Friday, June 10, 2011

A Venezuela Photo Album

Photos from my recent visit to Merida, Venezuela. (Click on any photo for a larger view.)

A bodega on the way to La Culata
El Vaille

Fog rolling in at La Culata

More fog

This and the next several photos are from the monastery where they grow "my" coffee

It's like Shangri-La, isn't it?

One morning, I will be drinking the coffee that is growing at the top of this hill.

Flowers at the monastery

On the way to the Paramo (moors)

Lake Mucubaji, in the Paramo

A view of the fog-bound lake

At Los Frailes, where we stopped for lunch in the Paramo

The front of Los Frailes

Foxglove (digitalis) at Los Frailes

Another flower at Los Frailes

The Paramo in fog.

Changing Hands Bookstore and a Story of What Went Right

I confess to being one of those people who are sure that the world is coming to an end because there is just no sense of service in retail anymore.  My dad worked in retail all his life, and my early jobs were also in retail.  We lived by the rule that the customer is always right.  But nowadays, it's hard to find a store (or even an employee) with that attitude.  Miriam just reminded me the other day of one of my less-than-stellar moments:  the time I reduced a teenage order-taker in Burger King to tears. When the girl expressed annoyance with me for changing my order, she got a sermon in response.  But enough about that.

Enter Changing Hands Bookstore.  It's among the last of a dying breed in so many ways:  an independent bookshop that sells used books, new books, and all sorts of little knick-knacks that you didn't know you needed until you saw them there.  (It's a great place for Christmas shopping.)  The bookstore staff actually read--widely--and are knowledgeable and consistently pleasant.  And it doesn't hurt that right next door--indeed, you pass from one to the other and hardly realize you've entered a new space--is a really, really good bread/sandwich/soup/salad place, Wildflower Bread Company

The other night, Changing Hands sent me a promotional email inviting me to buy any one of 25 electronic books for 25 cents apiece.  Sweet deal!  I bought all 25--I figured that even if I didn't like them, it was still a bargain.  One slight hitch:  when I hit the final purchase button on the web page, I got charged about $30--the difference between the $6.25 I expected it to cost and the $30 I got charged was identified as tax.  I imagined that the store had to tax the purchases at full price--and even a little more than a buck a book was a great price.

From here, I'll let the email exchanges tell the story.  The next morning, I got this cheery note:

We were excited to see your recent e-book order, and thank you for buying it from Changing Hands.

For many of our customers, part of the appeal of Google eBooks is the ability to support Changing Hands in the digital world. If you agree, instead of buying your next eBook using the Google app on your mobile device, please return to every time you shop for e-books.

Bob Sommer
Changing Hands Bookstore

I wrote back:


I was responding to the 25-cent book offer.  I was a little surprised at the end of the transaction to be charged nearly $30 instead of the $6.25 that the 25 books should have cost.  Nowhere on the promotion (I just looked again) does it say that the purchase will be taxed at the full-price rate, which is what I assume is going on.

Or was there an error?

About 3 hours later, I got this lovely reply:
Hi, David,
Yes, it was an error. A full refund will be posted to your credit card and the eBooks are yours to keep. 

All the best,
Bob Sommer
Changing Hands Bookstore

Now, I'm the kind of person who will return too much change in a store or point out to a clerk that I've been undercharged.  I figure honesty is worth more than the little I'd save this way.  Besides, I'm not looking to make money here.  So I replied:

I don't mind paying the $6.25--and in fact, at a dollar apiece it was still a pretty good deal.  :o)

I'm glad I said something, though, so that you can fix it.

No need to make a full refund--just for the amount of the error will be fine.


I loved the response:

Well, if you're going to take that attitude, I'll have to toss in a complimentary gift card. 

Actually, our official response to this flub-up is in the pipeline. 

Only a few orders went through before the error was caught, so it's no big deal. 

Thanks for your understanding and courteous response,


And a little while later, I got the blanket email they must have sent to the people who had my experience--and guess what?  It did have the $10 gift card!  (I thought he was joking.)

As I told Bob when I wrote back to thank him, it's just one more reason to love Changing Hands.  I thanked them for being one of the last places to remember the meaning of customer service.

One of my early jobs was selling shoes at a Thom McAn shoe store.  Thom McAn had a no-questions-asked return policy.  You could return anything, any time, with or without a receipt (our merchandise was pretty easy to identify), and we'd cheerfully refund the full price.  I remember one incident quite clearly: we were pretty sure that the shoes being returned had been worn once--by the corpse at a funeral.  We didn't put those back in stock.  Another time, a lady came in obviously loaded for bear and ready for a fight.  She actually looked a bit disappointed when we said, "Certainly, Ma'am.  Here's your refund."  All those good arguments gone to waste...

I remember thinking at the time that the goodwill and customer loyalty Thom McAn generated through this policy doubtless offset the obvious losses of taking back unsalable merchandise.  It was an early and important lesson in the value of making people happy.  Sadly, too few places realize this any more.  More often than not, the stores we buy from are parts of big, anonymous chains, and no one has a personal investment in how you feel about your experience there.  We changed from AT&T cell phone service to Sprint a number of years ago when I complained to AT&T about a problem on a bill and they seemed unconcerned.  When I said, "There are other cell phone companies, you know," the woman on the other end audibly shrugged and more or less said, "If you want to change, be my guest."  So we did.  Unfortunately, that kind of encounter is much more common than the one I had with Changing Hands.

So here's a public thank-you to Changing Hands Bookstore.  They're great people.  If you live in the Phoenix area, drop by and have a look for yourself.  If not, visit them online.  And buy a book.