Archived entries for Shopping

The customer is always…

Ah, customer service in Belgium. We meet again.

The first was trying to replace a faulty Blackberry. The man in the shop was all too happy to replace it…with a cheaper model.

“Not a problem, sir. I can give you a Blackberry 9360 instead. Free of charge.”
“…but that model is about 200 euros cheaper, with fewer features and no touchscreen.”
“It’s a very reliable device, sir, we’ve had to order some more of these models due to the big demand from our customers. It’s your lucky day, though, sir, because I’ve just got a new delivery in. Today, in fact.”
“…great, but it’s not the model I’m looking for. I’m actually looking for the one that’s the same as the Blackberry I’ve got at the moment.”
“Which model is that then, sir?”
“The 9790, as I said at the beginning of this phone call.”
“If you’d like to come into our shop sir, I can replace that model for you, no problem.”
“Thank you. Is three o’clock this afternoon convenient?”
“Perfect, sir. See you then!”
“Just to confirm…you do have the 9790 in stock?”
“Let me just check sir….no, sir, sorry, we’ve got none of those models left I’m afraid. I was expecting more to arrive, today, in fact. Can you call back next week?”

Picking up a parcel here can also be equally trying. I’d been left one of those “We Called In But You Were Out” pieces of paper, which instructed me to go to the post office after a certain time on a certain date and my post would be waiting. So off I went.

“I’m sorry, sir. Your parcel isn’t here.”
“But it says on this piece of paper that it will be ready to collect after 11am today.”
“Have you checked the date properly?”
“Well, my diary’s usually pretty spot-on at telling me the correct date. That’s it’s killer feature, you see. Never lets me down. So yes, that’s today’s date.”
“I’ll just check my calendar…yes, you’re right, it’s the fourteenth.”
“Well, I’m glad we’ve got our dates aligned. What about my post?”
“I have no idea. Maybe the postman forgot to drop it off this morning…it could be that, couldn’t it?”
“I don’t know! I don’t work here, you do!”
“Can you call in at the same time tomorrow?”

Need an authorised technician to fix your TV?

“Hi, is that the Sony Service Centre?”
“Yes.” (No immediate offer to help, then.)
“I’ve got a Sony flat screen TV which needs looking at, would it be possible to request an appointment with one of your engineers?”
“Yes.”
“…OK, thanks. Would he be able to come here on Friday morning, say ten o’clock?”
“We only carry out service repairs at the Service Centre.”
“So you don’t send technicians out to fix things? I have to bring the TV to you?”
“Yes.”
“Slight problem there…it’s massive, this TV. It’s not like I can just pick it up and waltz over with it.”
“We only carry out service repairs at the Service Centre.”
“OK, thanks for being so flexible. Goodbye.”

How about you? How’s the customer service where you live?

Sharing the sound

I’ve written previously about bad experiences whilst shopping, so here’s an interesting twist I encountered last weekend. I went into a Philips audio shop to look for some headphones, and I found myself checking out a pair of swish Sennheiser wireless headphones that looked a bit pricey but pretty good. My bad hearing however means that I’m lucky if I notice there’s actually sound coming out of the things, never mind luxuries such as “analytical sound reproduction”, but I was interested in these headphones as a way of hearing the TV better without trailing a wire acorss the room, the coffee table and no doubt the other people watching TV.

I was curious to know, however, just what I’d get for the steep price of what looked like a promising, wire-free solution that might bring an end to other people taking stray headphone wire out of their coffee, or falling towards the door, dinner going everywhere, as a result of the mischievous headphone cable hidden in the shadows. Could I, for example, listen to the TV at the same time as other people, or would I cut off the sound? Could I do the same with my hi-fi? So I called over the assistant of the shop, and here’s where the usual routine differed.

Normally, I might expect an intense barrage of sales-speak, a complete overload of technical terms, functions, some 30 second financial advice and, before I know it, a brisk handshake and a deal done. It usually ends up with the shop assistant insisting that we take a good, all-round tour of not just the product I’m interested in, but, it seems, all the products that everybody else is the shop is interested in as well. Have I, sir, seen this on offer? Did I know, sir, that today and only today I can lay my hands on the first production model of the new Z7000 “Nuclear meltdown ready” mobile phone?

This time I was the one doing the talking.

“With these headphones, will other people hear the TV?”

“Oh no, sir, with these you can listen to the TV without disturbing anyone else. Your very own private cinema.”

“Well, that’s no good, is it? What if my girlfriend wants to watch as well?”

“If you plug the TV into your hi-fi, sir, then she can hear out loud and you can still listen with these.”

“What, so even though these are wireless, you still need to buy an extra wire for connecting the TV to the hi-fi?”

“Er, yes…but only for when you both want to hear the TV. Or your girlfriend could watch with headphones as well.”

(Think about that, for a second. I’d be wearing headphones because I need them to hear. Zoe can hear just fine, so I can hardly imagine both of us sat there, headphones on, snuggling up to a Sunday night film. The sitting room would have all the romance of a flight control tower.)

“Would I also be able to listen to my music with these, on my hi-fi?”

“Why of course, sir. They’re specially designed with a total harmonic distortion of just-”

“Yes, yes, never mind all that. What about other people? Could they listen as well? Can we test it on one of your hi-fi machines here?”

Now he had begun to look like he wanted to cry, I’m sure he had been hoping I would just buy the damn things on the basis of their “intuitive control elements”. Half an hour later, there he was, routing through product catalogues, trying to find something that would satisfy my not overly taxing request for a system which would allow me to hear TV or music better but also share the sound with other people. It was a refreshing break to feel in control as a customer, for a change, rather than be made to feel as if I’m being lectured at by a 12-year-old with a degree in electrical engineering.

I didn’t buy the headphones, in the end. A private cinema would be no good to me, anyway. I need other people there to keep me up to speed when I don’t quite catch the crucial bit in the film where, say, Bond is told precisely where the secret weapon in kept. I bet he never has any trouble in a hi-fi shop.

Plat du Jour

As the first weekend of my time here in Brussels draws to a close, through the white noise of change and constant novelty, normality is slowly approaching. I am on the platform of adventure, awaiting the steam train of stability. (Yep, three glasses of wine so far..)

I’ve moved in to my house, and my house-mates are all fine. Two girls, Angela from Blackpool and Martha from Warsaw, and an Austrian lad, Gernot, from Vienna. We all get on really well. There are plans to cook together at least on the weekend, which will be fun – and hopefully I’ll learn something in the process!

Cooking is one of those things which brings that level of normality to my experience here. You might, I don’t know, be one of those people who takes a certain delight in all the forward planning, time management and generally practical and hands-on nature of cooking. I normally take a rather more defeatist attitude, I’m afraid. I’ll look at a recipe and spot the one obscure-sounding ingredient (Like Oregano…to me that sounds like a Spanish resort, viz: “EasyJet Spring Breaks – Liverpool to Oregano only £29.99 one-way!”). Then I join the “Don’t Have It, Can’t Make It” school of straight-jacket thought and reach for the frozen pizzas.

Tonight, howver, I surprised myself with my boldness in the kitchen. I’d bought some chicken, and I was going to do the usual thing, where I just fry the chicken and throw in a load of curry sauce (“They don’t do curry sauce. It’s a no-go on the curry sauce…”) to have with it. I think it’s probably my general feeling of carpe diem that I’ve had since I arrived that made me venture out and try something new. So I opened Delia (so to speak) and had a go at a recipe called something like Poulet Basque. So there’s me, in our tiny kitchen, chopped veg and knives and pans everywhere. Gernot, meanwhile, is standing in the doorway offering words of encouragement, as I’m stirring a colourful frying pan that’s in serious danger of overflowing. Snatches of conversation echo from the kitchen amid the hiss of steam, the “thlunk” of chopping knife on breadboard and the occasional swear word (“Pardon my French”, doesn’t really work when you’re swearing in French), as my cauldron spits hot oil onto my hands, like an angry cat.

In the event, despite my being slightly too generous with the pepper, my meal was a success. Gernot tried some, and said it was very good, and Angela (who has said she’ll teach me cooking) tried some, and said it was a nice surprise from “someone who claims they can’t cook”.

It’s all about seizing the opportunities and going out of the comfort zone; something which I think I’ll be getting increasingly used to as time goes on…

iCame…iSaw…iConquered

Heard about Apple’s new iPhone? Hard to avoid it, really. How about the man behind it (and chief executive of Apple), Mr Steve Jobs?

If you don’t know anything about him, it certainly seems like certain newspapers are trying their best to make sure people know what a great person he is.

In the Guardian a few weeks ago I saw an article about him, and here are just a few of the phrases the author used:

“Yet it’s an amazing experience to take part in a briefing with Steve.”

(So a meeting with Mr Jobs is up there with Skydiving and tripping on Acid, then.)

“…customers’ reverence for him usually overwhelms any hostility”

(Replace “customers” with “followers” and hey, it could be Jesus.)

“When Steve enters a room, everything stops and attention turns to him.”

(What, does he walk in without a head? Hideously deformed? Also, note that everything stops, apparently. Time itself, it seems, cannot continue without his permission.)

“When he walks in you get the feeling that he has sucked all the other thoughts out of the room.”

(That’s not really a good thing, though, is it? I mean, what use is a board meeting with a group of human vegetables, no longer capable of original thought?)

I mean, fair enough, he’s made Mac a cool brand to own (though from my experience a Mac is a bit like having a shiny silver toothbrush with no bristles…) and, of course, I’m sure the Korubo tribe of the Amazon own iPods by now…but all this emotive talk is a bit too flattering for just one person.

Happy to Help

At some point I’m going to have to do it. I can’t put it off for much longer. Everyone else is involved and I’ll get dragged along with the crowd sooner or later…

Christmas shopping.

Someone with superior organisational skills than my own would have saved all the hassle of actually going into real shops by harnessing the power of IT now that all our computers are so nicely joined up in the Digital Daisy Chain. Thanks to Amazon, eBay and so on, it’s easy. “Click and It Shall be Given Unto You”.
I have, however, left it too late yet again, so this means I’m going to have to go shopping. I really, really don’t like shopping.

I seem to attract the generally suspicious type of shop assistant, one that won’t leave me alone until I’ve either made a purchase or left the shop.

It is in shops selling expensive goods, like mobile phones, designer clothes or watches, that I tend to attract suspicion. I admit that it might have something to do with the fact that I’m a bit scruffy, and given the festive panic I will probably enter the shop quietly muttering dark sentiments that wouldn’t look out of place in a Dickens novel.
I enter the shop and Carol, or Tracy, will fix me with A Look. These people are in customer service, although it seems that “the customer is always right” could do with a footnote: “and remember, only human like you.”
A split-second judgement is all it takes. Of course I’m going to steal something, I’ve got two days’ worth of stubble. Goodbye Scotland Yard, hello H Samuel Hit Squad. I am followed over every square inch, pestered with pointless questions such as “What sort of style did you have in mind?” Heck, if I could answer that one, I’d be in and out of here like a shot. I don’t have a clue, and which is precisely why I’m wandering around aimlessly.
I try as politely as possible to hint that making a decision is that little bit more difficult when you can hear the “assistant” breathing through her nose. Coming from two feet away, Carol’s perfume makes my eyes water. Pick anything up for inspection, and the free audio commentary begins: “Those chocolates are twenty pounds. The gold box above you is a bit more, it’s ninety-nine ninety-nine.” Thanks for that. I’d have thought the absence of white stick and dog would be enough to reveal that I’m not, in fact, blind.

Eventually the pressure gets to much, I buy a Terry’s Chocolate Orange for the fifth year running and make a swift exit. It’s the thought that counts.

“Where everything flows…”

It was reading the review of the album in the Guardian on Friday that clinched it. That and being the sort of fan that owns a copy of Ian McDonald’s Revolution In The Head . If you know that book then, chances are, you too have rushed out to buy the same album. If you haven’t, well, you’re missing out. In this book you can discover everything from how much marijuana the group smuggled into Rishikesh, India, on their retreat, to who played the Cor Anglais on Penny Lane . Beauty, details, etc.

If you’re still with me, and haven’t rushed out of your room, computer lab or detention centre at the first sight of Beatles Details (…Beatails?…), you’ll have guessed that, yep, I’ve gone and bought the new Beatles album, Love , remixed and remastered by George Martin (who else?) and his son, Giles.

The songs – there are 26 of them – have been remastered in 5.1 Surround Sound. I was unsure whether the album would “work” for me, because I’ve got permenant moderate sensorineural hearing loss (try saying that with a mouthful of peas).
You’ll be pleased to know it worked brilliantly.
Even I could tell on the first listen how clear and distinct the vocals, drums and other instruments were, from the haunting echoes of Lennon’s voice on Tomorrow Never Knows to the gentle acoustic intro of Here Comes The Sun and the powerful distortion on Revolution. There’s a fresh energy in songs like Lady Madonna or I Wanna Hold Your Hand now that the stomping piano chords and lively backing vocals are that much clearer.

What of the editing? Well, it’s a goldmine for Beatles’ fans, and generally a very uplifting album for those of you who don’t know what happens at 2:58 on Hey Jude (it’s been edited out for this album, by the way). Mixing different parts of loads of Beatles songs must have been a challenge and a half, it’s quite rightly been described as the “best job in the world” by Giles Martin and, of course, one that you’re only likely to get if you’re some sort of music producer genius…or the son of one.
It’s fantastically done, though, and you’re in for a feast of surprises; You’ll hear Ringo’s string-backed “Hovis Advert” vocals at the beginning of Octopus’s Garden, parts of an early rendition of A Day In The Life, George Harrison almost reciting the words of While My Guitar Gently Weeps and, if you close your eyes listening to Yesterday it’s as if you too were backstage watching a young McCartney sing it live for the first time. One of my particular favourites is a three-in-one mix of Drive My Car, What You Doing and The Word. It captures the Summer of Love vibe really effectively with it’s beautiful harmonies and upbeat tempo.

In fact, the mood of the whole album is joyous, because you’re essentially listening to old favourites, in much better quality, with pleasing little changes that keep you listening in anticipation. It’s a bit like having an old auntie round for tea, realising that she’s looking healthier than you’ve ever seen her, and discovering it’s because her knew hobby is off-piste snowboarding. You’ll be smiling for a long time afterwards.

Shut the door, it’s freezing inside!

I’ve just spent some time talking to someone who does a job I never knew existed. He’s the production manager for a company which makes, among other things, the magnetic seals for fridges.

I always thought they were just made along with the whole fridge, but no, the fridge manufacturers have contracts with the company to make these seals, which are specifically designed for various models made by the fridge manufacturer.

Something new, every day, life’s full of surprises, etc…On that note, from Fridge Seal in Australia here are some related facts (you can mock me if you like but I know you’ll read on):

Did you know that typically a family of four opens the fridge door:

20 times a day,

140 times a week,

7,300 times a year

21,900 times in 3 years

36,500 times in 5 years

Cherish this information – remember, it may one day save your life.



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