Apple Rant #1

To all my dear Googlers and non Googlers, here comes my first rant for Apple (iPhone). Yes let’s drink to that tonight!

 As some of you know I recently renewed my AT&T contract that traps me into another two years of lousy service. Not only that, up until last night I thought I had also been trapped into two years of a lousy hardware. Yup that’s iPhone 4 for me.

I got the phone on Monday and since then I am yet to complete a single call that does not drop. Things will change today onwards since I finally got the damn bumper to go with it. But I got tired of explaining to people on the phone, “let me call you from a landline, I just switched to iPhone 4.”

Now about the bumper – Apple (to save them from bad press) gave the bumpers free with the iPhone 4 for the first six months.  Fabulous! So did the defect get fixed and hence the users that get the phone after the prime six months don’t need a bumper? The answer is NO. The lagging users need to spend their own dime – and keep in mind it’s not a dime but $35, to make this piece of junk work.

So I shell out $250 bucks to get something that simply does not work and then I spend another $35 to make it marginally functional. You must be kidding me. For all those people excited about flash light in the camera, you must love your blue tainted pictures, don’t you?

May be the phone works with the bumper. In fact it is also easier to hold the phone with the bumper on it. But that’s not what Apple stands for. It is synonymous with ease of use, not user abuse.

So, I am enslaved to this device and the lousy service that comes with it for the next two years. But I will seriously evaluate all options next time I pick a phone.

Your’s truly,
an ex- Apple enthusiast

the ultimate driving machine

After six months of debate, the verdict is out. 328i won the battle. I cannot even begin to list the contenders here. To sample the variety Agam had researched – there was Ford Fiesta, Lexus IS350, Mini Cooper S, and Nissan Leaf all fighting for the number one spot. But today, when the sales guy at BMW of Mountain View, took the 85 North exit on 237 at 70mph and then went from 60 to 90mph in less than a minute and finally pulled the breaks at 90mph, and the car actually halted so smooth, I knew we have a winner there.

Since the departure of my Accord, I tried to connect with the Civic. But somehow it was never the same feeling. It was a good car that took me from A to B. But that’s about it. Until I started my commute to Richmond, I always thought that driving was nothing but a pain. But my morning drives to Richmond gave me an opportunity to sit back, relax and be with myself and enjoy the drive. And that’s when I realized that to be relaxed, I need to trust the car and I started missing my Accord. So to fill up the gap that the Accord left, here comes the latest addition to the Khullar-Brahma family – our 328i.

It has enough room. It is not intimidating. It is super chic and it makes me feel safe when I am driving it. It is black, has a moon roof and the speakers are awesome.

Simply said, it is the ultimate driving machine! And this is coming from someone who started driving just two years ago. And here is my ultimate man with my ultimate machine 😀

Exceptional Customer Service et SPRING !

One of the reasons I did not write yesterday is that I wanted to let the plans to become concrete before I blow the horn. And if I had written yesterday, there was no way I could have restrained myself from writing about this. Damu is coming to visit me on the Memorial Day weekend. O MY GOD. After seven years I will see her and spend time with her, and bitch about college days to her, and most importantly cook for her, shop for her and make her stay ‘Oh so Special’ ! I have been waiting for this day for seven years. The last I saw her was at the railway station in Sewagram. I did not even see her clearly then since I was so busy crying. So the plans are all set. All those evil spirits that screw up Damu’s itineraries – kindly stay away!

I am happy. So very happy!

On another note, Agam and I are visiting Mendocino for a quick two night getaway. We leave Friday afternoon and come back Sunday night. The place we are staying at is apparently on the coast and very close to some of the state parks. So lots of hiking is on the cards.

Today I received an email from the Inn keeper, informing me of a Groupon that is about to be published this Saturday for a famous restaurant in Little River, the town we will be staying in. That according to me is exceptional customer service. I really like these tiny gestures that make so much difference to your experience. I am anxiously looking forward to the hospitality of the Inn

Fingers crossed for all the travels planned. This is turning out to be a great Spring!

On the work front, it is time for my favorite part of the project – Pilot and Production Cutovers ! I find so much joy in driving these plans that I am afraid, I will plan a cutover for my own delivery (whenever that is) and for that matter, for my kids weddings (when EVER that is)!

Trace Back – Yosemite National Park

It all started Monday evening, when I started thinking about what to do for the coming weekend. I started looking up cheap places to stay in Yosemite. I vetted the idea with Agam and he was obviously in. Luck favored us and we found a room at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. This place is worth every dime that you spend, since it maximizes your stay in the park, and makes you feel at home all the time.

Visiting Yosemite was a dream that I had harbored for a while. But our lack of interest in driving to destinations, always kept us away from it. What you will read below is my experience in the park. If you think parks are boring and are for romantics, you’d rather not read any further. It is a few that connect with nature and I am blessed to be married to one.

We left Mountain View at 8:00am and soon we realized that Agam had fed the wrong destination point in the GPS! We were heading to Yosemite Lodge and the GPS was taking us to Yosemite View Lodge. We had planned to take 120E and ended up taking the 140E Route instead because of this glitch. In the end, I think it was blessing in disguise, since the 140 route is simple and scenic. I strongly recommend that route to whoever is planning to hit the valley anytime soon. We drove through the valley, along the Merced River, and arrived at the El Portal at around 11:00am. From El Portal to the Lodge was another 20 miles, and we immediately got absorbed in the beauty around us. The interesting rock formations capture your attention as you drive through the park. I remember myself awed at some of the rock formations that in hindsight were just an introduction to the real wonders of Yosemite.

We drove through the park, and the first sight was that of the Bridal Veil Falls. The falls are truly representative of a bride’s veil and are notoriously messy. I have never been to Niagara, and hence I was in for a surprise when I stood at the bottom of this messy bride’s veil. We were drenched vet and it was time to keep the cameras away and enjoy the mist of the Falls.

We took some ad-hoc stops to enjoy the snow in the meadows and enjoy the beauty of Yosemite and finally arrived to our GPS final destination at 11:30am. I was Ecstatic to see my luck shine so bright. Not only did we manage a reservation at the Lodge, we also got a corner room and a view of both the Yosemite Falls and the Half Dome. It was simply perfect.

That day, we decided to check in and head over for a guided tour. I highly recommend this tour. It introduces you to the history of the national park and helps you become familiar with it, enough to roam around in the park without getting lost. The tour primarily covers the valley floor. Let us go one by one. The first destination was the El Capitan. It is huge and very commanding. I will probably faint if asked to even stand under it. Some of the stories that the Ranger shared were hair rising. To cite a few, a blind man, a nine year old and a woman who just had a heart transplant, have all hiked up this mammoth. Phew!

The second destination was something called the Tunnel View. It is a view that captures the El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls – all from one place. And the icing on the cake is that if you catch the tunnel view right when the sun is on the top, you will see a rainbow in the falls. We were lucky to see it and it was SPLENDID! We also covered a different view of the Bridal Veil Falls and moved on to cover the remaining valley floor. After we came back from the guided tour, we headed to the Lower Yosemite Falls. It was a short walk from the lodge and we enjoyed the sight of the falls along our way. At the end of the trail we ended up right in time for sunset at the meadows in front of the Half Dome. The Ranger had mentioned that the valley is beautiful around that time of the day, and especially Half Dome.

No words can do justice to how beautiful the dome looked when the final rays of the sun hit against it. The clouds scattered the light around and it almost felt like a wild fire had set ablaze in the forest. It was a joy to be in the meadows that time of the day. After a long and fun walk back, we enjoyed our cozy meal at the Mountain Room restaurant. I could not help but sit there and thank my stars, for a lovely husband and the lovely view of the Yosemite falls behind him. That was a wrap.

The morning was bright and crisp. As the sun’s rays woke me up, I started planning the day ahead of me. Agam suggested we do a moderate and a easy hike and I agreed. So then we checked out of the lodge, packed our luggage back in the car, and took the Visitor Shuttle to the Mirror Lake bus stop. The trail to Mirror Lake was short and sweet and the views were breathtaking. From Mirror Lake we started our trek backwards towards the Vernal Falls. This one was a little bit of a climb, 400ft to be precise. We made it to the foot bridge in an hour and enjoyed the views from the bridge. After the hike, we had built an appetite for something sinfully good and we stopped on our way back at the Village Center for a quick lunch at the Grill. After lunch we took the shuttle back to the visitor center, and started getting ready for our drive back to Mountain View. I admit, my eyes filled up to brim, while I said goodbye to the cliffs of Yosemite. Only thing I could say was – I will be back – very soon!

At times we all just bow down to Mother Nature and surrender ourselves in its laps. I feel relaxed!

‘Coach’ – Redefining Customer Service

I am not a spendthrift person, but there are certain things I like to possess. Such as some (read as many) Coach handbags and add to that some Burberrys as well.

A few weeks ago, while I was window-shopping at Coach, I found
something I really liked. The woman at the store observed my curiosity for this handbag and she came over to give some suggestions on colors available in the same style and yada yada. I ended up buying the bag. I observed how her demeanor was very refreshing and friendly for a high-end store like Coach. (I detest entering the LV store at Stanford Shopping Mall, because of the stone-faced reps that work there.)

Last night when I was checking my mails after a long time, I found a handwritten card from her, recollecting that she had fun help me choose my special handbag and that she thinks it will be a good change from the army of black handbags that I currently own. Obviously I had given her that piece of information while I was making the payment. It was simple splendid to hear from her and get a note tailored to my shopping experience at the store that day.

I am sure this is one of Coach’s new customer service tactics. It really impressed me. I think I will call her back at the number she provided in the letter and thank her for the gesture.

I think with such service levels, Coach is redefining customer service for retail outlets. It is not all about making that sale, it is about making a relationship with the customer, so they come back to you. Sending a note that reminds you of the pleasant experience of your purchase is a great way to create a positive brand image.

Where does Customer Service begin ?

I once interviewed at a global consumer goods company, and though things did not work out between us, the experience that I gained by interviewing with some of the finest technologists and program managers – was priceless.

One of the conversations I had with a Senior Development Manager at this company, is worth sharing. He began by asking me – what is Customer Service to you ? I was not very prepared for this question. So I bounced it around by saying, when a customer is displeased and contacts the company with their complaint , the experience that we offer the customer in that situation – is an element of Customer Service.

The manager smiled, he told me his interpretation of the term Customer Service. I do not remember it verbatim, but the crux of his narrative was –

“A customer should never need to hit that “contact customer service” button on the site. Their experience on the website should be so seamless and flawless that they never have to contact customer service. If we can provide that experience – a no hassle experience, to the customer, from the moment they step into our website – That I think is true customer service. Serve the customer, before he expects you too. “

I was sold. To add to the implementation piece of this concept , QA – both technical and functional needs to have a BIG role in product roll outs and maintenance. User Interaction studies and research should feed product designs from the point of ideation to user acceptance testing. And more importantly – let us not assume that Customer Service is a department within a company. It is a process, that lives in our product and is addressed in every line of code that gets into production.

Just some random thoughts on Customer Service on a Monday morning.