customer service

Complaints as a Window to the Soul

Through various public platforms like TripAdvisor as well as a few private platforms where ticket buyers are able to offer up feedback with varying levels of anonymity, my shows have been open to feedback and criticism for the past three years. The experience has taught me a great deal that I would never have learned otherwise.

This is, of course, a self-selected sample which is prone to bias. I know that an unhappy audience member is far more likely to express their displeasure than a satisfied one is to leave a positive reivew. Thankfully, in spite of this bias, the vast majority of this feedback has still been positive. But I still spend a great deal of time figuring out what to do with the negative ones.


*This is Glenn Ottaway.
He never complains about anything in real life
but I like to imagine this is what I imagine my anonymous online critics look like.

Some of them point to genuine issues with the show that I've been able to fix and those criticisms, when offered with at least a hint of niceness, almost always lead to a better show for the next audience. 

Some of it is simply things that are not within anyone's control. I recall a period of a couple of months where the City of Toronto was replacing streetcar tracks immediately outside of our venue. That construction cut the nearby parking down to next to nothing. It's an important reminder that entertainment is about the full experience and it starts even before the audience leaves their homes. And while there's nothing to be done about the parking, the experience can start to make up for that immediately by being met by cheerful staff and being shown swiftly and effortlessly to your seats. 

A significant amount of "criticism" is less about the quality of the show and a mismatch between what they were expecting. As I occasionally demonstrate with one of the tricks in my show, what you are expecting to see goes a long way to shaping what you do see, but it also makes seeing unexpected things unpleasant. Regardless of the show was "good" or "bad" if it doesn't line up with your expectations, there's an opportunity to be unhappy.

Some of it boils down to taste. I've been labelled as "extremely funny and entertaining" and "totally boring and unfunny" by different people describing the same performance. So it becomes an effort to properly shape the promotional materials which go ahead of the show so that people know what they're getting into and people who are liable to find my style of performance boring are given the opportunity to stay home. 

Some are just pure vitriol enabled by the anonymity of the internet. They sting, but are fortunately easy to discount because they don't have much content beyond the superficial desire to make others feel bad.

What's most frustrating — although ultimately the most instructive — is the criticism that makes no sense... at least on the surface. Some of the reviews memorable for strangeness include individuals:

  • Gave the show a negative review because the chicken curry was too salty.
  • Gave the show a negative review the chicken wings were cold (this was at a venue which didn't have chicken wings on the menu... or anything else chicken for that matter.) 

I once had a conversation with the owner of of one of the Magic & Martini venues about a very unusual situation about an unsatisfied would-be customer who bought a ticket to one of the shows but left before the show had begun and none of the staff who tried to help him had the slightest idea of why he was unhappy. One reported a complaint about a wobbly table (which they fixed) and another reported a complaint that the the showroom didn't feature the venue's full dinner menu (they brought him the full dinner menu and said he could order off of it.)

The lesson for us (and to anyone involved in the service industry) is that people rarely tell you the real reason they're unsatisfied! But it's typically not for lack of honesty. It's because they don't know themselves. 

The amount of thinking that the brain does without our knowledge is astounding. (See the recent Veritasium video and discussion here.) We make so many decisions in a day without being consciously aware of them. When a decision gets made as a reflex or based on emotions, it may have causes but we don't have reasons for it in the usual rational sense of the word. But when asked for reasons, we invent them. So frequently, the reasons people give for something aren't the actual reasons; they're made up ex post facto.

Now for all of those people who were unhappy, something put them in a bad mood. But we can't trust them to accurately relay the reason for it; most likely because the real reasons are unknown. That's why I began taking the approach that the show begins before the audience puts their shoes on and leaves their homes. It forces to take a much more inclusive view of the performance to try and bring as many aspects of the evening under control to guarantee our guests the best possible experience. 

But anyone who knows anything about magic knows that the secret has always been in the ridiculous amounts of preparation behind the curtain. 

Decimal Points Matter

This past weekend I had an adventure. Actually I had two; one intentional, the other less so.

The first was a rather unusual show for a group of five people in a hospital lounge in on the far side of Ajax. I'm always nervous when given the opportunity to put magic in situations where it wouldn't normally be found but the group was terrific and it was a wonderful show.

On the way home, however, was another story. I hopped off the 401 to get gas in Whitby. I located an Esso station (150 Consumers Drive, for those who want to avoid it). They had gas posted for 92.3¢/L which seemed quite reasonable. I authorized my card and began pumping. But soon it stopped. When I looked up, I was rather confused to see that I had managed to pump less than 14L of fuel and the price at the pump what a whopping $125.00. The problem, if you can spot it:

Decimal Points Matter - 1

The decimal point is in the wrong place and their gas was ten times as expensive as it should have been. If you're like me, you can imagine how hilarious of a screw up this is. That alone kept me cheerful enough to avoid screaming at anyone.

For those interested in the tangent, the decimal point was invented by a Scotsman, John Napier, the Laird of Merchiston. Oddly enough, I know this because of I make use of this fact in my show with Tyler Wilson in 2013, Illusions of Grandeur. (Not so much the decimal point, but the fact he used to walk around town with his black pet rooster causing the locals to suspect he was in league with the devil.) Decimals are an essential weapon in the everlasting struggle to tell whether or not some numbers are bigger than other numbers.

After pushing the intercom button and notifying the attendant of the problem (and standing out in the snowy cold for a good five minutes waiting for some instructions) I was invited inside. Unfortunately because it was a pre-authorized transaction on my card they were unable to cancel it before it was charged. This was also someone who was new in her position, was completely clueless as to what to do, and was on her cell phone desperately trying to locate a superior for some guidance. I met someone else who had experienced the same problem (who had somehow gotten off lucky at just a $60 charge.) One has to feel sympathy for her since of everyone involved in this farce, she is the one for which there is truly nothing she could have done about it.

I decided to leave my number and get on with my life and allow people who actually understood this advanced technology to deal with it on their own, and increase my chances of having someone actually responsible I could yell at. Besides, I had a show to be at in Toronto and didn't have the time to spare.

When I got home that evening, I forwarded a copy of my receipt, clearly showing the exaggerated fuel rate, to what I supposed would be a crack team of savvy motivated customer service specialists who would have this death with in short order.

But... the best laid plans.

While it seems they have no shortage of people who are willing to admit that this was an error and that I'm entitled to a refund — and also no shortage of people who are inclined to tell me that the reason the decimal point on the price of gas was in the wrong place was because when they changed the prices, someone entered it with the decimal in the wrong place as though this was something they had discovered, not something I had told them — the entire multinational organization seems to be devoid of anyone who actually knows how to do it.

At three separate points, a solution was suggested that I could get a refund to my card if I were willing to drive back to Whitby to claim it. This was followed by perplexed noises when I explain that I do not live in the city where I was overcharged for gas.

One curious email assured me that they "certainly wish to Delight [their] Customers" [1] which caused me to waste a solid twenty minutes of my life trying to recall if a trip to a gas station had ever succeeded in causing me "delight". I think I'm beginning to understand the corporate culture that led to this mishap in the first place.

We are now four days later and they show no signs of figuring out how to solve this. On the bright side, I've been promised a $25 gift card for my troubles if they ever manage to figure it out. I'm not entirely sure, but it sounded like as a special bonus, the $25 would only work in Whitby. They also seem bent on making sure I pay for the 13.54 L of fuel I did manage to get in the transaction. What they lack in competence, they make up for in fairness.

Join with me as I wait for the climactic conclusion of this epic saga where this crack squad of customer service professionals at a multi-national problem try to overcome the challenge of reversing a credit card transaction.

Doubtless, Peter Jackson will want to option the move rights. Maybe this is my chance to meet Orlando Bloom.

[1] Apparently capital letters are more abundant in Whitby