Saturday, January 03, 2009

The ABCs of Complaining

Being sick and holed up at home over the New Year's period is really kinda sad. So I decided to spread my misery around and write all the complaint/angry letters that I'd been meaning to write for months. And coincidentally, the companies I'm writing to just happened to begin with the letters A, B and C.

The Arena:
This incident took place some months back, in July. Yes, it's been a while, but since a new year is a time to take stock, look back and reflect, I thought it's also appropriate to write you now.

I was with a few friends at The Arena, and it was near closing time, so the club was emptying. I'd brought along a zipped folder which contained a brand new iPod and a wallet, and it was placed on the couch at the table we were occupying.

For some strange reason (and also our own carelessness), we left the table unattended for about 2 minutes. When we returned, the folder was gone, along with its contents.

I asked a waitstaff nearby who was clearing up for help. He hastily took down my name and number on a notepad, and then disappeared without asking me any details of my lost items.

Disappointed, I returned home. But the more I thought about what your staff took down, the more I felt I needed to provide more details in case the items turned up somewhere.

So I returned the next day at around 9 pm. I asked the bouncers at the door to let me see the manager, because I wanted to leave more details.

The bouncers were cold and curt in their response, refusing to let me in, claiming the manager was busy (without even checking). They also said, "If we find we'll call you." But without any details, how would they even know when they'd found something of mine?

When I insisted on leaving details for the manager, they handed me a receipt and told me to write on the back of it. There was no proper book or file for this.

Do you understand how angry this made me? I was polite and courteous, and they were treating the whole thing like a joke. They made me feel like I was a dog begging for scraps.

Bear in mind that while the chief function of a bouncer is to keep the club orderly, they are also the first employees of the club that the public sees. If they have a holier-than-thou attitude and are rude to customers, what are the chances of those customers returning? Very slim indeed.

They are more than just "security personnel". They are front-line service staff.

If I wasn't a local, but a tourist on vacation, they would have left a terrible impression a visitor to our country. I'm sure I don't have to tell you what a big problem that is.

Additionally, you need to have proper procedures in place for customers who lose items. At the very least, a book or file would let me know that something was done about it. Do you see? Even if you don't take a second glance at it, you have made me think that you care. And customers like to be taken care of.

Because of the terrible attitudes of your staff, I will never return to your club again. I hope you take my comments to heart and make some improvements on The Arena and any future ventures.

This incident took place some months back, probably in July. Yes, it's been a while, but since the end of the year is traditionally the time to take stock, look back and reflect, I thought it's also appropriate to write you now.

I'd lost my Borders Preferred card due to theft, and had contacted you guys to get a replacement. I was sent an email that said my card was ready for collection (see emails below), so I set off to pick it up.

When I got to the Wheelock store, the staff member at the information counter asked me for the card number. When I said I didn't have one, she asked for my printout of the email. Without it, she said, there was no way they could find my card.

I was taken aback, because nowhere in the email does it say to print it out and bring it along. Neither was there any mention of the card number being required.

Since I was already a member, I asked, couldn't she search for my records, and surely it would be reflected in there somewhere? The reply was a negative; her computer was not hooked up to that system.

Well, since I was already there, was there any way she could get my access to a computer terminal so I could retrieve my email? Again, no.

So basically, my trip was a complete waste of time.

Now, what bugs me is that the email wasn't clear on what was needed, and also the fact that your staff was completely unhelpful. Surely she could've been more flexible or helped me come up with a solution to the problem, instead of just saying no all the time.

If it's a requirement to bring the printout or the card number, then please state it explicitly in the email notification. Put it in bold, underline it, whatever, just make sure that the message is conveyed. Otherwise, it's very unfair to your customers who have no idea what's needed. Additionally, the service attitude of the staff member in question (I don't remember her name) also has lots of room for improvement. Surely it's not too much to ask for some flexibility and initiative on her part?

I hope you will take this as an opportunity to improve your service. I'd expect this of a smaller, less established store, but not Borders.

The Canteen:
I visited The Canteen on Wednesday 10 Dec, and there was a promotion going on for DBS Credit Cards.

When me and my companion wanted to order, I asked if there was a minimum spending for the promotion. I was told by our waiter that the minimum spend was $40.00. We then ordered two dishes and an appetizer to make up the $40.00 so as to get the 25% discount.

However, when I then left to visit the washroom, I passed by the sign at your entrance. It very clearly stated that from 9:00 pm onwards, no minimum spend was necessary.

I asked another staff member at the cashier if there was a minimum spend. His response was the same as his colleague's: A minimum spend of $40.00 was required.

I wasn't in the mood to argue, but took a picture of the sign for reference. It is attached. The time was 9:11 pm.

On the DBS website, it again clearly states that no minimum spend was necessary after 9:00 pm. In fact, the exact phrasing is:

- 15% off total bill with min. spend of $40
- 25% off total bill (Daily: 2.30-6.30pm; Sun-Thu: 9pm-11pm; Fri-Sat: 9pm-1am)

While I must agree that the promotion details are a little confusing, your waitstaff need to be very familiar with the terms and conditions. They shouldn't give wrong information to customers. Yes, the bottom line is important, but equally so is earning your customers' trust. That doesn't come easily, and should never be taken for granted.

I hope you will make use of this opportunity to improve your staff's service and product knowledge.

Of the three, honestly, I'm really only pissed at The Arena. I'm putting it mildly in my letter, but those people were real assholes. That's why no matter what they do or how they apologize, I'm never going back there again. It's a lifetime boycott for them.

Update on 5 Jan: All the companies have responded to the emails in some way or other. Borders was the fastest with a phone call, followed by an email from the Les Amis Group for The Canteen (even though they are still investigating and have yet to give a more substantive answer), and then The Arena today - who are offering to call me personally to find out more.

Update on 31 Jan:
On 9 Jan, The Canteen offered me a free dinner for two, which I have yet to take up.
On 31 Jan, I received a $20 gift card from Borders.
The Arena has yet to call me.

Sizzlin' September, Commissioner Gordon!

Yep, comparatively, September was truly sizzlin', with two of my favorite movies of the year. If only every month had such quality!

Oh yeah, and since it's already 2009, I should really try to rush through the rest of the year.

犬神家の一族 (The Inugamis, a.k.a. Murder of the Inugami Clan)
This is an old-school whodunit in the very best sense, and it's also quite literally old-school - the director's remaking one of his early movies and uses the same lead actor in both. There's no updating in this remake, and everything still feels nice and quaint, like an old leather-bound library book. The performances are great, if stylized to the point where they might become targets of derision for modern audiences. But what really works is the slow-burning suspense and delicious twists and turns of the plot - a plot that always plays fair and isn't stupid (a real rarity these days).

Изгнание (The Banishment)
This award-winner from Russia is chock-full of religious symbolism, which feel too in-your-face for comfort. The somewhat over-meticulous shot compositions also add to the level of detachment of the audience, making the characters all seem very distant and vague - people that we are observing from afar with all the emotional involvement of a laboratory scientist. Still, it does look gorgeous and is well-acted. Too bad the overlong running time make it a real pain to sit through.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall
The Apatow factory produces another romcom that both guys and gals will enjoy, tempering the sweetness with their trademark brand of raunchy humor. As usual, the pacing's a little too loose for comfort, and the film meanders quite a bit all over the place. However, the main characters are all well-drawn and multi-faceted, and the supporting cast is fantastic. Especially hilarious is Russell Brand as the barmy British rock star. One sour note is the film's treatment of Kristen Bell's character, which borders on misogyny.

歲月 (The Days)
A rather weak debut from a local filmmaker, this coming-of-age tale is full of gangster clichés and raw acting. Some of the cast, though inexperienced, have charisma and are inherently watchable, but the stilted dialogue tests one's patience sorely. There's plenty of pointless animated sequences to string everything together, and even a plot twist in the secret ending that seems to exist for no real narrative reason at all. Sigh. When will filmmakers learn that plot twists that exist for the sole purpose of being twisty is meaningless and does nothing but annoy their audience?

Mamma Mia!
If Speed Racer is cotton candy for attention-deficit adolescents, then this is the equivalent for middle-aged women. Well, except it's a lot more sedate and unimaginatively shot and staged. There's nothing more pathetic than a movie that relentlessly tries to convince you that you're having a good time. In fact, it's downright sad and desperate, just like the needy middle-aged women that populate it's visually boring musical sequences. But the power of nostalgia is not to be scoffed at, for it's rare that a musical this thoroughly unspectacular makes so much money. Oh, and Pierce Brosnan. Cannot. Sing. At. All. Ugh.

Boy A
It's a lot harder for me to write a rave about a movie than a rant. Ranting and coming up with fresh insults is easy. But it's a lot more difficult to come up with reasons why I love a movie, because they're usually the same for every one - compelling writing, fantastic performances, stunning cinematography and/or visual effects, delicate nuances and subtlety in all areas. So let me just say that all of the above apply to Boy A, which is an absolutely brilliant drama that practically demands you soak in all the subtle nuances of the storytelling and the top-notch acting, and in exchange, leaves you with a beautifully tragic emotional experience.

Argh. Another wonderful film that I don't know what to write about. Suffice to say it fully deserves every accolade it receives. This is a fantastic work of artistry, full of stunning visuals, masterful storytelling, genuine laughs and lots of heart. It's so good, takes my breath away; it's probably the best Pixar film ever made, and that's really saying something.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars
A beautiful animated work of art is followed by... a hideous animated steaming turd. The rubbish plot jumps from video game scenario to video game scenario, decorated with bad dialogue (well, that's one thing about the live-action movies they're faithful to), lame jokes and awful character animation. I thought Lucasfilm was state-of-the-art? Why, then, does everyone move like they're marionettes? The busy battle scenes just manage to scrape by with a passing grade, but everything else around them is a waste of time and money and the efforts of hundreds or thousands of people who worked on it. When will Lucas stop plundering the corpse of the franchise?

Youth Without Youth
There's one thing you can't accuse Francis Ford Coppola of, and that's lack of ambition. His first film after a long hiatus is one with a pretty good sci-fi concept - only it resolutely refuses to be a sci-fi flick and obsessively heads down the other, "artsier" path. Unfortunately this results in a schizophrenic movie in more ways than one, and while there are stunning visuals aplenty, none of it makes very much sense at all. But hey, at least it's not boring. I'd rather see this over Mamma Mia! any day.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Woody Allen's latest is a marked improvement over Cassandra's Dream, and one where he abandons the heavy drama to make a simple, fun and breezy movie. There's not much substance to it, but it's all very entertaining nonetheless, watching the leads go through the revolving doors of their relationships. Penelope Cruz, especially, is fantastic and hilarious; pity there's far too little of her. Everyone looks like they're having a blast, even the director (who knew he'd be capable of having fun when he whines in all his movies?), and you will, too.

畫皮 (Painted Skin)
This is a confused mess of a movie, with silly jokes, slapstick, heavy drama, romance and martial arts all rolled up together haphazardly. Thank goodness for its female leads Zhou Xun and Zhao Wei, who elevate their roles above and beyond the thin caricatures on the page, providing a compelling emotional hook. Too bad that only comes to the fore in the third act, far too late to rescue the thoroughly mediocre fare that's around it. The movie tries too hard to be too many things, and fails at every single one of them - even Donnie Yen is wasted - and he's not that easy to waste; you just need to throw a few decent fight scenes in for him. Scarily enough, this was Hong Kong's pick for their Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination - and in a year when I can easily name 5 Hong Kong films off the top of my head that were better.

My Magic
I've usually been able to find something I like about all of Eric Khoo's movies (well, except One Leg Kicking), and this one is no exception. Sure, it's slow-moving and sometimes feels repetitive and disjointed, not to mention exploitative - did we really need so many close-ups of the main character piercing his body with random objects? What's the point of making your audience squirm so much in their seats, and so many times too? But thankfully, the genuine emotions and real chemistry between the father and son come through without once slipping into melodrama, and the ending is beautifully moving. Oh, and it also has a really cool, retro poster in the style of old-school local cinemas, painted on canvas. Check it out:


Friday, January 02, 2009

Happy New Year

It's a brand new year!

How fun!

How glorious!

How exciting!


How utterly, utterly depressing. Bah, humbug.