Decorating the Front Doors of Historic Homes

If you’ve ever bought wreaths or swags from big box stores to decorate your front entrance, please let me  suggest that the next time you make this type of purchase, go to a local floral shop or designer instead.  Have them design something unique that fits your style, and is sized just right for your door.

Several years ago I asked a local floral artist to design two wreaths for the double front doors at one of my two historic homes.  Earlier this year she gave us a large, similarly designed swag, which I put on the single front door of our other historic home.

I personally love the look of pheasants or pheasant feathers in fall arrangements.   I think they lend a classic look, and are a wonderful reminder of the beauty of being outdoors in the fall.

Because they are designed to my taste and style, and also to fit the size and shape of the doors, I have loved hanging them up every year and will continue to do so for years to come.  They are well made, and worth the small ‘extra’ amount I paid vs. buying something from a big box store that over time would fall apart (pun intended) or go out of style and need to be replaced.

fall pheasant wreaths

Twin pheasant wreaths on twin Victorian doors.

historic home pheasant swag

Single pheasant swag for my Antebellum home’s front door.

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Generational Christmas Tree

I know there are others out there like me who, as they unpack the boxes of Christmas decorations, take as much of a trip down memory lane as they do to the North Pole or a manger in Bethlehem.

As much as I love to look at ‘decorator’ trees, with their perfect color coordination and their precise balance of lights to sparkle, or ‘theme’ trees that pay tribute to a favorite sports team, hobby, or artist, my tree will never be one of those trees.

My tree is a hodge-podge of ornaments that have been passed down through our parents, grand parents, or great grand parents, given to us as gifts, bought by us as souvenirs of vacations we’ve taken, made for us by our son’s once little hands, or, as is the case for the Star Wars ornaments, bought by us for our son.  I hate to admit it but, we have more ornaments than tree this year, so I gave a promise to the ones still in their boxes that next year I’ll get a bigger tree.

I hope that future generations will treasure these ornaments and decorations as much as I have, and that long after my husband and I are gone, they will be placed on a Christmas tree and a parent will tell a child, ‘this belonged to your (fill in the great) grandmother / grandfather”

May the blessings of the season be with be with you and your family.

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The Ghia

When I started dating my husband, one of the things that made me fall in love with him was his 1974 Volkswagen Karmann Ghia Convertible.  It wasn’t because I coveted something he owned, but because of the story that went with the car.

He can tell it much better than me, but the short version is that he’d purchased it new in 1974, and over the course of the next ten years, it carried him though good times and bad times, and after he’d put 160,000 miles on it, and the floor pans were rusted through and the soft top was patched with duck tape, he made the car a promise that since it had taken care of him, he’d take care of it, and he parked it for a ground up restoration.

He didn’t plan on the restoration taking 20 years, but again, trying to stick to the short version of the story, life happens, and he’s worked on it as much as he could and money would allow.

In the years that we’ve been together, I have pushed this car, pulled this car, rolled this car, towed this car, inventoried parts for this car, and sat next to this car holding flashlights and listening to my husband curse as he tried to install or uninstall this thing or that thing.

2014-06-07 16.16.23This summer his dedication finally paid off, and for the first time in 20 years, the Karmann Ghia rolled out of the garage under its own power.  We owe much gratitude to our dear friend Dale Abbott, who is hands down the best auto mechanic we’ve ever known.  He also was taken by my husband’s story of his Ghia, and has helped my husband by providing both shelter for the car (we don’t have a garage) and mechanical skills to help get it up and running.

If you’ve ever loved a car, or attempted an automotive restoration, you’ll appreciate the dedication  to the project, and a never give up attitude.  There are still a few things that need done before it is truly ‘road ready’, but a major milestone has been achieved, and our goal now is to finish in time to drive it to a couple classic car shows in 2015.

2014-06-07 16.16.37By the way…  the ‘For Sale’ sign was a joke – the mechanic’s version of  a ‘kick me’ sign taped to someone’s back.  In these pictures my husband hadn’t yet noticed it tacked to his beautiful baby Ghia.  He had a good laugh when he finally saw the sign, then immediately removed it from the car.

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Kitchen Renovation – Part III – How easy it is to forget

Hello – I didn’t intend on a Kitchen Part III that was not the final, beautiful shots of the room finished and a gourmet meal being prepared for enthusiastic guests, but my husband found some digital photos of the kitchen as it was prior to renovation; when we lived and worked and played and cooked and at in that kitchen.  Plus, he found a couple of photos just at the beginning of renovation that tell more of the story of why we’ve done what we’ve done.

I looked at the ‘before’ pictures, and almost started to cry, for a couple different reasons. They brought back a flood of memories.  I saw my son’s little mud boots and chalk sticks and car toy from when he was but three or four,  and my heart warmed with loving memories.  Then I looked at all the jars on top of the refrigerator, and fake brick paneling, and couldn’t believe I’d totally forgotten about them.  Where the heck are those jars, and why do I have so many???

Then I saw the stove piled with stuff.  Kitchen utensils, a basket of fresh peaches,  a jar of dog biscuits, a sprayer of cat urine odor remover.  And, in the background, is a crock full of baseball bats, never hung blinds, and a broom and dust pan.  I was defiantly in the middle of doing lots of things – the cat was old, the dog was young, my son wanted to play outside, the local orchards had spring’s first harvest of peaches.  It is a slice of everyday life preserved in zeros & ones.  And I’m not sure what I am tearing up over – the memory of a life lived, or how long I lived with a badly decorated kitchen that had stuff piled everywhere.

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Kitchen Renovation – The Rebuilding

Hello again – ready for the big reveal?  We aren’t done yet with the kitchen, but these photos will show how we began to rebuild, and where we are as of today.

I’m still learning how to blog, and today I found the ‘create gallery’ option under ‘add media’, so I thought i’d give it a try.  I’m going to keep this post short ‘n sweet, and let the photos do the talking.  If you have questions, drop me a line in the comments.

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Kitchen Restoration – The Tearout

Anyone who has ever attempted to live in, love, and repair an old house, or has seen movies such as The Money Pit, will appreciate this post, and other ones to come about old house restoration / preservation.

This year has been the year of the kitchen renovation at our 1840’s Federal style brick home.  When we started the project in March, we thought it would take a month-or-two. Ha!  15 years into working on this house and we’re still optimists!  Now, 9 months later, we’re just rounding the bend on the ‘few more things’ that need to be done.  My husband and I have agreed that finishing this project will be the best Christmas gift we could give to each other.

I’m going to put up a lot of pictures, because this story is best told visually.  I wish I had a really great picture or two of what the kitchen looked like for all the years we lived and cooked in the house, but alas, what I have is not digital, and my photo boxes are buried somewhere in the house.

Kitchen_1

Yes, that is my stove/oven.  It is a 1929 New Process that my husband rescued from his grandmother’s house back in the 1970’s, put in storage, and was thankful when he had an old house to put it in, and a young wife naive enough to agree to use it to cook.  Kidding aside, it’s always worked great, and I look forward to using it again when the kitchen is back together.

But what you should really be looking at in the picture are the plaster walls that had been covered with vinyl flooring behind the sink and Cinnamon MDF wood paneling everywhere else.  The squiggly lines on the wall are the glue marks from the paneling.  Also, look down at the floor to see the vinyl self-stick squares stuck down to sheet linoleum, stuck down to hardwood floor.

Kitchen_2

A plaster ceiling covered a Cyprus wood ceiling that had been painted. This is the third wood ceiling we’ve uncovered.  There are two reasons these wood ceilings were covered:  (1) fashions changed and wood ceilings went out of style around the turn of the century and (2) with good reason because soot and debris easily filters down from the space above the ceiling, then in between the boards, and down into the room.   How do I know this second for a fact?  Wood ceiling #1.  After uncovering it we spent years vacuuming up coal dust and debris from our carpet and bed (yeah!) until we got into the attic above, completely cleaned it out, then laid down plastic and insulation.

Kitchen_3

Something we noticed when we bought the house was that the window and door frames were recessed into the walls.  Why would this be?  Because, and I hope I don’t crush anyone’s rose colored glasses, not everyone in the ‘olden days’ had a good work ethic.

In this picture what you see are the layers of brick wall, original plaster, wall paper, wood lathe strips, and ‘new’ plaster (which is on the floor at this point).  What it means is that the original plaster got into bad shape, and instead of repairing this plaster (which BTW helps hold the mortar and bricks together) they took the easy way out and simply nailed in new lath strips and covered them with a new coat of plaster. The trouble with this method of ‘fixing’ the walls is that the old plaster is still turning to sand behind the new plaster.  Cover the new plaster with non-breathable MDF panels and/or vinyl flooring, and you’ve got a moisture trap speeding the decay.

Kitchen_4

Beauty shot of the wall paper under the ‘false’ plaster wall. We do our best to document these types of discoveries with photographs, and save pieces when possible.

Kitchen_6 Kitchen_5

Above and below pictures of one of the two windows in this kitchen.  There was no ‘original’ plaster left under the false wall in this section of the room. The mortar had turned to sand, and the bricks under the window were just dry stacked on top of eachother.

I should also mention that this window is on the back wall of the house, and it is the only wall to have ever been stuccoed on the outside, which was another clue when we bought the house that a problem had been ‘covered over’ instead of fixed right.  The external stucco was the only thing holding this wall together.  We felt very lucky that the wall had not collapsed.

But, on the bright side, in the top photo, just above the curtain rod, you can see a hand hewn beam.  Hand hewn beam!!!!  Its days of service as part of the wall’s structure are over, but we reused it elsewhere and you’ll see it again.

Kitchen_7

My husband contemplating the near disaster we’d avoided by being the type of restorationists/preservationists with enough curiosity to go deeper than simply redecorating the surfaces that showed.  In this picture note the door, especially above the door.  Looks fine, right?

Kitchen_8

So, this picture shows you two things:  (1) We took down the Cyprus wood ceiling.  With the sad state of the brick below the ceiling line, we had to see what it was like above.  I’d always told my husband my vision for this kitchen included a vaulted ceiling, something to which he’d never agreed until we started the tear out, and saw how bad everything was.  So, hey – the silver lining to needing to repair all the brick was I got my wish with the vaulted ceiling! Wait till you see how sweet it looks!

Do you remember how above the door looked fine a picture up?  Here it is again, with the slumping brick and header exposed.

kitchen_11Take away the slumping brick and what do you have?  Daylight!  The board was put there to keep birds and bats out until we could get the wood header and brick back in place.

kitchen_9

Just a good long shot of one of the temporary support beams put in place to hold up the joists.  Here you can also see the roof rafters  – the 12″ wide boards would be original to the structure, and above them are the pressed wood sheeting the roofing shingles are attached to.  An interesting side note is that my husband and his helper figured out is that this ‘room’ was a entirely separate building at some point in time.

We’d discovered earlier that the basement under this kitchen had a cooking fireplace, and so determined it must have been the summer kitchen, but can only guess what the room above was used for.  Our best guess?  Slave quarters. According to the abstract we received with the house, just before the start of the civil war, the owner, Beverly Lee, went bankrupt, loosing the house, farm land, a carriage and team of horses, and nine slaves to settle his debts.  His name is carved into a closet door under the house’s main staircase.

kitchen_10

Last picture for this post.  This shows the brick above the ceiling line.  This is the only internal wall, so while it did need some tuck-pointing, and was very dirty and covered in wasp nests, it was the best wall in the room.

Next post will show the rebuilding.

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Yin and Yang: Technology Overload & Recharging Through Solitude

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“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”   [The Minotaur]

― Albert CamusThe Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays

In our social media class, taught by Leli Samii and Bridget Franciscovich, we were given an assignment to write a comparison between two mainstream movies, one which reflected solitude, and one which reflected technology overload.  Then we were challenged to sit alone – no technology friends, family or reading material – for 30 minutes, then write about the experience.

Technology Overload

The Internship

In the movie The Internship, two non-tech savvy Gen-X guys are teamed with several Millennials in an attempt to complete for jobs at Google.  At first, the very tech-savvy millennials see them as relics from another era who only serve as lead anchors to the team’s success.  Then, when the two old guys take the young turks out for a decidedly unplugged-from-technology night of partying at a strip club, followed by watching the sun rise over the Golden Gate Bridge, the team bonds, and they are inspired to create an app that wins a challenge at Google and puts their team on top of the competition.

Solitude

Any Superman movie (or TV show, or comic, or graphic novel, etc.).  The guy literally has an ice palace called ‘The Fortress of Solitude’ where he goes to escape from his enormous responsibilities of saving humanity from certain destruction, over and over again.

Experiencing Overload & Solitude

For me, a Gen-Xer old enough to remember a time prior to constant connectedness though technology, solitude for 30 minutes (or more) is a normal part of my day, so the idea of being challenged to sit alone without technology was no challenge at all.  Technology has certainly become a large part of my life, as it has for most people.  It is fundamental to work and school, and for communicating with family, friends, and strangers.

I understand how easy it is to get swept up in technology, especially social media.  I ran a paid Facebook campaign to promote an event. To have my phone vibrating or dinging every time I had a new notification about a like, a comment, or a share, was thoroughly exhilarating.  I felt like a digital Sally Field at the Oscars, “you like me right now, you really like me”!  My campaign ended, but for a couple days after, I still felt ghost vibrations and heard ghost dings, and checked my phone just in case.  It was easy enough to let go, and now I’m back to leaving my phone in the bottom of my purse.

Except for activating the auto-reply on my work e-mail, and changing my work mobile phone voice mail message as a courtesy to customers and colleagues when I am away, I don’t feel the need to explain to anyone my lack of engagement during periods of disengagement.

I don’t think solitude must involve sitting still, or chanting, unless that happens to be the opportunity that presents itself.  For me, opportunities for solitude appear everywhere:  my commute to or from work where I’ll turn off the radio and just enjoy the quiet inside the car; gardening and/or mowing the lawn; painting or wallpapering in the house; weekday lunches where I’ll go through a drive-through then park by a small lake, mindlessly eat, and watch geese; walks with the dog; polishing silver – really there are a myriad of ways to get lost in solitude.   Sometimes, if I’m lucky, and it is an activity I am doing, solitude turns into flow.

Okay –The Internship movie is a bit schmaltzy, and we could debate as to if Superman is the poster boy for solitude (unlike Batman, who should rename his cave ‘The Cave of Solitude’), but the paradox between low tech inspiring high tech, and retreating away from the world in order to save it, are worth examining.

The Camus quote at the beginning of this post states it succinctly.  Being in the world, and being apart from the world, are yin and yang to each other.  I think it is okay to get deep into technology overload, as long as there is also opportunity to withdraw and recharge though solitude.

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Baseball, the 2014 World Series, & Being the Uncarved Block Part One

“For it is in giving that we receive.”Saint_Francis_statue_in_garden
― Francis of Assisi

On October 20th, without planning to do so, I spent $725.00 for two tickets (and a parking pass!) to Game One of the 2014 World Series.  Then, almost as quick as I had bought the tickets, I decided to give them away.  It’s not that I didn’t want to go, I would have been thrilled to attend a World Series game.  But just as buying the tickets was an act of spontaneity, deciding to give them away was just as spontaneous. And giving them away brought me something that keeping them could not – a sense of joy and love and connectedness that stems from the principal of wu wei.

“Wu-wei…implies action that is spontaneous, natural, and effortless. As with the Tao, this behavior simply flows through us because it is the right action, appropriate to its time and place, and serving the purpose of greater harmony and balance.”  (Jadedragon.com)

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert in the Tao, and my understanding of wu wei may be lacking in scholarly form as I am about to use buying World Series tickets as an example of the ancient practice of wu wei, but stick with me here, because I think the story is a modern example of a timeless principle.

Back in the early 1990’s, when I was young, and poor, and child free, I moved to Kansas City, Missouri with my first husband to seek a better life.  Since I just used the phrase ‘first husband’, I think you can surmise that the marriage didn’t last.  But, like any marriage, it had its good times, and some of the best times included baseball.

KC RoyalsWe lived not too far from Kauffman Stadium, a.k.a. “The K”, home of the Kansas City Royals.  In those days, an outfield bleacher ticket, or an infield ‘view’ ticket (so called because your view of the sky was as good as your view of the playing field) cost $7.00.  The Royals had been on a decline since their 1989 World Series run, so most games didn’t have huge crowds.  Sometimes we’d stay in our ‘assigned’ seats, and sometimes we’d wander down to better seats that were still vacant three or four innings into the game.  Several times during the season we’d get free tickets from our employers.  “The K” had two-for-one hot dog nights, not-too-expensive beer, delicious frosty malts, and fireworks after the game on Fridays.  In short, it was the best night (or afternoon) out that two struggling 20-somethings could afford.

I learned about baseball during those years, and gained an appreciation of how it was as much an individual sport as it was a team sport.  I also reveled in the social aspect of going to the games.  There was a lot to do besides watch the players.  Fan challenges, tee-shirt sling-shots, the thrill of catching (or watching others catch) a foul ball, watching the mascot prance around, the mustard-ketchup-relish race, the seventh inning stretch and sing-a-long, the afore mentioned food, and just walking around the stadium all added to the experience.  When friends joined us, the fun was amplified.

My appreciation of the game, and my enjoyment of attending a game, came without attachment to the score.  Sure, it was great when ‘my team’ was victorious, but win or lose, I walked out of the stadium filled with wonder at seeing these guys play, and it was the thrill of watching the game unfold and partaking in all the activities that kept me returning game after game, year after year.

So, now that I am older, and a little less poor, and ‘my team’ surprised everyone but themselves by making it all the way to the World Series, I was freak-out level excited when I opened an e-mail from the Royals organization containing a special code to access the World Series ticket pre-sale that went live about an hour later.  Immediately in my mind I had a vision of my younger self up (or out) in the cheap seats, and I was determined to reward “past me” with the best seats I could buy.

As soon as it went live, I was scrambling through the ticketing system, madly clicking though welcome screens, and log-in screens, and pick-your-seat screens, when I read that the pre-sale was limited to two tickets per buyer. Two tickets?  Only two?  I selected the best seats I could find, and proceeded to check out, but there was now a hollowness to the excitement I felt.

The thing is, my family today is three people.  Myself, my wonderful second husband, and our 15 year old son.  How could I choose between the two of them as to who got the 2nd ticket?   Draw straws?  There was no way I could afford a third ticket on the secondary market, and the special code was good for one purchase only.

It honestly didn’t take me long, maybe about a minute, to accept the dynamic change that the two ticket limit placed on the situation, and for my heart to react and tell my head to give the tickets to my husband and son.  The moment this decision was made, the feeling of hollowness disappeared and in its place a feeling of joy radiated out.

All of this took place while I was at work, and when I told a few of my co-workers that I’d bought tickets but planned to give them to give them to my husband and son, their reaction, to put it politely, was that I was nuts.  All of them said they would not walk away from what might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to attend a World Series game at Royals Stadium, especially after having spent that kind of money.

It was tempting to rethink my decision, after all, my co-workers are good people and if they were unified in the opinion that I should not give both tickets up, then why did I think I should?  My husband and son didn’t even know I’d bought the tickets, so they’d never know I made a decision to give them the tickets then changed my mind.  I can’t honestly tell you why, other than when I mulled over keeping one ticket for myself, the feeling of hollowness returned.  I believe wu wei is personal, and there is no one right action for every person.   The right action for me was the one that kept me in balance and harmony.

When I got home that evening and told my husband I’d bought two World Series tickets, and that I wanted him to take our son, he said that his first reaction was that it seemed surreal, like something that might happen in a movie but not in real life.  Once he processed what I’d done, and what I wanted, he thought it was a sweet gesture and was overjoyed at the sincerity of my offer.  He’d grown up playing and loving baseball, and attending a World Series game with his father had been a boyhood dream that was never realized.  Now he had the opportunity to be the father and take his son to a World Series game.

boys_at_world_seriesOur son was excited too, or at least, he became excited after he checked to see if any strings were attached, like extra chores, which there were not.  The two of them went to the game, enjoyed themselves immensely, and will forever have the memory of their night together at Game One of the 2014 World Series.

And what of the initial vision I had for myself to attend the game?  While it didn’t happen like I thought it would, it did happen.  Wait until you read the rest of the story…

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Make Me Forget I am Your Customer

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Marketing and sales have been the bread and butter of my professional career.  I am not the type to boast, so please excuse what comes next, but I am very good at what I do.  I am very good because I’ve studied marketing and sales in depth, I’ve lived them, I’ve breathed them, I’ve both succeeded and failed at them and I’ve taken some hard lessons both ways.  Most importantly I love them, and I love the feeling of pride I get when I see that my work has benefited my company, or my community, or my world.

This said, you may find it hard to believe that this assignment – writing a blog post about the characteristics that make up a great customer experience with examples of brands either succeeding or failing – was difficult for me to write.  I attribute this to the fact that I see the tricks used by brands to attempt great CEM in what I can only imagine is the same way that magicians must view each other’s acts.  It makes me a cynic (or would the better word be snob?) about what constitutes great CEM.

I don’t consider getting providing the basics of a product or service right the same as providing a great customer experience, and I think the vast majority of companies simply provide the basics. Don’t get me wrong – the basics done right is great, because it allows me as a consumer to build trust and know I can expect consistency and fair value from a brand.  I’ve run into enough poor performing brands that I’ll be glad to settle for the basics done right any day of the week.

But what about a great customer experience?  Something that makes even a cynic like me think, WOW!  What elevates it from the basics done well?  It took three days of rolling this question around in my brain, along with plenty of typing -then-backspacing writing before what I had on the page was more than a judgmental laundry list of how brands fail.

So, not being one to waste good writing (even if it is brimming with negativity), let me start with a quick example of what I consider a failed attempt at creating a great customer experience:  my local Chick-Fil-A’s recent interest in personal names for drive through orders.

Chick-Fil-A is a company that does the basics very well.  Every time I enter one of their restaurants, or pull though a drive through, they provide courteous service and a quality product.  This keeps me a happy, and returning, customer.  But recently, at the drive through of the Chick-Fil-A nearest my house, the disembodied voice coming over the loud speaker has begun to ask me for a name to put on the order.

The first time it happened, I didn’t think much about it until I got to the window, and it was as if the clerk had been told to say the customer’s name as many times as possible.  “Hello, Mary.” “It will $5.62 please, Mary.”  “Here is your sweet tea, Mary.”  “And your sandwich, Mary”. “Thank you and come again, Mary.”  It felt like it was Chick-Fil-A’s equivalent of the fictional Chotchkie’s Restaurant’s 37 pieces of flair in the movie Office Space.

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This overuse of my name set off every marketing and sales BS alarm my brain has.  I bet there is someone in the Chick-Fil-A organization, maybe at the store level or maybe higher up the food chain (pun intended) who is pleased as punch with themselves because they came up with the idea of asking drive through customers for a name.  They probably thought using the customer’s name during a transaction would add a personal touch, and would elevate a mundane drive through food run to the level of a great customer experience.

I can’t speak for other Chick-Fil-A customers, but for me, this added bit of schmaltz comes across as superficial and totally unnecessary.  I understand that when I walk into the lobby, place my order, then get lost in a sea of other customers all standing around waiting, that having my name so they can call out to me when my food is ready is a very useful tool.

But in the drive though?  I’m in a car, in a single file line of other cars, being herded around the building by overly landscaped cement islands and yellow lines painted on the asphalt until I reach the pick-up window.  Additionally, the drive through crew has a screen that shows them all the orders, in sequential order. Why do they want a name other than to impose a false experience of personalized interaction?

It is tempting to mock this practice for my own personal amusement, and give them a false name like Miss Anthropic, or Bob.  How would they handle this deviation from the CEM plan?  Would they use the formal Miss Anthropic to address me, or abbreviate it to just Ann?  Would they get the word play?  Would the clerk be able to keep a straight face as he or she called me Bob?  What if I decided two could play this game and the next time I rolled through and they asked me for my name, I began crying and shouting, “You don’t remember?  You’re just like all the other fast food restaurants that take my money and don’t call the next morning!”

The point is that asking for a personal name on a drive through order comes off canned and artificial, because, in truth, it is canned and artificial. This qualifies in my book as a failure in the attempt at creating a great customer experience.

Information about providing the basics can be found all over the internet, and in plenty of ‘how to’ and textbooks on being successful in business.  In searching around for inspiration for this blog post, I came across “6 Characteristics of Great Customer Service” by Errol Allen Consulting, .  I would agree with all six of his points, and I believe all six are the basics done right.  However, I would also argue that there is something missing – a not-so-secret number seven – that is what separates the basics of good customer service from providing a great customer experience.

It is this:  Treat me in such a way that you make me forget I am your customer.

What do I mean by this?  Simple.  Elevate the experience above and beyond the basic relationship of seller and buyer.  When it flows from a position of love for what your brand is about, it will be organic to the process of providing the product and/or service, and will transform people from customers to being your brand’s believer, friend, and evangelist.  It isn’t hard, and doesn’t have to cost an extra dime to implement.

Keeping with the food theme, let me give you an example.  Have you ever been to a restaurant for dinner where, instead of being aware of their role as food provider, and your role as food consumer, it felt more like you were at a really great dinner party at a friend’s house with delicious food and drink, interesting dining companions, stimulating conversation, and background music that added to the ambiance? And when the $200 check arrived in its little black folio, it didn’t bother you a bit to turn over your credit card and add on a big fat tip?  I bet you’re still talking about that dinner months or even years later.

For a completely different example; have you ever been ill – minor or major – and when you finally broke down and made an appointment with a medical clinic, the nurse(s) and/or doctor(s) treated you like an interruption to their day, making you feel even worse, and validating your disdain for walking through their door in the first place?  Or did they treat you like you were a long lost friend whom they were glad to see, and even more glad came to them for help?  In either scenario, you probably received the treatment for what ailed you physically, but in the second, your spirit and soul also received healing.  To ask the obvious – which one would make you forget that at the crux of the matter, you were simply a customer whose money allows the doctor to drive a Bentley?

Can you think of examples in your own life where you don’t think of yourself as customer, but, when boiled down to its essence, that is what you are?  Pursuing a master’s degree perhaps?  I think of myself as a student rather than a customer of the University.  Listening to local radio?  I think of the DJ’s as music experts with good taste in music and myself as a listener.  Professional sports or Musicians/Musical Groups?  You’re a fan!

I will admit that achieving great CEM is easier for some brands than others, because their products and service naturally lend themselves to great CEM opportunities, and that some brands do spend a lot to create great CEM.  But while I don’t know of anyone with a great CEM story that involves a #2 lead pencil, I do know plenty of people with great CEM stories that involve the corner deli, the local mechanic, their hairdresser, and yes, even a national big box store.

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This is not the me I grew up thinking I would be.

The first thing you must know is this:  This is not the me I grew up thinking I would be.

Pagoda Sleeve Day Dress - 1850's to early 1860's

Pagoda Sleeve Day Dress – 1850’s to early 1860’s

Nor, apparently, did others who knew me when I was young think this would be me one day.  Of all the posts I’ve ever put on Facebook, this picture garnered the most responses I’ve ever received.  My friends and family were surprised to see me dressed this way.  They were shocked to discover I’d made the dress by hand.

To see myself in this dress, with my hair pinned back in a snood and my crocheted finger-less mitts, attempting to appear the epitome of a well brought up lady of the mid 1800’s,even makes my lips curl up in a whimsical smile at the disbelief of how I arrived at this point in time.

My childhood best friend posted, “Showed your pic to mom. She just couldn’t believe that was you. Lol she said you were the modern girl!”

When my husband and I first bought our house atop a Missouri River bluff, there was a local group called Friends of the Anderson House.  (The Anderson House being part of a Missouri Department of Natural Resources historic site.)  When a gentleman asked if we’d like to join, I said sure, why not?  I thought it was a “Friends” group in the same vein as friends of an art museum, or of a theater with Broadway caliber shows, and we’d sip wine and eat cheese with fancy toothpicks as we socialized with the well-to-do of town.

But the “Friends of the Anderson House” turned out to be a group of very dedicated living history demonstrators (aka Civil War reenactors) and I was invited to make beaten biscuits and serve little cucumber sandwiches at teas given to visitors of the Anderson House.  When my expectations of cocktail parties didn’t match the reality of cooking over hot wood stoves on sweltering summer days, it would have been easy to walk away from the experience, and I don’t think anyone would have blamed me for a change of heart.

But I stayed.  And I watched, and I learned, and I borrowed ‘costumes’ from others, and I enjoyed letting the experience wash over me and take me in new directions.  Due to work and raising a young son, I didn’t become as dedicated a living history demonstrator as many of the Friends were.  But they accepted what time I could give, and in turn, they enriched my soul with their kindness and enthusiasm for bringing history to life.

When one of the ladies offered to help me make a nice dress, I took the opportunity.  Mind you, part of not being the me I was turning into included not really knowing how to sew. I’d made the requisite pillow cover in middle school home economics, and sadly sewn A-line dress in 4-H, but that was the extent of my seamstress skills.

Through her hours of guiding me from buying a pattern, and fabric, and trimmings, then cutting, and pleating, and pressing, and meticulous machine sewing and hand stitched finishes, she and I became the dearest of friends.  I can proudly say  that not only did I make the dress in the picture, I grew as a ‘modern girl’ because of the experience.

Obviously I don’t wear this dress often.  On the occasion of this photo I’d put it on to serve as a volunteer guide at the annual Old Homes Tour.  The reaction of people when the walked into the room and saw me for the first time was priceless.

Living history demonstrators with a sharp eye might find one or two period incorrect details, but I am very proud of this dress.  To me it is a representation the Taoist concept of Pu, the uncarved block; starting from the state of  pure potential. Being open to new experiences without letting prejudice and preconceived notions get in the way.

I know my friend’s Mom meant style when she said I was modern, and I take it as a great complement.  But instead of that definition, I think of modern as a state of open mindedness.  I think a modern girl isn’t afraid to learn, and grow, and create, and even fail (oh the pain of ripping out stitches so carefully made but unfortunately in the wrong place!).  A modern girl allows herself to be open to new experiences while embracing traditions.  And she always, always remains excited about what might happen next.

I am a modern girl.  I took my seamstress friend to a Nine Inch Nails / Jane’s Addition concert as one way of saying thanks for becoming part of my life and helping me learn to sew.  But, as it turns out, I am deeply old fashioned too. After all, Taoist ideals date back to the 3rd or 4th century B.C.E. and I am wearing a Civil War era dress.  And the two – the old and the new – don’t conflict in me at all.

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