How to Win Customer Loyalty

Do you know what might be one of the best companies in the world, at least as far as customer service?


Now this isn’t a paid endorsement, merely one person’s opinion.

Expedia is awesome!

Recall that Domer and I just returned from our failed trip to Ireland.

One of the hotels we’d booked (for a four-night stay) was through Expedia.

When we decided to come home early, we spoke with the hotel desk clerk and were told they couldn’t refund our payment because we’d booked through Expedia. Then they provided us with phone numbers to call upon our return.

Since then, I’ve been trying to get my money back.

Aer Lingus, the airline, turned me down. But the parking company kindly refunded me and so did the first hotel we didn’t stay at.

All I was waiting on was the abbreviated stay at our last hotel.

Yesterday, I received a call from Expedia’s Customer Service Department, wanting to know who we’d spoken with at the hotel desk and whether we’d received a receipt.

Neither of us could remember a name; we had no receipt.

The Expedia rep said the hotel told them they had no record of our leaving early.

Uh-oh. I started hearing the faint sound of Cha-Ching again.

This morning I was going to call the hotel and beg the manager to substantiate our claim.

It proved unnecessary.

Expedia just called and said they’d honor our request for a refund — whoo hoo!

I told her the only thing I had to prove we’d left early was our stamped airline tickets, copies of which I’d be glad to forward.

No need, she said. Your refund will arrive in seven to 14 days.

Happy Dance!

You know, it’s easy to see why companies with superior customer service are successful. Customer service is one of the tenets of business. It’s what enables people to return goods without hassle, speak with a real person over the phone, and feel prices are fair and treatment is gentle.

I think this quote sums it up perfectly:

There is a spiritual aspect to our lives – when we give we receive – when a business does something good for somebody, that somebody feels good about them!

— Ben Cohen, Ben & Jerry’s

Making Progress on Domer’s Move

I’ve just returned from The Land of the North, where My Favorite Domer will be moving later this summer.

Our journey was necessitated because Domer rather likes — and needs — a place to call Home, yet he obviously didn’t have one since he’s never lived North.

(Other than four years in South Bend, which often felt like “North”!)

We packed the car on Sunday and took off, Google maps in hand, prepared for an eight-hour road trip. Domer took the wheel first, giving me a chance to file my fingernails, place some phone calls, and read.

Some time after lunch, we found ourselves in the Podunk region of a neighboring state, watching as farm after farm flashed by, enjoying the bucolic scenery of cows and hay, corn and trees.

But we were on a two-lane state highway, and Domer was “lucky” enough to have several slowpokes in front of him — with no easy way of getting around them.

“Can’t we go any faster than 50?” he wondered aloud.

Not really, I said. The road is twisting and turning, you’ve got hills and No Passing signs.

“I can’t stand this! The idiot in front of me is just far enough behind the guy in front of him that I’d have to go around the whole lot of them, and there’s no time.”

Poor Domer.

Want me to take over, I asked.

“What more could you do?”

He had a point.

Eventually, we landed in The Land of the North, checked into a hotel, and decided to look around.

How can one city have so many confusing road signs, I wondered.

Normally, I have a great sense of direction. Sure, the compass inside my rear view mirror helps, but still.

These streets felt as if they were going north when they were going south, east when they were actually west, and I felt much like somebody had blindfolded me, spun me in circles, then instructed me to walk a straight line.

We learned it was easier for Domer to play navigator and me to drive.

Fewer angry words, too!

Because it was after-hours for leasing offices, we opted to eat dinner and get an early start the next day.


Armed with a map and a list of addresses, Domer and I set out in hopeful spirits.

The first couple of places we checked felt a little sketchy.

Nice enough, I suppose, and certainly reasonable in price, but nothing to write home about.

“Remember,” my sister had advised me, “Shacks are cheap for a reason.”

She knows this, having helped lease apartments for her two kids several times now, and I’ve never felt the need to experience everything for myself when I can learn from others!

Finally, I sensed Domer’s growing frustration and suggested we look at something on the pricier end of his list.

“I can’t afford that,” he whined.

(Yep, by that time both of us were whiny!)

We’ll just look, I said. You can’t compare if you don’t have anything to compare to.

(Where had I heard that before??)

Long story short, we both fell in love with the “fancy” place, and if all works out, that’s where Domer will live.

A place that’s safe. And clean.

One that fits his budget and has amenities (like snow-removal and private entrances).

A place I wouldn’t mind living myself.

If it weren’t in The Land of the North!

Half-year Review of Goals

We’ve reached the half-way mark of 2013, and I figured now was as good a time as any to review my New Year’s Resolutions and openly admit my failures let everybody know how I’m progressing:

1) Blog twice a week. It appears I’m on track. From what I understand, the trick to a successful blog isn’t the number of posts. It’s substance. And coming up with interesting, well-written posts twice a week isn’t easy. I admire bloggers who do. And I’m offering a sincere Thank You to those who’ve been sticking with me. I’m honored to call you “friends.”

2) Finish my novel. Nope. Not yet. I’m one of those writers who prefer not outlining — if the story bores me, it will bore my readers. But that means I have no guide as to where it’s going, so it’s not surprising I painted myself into yet another corner. I got deep into the middle of my story, then asked myself, “Is this believable?” When I grudgingly had to admit it wasn’t, I decided to go back to the beginning and rework it. Armed with a better storyline and a semblance of an outline, I’m hoping all is not lost. Whether I can actually type The End by Dec. 31 is another story!

3) Learn a programming language. Sigh. No. But at least I’ve started. I bought a few books and found some helpful sites online to teach myself the things I need to know to be competitive and successful in my business. But it’s going to take time. Perhaps I should modify the goal by moving it to an “ongoing” column with other lifelong learning and techy things?

4) Lose five pounds. I realized after I set this goal that I’d neglected to weigh myself. You know what that means? Ascertaining success is going to be next to impossible! Okay, but I’m more concerned with having my clothes fit. Not baggy and sloppy, not snug and constricting. That’s a better measuring stick anyway, right? And since I’ve already noticed improvement — my jeans almost look like the Jones family moved out of the seat, and I’ve had to start wearing a belt to keep my shorts from dropping down ’round my knees! — I’m counting this as a Win. Don’t be jealous. Be inspired. If I can do it, so can you!

5) Set up an author Website. Not finished yet, but coming along. I have colors, fonts, and skeletal design complete; my problem to date is photos. I’d hoped Domer would return photographic duties for all the times I “shot” him. But he doesn’t want to, so I’m opting for a professional. That just might work out better anyway, as it’s going to take a special person to get me to relax in front of the lens!

Ta-Da! This wasn’t so painful after all. Now, how are YOU coming with your goals for the year??

How do I Save these Items?

In the midst of the hubbub my life has become, I’m trying to finish My Favorite Domer’s senior year Memory Book before he takes off for The Working World.

My consolation is that this task is almost done, and if he wants any more memory books, he’ll have to compile them for himself!

Still, it’s been a labor of love. And I enjoy reliving with him those precious memories.

Now some things are fairly easy to preserve, even for a non-scrapbooker like me.

Things like ticket stubs. Photos. Boarding passes. Notes and letters. Football schedules with game results. Programs from award ceremonies.

But it’s the odd-shaped things that have me stumped.

And if anybody has realistic suggestions on how to preserve them, please let me know!

Need an example? How about this:

Band hat

Band hat

How do you save a Band hat? Don’t ask me Why he needs it, or Why the Band parted with it. It is what it is — a memory. And just looking at it, I get teary-eyed. All those football games, Bowl games, marchouts, friends. He’s not parting with this, and that’s that!

Or this:

Leprechaun Legion hat

Leprechaun Legion hat

Domer got this as part of the basketball pep band one year, and it’s never left. It’s a huge, foam, green hat with a gold shamrock on one side. Leprechaun Legion, by the way, is the student fan section at athletic events.

Does he need it? Will he ever wear it again? Probably not. But we’re not getting rid of it, either.

Or how about these:



Domer got these “Mardi Gras beads” during the women’s basketball trip to New Orleans for the Final Four tournament. You probably can’t tell, but the gold “beads” are actually small basketballs. Cute, huh?

I have no idea how to preserve something like this. Perhaps he can simply hang them on a doorknob and recall the fun he and his Band buddies had, eating jambalaya and beignets, hoisting a tall cool one, and watching basketball.

Or what about this:



We’ve got the tassel preserved in a photo frame with his picture, but this hat is a bit cumbersome. What does one do with a used mortarboard?

But the best of the lot is this thing:

Horse mask

Horse mask

A horse mask?? Seriously? I’m supposed to save this?

Absolutely, he says. We had all kinds of fun wearing this thing. It was worth every penny!

You paid good money for a horse mask?

Sure, I did. And I’d do it again, too.

Well, okay, but even Dallas seems to think there’s something amiss with a horse in his living room:

Dallas and the horse

Dallas and the horse

From Student to Employee

I think I alluded to this in my last post, but now that graduation is over, now that we’re back from our miserable trip abroad, the BIG item on the To-Do List for my son and me is getting him relocated.

Out of state.

Far out of state.

For his new job.

Not a part time internship.

A real JOB.

With a paycheck. And benefits. And bills.

Because My Favorite Domer is entering the World of the Employed.

Woo-Hoo, can you see me doing the Happy Dance?!

What is it they say, Parenting is the only job that, once you get really really good at it, you’re unemployed.

Maybe, but I believe I’m a long was from that.

Anyway, relocation means work. Lots of work.

And expenses. Mucho expenses.

  • Like an apartment.
  • And stuff to go into the apartment — furniture, towels, cooking items, food.
  • And a car, since he didn’t have one at college, by his own choice.
  • And insurance.
  • And a new cell phone (because his is woefully outdated, has an annoying proclivity to shut down willy-nilly, has buttons in the wrong places, and won’t keep a charge).
  • And a laptop (because the battery on his overheats, shutting down the entire system without warning).
  • And working people clothes (as opposed to T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers).

It’s exciting to be sharing this time in his life. And I’m ever-so-grateful that he’s found gainful employment (and doesn’t have to hang around here being bored).

So don’t ask me if I’m working on my novel.

With this much on my mind, I’m doing good just to keep up with this blog!

And it’s okay. Really.

As my late dad used to say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Nor is a novel.

When LIFE interferes with your writing, you have two options:

  1. Rail against it, squeeze out time to write when you can, then throw it all out when you realize it sucks, and rail some more at the injustice of it all, or
  2. Roll with the punches, write when you can, and don’t sweat it when you can’t.

I’m trying the second route. I’ve tried the first one before, and it doesn’t work.

Too much angst.

Rolling with the punches feels better.

I like to think my novel is percolating, that I’m letting the creative juices simmer while I tend to everyday things.

And besides, I’d boxed myself into a terrible corner, one I can only hope time will help me resolve!

But I’m putting my Muse on notice — I’ll be back.

Baking with Domer

Now that my son (AKA My Favorite Domer) has graduated, he’s got a brief window of time to “rest” before he commences work.

And he’s using this time wisely, or so I think.

He’s invested in a super-thick cookbook and is teaching himself how to cook (something he didn’t have much need for while he was a student in a college dorm, eating dining hall food — or fast food! — every day).

Following the recommendation of one of his Notre Dame friends, he bought Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything,” a 1,000+ page tome chock-full of recipes, instructions, helpful aids, line drawings, and all things culinary.

I realize not everybody likes or appreciates Mr. Bittman, a former columnist for The New York Times and author of more than a dozen cookbooks. However, a young person needs to start somewhere, and Bittman has a way of walking his readers through the process while encouraging them to experiment and stretch themselves.

Just the confidence-booster they need!

For dinner tonight, Domer and I decided to try our hands at Oatmeal Cookies.

Yes, I know you can buy them at the store. But we wanted to bake!

Now there’s not enough money in my hometown to pay me to eat a bowl of hot oatmeal. I don’t like the taste, or the consistency, or anything about it.

Never have.

My mom eats oatmeal (“gruel,” I call it) practically every morning, but not me.

Not Domer either.

But I like oatmeal cookies, and these were delicious — chewy, filled with raisins and chocolate chips, and hot from the oven.

See for yourselves:

Yummy oatmeal cookies, fresh from the oven1

Yummy oatmeal cookies, fresh from the oven1

The recipe calls for rolled oats, but we used instant. Didn’t make much difference, we decided (of course, we’re not oats experts either!)

For those who are interested, here’s the recipe:

Oatmeal Cookies (makes 3-4 dozen)

Time: about 30 min.

Ingredients —

8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, softened

Half-cup granulated sugar

Half-cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1 1/2 C. all-purpose flour

2 C. rolled oats (not instant)

Half-teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

Half-cup milk

Half-teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions —

  1. Heat oven to 375° F. Use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and sugars. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until well blended.
  2. Mix the flour, oats, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder together in a bowl. Alternating with the milk, add the dry ingredients to the dough, a little at a time, mixing on low. Add in raisins and/or other ingredients. Stir in the extract.
  3. Drop tablespoon-sized mounds of dough, about 3 inches apart, in rows and columns on ungreased baking sheet. Bake until lightly browned, 12-15 min. Cool for about 2 minutes on the sheets before using a spatula to transfer the cookies to a rack to finish cooling. Store in a tightly covered container at room temperature for no more than a day or two.

As Julia Child used to say, Bob Appetit!!


Props to the Savviest Shopper I Know!

I think I’ve finally figured out what went wrong with our trip to Ireland.

Someone (I won’t point a finger, but you can guess!) is just too CHEAP to enjoy a vacation!

Here’s what gave it away:

This weekend, My Favorite Domer and I went into a Kohl’s store. I wanted to return a pair of shoes I’d bought for Commencement but found too uncomfortable; he said he was just going to “poke around” while I was in the Customer Service line.

When I finished, I went to the ladies section, zeroed in on a couple of things to try on, and was in the dressing room when my cell phone rang.

It was Domer.

“Have you got a minute?” he wondered. “I found some things and want you to take a look at them.”

“Where are you?”

“Men’s section.”

“Be right there.”

I discovered Domer wandering aimlessly around the men’s section, a pile of clothes in his arms.

Turns out, he’d found three sweaters, one half-zip top, and a dress topcoat.

“They were on clearance,” he told me.

Now much of those racks look like a garage sale to me, so I was hesitant.

“Do they fit?” I asked. “What’s wrong with them?”

“Nothing. They’re fine. I can wear them this winter.”

I noticed all were quality brand-name items that would go with other things in his closet.

When he showed me the price tags, I gasped.

“Too much?”

“Uh, no, I think I’ve got a fifteen percent off coupon somewhere. Ready to check out?”

He nodded and carried his loot to a cashier.

After ringing in the total, she gave me a big grin and said, “You saved $500!”

The lady behind us almost fell over from the shock.

My savvy shopper had picked up merchandise that was 90 percent off! The topcoat alone carried an original price tag of $275, and he got it for $27.50. Those sweaters were between $6 and $9 each. Each!

Now, I’ve got friends who pride themselves on spotting bargains. They browse resale shops, buy only off-season items, trade with friends, etc.

But NEVER have I had the pleasure of saving $500 on one shopping trip!!

Traveling Abroad (Four) — May, 2013

There’s something inherently sad about the demise of a dream, whether it blows up or just fizzles into nothingness.

We Americans tend to think we corner the market on dreams.

That anything is possible, if we’ll just buckle down, persevere, hang tough.

There are reams of quotes to that effect.

But sometimes, things happen that are unplanned. Unforeseen.

And dreams, once held so tightly, shatter.

Not necessarily becoming nightmares, but close.

Our trip abroad was like that for me.

Hindsight is always twenty-twenty, but perhaps we should have done a better job pre-planning. Securing visitor brochures, booking hotels, familiarizing ourselves with transportation and food and the monetary system.

Perhaps Domer and I are too cheap to be world travelers. Or too solidly ingrained in home and routine.

Perhaps this was the wrong time for a trip. Too soon on the heels of commencement.

Perhaps we should have signed up for a group tour.

(Nah, we’re too independent for that!)

If it’d been me by myself, I’d have stuck it out. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

No way would I readily admit failure. Defeat.

But this was Domer’s trip, and he was miserable. So I did what any parent would have done — whatever it took to make him un-miserable.

That meant swallowing my pride, shelling out a small fortune in cancellations and penalties, and accepting responsibility for the mistake.

But I can’t think of it as a mistake.

After all, we did see some beautiful countryside, we passed interesting-looking museums, and — short though it was — I was actually on Irish soil!

Nor did it rain all the time; in fact, we only got the briefest of mists our first day.

I haven’t lost a deep kinship with Ireland, the country of some of my forbears, either. And one day I hope to return — wiser and more organized.

Domer looks at me like I sprouted a pineapple on my head when I say that. Fine, let him grumble that our trip sucked, big time.

I disagree.

We came back with a new appreciation for our homeland. For Wal Mart, green beans, fruit salads, hamburgers, ice in drinks.

We understood what Dorothy did in The Wizard of Oz — “There’s no place like home.”

And we realized it’s a whole lot different being Irish-American than being Irish.

That, despite our our disparities, our aggravations and frustrations, the people of the USA — with their core beliefs in Freedom, Equality, Dignity, and Liberty — are strong and independent.

That our competitive spirit, free enterprise system, and a persistent belief in the goodness of mankind are valuable and honorable things.

That dreams — and the possibility of making one’s dreams come true — are worth holding onto.

And those are lessons every American needs to learn!