Bankruptcy.

Author: admin  |  Category: Consumer, Life, Observations, Politics  |  Comments (0)  |  Add Comment

Late last year my wife and I came to the conclusion that we would have to file for bankruptcy.  She was laid off in June of 2008 and my company had halted many benefits including overtime and pay raises, all due to the economy.  I know, a lot of people reading this now are rolling their eyes at me, probably even labeling me as “irresponsible” and “greedy”.  This is not the case.

When we moved to south Florida all we could really afford was a town home, it was the second cheapest property we found here (the cheapest was a “fix-er-upper”).  The home was a good deal, newly refurbished (the previous owner bought it as a fix-er-upper), all new appliances except the AC unit and we needed to purchase a washer and dryer.  Everything else was new and up to code.  Since then we’ve had to buy a new car (ended up with a Kia Rio Cinco), a new air conditioner, plus a couple of thousand dollars defending ourselves from an oppressive HOA.  We never lived a lavish lifestyle (no luxury cars, no big screen TVs, no long vacations).  We tried to do things the right way and unfortunately the economy caught up to us – the tipping point of our finances was when I needed to use a credit card to pay for basic things like food (and not being able to pay off the balances).

We started talking to our attorney in December of 2008 (who has been great throughout the process, even after the filing).  We couldn’t afford it at the time but probably could in a month or two.  He gave us information on online courses we’d need to take before filing.  The courses cost money but the good news is that the University of Nebraska (one of their departments) is doing a study.  You take a survey before and after the course and they’ll pay you $35 (the course was $20 or $25).  There was also the option to take another survey three months down the road for another $20.  Yes, you’ll make money with this.

During the time we gathered what paperwork we needed.  The attorney stated that we were a classic example of people who should do chapter 7 bankruptcy (all assets liquidated but the slate is completely clean.  This is unlike chapter 13 where you keep everything and the court sets up a payment plan to repay all of your debts).  The rules were simple for chapter 7:  You had to make less than a certain amount in the past 6 months.  My wife’s unemployment and my pay were way below this.  We could only keep $1000 worth of “stuff” each (worth in the resell or used market).  Since we never bought high end luxury items – we were also well below this.  We were also allowed to keep $1000 worth of cash each.  Again, the only time we saw that many digits in our bank accounts is when I had to send out a mortgage payment.

One advantage of Florida bankruptcy laws (I don’t know about other states) is that you can “reaffirm” secured debts – mortgage(s), car payments, and so on.  We reaffirmed the car loans and the mortgages on our home.  Since what we owned on them was close to what they were worth we could keep them as long as we kept our payments current.

We officially filed in January of 2009 – once the paperwork was signed and submitted all creditors were not allowed to contact us and we were to forward all correspondence to our attorney.  He said it could take up to a week for them to get the word so give it a week for the phone calls to stop and 2-3 weeks for the letters to stop.  All debts incurred before this were put on hold (except reaffirmed debts) and any money we made afterwards were inaccessible to creditors (technically if we won the lottery the next day they couldn’t touch it).

Our appointment with the creditors was in March.  This was a lot less intimidating / stressful than I thought it was.  We sat in a room with other people filing and there was a table.  We sat at the table with the attorney and the “creditor” (someone assigned for your creditors).  They ask some basic questions, ask for ID (drivers license).  The whole process was over in less than 15 minutes (I was expecting at least an hour).

The final part of the process was when we got a letter in the mail sometime in late May, 2009.  All of our debts were discharged (in long-worded legal mumbo-jumbo, we had to call our attorney to find out exactly what it meant).  Our slate was clean and we didn’t have to look back anymore.  I honestly wish we didn’t have to, but it was great to be able to breathe a sigh of relief from all of this.

This is something I’d never want to go though again but I am glad it is over with and I’m glad ours went smoothly.  Yes, I am sure our credit score took a large hit on this but we haven’t needed to apply for any loans or credit cards recently.  We’ve been able to meet our expenses with our bank check cards and even, on occasion, go out to see a movie.

I do have some pointers for people contemplating filing for bankruptcy.

1)    Consider all your options.  Is it worth filing or not?  There is the expense and the hit on the credit score to consider, and the possibility of losing things like your house, car, and any expensive luxury items you may have.

2)    Hire an attorney and ASK QUESTIONS.  There are little things here and there that will confuse any average person.  If you hired an attorney, this is exactly why you hired him – ask away.  Be 100% sure you understand everything before you sign anything.  They’ll even go through your credit reports with a fine tooth comb with you – if anything looks odd, ASK!

3)    Educate yourself.  Going back to #2 – ask the attorney any questions you have.  Look on the internet for information regarding bankruptcy.  Learn how money and credit work.

4)    Build up a small stash of cash.  No, I’m not saying hoard tens of thousands of dollars but you should have a small stash incase something happens – car repairs, new appliance needed etc.  You should have one built up anyway but if you do not – start now.

5)    Throw out those pre-approved credit card applications.  You can’t file for another 10 years and they know this.  You don’t want to get stuck in the same situation you were before and the banks know people will be tempted with pre-approved applications.  Just throw them out.

6)    Keep up to date with bills that are not on your credit – especially when your home is involved.  Reaffirmed mortgages, association fees, taxes – all of these are NOT covered by bankruptcy but they can take your home if you do not pay them.  Even though utilities cannot take your home, living without them can be a pain.

7)    Start a financial plan.  Budget all of your expenses and build up a plan to start saving – put as much as you can afford to into your savings, even up your 401K contributions or if you have direct deposit, have some of it go straight into a savings account.  Bank of America offers “keep the change” – if I charge $7.25 on my check card, they’ll take $8 out and put the other $0.75 into my savings account.  I know it doesn’t sound like much but it is turning out to be about $20 a month for the little I use my card.

8)    Recover and move on.  Once the filing is done, the meeting is done, and the process is over with, reevaluate your situation and plan for the future.  If you do decide to get a credit card to help build your credit back up, get one with as low of a balance as possible.  Charge some things on there but pay the balance off in 2-3 months.  Don’t get over your head (again).  Be very wise about your money.

How to be a good tech.

Author: admin  |  Category: Business, Consumer, Observations  |  Comment (1)  |  Add Comment

I’ve written a few posts about bad users, clients, customers, and whatnot.  This has gotten a few people to email me that not all users are bad and that there are some bad techs out there.  This, I fully agree.  I’ve worked with some in the past.  Just as there are good users and bad users, there are good techs and bad techs.

That’s why I’m dedicating this post on how to be a good technician.  This is going to be a surprise to a lot of techs out there but it is not based on what you know.  Seriously.  While I do admit, being able to solve the user’s issue in a minute does help, it’s not the end all to customer satisfaction.

First – and most important:  LISTEN.  That is a human you’re interacting with.

I don’t mean sit and listen to a 30 minute rant at how they are terrible with computers, they always have problems with computers, and Microsoft is in existence just to make their lives difficult.  When they are describing the issue to you, listen to them, make eye contact.  Don’t just plop down in front of their computer and start taping away at the keyboard – that will make you look like a robot (and that’s only OK if you’re JP from “Grandma’s Boy” – but even he was annoying).  Plus, this makes the user feel like a number as opposed to a person.

Listen to their concerns, don’t be afraid to ask questions (believe it or not it does not make you look incompetent, in fact, it makes it look like you are paying attention!), even repeat what the user said to make sure you understand what they are saying.

Second – don’t rush the job.  Yes, some issues only take a minute or two to fix but many don’t.  Don’t try to fly through it.  Take your time.  If you rush, the chances of you making a mistake are greatly increased.  Even double check your work if you need to.  This leads right into:

Third – Make sure you have resolved the issue, if possible.  Sit down with the user, explain to them what you did (in non-technical terms), and have them verify that the issue has been resolved.  If they couldn’t print, have them send something to the printer.  If they couldn’t access a site, have them access it.  One of the worst feelings I get is when I get a repeat user with the same issue and it’s because I didn’t solve it the first time.

Next – I’ll let you in on a little secret – build up a good and solid network.  If I find myself with an employer for more than 2-3 months, I start building up a network (and not just those I directly work with).  Get to know people, even if it is purely virtually (though email, phone calls, IM etc..).  When you get these connections established, don’t be afraid to help them out if they ask for help, most will quickly return the favor when you need help in the future.  Plus, the more people you know, the more people you have to ask for good letters of recommendations when it comes time to ask for a raise or promotion.  :)   Building up a network does NOT mean you’re kissing their rears, too.  No one likes a kiss-ass.

Keep in touch with that network.  As long as you do this, your network will grow.  Yes, people will leave but others will come into the groups.  Your group will grow and the knowledge base of the group will grow with it.  Even if you’re alone there are many techie sites out there that you can join for quick answers (for example, Windrivers – http://forums.windrivers.com).

Also, it’s not about what you know but can you find the answer?  I worked with a guy once who had his CCNA, MCSP, MCP+I, A+, N+, and graduated “with honors” from a local well known computer school.  Let’s just ay he spent over 10 minutes arguing with a customer (over the phone) claiming that they knew nothing about computers since they didn’t know what operating system they were running and he couldn’t help them.  He never heard of Windows 3.1 (and this was back in 2000).  Now, who do you think the customers would rather deal with – him, who didn’t even know how to install drivers but had that education, or me with no education but someone who would be willing to jump onto Google.com or ask a few co-workers for the answers?

Don’t be an arrogant jackass.  This is one of the biggest complaints.  Seriously, you’re talking to a human.  Just because you know (allegedly) know more about computers than they do doesn’t mean you can treat them like bubblegum under your shoe.  I’m sure there are areas they could whoop your rear in, sales, engineering,and  SOCIAL SKILLS.

Be presentable.  Don’t go to work dirty in raggedy clothes.  Well, this might be OK in a surf shop or a grunge store but not many techs work there.  Adhere to the dress code (my office is business causal, I either wear nice jeans or khakis and a polo shirt), shower, etc.

Respect their time.  Yes, I’ve said people need to respect the techs time but techs need to respect the customer’s time, too.  They are your customer, even if they aren’t directly paying you.  Just because you just logged onto World of Warcraft doesn’t mean you can tell everyone to wait.  They have things to do or else they wouldn’t need the computers.

Don’t be the militant police.  Every day I see software on computers that shouldn’t be on there (including mine) but I understand that corporate either gives us horrible options for what we need or no option at all.  Unless it is a security risk (torrent software, etc..), a resource hog and shouldn’t be there (once I found someone had installed Pirates of the Caribbean online on their computer) , or has absolutely no business on a work PC (porn), I don’t care.  So what they have TradeWinds Legends on their computer.  So what if they have iTunes.  I don’t care as long as they fully understand I will not support them and will not reinstall them if I need to reinstall Windows on their PCs (and I will let them know if that is causing the issue, too).  I did once report that some employees were using a hacker site to go around the internet firewall while working in the stores.  My issue with that:  they’re allowing you to see the whole internet, what do you think you’re allowing them to see on your computer that has complete access to all of our customers’ information?  Trust me; I’m willing to bet you have skeletons in your closet, too.

I’m sure there is a lot more I could write on this subject but it’s a Friday evening (and I’m blogging?), it’s been a long week, and David Byrne’s film “True Stories” just came in and I want to watch it.  :)

FPL – you’re funny.

Author: admin  |  Category: Business, Consumer, News, Observations, Rant, Thoughts  |  Comments (0)  |  Add Comment

About a week ago I called FPL (Florida Power & Light – our electric company) about electric arcing from the wires to a palm tree in front of my house.  In my call with them they said it could take up to 21 days before someone came out to look at it.  You can imagine I wasn’t too happy considering the severity of the situation and how this was a fire hazard to my home and family.

This morning I noticed a pamphlet on my door from FPL – I looked at and was shocked at what I saw.

Wait did I read that right? Seriously, I misread it, so I took a closer look:

Yes, I was not reading it wrong. Their comments were “No current hazard, palm fronds are burned away from wires” (nice pun, by the way). So, there is no hazard because there was already a fire and it was burned away from the wires. Now, I’m no alarmist but when I saw the arcing, I was estimating it was between 6-12 inches long. That’s a lot of power – most armature Tesla coils don’t even go out that far.

Mind you, this is a company that owns and operates multiple nuclear power plants. I can see FPL now, as an online buddy of mine put it, “Oh meltdown, it’s one of those annoying buzzwords. We prefer to call it an unrequested fission surplus”. Can’t wait to see them use that one at Turkey Point or in Seabrook, NH.

What will FPL do next?

Attention Domain owners: Emails from “DomainNotice”!

Author: admin  |  Category: Consumer, Domains, Internet, Security  |  Comments (0)  |  Add Comment

It seems that there is a huger harvesting of domains going on right now and a company called “DomainNotice” is sending out email. Plain and simple – this is a scam.

They offer to keep your site indexed by “search engine” (what, they don’t even know Google?) and if you do not pay them $75 for 1 year, it will not be searchable by search engines.

This is completely FALSE. Unless your site is black flagged by Google (or any search engine), you do not need to resubmit your site to them. It will remain indexed for as long as your site is indexable. You can re-submit your sites to Google, and that is FREE.

These emails are a scam – do not respond to them, do not fax the paper to them. Just flag the email as spam.

Here are the links to where you can do this for free, one time:
Google
Yahoo
MSN

How to get further with customer service

Author: admin  |  Category: Consumer, Thoughts  |  Comments (0)  |  Add Comment

You catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar. That old saying is so cliché but so true, especially when it comes to dealing with customer service representatives. Sadly, I’ve seen so many people feel that yelling, screaming, swearing, and general baby like temper tantrum throwing will get them whatever they want.

With me and many people I know it doesn’t. In fact, I’m less willing to help someone acting like a first grader who had the ball taken away from him.

I spent over 20 years in retail environments and currently in a support position. I’ve done it all, bagger or cashier at a grocery store, management, support, customer service, sales, technical sales, IT, and so on. I’ve been yelled at. I’ve been sworn at. Insulted, threatened, harassed, chased, attacked, etc. All that ever got these people was anything from being asked to leave the store to being escorted out by the local police department in handcuffs.

How can you get customer service to work with you? That’s actually pretty easy and would go miles further than yelling and screaming.

First, be polite. This is the most important. The person you are talking to, whether over the phone or in person, is actually a person, not a computer. They have feelings and are most likely not the cause of the reason why you are talking to them. They didn’t make your computer crash nor did they make you drop that call so don’t blame them. I’ve personally driven over 20 miles out of my way (each way) to help out someone because they were respectful and polite to me.

Second, body language. Be open and non threatening. Don’t stand there and cross your arms, stare them down, grit your teeth. This will only create a tense situation. Be relaxed, make eye contact (not daggers) when you are talking to them. Be non threatening.

Next, know your facts. Nothing will blow your credibility faster than inaccurate information coming out of your mouth. It easy sets the representative you’re talking to at an advantage and they will think that if you can’t get the facts straight. Know what you are talking about and what it means.

Also, don’t lie. We hate it when people lie to us and we know when people lie to us. If you’ve had your computer in for service several times before, trust me, I will look up the previous tickets. Don’t lie about time frames, outages, and the number of times you’ve called. We have that information handy so we know. We know when you’ve been in for service, we know about outages, and we know you’ve been waiting in the store 15 minutes, not the hours you’re claiming. Also, we can tell the difference between a mistake and a lie. A mistake is getting the number of dropped calls in a day off by a few. Lying is saying you drop all calls when the records show you’ve only dropped a couple.

And, listen. Listen to what the representative is saying. Feel free to repeat what they say. It shows us that you are listening and chances are that the representative won’t have to repeat themselves (they have plenty of other people to help). Have a conversation.

Stick to the relevant stuff. Trust me; they do not want to hear how frustrated you are because of traffic or your sick dog. “Woe is me” stories will only get you yawns and a tired look. Stick to the relevant stuff, yes, you need to be very logical with this. What happened, when did it happen, etc…

Be firm but be willing to compromise. Be firm about the issues you’re having but what you think may be a good resolution may be ridiculous in their eyes. Six months of free service because your HBO was out for two days is beyond reasonable. Credit for the two days is norm, maybe you’ll also get a partial month’s credit.

Feel free to ask questions. This is a two way conversation. If you’re unsure about something, speak up. The representative will assume you understand them unless you speak up (but don’t interrupt them). When they are done, ask for clarification if you do not understand what they said. Leaving with unanswered questions will only add to your frustrations later on.

Don’t get impatient. If you are in a line or have a number, don’t get mad if you’re waiting a reasonable amount of time. The representative may be busy with someone and they want to make sure that their customer is taken care of, chances are they will do the same for you.

One thing at a time! Don’t unload several issues all at once. Let the representative know you do have a few (or several) concerns but deal with one at a time. Getting all jumbled and multidirectional will only make the situation less efficient and more frustrating for both people involved.

Remember your please’s and thank you’s. Yeah, it sounds so grade school but these representatives work hard and probably have a harder job than you do (for most people, there are some jobs more demanding than customer service, military, police, fire etc, but not an accountant or a janitor). Those simple little words can go a long way.

Know when they can’t help you and when they won’t help you. Big difference. If they won’t help you, they don’t care about the policies and don’t want to help you. If they can’t help you, they may have policies restricting them from doing what you are requesting them to do. None of them wants to get fired just to make you happy, if they can’t help you,

Don’t be afraid to ask for a manager or escalate. Be polite about it. The representatives are not superman; they cannot do anything you want them to do. Due to abuse policies are in place that don’t allow them to do everything (see above). Managers usually have more leeway with the rules, as long as they have a good reason to and their decision is a good one for the business.

Be willing to give as well as take. Sure, it’s nice to be compensated for your troubles, but if you’re looking for free service, expect to pay for something in return, maybe a discount on the service or even a contract. Like most businesses, they aren’t here to give away everything.

If you feel your representative doesn’t want to help you or isn’t competent, ask to speak to someone else or a supervisor. For all you know it could be their first day on the job and they’re still trying to learn the ropes.

Some companies have automated phone call surveys. Remember, these surveys, unless specifically asking about the policies, are asking you to rate the customer service representative, NOT the policies. If you didn’t like the policy but the representative did a good job, don’t give them a bad survey, these surveys DO go back to their supervisors generally.