Make them REALLY earn those bonuses

January 31, 2009

When I heard about President Obama’s stern rebuke to Wall Street bankers over the bonuses paid to their employees in the wake of the collapse of the financial sector and the subsequent bailout of those same banks under the Bush administration, I marvelled at his political courage in calling them out on this.

And then it got me to thinking, what would be an appropriate way to make them really earn those bonuses — after the fact.  Here’s what I came up with:

To earn their bonus, they each need to visit — in person, so as to give names and faces to the victims of their moral, ethical and professional failings; and at their own expense, so as not to divert any more of the bailout funds — all the people who have lost their homes, lost their jobs, lost their savings as a result of the fiscal irresponsibility of the people earning those obscene bonuses.

And when they are face to face with them, they need to justify to each and every one of them why they deserve their bonus.

But how to make this happen?  Maybe by implementing an income tax provision that would provide a penalty to anyone employed by a financial institution that benefitted from the bailout, and who received a bonus, if they did not participate in the scheme.  Set a target number of affected families to be visited, based on the size of the bailout the company received and the bonus paid, then pro-rate the tax penalty on the bonus based on how closely they “make their numbers” (just to inject a little irony…).

To be effective, the maximum tax penalty applicable should be sufficiently high to make it painful enough even for these high-rollers to think twice about letting it slide — let’s say the penalty for 0% compliance were set at 1,000% of (10 time s) the bonus amount.  As well, the number of visits required needs to be non-trivial — a minimum of one per week, or perhaps even more.

At 50% compliance, that is if they completed 1/2 of the required visits, the penalty would drop to 500% (5 times the bonus amount) and at full compliance there would be no penalty at all — they would still have to declare the bonus as income and pay the usual tax on it, of course, although I’m sure they all have well-paid tax lawyers or accountants to make sure they don’t pay much.

And the penalties paid should then be directed back to all the people who suffered as a result of the bankers fiscal irresponsibility.

So, let me know what you think about my idea for some social justice.  And if you think it’s a good idea, spread the word — as a Canadian, I have no influence on US policy, but if you are a US citizen and think this is a good idea, let your elected representatives know how you feel.


The Non-Coalition of Canadians For The Prorogation Of Damn Near Everything

December 4, 2008

Since hearing the sad news today that Her Excellency Governor General Michaëlle Jean has accepted the request of the Right Honourable Prime Minister Stephen Harper to prorogue the 40th Canadian Parliament, I have reflected on my post of yesterday declaiming exactly this undemocratic maneuvre of requesting the prorogation of Parliament for the, to my eyes at least, fairly venal purpose of saving the Prime Minister’s job and dodging his accountability for the government’s fiscally irresponsible actions (Canada had already been running a deficit earlier this year, and then when the economic crisis hit full force, the PM announced that he was prepared to do so even more vigourously in an attempt to stimulate the economy…  let’s see, the economy was already tanking whilst running a deficit, so we’ll keep trying that until it works.  Riiiiight!  You know what they say about insanity: it’s when you do the same thing over and over, expecting a different result.)

Yes, I am recanting (OK, maybe not so much… read on) my position — rather than see purely the negative in the PM’s self-serving actions, why not learn and profit from them?  Why not, indeed?

So, to that end lets take a positive look at his actions and see how we can all apply the same sort of logic (erm, well, if you can call it that…) to the lives of ordinary, everyday Canadians like you and me.

And having thought about how the PM’s actions can serve as a lesson to us all, it came to me in a flash of inspiration: The Non-Coalition of Canadians For The Prorogation Of Damn Near Everything (or TNCOCFTPODNE — really rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?)

So just what does the TNCOCFTPODNE think we should all do in a show of solidarity with the poor, beleaguered PM?  Here’s the FAQ:

Afraid of losing your job due to a layoff, downsizing, rightsizing, off-shoring or just plain old greedy profit taking?  Request the GG to prorogue job losses!

Mortgage payments are too high?  Request the GG to prorogue your mortgage!

Can’t afford your car loan?  Request the GG to prorogue that too!

Credit card companies are hounding you?  Easy — get the GG to prorogue those pesky statements!

I have started a Facebook group for TNCOCFTPODNE, which is open to one and all.  Join now and start enjoying the freedom from stress that the prorogation of damn near everything will bring you!


Unexpected

January 26, 2008

You know how we’ve become accustomed, in North America at least (where working in a retail service position is generally viewed as something you do until you get a real job — more about this below), to being served at “big box” stores by mindless drones with no real product knowledge or experience…

And yet… the unexpected sometimes happens. Twice now we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the knowledge and hands-on experience of the staff of the Michaels® crafts store in Waterloo.

Once was when K (aside: the link is to her new blog “42.1“; wabi sabi has been retired from active blogging duty, although it’s still on-line if you’re looking for her earlier knitting posts — she’s consolidated her on-line knitting presence at the shownotes blog of her Purl Diving podcast) and I were shopping for a stamp-pad to make Christmas cards. To make a long story short, the woman working there had been doing stamping for a good decade or two and provided us with very helpful guidance on which brand and type of stamp-pad would work best for the cards we were using — a heavy, textured stock in a dark red. She explained the pros and cons of the different ones they carry and said which one she preferred, and why — longevity, quality of the impression and so on.

Then, today, K was in search of some Japanese seed beads, size 6 and 8, which are on the requirements list for a beaded knitting workshop she’s attending next weekend. First, we tried the specialty bead store in Waterloo — no luck. They did have some seed beads, but much smaller than the sizes K needs.

The clerk was pleasant enough, but wasn’t experienced enough to suggest alternatives they might have other than to point out the section where there might be something that would work. Now, they do have a lot of beads… which is admittedly A Good Thing for a bead store, but makes finding just the right one a bit like the proverbial needle in a haystack endeavour.

The best she could suggest was to call back Monday and speak to the owner, who knows about beads and might be able to help. Riiight.

So, off to Michaels… but K didn’t hold out much hope of finding anything remotely like what she needed at a big box store. Still, it turned out they had some seed beads, and what’s more — they had, once again, a staff member who actually knew about beads and beading. She was able to at least find us some that should be suitable for one of the projects on the agenda for the workshop.

On top of that, she recommended a couple of bead stores in the area — well, actually, three, including the one in Waterloo that we had just come from, which we mentioned — that might be able to help us out with the other, slightly smaller size bead. We will likely try out at least one of them to see if anything suitable can be found in time.

Now, perhaps the store management at Michaels might not be too keen about staff referring customers to a competitor (albeit a small one), but in this case, we did buy some beads from them, and based on our experiences there with staff that actually know something about the products they sell, we’ll definitely be back for other purchases. In my mind, that’s a pretty good payoff for them.

Now, of course, Your Mileage May Vary and I can’t say that every Michaels will have the same quality of staff, but it’s at least encouraging to know that big box does not always equal the death of decent service.

Oh, and about the earlier observation about service jobs being looked down upon in North America (and with some justification… can you say “D’ya want fries with that?”), it’s in contrast with what we experienced when we lived in France for several years (and had the opportunity to travel a bit throughout Europe, as well). There, service jobs, at least the ones where you don’t ask “Voulez-vous des frites avec ça ?“, are still respected and reasonably well compensated. As a result, you get people doing these jobs who enjoy it, who are knowledgeable about the field and are proud to serve you professionally.

Miss that, a lot. Ah, well — small finds like the staff at Michaels keep the flame alive…


A cautionary tale: Mismanagement, Bad Customer Service and a Revelation

May 6, 2007

Why “a cautionary tale”? Because the business behaviour I will describe, and the ultimate result, should serve as an illustrative lesson on how not to succeed in growing your business…

The story begins some years ago, while my wife and I were living in France during my assignment as Project Manager on a global EDMS (Electronic Document Management System) implementation, using Documentum. Now, France is blessed with a very good road system; it does, however, have some peculiarities (at least to those with non-French sensibilities) when it comes to road signage.

One of these is the liberal use of signs that read “Toutes Directions“, which indicate the road so marked leads to all directions (or more literally, all destinations); these frequently occur at junctions and turnings, exits from autoroutes (highways, freeways or motorways, depending on where you’re from) and the omnipresent ronds-points (roundabouts or traffic circles). And in that paradoxically logical French way, there will often be another sign pointing to a different turning or exit in the same junction or roundabout that reads “Autres Directions” — literally, other directions or destinations.

OK, so you go one way to get to anywhere… and the other way to go everywhere else. In truth, once you get the hang of the peculiar logic, and keep your wits about you while reading the complementary signs indicating the actual destinations and the type of road that you’ll end up on, it’s actually quite an effective system. Mostly. And when it all goes wrong, one can still get lost (horribly so…), even following the most scrupulously researched maps and route planning information — it’s no wonder that the country turns out some spectacular rally drivers; navigating special stages are probably a piece of cake compared to daily driving in some areas.

“So, what exactly” you say, “does this have to do with the cautionary tale.?” It spawned a domain name, that’s what. Actually, a photo in one of the French automotive magazines I used to read had a lot to do with it too: a reader had sent them a photo of a pair of Toutes Directions signs, one above the other — with arrows pointing in opposite directions. At that point in your travels, you may as well just pull over and stop in at the nearest café or bistro for a leisurely drink while you sort out how to get where ever you’re going from where ever you are.

We became enamoured of the concept of Toutes Directions — the idea that you can get to anywhere from where you are, and in particular, how suited it was to be used as the domain name for our personal web page, which we intended to be a starting point to get to all of the widely varying things we are interested in. As a result, we registered the domain toutes-directions.com to use for our very own internet rond-point. You can still see some of those pages using the Wayback Machine on the Internet Archive.

Which is where we start to get to the meat of the cautionary tale. I did a bit of searching to find a registrar for the domain, and the one I selected was Domain Direct. Interestingly enough, this is a subsidiary of Tucows — the shareware download site. What was also interesting, at least for us, was the discovery that Tucows, and thus also Domain Direct, is a Canadian company; that wasn’t the deciding factor in choosing them, but it did add a warm, fuzzy feeling to be dealing with One Of Our Own.

My memory on the exact reasons I chose them are lost in the haze of time, but I think they offered — at the time — the best combination of features for the money of all the registrars I researched. So we registered toutes-directions.com with them, and it has remained registered through Domain Direct ever since.

We did eventually use another domain registration company (000domains.com) for parking some other domains, as they offered a better price:feature combination for a parked domain than DD (which is how Domain Direct is often abbreviated) — time had passed and the domain registration marketplace had become quite competitive.

These parked domains were complementary (the .net and .org versions) of a another domain name (modknit.com) we registered with DD; this one was for a web site dedicated to “Modular Knitting” (this is a particular knitting design technique which builds garments, such as scarves or sweaters, up from modular elements; frequently these knitted elements are in the form of “mitred squares” — this is probably waaay more than you want to know, right? If you’re really interested, check out K’s site on modular knitting; it hasn’t been updated for some time, but it’s a good place to start and Google should turn up plenty of other resources).

Again, we stuck with DD for the .com registration as they still seemed to offer a competitive set of features and pricing; there was also a certain amount of “comfort factor” in dealing with them, and we had never experienced any problems with them.

Until… The Great Spam Upgrade Debacle.

This is where we get to the nub of the story. Spam essentially didn’t exist when we first registered a domain; it has, of course, grown exponentially since then to become the pestilential plague we all fight against every day now. In response to the increasing spam traffic, DD implemented spam filtering on the e-mail accounts we had that were hosted with them as part of our full-service domain registrations; they also filtered spam on the e-mail forwarding accounts that went with the parked domains we had since registered with them (their offering for parked domains had become much more competitive, with the features we needed at a price comparable to the other domain registration company where we have other domains parked).

The spam filtering was OK but not perfect (which is about as good as it gets when it comes to spam filtering, although some services work better than others), and the interface to the quarantine was a little clunky but functional. The increasing volume of spam was taking its toll, however, and their e-mail performance (both accessing the quarantine and basic mail sending and retrieving) was suffering.

DD decided that they needed to upgrade the spam filtering system to better serve their customers — “Wait,” you say, “this is supposed to be a cautionary tale about mismanagement and bad customer service… but it sounds like they were managing the problem pro-actively to give good customer service?”

That would certainly seem to have been their intention… but then “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”

In fact, what did happen is probably best described as a charlie-foxtrot of the first magnitude. To cut to the chase: the upgrade turned into a sidegrade, then a downgrade and ultimately DD gave up trying to fix it and pulled the plug on the whole spam filtering system.

The most egregious thing was the e-mail DD sent announcing that the spam quarantine would no longer be accessible from a domain’s control panel — it arrived well after they had shut it down on Friday morning. I had been able to access the quarantine first thing in the morning, then later on I couldn’t — at that point, given the woes DD users including us had been experiencing due to the “upgrade” (you can read all about it in various posts on DD’s info blog), I assumed it was just Yet Another Patch Gone Wrong. At least that’s what I thought until the e-mail announcing that this would be done arrived after it had already been done. Thanks a lot, that really helped us to prepare for it.

As it is, I’ve now turned off spam filtering completely (since there is now no way to check the quarantine for false-positives) for the e-mail accounts that go through DD and redirected the messages to our non-DD e-mail addresses that had, over time, become our primary addresses (fortunately, we have addresses provided by our ISP — who, by the way, is a model of good management and customer service; if you’re in their service area I can very highly recommend you check out Execulink Telecom). Execulink uses Postini for spam filtering and it works pretty well — it’s not perfect either, but at least it’s working and I can check the quarantine easily for false-positives.

Now, on to the moral of the story — I’ll explain how this is a cautionary tale for companies who mismanage and provide bad customer service.

You see, the modknit.com domain which was registered through DD was coming up for renewal on the 8th of May and we needed to decide whether to let it lapse, renew it with DD or transfer it to another registration company. And given the nightmare of the Spam Upgrade From Hell, we certainly weren’t inclined to just renew with DD as we had previously.

What to do? Well, this is where the lesson for management starts, so take notes… We have been listening to the Adam Curry (a.k.a. The Podfather) podcast The Daily Source Code on PodShow.com where he is sponsored, in part, by the domain registration company GoDaddy.com

I had some vague awareness of GoDaddy.com prior to hearing Adam Curry shill for them, but since he has both some tech savvy and business smarts I figured he wouldn’t be risking his reputation and business ventures by registering domains (a whois shows that he in fact uses GoDaddy) with a fly-by-night organization. That was enough to make it worth taking a look at them, particularly as they advertise having very low fees (which is of interest at any time, but particularly so when you’re still searching for a job). I did also look at the other domain registration company we had used for parking domains, just to see if they were competitive.

In the end, transferring the modknit.com domain to GoDaddy turned out to be an easy decision. They offer to transfer a .com domain, give you the time remaining on your current registration (not much in this case, as it was about a week before it was to expire) and extend it for a year, all for US$6.95 (plus the US$0.22 ICANN fee) — that was way cheaper than sticking with DD (albeit with a plan that had somewhat more features, but GoDaddy provided everything we actually needed) and at least half of what it would have cost through 000domains.com; a no-brainer, in other words.

I initiated the transfer using GoDaddy’s on-line system (once I had disabled the transfer lock on the domain at DD). It’s a well designed, easy to use system that steps you through the whole process in no time. The control panel you access once the transfer request has been submitted does a great job of telling you what the status of the transfer is, and best of all, it tells you what you need to do next — a very good feature (and is something a lot of designers overlook, since they know the process intimately, they often forget that this may be the first time a user is going through it and needs guidance).

And the next step was to authorize the transfer at DD. Which required them to send an e-mail requesting that we authorize the transfer. Which took some time in arriving. In fact, because of the impending expiry I was a little concerned that they wouldn’t send the authorization request soon enough, so I submitted a support request via the DD website — with great trepidation, as there were a lot of comments on the DD info blog from people who were not getting timely responses to support requests. I also tried calling their support line a couple of times. After waiting on hold for some time on the first call, I left a message when given the opportunity and gave the details of the transfer request.

Still nothing. The next day, I called again and this time just kept waiting on hold (hey, it was their dime — I called the toll-free number) hoping to get through to a real person. This was about 4pm EDT and I took the cordless phone outside with me, put it on speakerphone and listened to the recorded messages alternating with a radio broadcast, while I washed the car. I finished washing and drying the car, went inside and finally gave up after being on hold for an hour.

I was preparing to fax the request to DD, in the hope that it might actually get a response, when lo and behold we finally received the transfer authorization message. I logged in to the website with the authorization codes provided and authorized the transfer. At least this part went smoothly (although this was actually handled through the OpenSRS system, not DD itself) and shortly afterwards when I checked the control panel in GoDaddy, the transfer was no longer pending, it was done — success!

Now, even though the transfer is complete DD still keeps sending us reminder notices that the domain is about to expire and that we need to renew the registration with them. As if.

Once the domain was transferred, setting things up on GoDaddy was easy — URL redirect, e-mail and so on. I am very happy with how it went. And then, to top it all off, on Friday afternoon we got a call from a support person at GoDaddy — they called us! The rep said that they call all new customers to make sure they got everything set up OK once their domain was registered — he confirmed that he could see that I had set everything up already and asked if there was anything else he could help me with. I said there wasn’t anything and thanked him very much for the call before ringing off.

You could have scraped me off the floor with a dustpan… what a difference in customer service, from being on hold for an hour and never getting through to DD, then having GoDaddy call us to make sure everything was taken care of. And at a price that’s just sweet.

So, guess which company is first in line to get any future domain registration business from us… including transferring existing domain registrations, particularly now that I know how easy GoDaddy makes it. The well managed company that knows how to provide good customer service wins, the mismanaged company that gives bad customer service loses.

And my impression from reading the comments in DD’s info blog is that there are others who will be moving their domains too; this then is the lesson to be learned by businesses from my cautionary tale — even loyal customers have their limits, and this level of mismanagement and bad customer service can quickly destroy years of good relationship.