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A Customer Service Story

I shopped online at Barnes & Noble to avoid holiday shopping season. B&N shipped my items in separate packages. I received one package which did not have the soft-cover journal I need for my business notes, but a book on yoga for pain. The first line of the return policy states, “It’s easy to return an item if you’re not satisfied.” The online policy also states that I may return items in the store. The packing slip adds “For your convenience” the item can be returned to the store.

This is what I ordered:


This is what was delivered:

I checked online to see which B&N actually had my journal in stock. I went to that store. I was told that they cannot exchange the item because it “messes up the inventory.” I pointed out the online policy as well as referenced the packing slip verbiage. The clerk, Jeanette had to call customer service. There was no special hotline from the store. She called the same number any of us would have to call. Jeanette was on hold for five minutes. After explaining the situation to the man (how can I possibly be the only person this happens to?), he needed to speak with me. Benjamin confirmed the order number, billing and shipping address, then put me needed to put me on hold.

After being on hold for more than seven minutes, Benjamin explained that his “tools” weren’t working. Wanting clarification, I asked him what “tools” meant. It was his computer. So he had to transfer me to another customer service representative who could help me (and whose tools were apparently working). I waited on the phone for a good ten minutes. I asked Jeanette if I could just return the incorrect item and purchase the correct item. Perhaps they couldn’t “exchange” an online item for an in-store item, but surely, based on the return policies, they would allow me to return the item they screwed up and let me purchase the correct item. Right?

Wrong. Jeanette helped me hang up with customer service before telling me that she would return the item via UPS on my behalf. So essentially, I gave up the incorrect item and the packing slip so that they could mail it for me and purchased the correct item (which Jeanette gave me at a 10% discount).

I’m still shaking my head a bit. I ordered these things online so I wouldn’t have to deal with going to the store during the holiday shopping season. B&N sent me the wrong item. Sending me the wrong item was cause for me having to go to their store (returning the item at the store seems less hassle than the mail).  And even though their policy states that I can return it in the store, that’s actually not the case. Until the incorrect item which they sent me arrives back with them, my account will not be credited, so I have essentially paid for the item twice. I don’t have a guarantee (except faith in humans and Jeanette) that I will be credited. How is that easy?

I’m sorry Barnes & Noble, but you cannot post a policy online and on your packing slips and then not honor that in-store. Major F in customer service on that one.

Have you experienced anything like this lately? Or better, have you experienced great customer service this holiday season?

Who is to blame?

Summer in San Diego is really a treat, and a season I have missed a lot while living abroad.  Most people are out and about, seek activities outdoors and just soak up the blue skies and sunny weather.

Coronado has a Concerts in the Park series which began May 29th and runs until September 11th.  My friends Michelle and Carrie invited me to the July 3rd concert and I accepted with enthusiasm.  I love Coronado and was eager to celebrate 4th of July weekend.

Michelle and I were lucky to find a great parking spot (thanks to the miniature sizeof my MINI!) right across the street from the park and met up with Carrie, who lives in Coronado to reserve her favorite and “usual” spot on the grass.

I was impressed with all of the things people brought with them to the park. Large ice chests and folding chairs aside, people brought full-sized/on wheels BBQs, large foldable tables and some tables which looked straight from the dining room.  The city lifted an alcohol ban for the concert series and so the bottles of wine, beer and mixers flowed generously.  It was a first for Michelle and I who brought only a blanket to sit on, making us feel not only a novice, but as though we were seated at the kids table in and amongst adults in camping chairs.

The music starts at 6:00pm, and some enthusiastic visitors make their way toward the gazebo to dance on the grass or just dance at their picnic spot.  Most folks enjoy the music as a backdrop to friendly conversation and campfire-like storytelling.

The three of us gals were talking, actually is was me who was yapping, when an absolutely unexpected and not-in-the-program event took place. In mid sentence, I heard this crackle and pop and looked up at a large Eucalyptus tree. At that moment, a large branch had snapped and was falling to the ground.  Without other branches to break the fall, few people under the tree were able to move quickly enough and get out of the way.  One man who was sitting in a chair, just wasn’t able to move at all and happened to be right in the line of the falling branch.  It struck him on the head.

What ensued after that was a series of events which still have me shaking my head…

Many people stood around staring at the man and not helping. The people who were there with the man were taking care of him, and a few other guys pitched in to remove the branch (The branch was so big it took 3 grown men to lift it), but most onlookers just stood and stared. (It made me feel like I was in Vietnam, where everyone stares, but doesn’t help the hapless victim.)

All around, you could hear people say, “Well, there’s a lawsuit,” or “That’s an expensive tree,” and “That guy is going to get a lot of money from this.”  Really? The branch randomly snapped off. It was really a freak accident. Why is it that someone has to be “at fault” for the incident?  Why does blame need to be placed?  Can we really not comprehend that it was an unfortunate accident?  For goodness sake, no one could imagine this scenario nor want for it to happen.

The paramedics arrived quickly and which drew even more looky-loos as the guy was taken away.  The city workers showed up about the same time, and along with the firemen, decided they needed to move everyone away from the tree and with police tape, sectioned off a circle around the tree, about 20 feet in diameter.  Is this the protocol for fallen branches?  Was this done because there might actually be a danger that more branches would fall, or was it done to just look good and responsible, as though the situation was being taken seriously and appropriate response taking place?  Do you think there is a page in some manual that refers to this type of incident?  Will they write one?

Most of the people at the park did not see the event and simply carried on with their picnics.  The band still played and people still ate, drank and danced.  But even after the man had been taken away and the under-tree had been sectioned off, several people came over to the section and stood there looking up at the tree.  Were they trying to identify the guilty branch stub? Searching for the next branch likely to fall? Were they silently cursing the tree?  More than one person stood in several spots and glanced up, trying to solve the crime, apparently. I was puzzled.  What purpose did that serve? (That’s about the time I took a picture, because I was baffled by the number of people looking at the darn tree.)

As it got darker and we decided to meet up at McPhee’s, the city trucks drove up under the tree.  I was almost certain they were going to cut the darn thing down and so had to ask a worker what they were doing.  He said they had to assess if there were any other loose branches or any weak ones which may fall.  I asked if they had to do this at night, and he explained that it had to be done before people were in the park the next day (early action in the park on 4th of July).  I imagine the efforts were made simply to avoid any lawsuits from future falling branches.

I’m sorry that guy got hit in the head by a branch. That pretty much sucks. What a crappy thing to happen when you’re just trying to enjoy a picnic and some live music.  But the over-reaction afterward and the assumption that the city would be sued and this guy would get millions of dollars… well that just makes me mad and embarrassed.  That’s not my America.

HSBC still sucks

Today was a bit busy as I had a memorable meeting in the morning before running some errands to prepare for a business trip to Bangkok. I had to get some Thai Baht and so headed to my “favorite” bank, HSBC.

Because my company pays me in Dong and not US Dollars, I have a few restrictions on how I manage my money.  In order to withdraw foreign currency, I have to provide my ticket, passport and any relevant visas.  I always have this prepared.

On this particular occasion, I wished to pull about 35,000THB which is about $1000USD.  I need this for a new digital camera and my yearly check-up at Bumrungrad Hospital.  This is really not an earth-shattering amount of cash either, in Dollars or Baht.

But as I submitted my papers, the clerk said, “Oh, this is from your US Dollar account?”  I had to say, “No, I have a Dong account.”  “Oh,” was her response.  And then she picked up the phone to call a manager.  You see, if my company still paid me in dollars, I would not have to present any of these papers and I could take whatever amount of Baht I wanted.  But because my company pays me in Dong, I have to jump through hoops to manage my money. After a year of being paid this way, I have really grown tired of this nonsense. Whether it is pulling money from my account here or trying to transfer my funds overseas, it is never a smooth process.

After the clerk hung up the phone, she said to me, “Um, I’m sorry to say, but we do not have enough Baht to give you.”  You can imagine my face.  So I collected myself and said, “Let me make sure of something. This is a bank, correct?  And you are telling me that you do not have the equivalent of $1000USD in Thai Baht?  That’s absolutely ridiculous.  I do not believe you. I suppose that if I had a USD account, this would not be a problem.”

She replied, “You are right.  But actually, Thai Baht is not that popular of a currency so we cannot give you what you ask for.”

“What?  Thailand is practically your neighbor and people travel back and forth there for business and leisure very frequently.  This is absolutely ridiculous.  How am I supposed to get money for my trip, when I cannot exchange Dong outside of Vietnam?” I couldn’t wait for her response to this.

“You can go to the gold shops ma’am. They can change the money for you.”  She looked at me as thought she was proud of her answer. Yes, very helpful.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.  An employee of HSBC, one of the largest banks in the world is telling me that it is better for me to go to a gold shop to exchange money because it is better than the bank? HSBC seriously does not have enough Baht in reserves to give $1000USD worth? Again, this is ridiculous.”

“We are sorry ma’am. I hope you can get your money. Thank you for banking with HSBC.”  I rolled my eyes at her and left the branch.  Seriously!!!

Oh no she didn’t

NOTE: The original post was a bit different than this at the end. I took the advice of a reader and softened my reaction and tone.  On The Bright Side tends to be a positive outlook on even a sometimes challenging life.  I’m surprised how on the few occasions I’ve been negative over the last 8 years abroad, that those moments spark the most response and perhaps overshadow all the good.  Believe it or not, even life On The Bright Side has a bad day once in awhile!!!  I would be lying to you if I portrayed my experiences in foreign countries as 100% sunshine and rainbows.  I do recognize, however, that there have been a slew of less than peppy entries in the last few weeks.  And that raises some concerns and has inspired me to … look On The Bright Side.

Anywhoo, I still think my shock and horror, my disbelief, frustration and ultimately my disappointment with this particular expereince are more than adequately conveyed, even in this edited version of this story.  Need I say that if you read the next post, you will know that July 30, 2010 was a pretty crappy day in Hanoi and one of those “character building” days that I really surely didn’t need nor sign up for!!!

The reader also suggested I pull this post. But I think that would be a disservice to those who follow On The Bright Side.  I’ve stated on the home page that, “I’m eager to share with you all the fun, humorous, crazy, embarrassing, heart-warming, heart-breaking, unbelievable and unforgettable stories from my life abroad.”  I think qualifies as heart-breaking and unbelievable.  Therefore, it stays. Buckle up…


About two weeks ago, my assistant, Ms. Ngoc came to my office to show me that Bhaya Cruises, a direct competitor of Apple Tree’s property, Emeraude Classic Cruises, was nicely featured in the Heritage Magazine.  I opened the magazine to read the article and was a wee bit surprised to see a photo of Emeraude Classic Cruises 2009 Wine & Dine Cruise Classic.  I know the photo very well, as it is one I used in press releases after the event and also to promote the 2010 gala.  I was confused as to why Heritage Magazine would use an Emeraude photo to promote and feature Bhaya Cruises’ programs.

After our first notification of the error, two sales & marketing staff members, came to our offices to apologize. They were very kind and understanding, but working in sales & marketing, they could not offer any solutions to clarify or rectify the situation.  My assistant made an appointment with Ms. Pham Thu Hoa, Editor, the person responsible for the article.  I was told that she was very reluctant to take the meeting, as Heritage Magazine “never officially apologizes for mistakes.” Great journalism!

My goal for the meeting was to understand why an Emeraude photo was used to promote Bhaya Cruises and also to speak positively about solutions to resolve this issue.  There is no question that Heritage Magazine does owe Emeraude Classic Cruises some form of attribution for this error.  I was eager to hear the options and hoped to walk away from the meeting with a positive outcome and strengthened relations.

My meeting with Ms. Pham Thu Hoa did not go very smoothly.  She wanted to place all of the blame on Bhaya Cruises.  “They gave me this photo. How was I supposed to know that it wasn’t theirs? This is not my fault!” I explained to her that I will have a separate conversation with Bhaya to ask them why they have stolen our photo and used it to promote their services.  However that is a separate issue from our photo being used within Heritage Magazine.

I reminded her that the publication is responsible for the content that it prints and in this case, the information was incorrect.  She offered to provide us with a small space of 200 words in the Heritage Fashion Magazine in the “New Flash” section.  I explained that this was not a good solution to the problem. The space is small, it appears in the back of the magazine and while it has more readers, it is not the same magazine in which the error occurred.  I requested that she provide other options such as a full article or free advertising space. “The News Flash is free advertising. You should take this.”  I was grew more irritated as she wouldn’t look at me when she spoke and then kept having side conversations in Vietnamese with my assistant, Ngoc.

It was clear that Ms. Pham Thu Hoa was not comfortable in this meeting.  She expressed several times that Heritage Magazine does not print apologies.  I never asked for her to print an apology, but rather a note of attribution. She told me that nobody cared about the mistake, the readers don’t care about corrections and that I shouldn’t be upset. She also told me that I was only thinking about what was good for me, not what was good for the readers.  I had to point out to her that it is my duty to protect the interests of my company and the interests of Emeraude Classic Cruises. It was growing evident that she didn’t get the fact that using our photo to promote our competitor’s services is a big no-no.

She continued to insist that she already had a conversation with Ngoc and that she already offered “the solution” and “already told her everything.” I had to remind her that I am the Group Director of Sales & Marketing and that in my role, and given the situation, I have to have a conversation with her directly.  It was very clear that she not only did not want to speak to me, but also that she was not interested in resolving the issue. Frankly, she was a royal pain in the ass to deal with!

I explained a second time that I came to her office prepared to have a positive and helpful conversation and that I did not appreciate her negative attitude.  I explained that in light of the situation, the best way to handle this would have been for her and Heritage Magazine to be proactive and make a visit to my office to apologize for the error and discuss a variety of solutions.  I expressed that I was not pleased with the direction of the conversation and that I hoped to hear more positive discussion from her. “Look, I am trying to have a positive conversation with you and you are being very uncooperative. I don’t understand why you are behaving this way. I am trying to be nice to you.”

You can imagine my surprise when she then said, “You are American. Right?” I replied with a questioning, “Yes…???”  I anticipated the direction she was about to take…She looked right at me, squinted her eyes and said, “Your country dropped many bombs on my country and you did not apologize.”

And with that, my friends, I had my first experience of being on the receiving end of the bomb card. I did not remain calm at that point and volleyed with, “Excuse me? What does that have to do with anything we are discussing? I am done being nice to you. That is totally out of line and uncalled for (and the smile on her face at this point, her sign of discomfort, did nothing to keep me calm and collected). How dare you speak to a client that way.  Our company advertises with your magazine and you speak to me this way? This conversation is OVER.”

I practically pulled Ngoc out of the office with me as I stormed out in Rachel Berry style.  I could not get out of there fast enough. Seriously – WTF?????

As soon as I returned to my desk, I banged out a letter to the Editor-In-Chief, put lots of official company stamps on it and had it hand delivered to him.  I am most curious to see if I will receive the courtesy of a response.

I remain angry and appalled and frustrated and disappointed all at the same time….mostly disappointed.

And to think…all that because of a stupid photo???

Has anyone every said anything like this to you?


The photo used here was the photo printed in the magazine. Our event photo used to promote our competitor’s services.

No love for HSBC

I ranted on twitter today about my visit to HSBC.  And I feel like ranting here.  I hate the fact that I get paid in Vietnamese Dong.  This one fact has changed the entire way I have to bank and there is really no other reason behind it than it is less costly and more convenient for our company to pay us in dong than dollars. This unnerves me to no end, but that is a blog for another time.

I went to HSBC today to withdraw Yen for my upcoming trip to Japan.  I have to have my passport, my ticket and if needed, a visa in order to “prove” that I need the foreign currency.

The tellers now think they are immigration officers.  The idiot behind the counter today said, “I cannot give you money.  You don’t have a visa.”  I told her I don’t need one.  Then she made a phone call.  The person on the phone told her I needed a visa. She said, “You must have a visa.”  I told her, “I am an American Citizen and if I go to Japan for less than 90 days, then I do not need a visa. I do NOT need a visa! Understand?”  She made another call.  “Ok, you do not need a visa.” Then she needed my original ticket to make a copy of, even though I provided a copy for her and showed her the real ticket with the copy.

Then she shuffled the papers, looked at the screen, looked at the papers and confirmed verbally the amount of yen I was asking for.  And she said, “And it is Yen?”   Trying to remain calm, “Yes.  I wrote on the form that I will withdraw Yen.  The ticket says I am going to Japan.  So I need Yen.”  So she made another phone call.  “Um, I’m sorry, but we can’t give you that many dollars.  You are over the daily limit for withdraw in US Dollars.” (This is a VND account policy)  So I replied, “I don’t want US Dollars.  I want Yen.  I am going to Japan.  They use Yen.  I need Yen, not US Dollars.”  And so she picked up the phone again.

After a few phone calls and a visit to the room where they keep the foreign currency, she returned with my Yen.  I signed off on the papers and said, ” I realize you are just doing your job, but this is my money and if I want Yen, or Dollars or Dong, I should get it.”  Oddly enough, she said, “I know.  Sometimes the policies of HSBC are not very customer-friendly.”  “My point exactly,” was what I said before I headed out the door.

I’m quite sick of having these headache-inducing interactions with my bank.  I feel like just because I have a Dong account, my money is held hostage and I don’t have control over what happens to it.  And that just pisses me off.  I would love to hear suggestions of a bank which doesn’t penalize a person like me who lives in a foreign country, operates with foreign currencies and uses her credit card in foreign countries too.  It really should not be that complicated!

Add a comment

On September 30, 2008, I posted this entry: CLICK HERE

Today, as I opened my iWeb to update my site, I noticed a few comments had been posted.  I easily found the recent posts, but there was one which wasn’t obvious.  So I scrolled and scrolled until I found this comment was made yesterday on my entry which was posted nearly two years ago:


Shut the fuck up you communist. If you knew anything about anything you would know that competitive eating is huge in many other countries and relatively small in America. And I guess passing out a few Krystal burgers around the world is going to magically end world hunger. These guys train hard to do this and if they want to do it, then let em.  They aren’t hurting anyone.  Find something more reasonable to bitch about you miserable commie.

So, to be a good sport, I posted this:

The Author

Dear Pissed,

If you are one of my friends being sarcastic – ha ha, very funny.

If you are a random visitor who has spent enough time on my site to read all the way back to 2008 – Thanks for the visit!  I appreciate your interest and thank you for your participation in the comment feature!  Way to utilize it to the fullest!

If you want to support and applaud people who get paid to stuff their faces, then be my guest.  I happen to feel differently. And just as I have the right to my own opinion, I have the right to voice it.

I should also clarify that I am not a communist.  I happen to live in a communist country at the moment, but that does not mean that I enjoy it.  As the author and owner of this website I have every right to delete your comment.  If I were communist, then I would have.

Thank you for visiting On The Bright Side, and have a great day!


I’ve been spending some time recently researching social media outlets and interconnectivity on the internet.  It fascinates me. And ever since I’ve been more active on Twitter, I’ve noticed a sharp increase in traffic to my website.  And that’s great.  That’s what I’ve hoped for.  I like that we have methods of communication which allow us to express our opinion and share information, our ideas and opinions with others.

I can’t help but wonder who are the (at the time of this post) 14 Swiss, 6 Australians, 2 Italians and 1 Malaysian who have visited my site?  I pretty much can guess who all the others are, but I’m curious to know who else has visited On The Bright Side.  It’s exciting and I eagerly watch the flag counters now that I’ve added them.

But receiving a visit and a comment from some idiot who thinks I’m a miserable commie because I don’t like sponsored eating contests and who uses the lame-ass excuse of “they’re not hurting anyone” can simply find another website to peruse and blogger to harass.  Hey Pissed – Thanks for giving me something more reasonable to bitch about. Go ahead.  Add a comment.


Professional Eating Contests – Two years after my original post, I still think these contests are a disgrace and a waste of money.  This photo sums it up for me.  Gross and totally disgusting!



NOTE:  Since I redesigned my site, the comments have been lost.  But trust me, I couldn’t make that stuff up. Nor would I want to!


Peace and quiet please!

I haven’t been getting good sleep lately.  The pattern of sleepless nights started about two weeks ago.  There are about three dogs in close proximity who wish to be on American Idol and they belt out their numbers from about 10pm to 6am. I’m pretty sure they are following the real American Idol because they sound an awful lot like they are trying to master Hound Dog. (It was just Elvis for those of you who don’t follow.)

There is lots of construction going on around my house and at 1, 2 and 3am they use the heavy machinery they can’t drive through the streets during the day. That accounts for drilling, driving, grinding and I think a bit of gyrating hips.

Motorbikes whizz past and horns honk away.  Ladies on bicycles announce by chanting what they are selling or that they are recycling stuff or picking trash up. Today, it was all of the above plus ear-piercing national music blaring over the community loud speakers. (Which oddly enough made the dogs bark AND howl.)

Last night I went out with my best gal pal, Mette, and after a leisurely dinner, walked around the corner to Tunnel Bar.  We talked, saw some friends, swayed to the music of guests DJ Farai who is leaving Vietnam after a two month tour.  Fun.  And I rolled in at 2:30 a.m., much later than my intended, “I’m not up for a big night tonight.”  When I fell into my pillows, I begged and pleaded with the ceiling for good sleep.

Sunday being the ONLY day to myself, I don’t set an alarm.  And really, I don’t need to because everyone else in the ‘hood will wake me up, well earlier than I want to wake up anyway!  This morning was no exception.  And truly, it’s starting to drive me batty!!!  I may begin a coalition for silence or something.  Maybe I’ll call it Project Lets Hear The Birds Sing or something.  Project Remember What Silence Sounds Like.  Project PEE – Protect Everyone’s Ears. Anyone?  God a good name?  Post it!


Side Note

I should say here that the noise factor in Japan was minimal, except during local elections, when the candidate and uniformly dressed wavers would ride around in vans announcing the policies of the candidate and ever-so-politely (using the most formal Japanese) ask for support.  That was always annoying on a Saturday morning.  And while it was a bit loud, I never seemed to grow tired of who I called the Potato Man.  The Yakimo truck.  Small trucks drove around the town selling roasted yams.  Each truck had a potato song and it always gave me a good giggle.  “oishii (pause) oishii.”


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