once they make it in, they guard the door to ensure that the next employee meets the same high standards...
Each night those employees are put to the test. With an average of 900 customers a night and all the variables that go along with each's just a matter of time before a slipup occurs...
Delivering a medium when a medium rare was ordered is bad enough, but the kind of slipups that Van hates the most are those involving special occasions like somebody's birthday or graduation party. Her approach in these situations is never to ask, "What do you want me to do for you?" but rather to say, "Let me tell you what I'm going to do." Then she always does more than she promises.
OfficeMax, if you are listening, please take a note from Eure's thoughts on management and customer service. Not only am I holding a grudge about your representative hanging up on me, I am angry that my phone bill is more than twice what it should be this month. You've ignored the opportunity to make things right. I'm fairly easy to placate in these situations but you have failed me many, many times this week. You, clearly, don't get it.

We're moving towards a society that engages with one another on a very personal basis using many different tools. Seth Godin writes about this in his book Tribes, "The tactics are irrelevant, and the technology will always be changing. The essential lesson is that every day it gets easier to tighten the relationship you have with the people who choose to follow you."

"Van has learned that people just want to feel special and small personal touches go a long way," Cantando writes. You have a huge opportunity in front of you, OfficeMax, but some part of me doubts that you'll capitalize on it.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


For several hours I have been going back and forth with OfficeMax and the manufacturers of a scanner I purchased from them. Matt, one of our editors who's proficient in digital imaging, had planned to come over tonight to work on scanning images that will be used in the film. What a battle has ensued with OfficeMax, instead.

Here's what happened (as briefly as it can be told):
  • Bought a scanner in March 2009 for digitizing archived footage from Vietnam
  • Set up the scanner last week for use by Matt to digitize the large number of images
  • Realized that the scanner was not working properly (added a weird green light to each image)
  • Called the manufacturer to find out if it could be fixed, or needed replacing
  • Called the local OfficeMax store to find out about returning the item, and was told they have a 14-day return policy, don't carry the scanner in the store anymore, and I have to talk to the manufacturer
  • Talked to the manufacturer call center rep, who was very helpful, and confirmed that they could replace it but I have to pay the shipping fee
  • Angry that I couldn't return it locally and would have to pay for shipping it, I called the OfficeMax customer service center; was told about the 14-day return policy again and that I would have to talk with the manufacturer
  • Escalated my call to a supervisor who was incredibly rude, told me there was no one else that could help, and then proceeded to disconnect our call after telling me she was going to hang up on me. (Is that their policy? To hang up on customers instead of helping them?)
  • Called again, spoke with two people, and then finally left my name and number for another supervisor (after about an hour of waiting, explaining and talking)
  • Finally received a return call from a supervisor who is supposedly going to help me get a new scanner.
These are the little things you never see on film, aren't they? The little battles you fight in the attempt to wage war in finishing a feature-length film. And they are never seen on film, because they're insignificant if the final result is achieved. The behind-the-scenes ordeal for simply getting a scanner that works is of little importance if we have a final film with digitized original photos from Vietnam.

I am appalled that OfficeMax has a customer service representative who blatantly hangs up the phone instead of transferring the call to someone who can provide assistance. What started as a simple and very straightforward matter has become an inordinate waste of time and resources for both of us.

A 14-day return policy has now damaged OfficeMax's reputation and brand for me. It has caused an unbelievable amount of inconvenience, when I simply wanted to return a faulty product they sold me. The matter could have been resolved so quickly, too! All I wanted was someone to return the money I spent on the faulty scanner, or help cover the cost of shipping it to the manufacturer.

They are supposedly calling me back tomorrow morning with an update. I'll keep you posted. In the mean time, does anyone have a scanner we might borrow?