Sunday, October 28, 2007

Monkey Prose Report Card on H+R Block – Grade: A+

"There are no traffic jams along the extra mile."
- Roger Staubach

In corporate culture, information and influence are concentrated at the top. As you travel up a company’s organizational chart, the executives acquire more “juice” and are more focused on customer satisfaction. So when you experience a product or service problem, sometimes the best course of action is to go directly to the CEO. Do not pass "GO" - Do not collect $200.

My latest customer service experience was with H&R Block, and involved my 2005 income tax returns. Earlier this year, I discovered that H&R Block made a mistake on these forms. This error made it necessary for my wife and I to pay additional taxes and interest. When I contacted John D’Agostino, a Senior Tax Adviser in the Morristown, NJ office, he invited us to come in (the same day) to discuss this matter. After verifying that H&R Block did make a miscalculation, he redid our taxes, and prepared our amended returns. John was professional, patient, and polite during this process. He was thorough in his explanation of the problem and the corrective action. We were very impressed!

During our conversation, I indicated to John that since our 2005 income tax returns contained mistakes, I believed that we should be issued a refund for the preparation fee. John replied that he was not authorized to do this, and referred my request to the H&R Block Regional Office. However something must have gotten “lost in the sauce”, and the higher ups never contacted me. But I didn’t get too upset because mis-communication often occurs when you go from one level of mid-management to another.

I then implemented Operation Go to the Top and sent a letter to Mark A. Ernst, Chairman, President, and CEO of H&R Block Inc. When writing this letter, I recalled the wisdom of Jerry Maguire“Help Me - Help You!”. I provided enough information so that Mr. Ernst had a clear understanding of what went wrong, why it went wrong, and what needed to be done to make things right.

Two weeks later I received a full refund for my 2005 income tax preparation fee, and a very gracious letter from Melissa Warren, of the H&R Block Regional/Executive Client Relations Office. A short time later, Melissa sent us an additional check for the interest that was owed on our taxes. Wow!

While I was upset that a mistake was made, I have enough experience in business (and life) to know that “stuff” happens. Every company makes mistakes. But what separates the white cowboy hats from the black ones is how a company responds to complaints. Is the company hostile and argumentative or do they make a sincere effort at resolution? One of my favorite quotes is:

“Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.”
- Donald Porter, VP British Airways

In both business and personal relationships, you never really know how much integrity the other party has - until you see how they deal with problems. Based on our experience, H&R Block is definitely one of the good guys. Would I use them again? Yes! Would I recommend them to other people?

Another favorite phrase is:

"Treat every customer as if they sign your paycheck, because they do."
- Author Unknown

Monkey Prose awards a Grade of A+ to H&R Block for their exemplary customer service. I am confident that “putting the customer first” will guarantee H&R Block’s continued success in the future!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Monkey Prose is Mentioned in Wired Magazine

The November 2007 issue of Wired Magazine (page 30) features an excerpt from a Monkey Prose article - Toxic Cloud May Have a Silver Lining. This was a commentary on Creatures From the Black Lagoon by Guy Gugliotta, which appeared in the September 2007 issue of Wired.

The story was about researchers Don and Andrea Stierle, who discovered cancer killing microbes at a toxic waste site in Montana.

This is my first article to be published in print, and it is very exciting! I would like to thank my parents for pushing me to take those "Write for the Internet" classes back in the 1960's. At the time, I didn't see the point, since the World Wide Web wouldn't be invented for another 30 years. But Mom and Pop were visionaries, and they turned out to be right. Go figure!

Now, if I can only get my daughter Britton to invest in those Moon Real Estate Futures, then the family legacy of clairvoyant counseling will have been passed on.

Thank you Wired Magazine for publishing an excerpt from my blog, and for teaching me how to spell "excerpt"!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Canadian Commentary

Cartoon copyright 2005 Harry Bliss
Distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc 12/20

“To agree to disagree, to harness diversity, to respect dissent, perhaps this is the real essence of Canada.”
- Robert L. Perry

The average American knows as much about Canada as the dark side of the moon. But I've recently started traveling there for business, so that gap in my geopolitical education has been filled. The more time I spend in Canada, the more I like it. If I had to describe our Northern Neighbor in one sentence, I would say “Canada is the United States – without the attitude and the guns.”

Michael Moore came to the same conclusion in his film “Bowling for Columbine”. In one scene, he traveled from Detroit (the Murder Capital of the US) to Windsor, Ontario, which is just on the other side of the Detroit River. In Motown, the atmosphere of fear and danger was palpable. Yet across the river, people didn’t even lock their doors. Moore also observed that even though Canada had more guns per capita, their murder rate was much lower. The obvious solution to America's violence problem is therefore to mandate that armed robberies and drive-bys can only be carried out by Canadian citizens. This will reduce their frequency to that of a solar eclipse.

A good word to initiate an understanding of Canadians is “nice”. But unfortunately, many Americans equate “nice” with "boring". In high school, “nice” guys were the ones that cool girls wouldn’t date - but who were acceptable candidates for copying homework. So this definition is far too limited to capture the essence of Canadianicity. (My new word – coming soon to a Wikipedia near you.)

More accurate adjectives for “Canadian” are “civilized”, “respectful”, and “moderate”. Eliminating the extremes of human behavior makes life less of a roller coaster, and substantially reduces stress. In Canada, I expect to have good interactions with people. I know I won't be the recipient of an emotional shotgun blast from someone having a bad day. I’m also confident that cars around me will use their turn signals and avoid tailgating. During my last trip, I can’t even recall any of my fellow drivers honking! Most Canadians think that Road Rage is a video game.

Another word that captures the essence of “Canadian” is “evolved”. It’s like Homo Sapiens Vs Neanderthal. (Guess which species the US represents?) Canadians have figured out how to interact with themselves and the world in a way that doesn’t make others feel angry or offended. I can’t think of a better mission statement for a nation. Winston Churchill said “That long (Canadian) frontier from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, guarded by only neighborly respect and honorable obligations, is an example to every country and a pattern for the future of the world.” And William Arthur Deacon observed “There has never been a war of Canadian origin, nor for a Canadian cause.”

But why is the culture of these Palefaces from Polar Bear Land so different from ours? I offer the following explanation:

Reason 1: Cold – It gets really cold in Canada. I’m talking about C-c-c-c-c-old! Last February I was in Montreal when it was –20 degrees F. And that was considered to be a heat wave! When I saw a dog frozen to a fire hydrant, I knew I had transitioned out of the Temperate Zone. It’s tough to start a war or act in an aggressive manner when you’re freezing! Instead of contemplating world domination, the only things you care about are a warm fire and hot cocoa.

So Global Warming also represents a threat to the world's political stability. If the Canadians thaw out enough, they may start expanding their borders – and take over the North Pole. And there goes Christmas!

Reason 2: European Ties – In its early history, Canada didn't engage in warfare with any European countries, so there was no residual animosity. They are part of the Commonwealth of Nations, so Great Britain is considered to be a big brother (or sister) rather than a schoolyard bully (the Americans’ perception during the Revolution). As a result, Canadian culture has more of a European essence than the United States - which felt obliged to start a new civilization from scratch.

Reason 3: Healthcare – 100% of Canadians have it. 40% of Americans don’t. And the Yanks who do have it - lose it if they get laid off or fired. Nothing is more stressful than worrying about paying for your kids’ braces or Grandma’s hip replacement. When your mind is occupied with these concerns, you're not thinking about how you can get along better with your fellow human beings.

No treatise on Canada would be complete without some history. Canada was started by Eskimos who got tired of losing their real estate every year to the spring thaw. After determining that wood is a better construction material than ice, they invited Europeans over because you can build log cabins a lot faster with steel tools than whalebone axes. The British and French taught the natives how to set up casinos - and separate their new neighbors from their money. A joint corporation was formed to process maple syrup and export it to the combative country below them. The sugar high made Americans so lethargic, they forgot about attacking Canada. And finally, Canadians invented ice hockey so there would be at least one sport where they could trounce the US.

Conclusion: If you get a chance to travel to Canada, I highly recommend it. But please remember to leave your attitude (and firearms) at home. The experience will broaden your perspective as much as a trip to Europe - at a fraction of the price!