Monday, December 29, 2014

Direct Energy Woes Continue with Recent Customer Service Issues

Recently I decided to get rid of my Direct Energy water heater. Our family needed to investigate a new furnace and Air Conditioner as well as wanting to add a Natural Gas BBQ line for our BBQ in our backyard. The opportunity presented itself to investigate which was more economical, to continue to rent with Direct Energy or purchase our own. 

The first stop was to pull the facts together by investigating the Direct Energy Water Heater rental charges on our Enbridge bill. When we began investigating our options back in July 2014, Direct Energy's monthly charges are on bill were $25.49 plus $3.31 in HST for a total of $28.80 per month. 

I had noticed that Direct Energy had been quietly increasing the rental rates of the hot water heaters on a yearly basis between $0.50 and $1.00. So I knew the price probably was only to increase instead of stabilize for a while. But how would this compare to owning?

I started by searching out reputable companies in the local area who were referred to me by either friends, condominium management companies and consumer choice awards. I wanted to make sure that I could trust a company with our large investment in replacing our Furnace, Air Conditioner, BBQ line and, possibly, hot water heater. After receiving the referrals, Googling them and trying the BBB ratings, I began asking for quotes. Fast forward through the summer and Ottawa HVAC was selected. 

I did a quick calculation and found that in five and half years I would have recouped the purchase price of the water heater in comparison to renting with the current Direct Energy rates.  With a 6 year parts and labour warranty along with a 8 year tank liner warranty I easily was covered by both a reputable company and a well known brand name water heater warranty. So no need to fear the Direct Energy threatening marketing letters that if my water heater were to break I would be out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars for some obscure part.  Add in the fact that, according to a number of sources, the average water heater lasts between 8 to 12 years with Direct Energy claiming up to 16 yearsThus, by the time all was said in done, owning seemed better than renting.

I communicated with Ottawa HVAC off and on until September. They gave me a complete list of instructions about the days they were coming, what they expected to happen and the time frame they hoped for barring any surprises in construction that might pop up. Ottawa HVAC did a top notch job on the place and only needed 1 extra day due to bringing a short ladder. But they apologized and had it fixed the next day. They even did all the paperwork for the
Ottawa Hydro / Ontario Power Authority rebates on the new furnace and A/C and submitted it and took back the water heater to Direct Energy at no charge.  Great company!

Direct Energy though was another story.  

I knew going in there was likely to be issues.  The Toronto Star's Consumer Columnist, Ellen Roseman, has written extensively on consumer issues involving Direct Energy both in her printed columns and her blog.  A simple search in Google of "Ellen Roseman Direct Energy" is enough to make your head spin.  So I went into investigating the Water Heater return knowing I would have to do meticulous notes as there was likely to be issues and runaround.  

Even before giving Ottawa HVAC the go ahead, I did my homework on how much it was going to cost for Direct Energy to end my current contract and accept the water heater rental unit for return.  I had read many a horror story of others being charge outlandish rates by Direct Energy to end their contract and be charged $75 to have them come and pick up the unit.  Then of course there were the Water Heater return horror stories like Michael James' where the water heater was returned and signed off for and yet Direct Energy continued charging them the rental rate

So I wanted to Direct Energy to confirm with me what exactly was going to happen for the return and how much this was likely to cost before I started the water heater process.  In other words, lets get Direct Energy to clearly explain over the phone, with them recording it for "Quality Assurance Purposes" of course, what exactly the process was step by step and costing before blindly going forward with little success. 

Note:  Below includes the phone records.  Phone numbers were obtained either via reviewing my Enbridge bill or searching via Google.


The Research

Below are the section of the phone records I wrote on the phone call with the Direct Energy Water Heater Rental Department.

August 20, 2014 @ 4:40 P.M. - 1-866-554-5591 - called Direct Energy Rental Department and spoke with "Michael", a Customer Service Representative in the rental department. He pulled up my file and we went through it together.  I asked the  Questions and  Michael, at Direct Energy, answered the questions below: 

Question: What are the charges to return the water heater?

Answer:

- No cost to drop off.
-No billing would occur after the unit is returned.
-RMO slip is provided to contractor upon when completed with an Rental Removal Order number printed on that. Make sure to get a copy of it for your files.

Question: What are the steps to return them?

Answer:
1. Get a reference number by calling the same number you reached me at, from Direct Energy which is good for 30 days.

2. HVAC company removes and returns water heater.
3. HVAC company receives RMO slip.

4. Customer gets RMO# and if possible, name, date, and time equipment was returned.

5. Check next bill for correct charges.

The Return


Ottawa HVAC scheduled the work at my home to begin September 8th with the Hot Water heater being the first on the list for removal and the tank to be returned to Direct Energy on September 9th. 

Following Direct Energy Michael's Instructions I set forth to begin the return process.

September 8, 2014 @ 2:20 P.M. called 1-866-554-5591 and spoke with Charles.

Asked for Return Reference Number. Charles transferred me to rental team for Number. Kira picked up. Kira put me on hold and call dropped.

September 8, 2014 @ 2:26 P.M. called 1-866-554-5591 - no answer

September 8, 2014 @ 2:31 P.M. called 1-877-334-1846 and spoke with Chandra. Chandra gave a return authorization number of ########-#

I also requested from Chandra that a "no mail" option be enacted so Direct Energy would not send advertising mail after contract was up.

September 9, 2014 - Water Heater Returned to Direct Energy Rep "Chris 4" at "FSL Location 17 - Climec" by Ottawa HVAC (Company TSSA# ####). Tank Serial # is ###### and was removed on September 9th. 

Note: on further research the tank was returned to this Climec in Ottawa. 

After the return, I wanted to double check how the billing would work in terms of timelines. Again, I wanted Direct Energy to explain the billing process, while recording the call for "Quality Assurances Purposes", before things went awry.

September 10, 2014 @ 9:59 A.M. - 1-877-334-1846 -spoke to Tina
Went over how the billing sequence would work.
- 30 to 60 days a credit would be issued .
-next Enbridge bill will be credited for differences.
-Billing will be reconciled to date of return.
Sixty days for this entire process to correct itself? Things were to smell a little fishy. I decided to do a little more research.

September 10, 2014 @ 10:04 A.M. - 905-943-6944 - billing # on Enbridge bill for Direct Energy.
- Spoke with Amad
-couldn't tell me how long after return paperwork would take before seeing credit on bill.
-said he would note on account that water heater was returned and paperwork forthcoming.
-Transferred to water heater return department.
-Call dropped.

September 10, 2014 @ 10:13 A.M. - 1-866-334-1846
- Denver picked up and I asked for manager.
-Denver brought up account and put me on hold.

September 10, 2014 @ 10:17 A.M. - Ashley Manager/Supervisor picked up. 
-30 days for billing to reconcile
-pay next bill in full
-Refund from date of return will be done to Enbridge Bill.
-2 weeks to confirm return of water heater then send paperwork over that Ottawa HVAC has.

Awesome, 30 days (i.e. the next Enbridge Bill after the September bill) everything would be fixed supposedly! Even better a "Billing Manager/Supervisor" confirmed it. Things were looking up a bit. 

The Billing Fiasco

On September 21, 2014 I received my regular Enbridge bill dated September 16th in the mail. I paid the $25.49 + HST charges for Direct Energy in full as directed by Ashley.

On October 23, 2014 I received the my regular Enbridge bill dated October 16, 2014 in the mail.  Interestingly enough there was a charge of "$5.10" for water heater service between "September 13, 2014 -September 18, 2014."   How was this possible considering the water heater was returned on September 9th and signed off by a Direct Energy representative?  So what were the charges for September 13th for and where was my refund for the unused rental term from the September bill?

Ashley's own billing department had also proven her wrong.  This was going take unnecessarily longer than 30 days to fix and closer to previously promised 60 days.  No wonder, it was going to take 30 days for Direct Energy to screw it up and then another 30 days for Direct Energy to fix it.

But here is where the story gets even worse and frustrating.  Direct Energy was obviously willing to obfuscate the issue so much  I would forget about it.  Here is Direct Energy's tactics that I came across:

- repeated dropped calls.
-representatives & "managers" refusing to listen admitting Direct Energy was incorrect.
-representatives and managers issuing case numbers that later proved to be incorrect
-false claims of customer engaging "legal representation" (i.e. lawyer)

But I refused to submit to Direct Energy's various attempts to basically make a no cost water heater return cost something.

Back to my written phone records:

October 23, 2014 @ 3:15 P.M. - 1-877-334-1842
- Jessica picked up.
-transfers me to billing.

October 23, 2014 @ 3:16 P.M. 
Sandra from billing comes on very low volume. Call drops 2 minutes in after she attempts to get my
information.

October 23, 2014 @ 3:18 P.M. - 1-866-386-1134 - Direct Energy Phone number on Enbridge bill.

-Leonar picks up.
-Confirms Direct Energy received water heater on September 8, 2014 based on what she sees.
-Says Customer Service Supervisor would need to resolve this issue.
-puts me on hold.

3:29 P.M. -Leonar gives me Case # ########, repeats it back to me to ensure correct number record and transfers me to Customer Service Manager.

3:32 P.M. - call dropped.

October 23, 2014 @ 3:33 P.M. - called 1-866-386-1134 - number on Enbridge Bill for Direct Energy.

- Patrice picked up.
-Not billing and would transfer me.
-call dropped.

October 23, 2014 @ 3:36 P.M. - called 905-943-6944 - number on Enbridge Bill for Direct Energy
-Tim picked up.
-explained full story of Water Heater Return and issue with charges.
-told case# was incorrect and new case number is needed.
-I refuse to take new case number and request to be transferred to Customer Service Manager
-repeat request to be transferred to Customer Service Manager.
-3:46 P.M. - transferred to Customer Service Manager.
-3:53 P.M. - Customer Supervisor (didn't get name) picked up. and I explained issue.
-3:58 P.M. - put on hold by Customer Service Manager
-4:07 P.M. - call dropped. 

October 23, 2014 @ 4:09 P.M. - Sent Tweet to @directenergy
-requesting assistance and explaining poor Customer Service.

October 23, 2014 @ 4:11 P.M. - called 905-943-6944 - number on Enbridge Bill for Direct Energy.
-asked to speak to billing manager.
4:29 P.M. - no billing manager available as no one picked up after being transferred, so hung up.

October 23, 2014 @ 4:30 P.M. -@directenergy requests DM of phone number to have someone contact me.
-send back my phone number via DM for Direct Energy to follow up with. 

At this stage, I've attempted multiple times to deal with Direct Energy directly to resolve an easy billing issue that any customer service focused company could have easily taken care of.   But Direct Energy was definitely not interested with proof in their methods of obfuscation.  It was time to step it up a notch and get Direct Energy's attention to see what I could do.  

First step, I decided to make sure Direct Energy definitely took notice of my issue, I  tweeted to Toronto Star's Consumer Columnist Ellen Roseman (@EllenRoseman) who I know is a customer service professional in terms of righting wrongs with many a company.

October 23 @ 4:11 P.M. - Ellen responds via Twitter that I should send an e-mail to her with all the details.

It took me a little while to type out all my phone into an e-mail to forward to Ellen. Meanwhile the Direct Energy situation continued to evolve.

The second step was to contact the actual company that issues the bill and accepts payment on behalf of Direct Energy, Enbridge to see what they could do. With Direct Energy having permission to bill on via Enbridge, Enbridge must have a way to help out their beleaguered clients.

October 23, 2014 @ 4:38 P.M. - call Enbridge Billing at 1-877-362-7434
-Ashley picks up.
-Explain the issue with Direct Energy hot water heater return and billing issues.
-Ashley confirms $5.10 on the October 16, 2014 bill is incorrect and I have options. Enbridge does not want to charge their customers incorrectly and Direct Energy is responsible for ensuring correct billing for their products.
-45 days dispute registration through Enbridge where Direct Energy must contact you to resolve situation.
-Ashley calculated I should receive $5.76 credit back overall on September 16, 2014 bill due to incorrect charges by Direct Energy.
-Ashley said I could hold back $5.10 + HST from Enbridge Bill for Direct Energy charges. Enbridge wouldn't charge interest due to the registered complaint.
-Enbridge Case# ########

Next was to turn the tables on Direct Energy.  When renting from them and failing to pay a bill, I would be charged, via Enbridge, an interest rate.  But what about Direct Energy failing to pay me back? Why could I not charge them an interest rate for basically failing to pay me back as agreed?  In other words, why could I not charge Direct Energy for borrowing my money? 

October 23, 2014 @ 4:50 P.M. - called 905-943-6944 - number on Enbridge Bill for Direct Energy. 
- didn't get name of rep who picked up, asked to speak to manager.
-4:53 P.M. - Transferred to Manager.
-Charlie, "Supervisor" picked up.
-Explained my situation again and repeated issues.
-explained that since Direct Energy was now technically "borrowing my money" a 2% interest rate would apply billed monthly.
-Charlie agreed with "o.k." after it.
-Charlie said she couldn't do anything about billing issue and it needed to be sent to back office.
-Asked to speak to someone in the back office to help work through the issue.
-Charlie said "I cannot transfer you to them to resolve. They may or may not call you."

Meanwhile, my interaction with @DirectEnergy on Twitter and Ellen Roseman seemed to have started percolating the way through Direct Energy's offices.

But, as per usual with Direct Energy, the obfuscation continues. It was only my reply tweets back to Direct Energy on Twitter, calling the 1-866 number and trying to get operator and finally incessantly calling back of "Cathy" on the number provided that saved the day.

October 24, 2014 @ 10:25 A.M. - Received call from "Cathy" of Direct Energy at home and wife calls to relay message to me on cell phone.

October 24, 2014 @ 10:30 A.M. - call "Cathy" at 1-866-226-1700 ext. 12048
-rings 5 times and goes to Voicemail set up options. 

October 24, 2014 @ 10:33 A.M. - Called 1-866-226-1700 (phone number from above) and pressed "0" in hopes of clarifying where "Cathy" is and how to talk with her. 
-David picks up.
-I explain the situation that led me to him and wonder how to get in touch with Cathy.
-He looks up "Cathy" and wonders if it is "Cassandra"
-David is Montreal and says he can only e-mail Cathy to call me back. He can't transfer me to her.
-I ask David if he can help resolve billing situation.
-David reviews notes.
-Says Direct Energy's notes says that I said I may consult legal representation.
-I ask David to strike the note as I never said that. David responds he does not have the authority to remove notes.
-David says he cannot help resolve situation with billing issue.
-He said he would e-mail Cathy.

Great, not only was Direct Energy obfuscating but now they were trying to step it up a notch by claiming I was going to hire a lawyer and then refusing to remove this false allegation from their records.

October 24, 2014 @ 11:15 - call "Cathy" at 1-866-226-1700 ext. 12048 - rings 3 times and she picks up.
-Explain situation to Cathy from start to finish.
-Asks if anyone I spoke agree situation was needed a refund? 
-nope, 99% of the people I spoke to said I owed money even after I explained situation.
-Cathy went through the notes and said I was right, that a credit was required.
-September 16, 2014 bill: $2.73 + $0.35 (HST)= $3.08 back
-October 16, 2014 bill: $5.10 + $0.66 (HST) = $5.76 back.
Total credit: $8.84 back total.
-Cathy explained that I will be receiving another phone call from Direct Energy explaining above credit as they are required to due to the Enbridge Disputed Charge Claim.
-I asked about voicemail issue in getting to her. She said she was on the phone at the time and her voicemail has been an issue.

The Resolution

On the November Enbridge Bill things looked up.  "Cathy" had told the truth.  There, on page 3 was a shining credit of $8.50 and on page 1 the accompanying HST rebate as promised!

As for follow up on my situation through Ellen Roseman, I finished the e-mail after the promised refund from Cathy and sent it off. But I can't help think that because I had contacted Ellen on Twitter, Direct Energy took notice and decided to move things along before this whole situation turned even worse for them by ending up in the press.   Ellen followed up with a request as to what I would like now, I asked for a written apology for which I am still awaiting (but doubt I'll get).  Ellen did say she promised to forward on my issue to her contact at Direct Energy to review at their end.

Wanting to be done with it and finally enjoy the sanity of not having to deal with Direct Energy anymore, I waived the $0.02 interest charges plus $20.00 administration fee for invoicing them for the interest and moved on with my life.

Direct Energy continues to flounder in the marketplace and, no wonder, has recently agreed to sell their water heater rentals in the Ontario market. Originally Direct Energy purchased Enbridge's home water heater rental unit in 2002 for $1 billion.  Direct Energy sold this unit to Enercare now for $550 after years of layoffs and moving it's own head office from Toronto to Houston.

With customer service experiences like mine and others that Ellen Roseman has had to step in on, it's now wonder Direct Energy is in hot water and wants to get out. 

Humour: Psychiatrist vs Bartender

Ever since I was a child, I've always had a fear of someone under my bed at night. So I went to a shrink and told him:

"I've got problems. Every time I go to bed I think there's somebody under it. I'm scared. I think I'm going crazy!"

"Just put yourself in my hands for one year," said the shrink.

"Come talk to me three times a week and we should be able to get rid of those fears."

"How much do you charge?"

"Eighty dollars per visit," replied the doctor.

"I'll think about it," I said. Six months later, I met the doctor on the street.

"Why didn't you come to see me about those fears you were having?" he asked.

"Well, Eighty bucks a visit three times a week for a year is over Twelve thousand dollars! A bartender cured me for $10. I was so happy to have saved all that money that I bought me a new pickup!"

"Is that so!" With a bit of an attitude he said, "and how, may I ask, did a bartender cure you?"

"He told me to cut the legs off the bed! - Ain't nobody under there now!"

Thursday, December 25, 2014

So I'm a Dad....

It's been quite a December to say the least....

Today, Christmas Day, I sit here reflecting on the month so far and what may come.   It all started the afternoon of Sunday November 30th and evolved from there.

We were expecting our first child, a daughter, on January 5th.  Our pregnancy hadn't been easy with my wife feeling the effects of pregnancy from being tired early on through to high blood pressure in the later stages.  My wife had been on bed rest since early October and we were on regular visits to the Ottawa Hospital's General Campus Obstetrical team for observation. The Obstetrical team was top notch, many of the staff physicians are also professors at the University of Ottawa's Faculty of Medicine.

That Sunday November 30th was a beautiful fall day in Ottawa.  My Mother-in-Law and I had ventured to Lansdowne Park to see the Christmas Market and tour around the grounds to review the renovations that had been undertaken in the previous years.  That afternoon we went home to help my wife take her blood pressure.  This is where things got interesting.

With her blood pressure through the roof after multiple tests over a period of fifteen minutes we set off for the hospital.  Fast forward to later that evening, my wife was resting in birthing unit carefully being attended to by a nurse.  The nurse carefully reviewed the extensive monitoring equipment minute by minute with a Fellow (a doctor working towards full certification in maternal-fetal health medicine) checking in periodically.

Things got a little scary when our daughter's pulse started to dip a bit on a couple of occasions.  My wife and the team of nurses plus the teaching fellow would turn her over too and fro until the pulse rate came back up. After about the third occasion the Fellow said we needed to move forward.

At this stage I was in shock.  It hadn't registered yet.  It was only the previous week at the regular Doctor's appointment that we were thinking of scheduling the delivery for late December.  I was going to graduate from the YMCA's OSEB Program with my business, Suddcorp Solutions, and then move forward with having a daughter before Christmas.  Apparently my daughter had other plans.

I was suited in scrubs and introduced to some guy named Dr. Lawrence Oppenheimer who said he was going to do the surgery.  At this point, it could have been Santa Claus himself doing the surgery, I didn't care I was just concerned about my daughter and wife's health.  Turns out Dr. Oppenheimer is the head of the Maternal-Fetal department at the Ottawa Hospital along with being a Full Professor at the University of Ottawa.

On  December 1st, Theodora was born!  A cute bundle of joy who let it be known to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Doctors she was not happy at being poked and prodded in the Operating Room (OR).   Soon after though she was bundled and carefully handed to me.  We sat together with Mom for a long 15 minutes eyeing each other silently as the Doctors continued to finish up.

Soon after I was invited by one of the nurses to take Theodora on her first ever trip, to meet Nurse Emily at the NICU where Theodora would be welcomed, comforted with a heating lamp and allowed to rest. I returned to our room and greeted first time Grandma, my wife's mother and got changed out of the scrubs.  My wife soon returned to rest and be tended to by the kind nursing staff of the Ottawa Hospital's Birthing Unit for the rest of the evening.

This past month our daughter has passed every possible test with flying colours.  She stabilized her blood sugar and body temperature, eats regularly (yes, sometimes sleepy), has decent hearing and is gaining weight.  After two family Doctor visits she has impressed her with both her cuteness and the ability to fill her diaper while being examined.

She even has the knack for timing.  In the womb I tried putting my ear up against my wife's belly to try and listen to what it was like in there.  About 5 seconds later I got a swift kick in the ear.   Later on the Ultrasound appointments more kicks and punches were dealt to the stenographer's probe.  Outside the womb, 4 a.m. feedings seem to be quite eventful.  After a diaper change, drink and burps Theodora is ready to party!  She wants to be held by either mommy or daddy in their bed, no crib time for her until she falls asleep!

It has been quite the month of feedings, burps and diaper changes.  I never thought I would be so excited to see a full diaper. She has gained weight, is awake a little more and is gradually filling out.

In the future I look forward to many adventures.  Whether it be to the local library for storytime with the librarian and to choose a few favourites to take home, to the Experimental Farm to see the cows or on adventure through the walking paths throughout the Ottawa area.  I'm looking forward to many firsts whether it be walking, riding the bus and meeting aunts and uncles from Toronto or Vancouver.

It sure has been quite the month of December, but I wouldn't trade it for anything as we celebrate our first Christmas as a family.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Faking Online Reviews

Over at Suddcorp Solutions, I recently posted an article about online review scams on Urbanspoon, Yelp! and others.

If you enjoy reading my restaurant reviews, I can ensure you I have never been paid nor comped a meal by any restaurant.  If I would, I gladly fully disclose said compensation to ensure you, the reader, know the full context of my visit.

The idea behind this post originated after I saw CBC Marketplace's episodes on Fake Online Reviews and how online marketers and businesses try to manipulate both review websites and reviews of products on their websites.

As an leading user in the Ottawa area of Urbanspoon and a social media company owner, I felt the need to show how both the average business owner and consumer could not fall for these fake marketing gimmicks.

To learn more, read the article on Suddcorp Solutions page.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Flavourful Santa's Secret Tea at DavidsTea

DavidsTea on UrbanspoonSaturday morning I was out shopping and decided to try out DavidsTea (2277 Riverside Drive, Ottawa) for a couple of reasons.

I visited the new store that opened in the summer of 2014 to find a well stocked store with 100 plus teas lining the wall behind the counter.  One employee was carefully removing each tin one at a time and dusting the shelving.  She saw me approach the counter and stopped dusting.

She got down off the chair she was using to dust and approached the counter with a bright smile on her face asking how she could help.   I was there for two things:

First to sign up for the "Frequent Steeper" program.  This is DavidsTea customer loyalty program.  For signing up for the program customers receive a free cup of tea.  Another free cup of tea is given on the day of your birthday. Then once customers reach 100 points they receive so many grams of free tea. Currently 1 point is the equivalent of 1 dollar in sales.

DavidsTea Storefront

I signed up for the program mainly for the two free teas after sign up.  I don't really have a hope in reaching the free tea portion.  The main issue with the point system is DavidsTea resets the points balance at the end of each December.  Thus, if a customer spends 90 dollars in November, by next January those points are lost and they need to start over.

The next was to try out some tea.  I reviewed my options both from the cans lining the wall but also the specials neatly written on the chalk board.  I decided to try one of the specials as this was $3.00 (taxes included) instead of the $3.85 for a regular size.

The Order: 1 Santa's Secret Tea.

The tea was poured quite quickly by the excitable guide.  Guide? Yes, that is what DavidsTea markets their employees as.  Their guides are supposed to guide you through choosing the right tea for you.

The tea was hot and flavourful.  Felt like a warm comforting blend for a cold winter day.  I guess it could of been a more holiday season themed cup, but Santa's Secret would be perfect even in January long after Christmas has past.

Overall, this DavidsTea location has cheerful, warm and welcoming employees who are willing to help with your tea exploration.  Added "specials" are a great way to try a new tea for those, like me, who feel adventurous instead of just having the same old same old.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

No Run Around Customer Service with Philips

Philips LED Light Bulb

2 Years ago, after moving into our home in Ottawa, we began gradually converting our light bulbs from regular 60 watt incandescent bulbs over to LED bulb technology.  A few months after moving in Home Depot had some Philips LED bulbs on sale at a decent price.   I picked up ten and ventured onwards to install them throughout the house.   I had planned on adding more of the same model as my budget permitted but unfortunately, Home Depot had this particular Philips LED bulb as a "special buy".  This meant Home Depot had specially ordered this model line of bulbs for the special sale only and once they were gone, they were gone.  Nonetheless, I kept the packaging so that I could possibly find a close match in the future for other rooms in my house.

Why did I hold onto the packaging? When it comes to purchasing light bulbs I like to consistently purchase the same style of bulb over and over again .  This provides the same shade of light and brightness throughout rooms in my house.  A major pet peeve is walking into restaurants and noticing the soft whites, warm whites and daylights all intermixed.  It's not hard to keep everything a similar colour by standardizing light bulbs or at least their the shade of lighting.

Fast forward to mid-October 2014. One of those Philips LED bulbs had burnt out.  I was smart enough in the intervening time to hold onto the packaging.  Turns out saving the packing was the best move I ever did as both the Phillips Customer Service phone number of 1-800-555-0050 was on the package along with the "Limited Warranty" of:

Philips warrants that this bulb will be free from defects in material and workmanship and will operate 6 years based on up to 3 hours average usage per day/7 days per week, when used as directed. If this bulb does not conform to this warranty, Philips will send you, at its election, a replacement bulb or refund your original purchase price upon receipt of the returned bulb, register receipt and proof of purchase. Please call our toll-free number, write to Philips or send an email at the website below to find out how to return the bulb. This limited warranty does not cover bulbs subject to accident, neglect, abuse misuse or acts of God. REPLACEMENT OR REFUND IS YOUR SOLE REMINTY. EXCEPT TO THE EXTENT PROHIBITED BY APPLICABLE LAW. THE DURATION OF THIS WARRANTY, LIABILITY FOR INCIDENTAL OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES IS HEREBY EXPRESSLY EXCLUDED. 

I dialed and seamlessly worked my way through the phone options aiming for the lighting customer service agent. Both the packaging and burnt out light bulb were at my side as James picked up my call.

James politely inquired how long I had the bulb and what the issue was.  I replied that the bulb was less than 2 years as I had only been in the house for just over 2 years and remember installing the bulb myself.  I also noted that I had the original packaging and that the bulbs on average, from my recollection, were on less than 3 hours per day 7 days a week thus well short of the 6 years under warranty and 18.3 years as per the claim of savings in electricity on the front of the package.

James apologized for the inconvenience and asked for the UPC code from the packaging.  This was simple to retrieve from the bottom of the box.

James then took down my name, contact information, where I purchased the product and promised a refund would be sent via gift card in the mail.  I should receive the refund in about 6 weeks or so.

Late last week I received an envelope addressed from Philips Lighting in Rosemont, Illinois.  I opened it to find a personalized letter from James with two Home Depot gift cards enclosed as compensation for the product. In fact, the  pair of Home Depot gift cards were for more than I paid for the product!


The only strange thing about the letter was a mention of a "Purolator label" being e-mailed to me so I could ship the light bulb back for analysis by Philips.  But no Purolator label was ever e-mailed to me or included with the letter.  I guess either something was mistyped and the e-mail never arrived.
  
Overall, dealing with Philips customer service was quick and easy. One customer service agent quickly took charge of the issue and resolved it without trying to obfuscate or find a way to deny the customer the promised remedy. Philips to me really stands behind their products and when something goes wrong they are willing to make it right.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Deluxe Freshness at Cafe Deluxe

Cafe Deluxe on UrbanspoonWednesday for Lunch I met up with a friend who talk about how each of our new businesses was going. My friend suggested we visit this quaint little cafe with good food at affordable prices in downtown Ottawa.  With this, we headed to Cafe Deluxe (77 Metcalfe Street, Ottawa).

We arrived to a small cafe style restaurant.  The only thing, where exactly do you order?  Good thing my friend had been there multiple times and was welcomed by more than one of the staff.  As we were the only two customers ordering at that time, it worked well. But where's the menu?  When facing the counter and the staff preparing your orders, the customer needs to turn around to see the menu.  Yes, the menu is, confusingly, behind you written on chalk boards.

I took a quick review of the menu and settled on one of the weekly Wednesday specials.

The Order: 1 Chicken Club Sandwich with fries and a bottle of Coke.

One of the ladies behind the counter started work right away on the sandwich and inquired if I would like it taken to my table where I could wait.  Sure!

Now with table service do I pay the cashier or wait for the server to bring it to me?   I decided to be honest and head to the cash. Good thing I did, I was asked by the cashier what I ordered and paid for it. Twelve dollars and change for a club sandwich with fries and drink?  I wasn't sure if the price was worth it.

I sat down with my friend who kindly waited for my sandwich to arrive before eating.  No worries though, my order arrived about 2 minutes later.

The club sandwich was cut in fours and neatly stacked on top of the fries around the edges of the plate.  Taste wise the white bread along with the tomato and lettuce was fresh.  One of the better fresher tasting club sandwiches and well worth about the same price as the neighbouring pubs.

The fries were freshly made with golden brown outside yet not crispy overcooked.  Great rendition for a cafe fries.

Overall, Cafe Deluxe was a pleasant surprise.  I had always thought it was more of a single Mom & Pop coffee shop that was a holdout against the chains.  I'm very glad that I was wrong!  This cafe is a hidden jem with fresh prepared food and knowledgeable kind staff who greet you with a kind smile.   It is no wonder that near the end of our lunch, there was another customer waiting patiently for us to vacate our table. The place was packed!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

CLIENT PORTFOLIO: Big Guide to Condos

BigGuideToCondos.com is the main website for Toronto area realtors Chris Dawson & Elizabeth Machula. These leading Toronto area realtors specialize in buying and selling condominiums in the Downtown Toronto area.

The Greater Toronto Area (GTA) realty market, serviced by the Toronto Real Estate Board (TREB), is quite competitive with plethora of real estate agents and condominiums available. How can one overcome this and easily be found? One way is to leverage the power of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to make sure your website appears at the top of search engine listings in a variety of search terms. This was exactly the tactic Big Guide to Condos aims to take advantage of.

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Monday, October 20, 2014

CASE STUDY: Why allow others to tag photos in Facebook?

Social Media provides plenty of opportunities for interactions between not only users but also businesses and their customers. Suddcorp Solutions attended both the July and October 2014 eSAX events. Jarrod Goldsmith, the founder of eSAX, uses a number of social media platforms to promote his quarterly networking events. As well, during these events many attendees take photos of others and the event venue.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Client Portfolio: Bird's Eye Marketing's Website

Bird's Eye Marketing is a leading Ottawa area company at implementing Google Analytics for medium and small businesses so that they can make improved business decisions. The company's owner, David Bird, is regarded as a leader in Analytics implementation having been invited to present at conferences in Boston, Ottawa and Montreal. As well, David has been invited to provide educational seminars to both the Ontario OSEB program and the City of Ottawa's Invest Ottawa.

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Monday, October 06, 2014

Shine a Spotlight on Your Awards!

Many different industries hand out awards on a yearly basis either at a suit and tie event or tradeshow. These awards make great opportunities to do one of two things:

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Client Portfolio: YourLocalArt.com on Linkedin

Your Local Art is an online art gallery that features the work of Ottawa based artists that can be printed on demand for customers wishing to purchase artist prints.

This web based gallery was looking to increase their online presence as well as provide an opportunity to connect with current and prospective ones they have met from networking events.

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Monday, September 22, 2014

How to Advertise Your Event on Facebook

This past weekend we had the opportunity to take in Ottawa's Nuit Blanche. One of our friends, Marcia Lea of Davis Art School had her paintings at The Rectory where her art school is also located. We had a short conversation about how the evening was going with a steady flow of visitors coming through.

Our conversation eventually evolved around to Facebook. One of Marcia's questions was how to properly advertise an event using Facebook. She had created a Facebook event page but couldn't figure out how to invite those that liked the The Davis Art School's Facebook page to the event.

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Subpar Soggy Sandwich at Subway Gloucester

Subway on UrbanspoonWednesday for dinner my wife and I found ourselves at Gloucester Centre's Food Court before a movie preview of This is Where I Leave You at the nearby SilverCity.

In search of non-overpriced movie theatre food, we tried bringing A&W coupons.  But the A&W apparently was, according to a note a the darkened storefront, having technical difficulties and would reopen tomorrow.  No luck on a Teen Burger combo, we scoured the choices and settled on the nearby Subway (1980 Ogilvie Road, Ottawa).

I ventured over and waited behind an older gentleman in line.  Just my luck, he wasn't sure what cheese he wanted on his sub. Would it be American white or Swiss Cheese?  Oh the horrors of choosing cheese!  I rolled my eyes as I could only imagine what would happen once he got to the vegetable choices.

Eventually a second employee stepped forward and took over the walking disaster of choice ahead of me and I was able to order.

The Order: 1 Cold Cut Combo and 1 Meatball Marinara both on 12" size 9 Grain Wheat.

After ordering, and thank goodness Mayor McCheese ahead of me surprisingly took a reasonable amount of time deciding on his veggies and not hunting for his last penny.

I took the sandwiches over to eat with my wife who was waiting patiently in the mall's food court seating area.

The Cold Cut Combo was made to average Subway specifications accompanied with lettuce, tomato, green peppers, red onions and mayonnaise.  The mayonnaise was not overpowering but just right.  Nothing to complain about.

The Meatball Marinara was a different story. Topped with lettuce, tomato, green peppers and black olives, the only sauce was the tomato sauce from the meatball marinara.  Normally the tomato sauce isn't an issue with other sandwiches prepared at other Subway locations, but this one was soggy.  So soggy in fact we left about a quarter of the sandwich uneaten.  Upon investigation, the preparation stage was the issue, too much sauce was added with the meatballs.  This let the sauce gradually soggify the bread.  Not great as the longer the sandwich sits, the more soggy the bread gets.

Overall, we were not impressed.  Average cold cut combo, but a soggy mess of a meatball sandwich.  Sure service was decent speed, but the meatball marina sandwich could have been better.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Should I Keep That Linkedin Endorsement or Remove It?

Linkedin has two ways to prove your professional worth, written recommendations and endorsements. These provide excellent opportunities for those who know you recommend you via both written testimonial or endorse you for a certain skill. We have previously written on the difference between the two and how to obtain them here.

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Monday, September 08, 2014

What is a Social Media Audit?

Many use Social Media to communicate with customers or provide feedback to businesses. There are strategies and techniques that businesses can use to attract a following, maintain connections/followers and build a community. How can businesses know they are doing this successfully? Can social media channels be re-energized? Can businesses tweak their current profiles to perform even better?

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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Everything is Merry at the Merry Dairy

Merry Dairy on UrbanspoonToday my wife and I were fortunate to be invited to the 13th Annual Corn Roast at Balena Park hosted by Ottawa City Councillor Peter Hume. As part of the festivities there was served Hamburgers, hot dogs, potato chips and pop.  This, of course, had to be followed up by a dessert!

Dessert was supplied by local food truck The Merry Dairy.  At the corn roast the truck is contracted to hand out their traditional fresh vanilla frozen custard with rainbow colour sprinkles only so there was no need to order.

The truck had 2 employees dishing up the cones to waiting families including excited kids. The team of two moved pretty steadily through the line without any noticeable hiccups.

The ice custard was pretty rich quality tasting.  Standard sprinkles were had and the cone was average from any truck.  But the custard is a lot better than the standard soft serve found on most trucks.

Overall, the Merry Dairy has quite a good concept going.  Locatable from the truck's website on a daily basis as it roams the street of the nation's capital and a normally larger menu, the truck is gem to be enjoyed.

A Second Cup of Java While Waiting for the Doctor

Second Cup on UrbanspoonRecently, we've been to the local hospital a couple of times. Nothing to worry about, just a few routine tests.  Each time I've stopped by the Second Cup (501 Smyth Road, Ottawa) on the first floor for a cup of coffee.

Located just behind the escalators to the second floor in patient and emergency room and yet just before the elevators, this coffee shop is in the perhaps the most convenient location in the entire hospital for a coffee shop.  Added to this convenience, according to the Second Cup website, this location is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

This past week we ventured in the morning.  The only bad time to attend this Second Cup is during regular hospital staff shift changes.  These shift changes result in hospital staff grabbing their coffees before or after their shifts.

Second Cup on the ground floor of the Ottawa Hospital General Campus

This Second Cup location also provides the full suite of services of a regular Second Cup which is different than other hospitals I've been to.  Usually hospital coffee service locations have stripped down minimal donuts or baked goods with coffee served up by hospital unionized employees.  This location provides a full selection of Second Cup baked goods and at least 6 different flavoured coffees on a daily basis.

On our recent visit, I waited about three minutes in line behind 3 nurses who were just starting.  But the line behind me gradually grew.  There were three servers behind the counter working the full coffee bar, taking orders and mixing drinks.  I was through in an impressive 5 minutes.

The Order: 1 Belgian Chocolate Coffee.

The Belgian Chocolate Coffee is perhaps my favourite coffee from Second Cup.  A rich chocolaty flavour along with a strong, but dark roast, coffee flavour.  Excellent smell and even better taste.  Brewed right, like the Second Cup Ottawa Hospital location does, it's one of the better coffees I have.

Overall, the Ottawa Hospital has a real credit to it's hospital food offerings in Second Cup.  A full cafe seems to be doing well at the large General Campus.  Perhaps this is due to the convenient location just inside the front door near the major traffic area to the elevators and just behind the escalators to the second floor. Coupled with decent steady service with coffee made to corporate specifications, this location is perhaps just what the Doctor ordered.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Loblaws Logistics Issues Continue

O'Tasty dumplings advertisement from Loblaws Flyer.
In their weekly flyer starting starting Friday August 22nd, Loblaws advertised for sale O'Tasty Dumplings.  The advertised price of $2.98 on page 8 of their flyer seemed like decent deal.  My wife and I even planned to visit Alirang Restaurant on Nelson Street in Ottawa which happens to be just up from a Loblaws store at 363 Rideau Street (at Nelson Street).

Seemed pretty simple enough, enjoy Korean food at Alirang and then venture the nearby Loblaws for grocery shopping.  Everything went off without a hitch until we tried looking for O'Tasty Dumplings.  There was sign on the back bunker freezer showing the sale price but nothing below.   We even inquired with one of the frozen food workers who double checked.  Nothing, but the truck may have something come Monday if it was ordered, perhaps. No worries, we had other stores to visit over the weekend and we could perhaps pick them up.  Add in the fact that Loblaws' sister banner, Your Independent Grocer, had the same dumplings for $2.99 and all would be in order.

Saturday we were headed to Costco, but were able to stop off at Gloucester Shopping Centre to visit the Loblaws there (1980 Ogilvie Road).  Nothing, just a sign with no product just like the Rideau Street location.  We asked one of the ladies who worked in the frozen food section.  She said they had nothing and weren't expecting any in for the rest of the week.

Sunday rolls around and I make 3 more attempts.  The first is McDonah's Independent Grocer at Billings Bridge Mall (2277 Riverside Drive).  No space for the dumplings on the floor.  So I ask one of the guys working the floor.  He double checks with the head stockperson who double checks the back.  Just as they both thought, the store doesn't carry the product normally and doesn't order any.    I continue south on Bank Street to the Loblaws at South Keys Shopping Centre where things really get interesting.

First I start off in the frozen foods section checking all the bunkers as I had previously found the spots for the dumplings at the Loblaws Rideau and Gloucester Centre locations with nothing to show for it.  I asked one of he workers standing nearby inventorying batteries figuring she could help locating and possibly telling me if they have any in stock.  No way, she said I should consult with the deli area as they have tofu and other items.  I ventured over to the deli area and perused that area.  I ended up inquiring with one of the employees in that area who looked at me strangely and said it should be in the frozen food area.  I replied I had been there and was told to come here.  She suggested I try the meat department.  The three butchers working the meat department have no idea and start laughing when I told them my travails from frozen food to deli and back to them.  I head to customer service for one last attempt.

The Customer Service counter is understandably busy with customers doing returns and lottery tickets. I patiently wait until it's my turn and explain the gentleman of my issue.  He looks puzzled as he reviews the flyer. I politely ask if the store manager is available,  Mr. Hatoum is paged and arrives. I go through my story of trying to get the dumplings advertised at his and the other stores overseen by Loblaws Company's Limited. Mr. Hatoum explained he's always running into this issue with Loblaws advertising these products which his store doesn't carry.  He pointed out the Toronto area doesn't have an issue with this as there is a large enough population to go through the inventory.  He agrees to order a few boxes of the product and that I should ask customer service for a rain check.   Mr. Hatoum returns in the direction of his office and I receive a rain check.

Loblaws Rain Check
On the way out of the South Keys Loblaws store, I try calling Loblaws Customer Service using the number on the back of the flyer.  Not surprisingly, Loblaws Customer Service is only open Monday to Friday 9 A.M. to 5 P.M.

Later that evening, I make one last effort.  I visit Loblaws at 100 McArthur Road (Vanier Parkway & McArthur Road).  I do the usual walk around of the frozen food bunker with nothing to be found.  I find lady who works there and explain my situation.  She smiles and explains that this happens quite often at this store.  There is a promotion on dumplings or some other item the store doesn't carry.  A shipment comes in pretty well at the end of the flyer period.  The store is left with a bunch of product that they don't normally carry and have nothing to do with it as they can no longer sell it at the normal price.  I leave the store laughing at Loblaws continue issues with logistics. It was at least 5 years ago Loblaws Head Office was forced to cancel store conversions and expansions due to troubles with their logistical issues.  Apparently, the problems continued now with items on promotion in a major Canadian city over 5 locations and maybe more.

Later that day, I visit Loblaws on Facebook.  I notice lots of promotions celebrating their 95 birthday.  I leave a message about visiting 4 Loblaws Company Limited (LCL) stores and leave a message there explaining what I ran into.

Tuesday rolls around and Loblaws replies asking which store I normally shop at.  I reply the Rideau Street location.

August the 29th happens and Loblaws replies again stating the Rideau Street Store has successfully received three cases.  I inquire if Loblaws was willing to honour the pricing in the flyer.  Loblaws declined the price as the flyer dates had expired but if I "PM" them, they would take care of it.

In the Personal Message (PM), Loblaws offered a $5 gift card if I provided my address.  I replied that I would prefer a phone call on Tuesday from a Loblaws Head Office Manager to discuss the situation of the obvious false advertising for a product they never had adequate supply in the Ottawa area.  I, of course, posted my results to the Facebook page conversation to keep others notified of Loblaw's advertising practices.

On Saturday. I inquired about the supply at the Loblaws South Keys store in a message on Facebook.  Loblaws never replied.  So Saturday August 30th I called the Loblaws South Keys to check in on the status of the dumpling supply. I ended up in phone hell going around and round through the choice of options.  Firts and second times trying to go to Customer Service counter that only looped me back.  Third tried Management and that looped me back again.  Somehow, somewhere, someone took pity on my and the   the lady at customer service picked up and offered immediately to transfer me to the freezer section.  I protested not wanting to repeat my visit by being passed around incessantly by employees who thought it was someone else's department.  I eventually spoke to the Store's Assistant Manager as the Store Manager, Mr. Hatoum, was on a conference call.  The Assistant Store Manager put me on hold and, 2 minutes later, a "Dave" picked up.  I asked if they had found the dumplings, put on hold again.  The Assistant Store Manager picked up again and said they had some.  I inquired how many, they said about 4 cases and they would be in the main freezer and I should ask for the Grocery Manager named Riley.

That afternoon, I visited the store and went straight to Customer Service.  The lady behind the counter took my Rain Check and proceeded to ask if I had checked the back bunker before coming to customer service.  I replied that the Assistant Store Manager had asked me to come to straight to customer service and ask for Grocery Manager named Riley.  She paged the Grocery Manager and we waited.  Her cohort behind the counter did the same a 2nd and third time.  Eventually Riley returned the call and brought forth 4 cases of dumplings.  Finally, after a Loblaws head office and store runaround I had my dumplings.  I, of course, updated that Loblaws South Keys finally resolved the dumpling need. But an explanation was needed as to why this occurred.

Of amusement is the written promise on the Loblaws South Keys Rain Check:

Loblaws policy has always been to provide sufficient merchandise to cover advertised specials. This item was subject to a greater demand than we anticipated. Please accept this rain check with our apologies.

So Loblaws Head Office, as the policy would suggest, believed almost nobody at these particular stores would be looking for this advertised product?  Even worse, three out of the five stores don't even carry this product normally and yet had it in their flyer for their store.  Perhaps Loblaws Head Office management needs to review this apparently long standing policy to ensure that "sufficient merchandise| is available "to cover advertised specials" because I highly doubt there was "greater demand" than anticipated.  There was demand but it was for a product that was simply not available.

Now all there is left is a phone call from Loblaws Head Office Management on Tuesday to explain why their logistical department failed to deliver an advertised product. It will be interesting to find out how 2 grocery flyers, which are generally printed at least 6 weeks in advance, were distributed to homes with an advertised item knowingly not in stock.  I wait with amusement at what excuse I'll be told by management as to why either stores were not properly stocked before the flyer hit the door steps and why there wasn't a listing of stores that carried the product like I had witnessed before in the Toronto area.  It really should be amusing how Loblaws management stick-handles this logistical dumpling issue.

Client Portfolio: Curb Signs Inc's Rejuvenated Facebook Business Page

Curb Signs Inc. is a well known printer and installer of signage for the development and retail sectors within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). As a company in a business to business (B2B) relationship, a professional online brand is needed.

After re-energizing the company's Linkedin profiles and arranging the behind the scenes necessities for administrative access, we turned our attention to Curb Signs Inc.'s Facebook page. 

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Confused by a Social Media Term? Check the Social Media Glossary!

One of the reasons Suddcorp Solutions exists is to help businesses and individuals understand social media in an easy to understand fashion. One of the main issues we come across when helping clients start their social media journey is clients end up stuck on industry jargon. Social media terms like "Friend" and "Connection" and can be a little scary at first but once these are understood many are eager to move forward. Other new users may need a simple reference to refresh themselves on what exactly a social media term means. So where can one turn to get an easy to understand social media terminology?

 Today Suddcorp Solutions is pleased to announce that we have just released our own Social Media Glossary easily found on our website.

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Monday, August 25, 2014

How to Get Recommendations and Endorsements on Linkedin

Linkedin is a great way to investigate others you may want to partner with, purchase products or services from or to work for. Whether looking for employment or being a business person, recommendations and endorsements on Linkedin are a powerful way to show credibility in what you are claiming to be and not just trying to sell yourself.

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hazeldean Mall Stop on the Subway of Sandwiches

Subway on UrbanspoonThursday I found myself out for a meeting in Kanata near Hazeldean Mall (300 Eagleson Road, Kanata). With time to kill, I stopped off for lunch.  I perused the small food court of an A&W, Sushi Terayaki and Subway.  I chose the latter as A&W's line seemed to be taking forever, I didn't want Sushi and Subway's two employees seemed to be moving their line consistently.   I ventured forth, got in line, and ordered.

The Order: 1 Cold Cut Combo with Sun chips and fountain Coke.

The two ladies behind the counter were quick.  Moving steadily from grabbing the bread, topping the sandwich and getting me on my way.

The Hazeldean Mall food court area is pretty small compared to other larger malls.  Not too many people use it either on a weekday lunch.  So finding a seat is not an issue.

I sat down and opened my quick yet neatly prepared sandwich and dug in.  A traditional combination of mayonnaise, tomatoes, lettuce and onions.  Nothing overpowering in taste and, the best part of all, none of the toppings falling out the end.  But they didn't skimp on the veggies or other toppings either.  Just a smart put together sandwich.

The only weird part of the Subway experience?  The refills.  Sure the fountain pop machine is customer accessible to chose your own beverage instead of having the employee do it for you.  But usually these machines are not accompanied with a tiny sign slightly hidden away saying "No Refills, Refills $1.00".  Perhaps the addition of this sign was needed because the franchisee was too cheap to reorient the machine so it was no longer customer accessible.

Overall, this Subway is an average small mall fast food sandwich storefront. Employees efficiently work together to move the steady customer flow in an efficient manner.  Sandwiches are neatly put together and wrapped for clean eating. I'd return to this Subway stop for sandwich again.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Look Professional with a Custom URL for Your E-mail

In business a professional image is always being sought after. One of the first things prospective clients are going to see is both your website and your e-mail address. Whether it be through searching online or meeting a representative of your company at a networking event, a prospective client is going to see an e-mail address to contact you. Which would you rather see as a customer:

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Half Price Quiznos Sub? Sure I'd Bank on That!

Quiznos on UrbanspoonThe previous week, I received a few Quiznos coupons in the mail.  So Friday for lunch I stopped off at Quiznos (139 Bank Street, Ottawa) in hopes of eating a nice sandwich.

I walked in at 11 A.M. to see one employee behind the counter who inquired what I would like to order.

After perusing the menu and reading the fine print on the coupon I was ready.

The Order: The Traditional Sandwich (Roast beef, Turkey Breast, Honey-Cured Ham, Cheddar, Tomato, Lettuce, Red Onion, Black Olive, Ranch Dressing) with a fountain Coke. 

The employee made the sandwich and zipped it through the conveyor belt oven and pulled it out on the other side ready for vegetable toppings.   After that I was off to attempt to retrieve my drink.  

At the drink machine I filled my glass with ice and tried the Coke dispenser.  Nothing, not even a drop.  I looked back at the employee and explained the situation.  

Quiznos Storefront

The employee said he forgot to turn the fountain machine on, I just needed to turn the machine on.  A turn to the right and the machine was on!  The Coke fountain worked and I was off.  Who knew you had to turn on the machine?  I guess this method is to ensure any unscrupulous overnight employees don't abscond with unpaid for or untracked fountain beverages of any type.  

I sat down in the front window and reviewed the sandwich.  Looked well put together with little extra toppings to slip out. The sandwich was delicious with a little melted cheesy taste to it.  Add in the the cooked meat and this sandwich could become one of my favorites.  

Overall, for a six dollar and change meal it wasn't too bad.  Minus the fountain drink fiasco, it was a pretty good lunch for the price paid. 

Nuclear Meltdown of Service at Atomic Rooster

Atomic Rooster on UrbanspoonFriday for dinner my wife and I headed over to Atomic Rooster (303 Bank Street, Ottawa).  We arrived at 4:15 P.M. to a place recommended more for a weekend breakfast spot by one of my former reliable coworkers.

We stood in the front door not knowing whether to seat ourselves or to wait for someone to show us to a table.  There seemed to be two waitresses chatting on the left side of the restaurant. Meanwhile a bar tender slinging drinks on the right to about 10 patrons at the bar.  Ironically it was the bartender who politely raised her voice and said to sit anywhere we want while the two waitresses continued to chat.

We chose a table in the front window and sat down.  We chatted for 10 minutes while periodically looking over to see if anyone noticed our existence.  The two waitresses eventually stopped chatting as one headed to the kitchen and disappeared.  The other started walking across to the bar to perhaps get menus?  Nope, no hope there as she just merely continued her gabbing with a new victim....THE BARTENDER!

We waited until 4:30 P.M. and left.  No one even acknowledged our existence except for the initial yell across the restaurant by the bartender.  The two waitresses were more interested in chatting to each other and their coworkers than serving customers.  The only person in the entire place with 20 patrons in attendance doing any resemblance of work was the bartender.

We left Atomic Rooster with a sense that the only thing "Atomic" in there was the nuclear meltdown of service.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Client Portfolio: A LinkedIn Solution for Curb Signs Inc.

Curb Signs Inc. is a well known printer and installer of signage for the development and retail sectors within the Greater Toronto Area. As a company in a business to business relationship a professional online brand is needed.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Melt Down in Service at MLT DOWN

MLT DWN on UrbanspoonFriday for lunch I thought I would return to the new food court at the Rideau Centre.  This time I had my eyes locked on MLT DWN (50 Rideau Street, Ottawa)  an interesting looking grilled cheese sandwich shop new to Ottawa. This is the ownership's second store, with the other being in Kingston, Ontario, and so far seemed to be a success.  Such a success even the Mayor of Ottawa, Jim Watson, has taken notice and agreed the food was delicious.
I joined the line at 12 noon as the Rideau Centre's lunch time rush was picking up steam. The line was long, but it let me peruse the menu.

MLT DWN Food Court Storefront
 The line moved slowly as one cashier gradually took orders. It was a very slow progression forward compared to MLT DWN's neighbour, Big Smoke Burger, which  was moving at a steady pace.  Sure there were two cash registers physically there and only one being used at MLT DWN, but this was not the issue.  After debating leaving the line after a 10 minute wait of barely moving through the first length of the storefront of the 3 storefront length customer que, I figured out the issue.

MLT DWN's main service issue is lack of trained staff and coordination in preparing the sandwiches.  Sure they had four staff members behind the counter in the kitchen area.  One was making sandwiches and another waffle fries. Another person puts the orders together at the front counter taking items from the sandwich maker and the fryer preparation area and handling the drink orders. The other staff member seems to be moving things in and out of the back.  Meanwhile, there are 8 total panini style sandwich makers for the restaurant with only maximum 4 in use at any one time. With a total wait of about 30 minutes to get from the back of the line to the cash and another 10 minutes to receive your order, this has already chewed up 40 minutes of a typical one hour lunch period for the average office worker. Hopefully this melt down in service speed will be improved in the coming weeks or otherwise customers may look elsewhere to lunch options due to the extreme amount of time it takes to even order!

Once my order was taken we moved down the line to watch the sandwich cook and the order put together.

The Order: 1 Herb Chicken Sandwich with Waffle Fries and a Raspberry Coke.

One of the last stops at MLT DWN's storefront counter is the condiment stand which is interesting.  There are three ketchups to choose from to pair up with your waffle fries.  A Pepper Ketchup, regular ketchup and another option which I can't remember at this time.

I took my newly assembled order and had a seat in the busy food court.


Herb Chicken sandwich with Waffle Fries and Raspberry Coke
The Herb Chicken Sandwich was incredible!  A solid but not overwhelming melted cheese with a decent piece of chicken.  The only observation was for seven dollars and change the sandwich looked small.  But unlike most food court locations, it's about quality over quantity at MLT DWN

The waffle fries were an interesting take on the regular fries.  MLT DWN's regular fries are waffle fries that appear to be a hybrid of a waffle and a traditional french fry or like an obese All Dressed Potato chip in stature.  Taste wise by itself or with a little pepper ketchup, it's a pretty solid offering for best french fries in the Rideau Centre Food Court.  Even putting to shame the newly revamped french fries from the nearby A&W.  

One of MLT DWN's interesting concept is the soft drinks offered.  Instead of the traditional Coke, Root Beer, Sprite and other soft drinks found at A&W or McDonald's, MLT DWN offers customers different flavour additives to spice up their drinks.  I chose a Raspberry Coke and was not dissapointed.  In fact, I almost had a third of it before I left the storefront counter.

Overall, MLT DWN serves delicious quality food.  But the 30 to 40 minute wait to order and receive the food is major draw back especially when it's obvious that store staff are only using half the cooking capacity of the kitchen.  Hopefully in the coming weeks more store staff can be hired and trained in order to move the line forward quicker. Otherwsie MLT DWN may have a few customer MELT DOWNs to handle.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Writing vs Editing Content

Recently Suddcorp Solutions has received inquiries about writing services for both individuals and businesses who need content writing services for written content for a variety of industries (e.g. science, construction, technology, etc.). As well, some are inquiring about ways to turn their already drafted content into something fit for posting onto their social media feeds and promoted correctly. So what are the options for both of these types of customers?

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Sunday, August 03, 2014

Grand Opening Hiccups at Big Smoke Burger

Big Smoke Burger on UrbanspoonFriday August 1st at 11 A.M. saw the grand opening of Cadillac Fairview's Rideau Centre Food Court.  I arrived at 11:20 after letting the festivities die down and the grand unveiling by Cadillac Fairview and Rideau Centre Mall big wigs die down.  I really didn't need to see any more marketing pomp & circumstance considering I'd already been to a preview of the food court for just that purpose on Wednesday.

My first stop was Big Smoke Burger (50 Rideau Street, Ottawa), where I joined the decent of line of customers averaging about 12 at any one time.  Yes, it was a decent length of line but it moved pretty steadily with only a few hiccups here and there.  These hiccups will be a theme for the rest of the visit and hopefully will be fixed over the coming days.

The first step, after joining the line is ordering.  With two cash registers and one common line this process moves quickly and orderly.  The cashier asks what you would like to order and makes sure all items are correctly entered into the computer.  Similar to Starbucks, Big Smoke Burger takes your name so you know which order is yours that comes out the other end.

Big Smoke Burger Rideau Centre Food Court Storefront on opening day.
Next, customers move along watching as the team of over 12 employees move your order from grill, to topping to putting together your plate.  12 employees? Yes Big Smoke Burger was ready for the crush of prospective customers to be served.  Kudos on being prepared with more than enough manpower.

The last step is for the employee putting together the order to finish up and hand you your order with a smile. This is where another hiccup occurs on opening day at Big Smoke Burger.  Apparently, on the receipts the team uses to put together custom orders drink types were not included.  This is an issue considering the cash register where the order is taken is at the opposite end of your order unlike at many fast food locations like Wendy's or McDonald's where the cashier looks after the drinks.  A dumbfounded look on the query of "I ordered a Coke with the combo, is it coming soon?" was a little puzzling. This was until the manager, further up the production line indicated that the computer system needs to be adjusted and asked the cashiers to write the drink orders on the receipts before passing them on.  My drink arrived within 30 seconds and I was off.

Classic Burger Combo with Fries & Coke
 I sat down with my tray with plate, drink and other condiment holders.  The quick difference from a traditional food court was the real glass, china plate, bowl for fries and a condiment dish for the ketchup.  Not sure why the fries required it's own bowl as the burger did come on a plate.  The Rideau Centre is supposedly trying to reduce the vast amounts of trash from that emanates from food court operations.  One of the major ways to do this is by using dishes. Sure fries traditionally come in separate packaging within a food court, but not in a traditional restaurant setting on average. So perhaps a reduction in dishes requiring to be washed and in turn the amount of water used during the dish washing process.

The burger was my first target.  Optically it didn't look really good with the garnishes present.  The whole burger look slap-dashed together with the lettuce leaf hanging over the edge especially.  Add to this the first bight tasted like the burger had been on the grill a little too long.  Perhaps, again, this was an opening day hiccup but not a great introduction for a restaurant.

The fries were the popular put the entire potato through the slicer.  The fries were decently cooked with a nice golden brown with a soft texture. Accompanied with a dash of ketchup these fries were excellent.

I dropped my empty dishes and tray off at the nearest counter to a smiling Rideau Centre lady quickly and easily.

Overall, the Big Smoke Burger understandingly needs to iron out a few opening day issues such as overcooking food and fulfilling drink orders. Price wise at $12.45, including taxes, for a meal this size seems a little questionable. The quality attempt is probably there, after ironing out the overcooking of the burger issue. Sure this is a mall food court and prices typically are a little higher.  But for a supposed premium burger and quantity of fries Five Guys Burgers & Fries is probably a better deal. There is promise in quality at Big Smoke Burger, the systems just need a little refinement.

Finally, the new plate, cutlery and glass system the Rideau Centre has going on will be interesting to observe over the coming weeks and months.  Will these designer dishes gradually dissappear due to the theft and the mall return to trash?  Will prices increase to compensate for the manpower to collect and wash the dishes?  Will customers continue to take the trays to the counter to be processed and will these counters be properly staffed?  It will be interesting to see how the Rideau Centre answers these questions in time.

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