Author Archives: benburleson

Doing customer service right – J.Crew

I’m going to mix it up a little and give some praise to a company that went the extra mile to make a customer happy. I know what you’re thinking…”What, nothing to complain about?” Nope, not really.

For my upcoming wedding, I talked my groomsmen into wearing matching suits. I found a great-fitting, stylish suit from J.Crew and I think all of us ordered online because J.Crew doesn’t really have stores everywhere, and where they do, chances are even slimmer that they stock suits.

The great news was, we were ordering around the holiday season, and everybody was running sales. We hit an immediate 25% off plus free shipping; not bad. The downside was sizing. I’m not sure how this happened, but my pants arrived about an inch too short. “No problem,” I thought, “I’ll just exchange for a new size.” So I popped them back in the box with a pre-printed return label.

A couple weeks later, I wondered why I hadn’t heard anything, so I contacted J.Crew. It turns out they were processing it as a return (even though I marked exchange and specified sizing on the return slip) because they didn’t have the size I needed. OK, so that was an annoying move.

However, as soon as I mentioned that I can’t just return the pants with no alternative because I’m pretty sure my fiancée expects me to wear pants to our wedding, they became very helpful. Maybe because I mentioned we collectively just dropped a pretty penny or two at their establishment they were very eager to correct the situation.

Soon they sent out the equivalent of a retail APB, searching every store for the correct size. That failed, so my next option was to pick a different size and have them altered. This wasn’t ideal, but it would have to do.

But this is the great part. I proposed that J.Crew cover the alteration costs, and they agreed! All in all, it was more of a pain than it should have been, but their customer service really came through and saved my wedding suit.

It’s Movember!

stacheHi Friends!

If you’ve seen me lately, you’ve seen the mustache. If you haven’t seen me lately, you’re missing out! It started as a beard for Halloween (Zach Galifianakis in the Hangover), then transformed to a dirty ‘stache for November’s Jazzercise-themed Bike Moves.

At the time, I had heard of Movember, but didn’t think much of it. I never planned on keeping this thing on my lip for more than a couple days.

Coincidentally, that weekend, my Mom informed me that my Uncle John had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

They are still testing to determine the extent of the cancer, but he is very positive and hopeful. Having a family member in such a situation is painful because you want to do something, but what can you do? That’s where Movember comes in!

Nobody likes cancer and I’m sure everybody is less than two degrees away from someone that has it. There have been tremendous advances in recent years in cancer research and improving the quality of life cancer patients. But cancer is still here. I’m confident that science will continue to improve and eventually cancer will be 100% curable and preventable. But until that time, real money is needed to progress the research and improve the lives of those suffering through it.

Please, give what you can, I understand the holidays are coming up. But think about that person you know and you wish you could help. And think about skipping lattes next week, opting for cheaper coffee – there’s $10. Or think about skipping a weekend downtown at the bars – there’s $50 (I know some of you spend more than that!) Just put it into perspective and do something positive!

Head over to my Movember page and donate! http://us.movember.com/mospace/491371

Thanks,
Ben

Vibram FiveFingers: First Run

Vibram FiveFingers Sprint

Vibram FiveFingers Sprint

Yesterday I ran my first couple miles in my new “barefoot” running shoes. (Yes, combining the words “barefoot” and “shoes” together is a little oxymoronic.) The quick results: I felt fast and free, but my calves are sore.

I drove to More Mesa because I wanted at least a mile of open dirt trail. I’m very glad I opted for dirt; I can’t imagine how sore I’d be if I tried this on pavement! Starting out with a lot of energy, it’s easy to stay on your toes – or midfoot/ball of foot – on each step. It’s definitely a different stride never letting your foot get out ahead of you where you’re forced to land on your heel. It’s a good change because striking your heel is essentially putting the brakes on with every step. Running on the front part of your foot forces speed – you basically struggle to keep yourself from falling forward. In the first mile, I felt fast, natural, and free.

Along the cliff, the dirt gets pretty soft and is quite sandy in some spots. It was weird to feel the sand between the toes of the shoes. Because the shoes don’t cover much, I was worried about dirt getting in from the top. Turns out this wasn’t much of a problem. A couple times I kicked dirt into my heel, but the shoes kept most debris out.

Now the negative: About a mile from my car, I thought I had a burr in the shoe. I stopped to remove it to find that it was the shoe itself rubbing away at my foot! The seam along the side of the big toe joint was slowly wearing a hole in my skin! Being a mile away from the car, I decided walking was not going to make it go away, so I toughed it out for the run back. I was wincing (and running quite funny) by the time I got back to my car. I left a nice red spot in the shoe. 🙁

The run itself felt great. Aside from the one spot rubbing a hole in my foot, it’s easy to forget you’re wearing anything on your feet. They’re basically just there for protection from small debris. You will still feel a sharp rock, and it will hurt. My feet did take a little beating on the trail, but not too bad.

Later in the day, I walked quite a bit around downtown with no issues. (I bandaged the hole.) I wish I would have soaked my feet in ice water because they were feeling a little swollen.

The following morning, as soon as I stepped out of bed, I noticed my calves. They definitely got a workout they aren’t used to! No terrible pain, just tight soreness. I’m sure it’s part of the transition to a more natural running style. Also, my heels are slightly tender; it’s pretty hard to avoid striking the heel at all.

All-in-all, I loved the feeling. I need a solution to the seam that rubs and then I’ll go out for round #2.

Wells Fargo’s Secret Fee Policies

tl;dr – Overdraft Transfer Fee can be removed in full once. Half removed second time. Don’t know what happens after that…yet. And always call your bank to try to get fees removed.

A combination rant and warning:

Last week, I was hit with an Overdraft Transfer Fee of $10. This is what Wells Fargo charges to transfer money from my savings account to my checking account when I messed up my math. In this case, the minimum $25 was transferred to cover the overdraft, plus the $10 fee. Why the fee exists confuses me because the process doesn’t cost the bank anything. If I were to initiate the transfer one day earlier, it would be free. The bank has some nice software that does it for me, but it costs $10 to use. If that’s not extortion, I don’t know what is. Anyway, that’s not really the point.

In the five+ years I’ve been doing business with Wells Fargo, this has happened once before. It turns out that history is important.

The first time this happened, I simply called Wells Fargo and the politely removed the charge. This is exactly what I expect when a customer in good standing requests a nonsense charge be removed.

I happened to be riding past the bank and needed to get cash, so I thought I’d stop in to kindly ask a banker to remove the more recent fee. After some clicking, typing, clicking, and more clicking, “Oh, it isn’t letting me remove the charge.” I call bullshit. (No, I didn’t actually say “bullshit.”) The banker explains I should call the customer service line because they might have different policies for removing those charges. I guess that’s the first red flag in what I now see as a carefully crafted plan to send customers like me on a wild chase, ending with a person whose job is to deal with customers like me.

So I get home and call Wells Fargo’s PMA line. (I’m a current PMA account holder, normally they get better service.) The first woman I talk to is very nice and explains those fees are waived for PMA customers, BUT she needs to transfer me to a PMA banker.

WAIT a minute, I thought I called the PMA line. “Oh, our phones have been acting up today and calls are going to the wrong places. I’m sorry you got caught up in that.” Wow, if that’s not a rehearsed lie…

Next on the line is burly banker. He asks what he can do for me. I explain simply that I’d like the $10 Overdraft Transfer Fee removed. “Yeah, I see you were charged $10 there. Unfortunately, we can’t remove the entire $10, just half.”

“Oh, when did that policy change?”

“It didn’t change, we don’t disclose these policies with customers.”

It turns out that BECAUSE Wells Fargo has removed this fee in the past, they won’t remove it today. So the fee is really just a “Learn Your Lesson Fee.” So I ask what happens if I get another fee and call to have it removed. “We don’t share that policy with customers.”

Wells Fargo is so ashamed of its policies regarding fees that it will not even disclose them to the customers with which the policies apply!

I agreed to removing half the fee. After I got off the phone, I remembered the first woman on the phone stated all those fees are waived for PMA customers; I wish I would have remembered that while I was still on the phone, but it probably wouldn’t have mattered much.

Ultimately, I’m asking for the Internet’s help in reverse engineering this wacky Secret Fee Policy. I don’t plan on finding out what happens on my next Fee Removal Call, but maybe somebody else out there already knows.

Post your experiences removing bank fees in the comments.

Why do I feel like a criminal?

Back in January, I called 911 when I saw what appeared to be someone driving under the influence early Saturday morning. After the police showed up, it was confirmed that all the people in the car had been drinking. However, at the time, none of them were in the car.

Yesterday, I was called as a witness to the crime. Pretty simple, you’d think. They ask me what I saw, I confirm I saw the car driving.

On that morning, I didn’t take note of the person behind the wheel of the car. I can supply one fact: the car had been driven by someone in that group shortly after 7AM.

After the officer arrived and investigated, I was told the owner (or person the car is registered under) confirmed that nobody else had driven his car. That person was under the influence that morning; therefore, that person was driving under the influence that morning. I signed a statement provided by the police that I witnessed that person driving that car that morning.

To me, the important fact was that I saw the car driving. This is the information the police did not have.

Now, during my testimony yesterday, for whatever reason, the questioning focuses on whether I could identify the person driving the vehicle. No, I can’t. I never took note of anything going on inside the vehicle.

Now I get questions like, "Did you read the statement you signed?" and "Was the statement presented as a prepared document that you just signed?"

Of course, this guy that put the lives of so many in danger that morning is trying to wriggle out of this on the technicality that nobody actually witnessed him behind the wheel.

I’m not sure I can blame the lawyer, she is doing her job. But I can blame the asshole that isn’t man enough to take responsibility for his stupidity.

I probably would have viewed the entire incident differently if a different drunk driver didn’t kill my friend shortly after 7AM on a Saturday morning just six months earlier.

Setting Goals

Think & Grow Rich

Think & Grow Rich

Yeah, I missed the New Year’s Resolution train, but those always seem to fade too quickly.  Sitting down and setting goals, on the other hand, creates a clear vision to which I can hold myself accountable.

A friend gave me the book Think & Grow Rich.  I am just getting into it, but it seems to be a successful way to achieve financial goals.  The only problem is, I think most of my goals are not financial.  Sure, I need money to operate, but just like Biggie said, “Mo money, mo problems.”  However, I do have a financial goal of creating a solid Emergency Fund and I think this book will help achieve that.

My other goals fall into the categories of Health/Fitness, Education/Knowledge, and Civic/Social.  I believe a key element in the goal-setting process is accountability.  I could set these goals and tell nobody, and I probably won’t achieve them.  To combat that problem, I am meeting with at least one friend to review and share our goals, and to meet regularly to check in on the status.  I’m also taking the extra step of putting mine out here for an extra level of accountability.  So without further ado, here they are:

  • Health
    • Run 2x/week
    • Bike 2x/week – Hopefully to/from work
  • Brain
    • Read 1book/month
    • Play guitar at least 1x/week
  • Civic
    • Volunteer 1 day/month
  • Financial
    • $12,000 Emergency Fund by Feb 2011

So, there they are.  Wish me luck!

Edit: Changed volunteer to 1day/month – that was the original goal, I think I had a copy/paste error!

California Tax Refunds Delayed

http://www.ftb.ca.gov/refund_delay_2008.shtml

Well, isn’t that annoying.

From the site, I can’t tell if the delay is open-ended or not. The first paragraph states, “…delay refunds for 30 days starting February 1, 2009”, but then, “It is anticipated that as soon as the cash and budget problems are solved, the refund delay will be lifted.” So in reality they have no idea when the problem will be solved.

You have my money, please give it back!

Make HTML Postable in WordPress

In my previous post, I wrote some HTML inside the post that was supposed to be displayed as text, not actually parsed by the browser as HTML. For whatever reason, the <code> tags in WP don’t seem to do their job. Maybe I don’t understand what their job is??

Anyway, I did a little search and was happy to find this little gem that converts all the special browser characters into their text-displayable characters. Very handy!

Postable

Auto-refresh HTML at Given Time

I have a page that grabs data from a database and graphs it using flot. (BTW, If you need dynamic graphs or charts on your website and haven’t checked out flot, do it!) The database is populated by a weather station that aggregates data and records a new entry every 30 minutes. So, every hour at 0 and 30 minutes, new data is recorded and the graphs can be updated.

At first, I did a simple refresh of the page every minute to grab the new data. This works, but is annoying when you have scrolled down and are zooming in on a data set. Every minute, the page reloads and you start over.

I realized I know the exact time new data is available, so why not schedule the page reload on that? It’s not perfectly straightforward, but not really difficult after thinking about it for a few minutes. I’m still using the javascript::timeRefresh, but all I need is a way to set its argument dynamically. I’d explain what the code is doing, but I think you can tell. If not, use Google to look up the PHP functions. The only tricks are the logic on the minutes and setting the seconds parameter in mktime() to zero. PHP’s mktime() is a little magical because it handles the rollover of minutes and days for me. Thanks PHP!

<body onload="JavaScript:timedRefresh(
<?php
$year = date("Y");
$month = date("m");
$date = date("d");
$hour = date("H");
$minute = date("i");
if ($minute < 30)
    $minute = 30;
else
    $minute = 60;
echo 1000 * (mktime($hour,$minute,0,$month,$date, $year) - time());
?>);">