Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sometimes A Little Extra Effort Is Required!

Food For Thought 7-4-08

Hi friends, this is Harry Blalock; General Manager for radio stations KZMI & KCNM. It’s that time once again to take a look at the issues of the week, and to offer some Food For Thought.

Happy Independence Day! I hope that somewhere during your time of celebrating and partying over the weekend you are able to reflect on what a privilege it is to be an American and to have all the freedoms that come along with that blue passport. And even though this holiday is not specifically about our soldiers and those who have served in the military, I hope that you will take this opportunity once again to thank all those who have served in the military to protect our freedoms and ensure our liberty and independence. Honestly, I don’t think we can ever thank them quite enough, especially for the things they have been willing to go through and endure for the rest of us.

I think that all of us who live in the CNMI, or who have spent any time here in the past, realize that we face some pretty unique challenges as a result of where we live. But how we respond to some of those challenges can be very important and can make a big difference. I ran into another one of these challenges the other day and learned a few lessons that I thought I’d share with you as they may apply to situations you run into as well.

I was setting up an online store to sell shirts, hats and assorted other merchandise with my Axe Murderer Tours logo on it. No, I don’t really have a company called Axe Murderer Tours, well not yet at least. But I have taken hundreds of military visitors and other guests to the island out diving over the past 12 years. I have never charged for it, I just like being able to share the underwater world here that I have come to love so much, so I let them go along as a dive buddy. Several years ago, a lady who was serving in the U.S. military and was stationed in Seoul, South Korea came here for a long weekend. I ran into her as she was trying to figure out how she could go out on a dive, since there didn’t seem to be many shops that were really interested in English speaking customers. My dive buddy and I offered to take her along with us the following day, and she jumped on the offer. When we went to the hotel to pick her up the next morning, she and her friend were sitting on the curb laughing. When they came up to the truck I asked what was so funny, she said they were just discussing that here they were going out with a couple guys who could be Axe Murderers for all they knew. To which I replied, yup, we could be, so are you going to take a chance on going diving with a couple axe murderers, or are you going to sit here at your hotel all day? They climbed into the truck & I wound up taking her on two dives, an island tour and out to dinner at Sunset Bar & Grill back when it was still open. As we were sitting there on the beach, drinking our daiquiris, watching the sunset and listening to the live band, she said, Axe Murderer Tours is the best tour company ever! And that was the official naming of Axe Murderer Tours; I mean how do you not use a name & story that cool?

I still wasn’t charging to take anyone diving, and was just doing it for fun, but people kept asking me if they could buy an Axe Murderer Tours shirt or hat as a memento of their dives with me. I always had to tell them it was just a make believe company and I didn’t have any hats or shirts. But after years and years of this, hearing people ask for hats & shirts over and over and over, I finally figured, why not? So I had my dive buddies Doug & Barry come up with a few different designs for me and we finally settled on one.

Then I found out about an online company called Cafepress, which prints your logo onto hats, shirts, and other merchandise that you select. You can find them online at One of the things I really liked about this company was the fact that they let you set up your own store online, they let you design your own logo, they let you pick the merchandise to be sold in your store, and they don’t charge you a penny to do it. Then you can set your markup over what the base price for the various items is, and they will pay you the difference when people buy your merchandise. That meant I didn’t have any set up costs, website costs or inventory costs. They would print or stitch the merchandise as people ordered it. This sounded like the perfect solution for me, all I needed was the logo, I could choose the merchandise I wanted to offer, customize it, and then it would automatically pop up in my online store, but I didn’t have to spend a penny to make it happen.

I decided I wanted to order a bunch of the merchandise right away though so I would know the quality and feel good about recommending it to other people. As I got to the end of the ordering process and filled in my billing and shipping information, I noticed that it changed the amount of shipping from regular to international, and went from $11 to nearly $60. They did have Northern Mariana Islands in their pull down menu for country choices, but if you chose United States for your country choice, they didn’t have Northern Mariana Islands or MP available in their state pull down menu. I wanted the merchandise pretty bad, but not bad enough to pay that much of a difference in the price of shipping. So we decided to have it shipped to my wife’s sister in the states, and then have her mail it out to us. But I wanted them to get this obvious problem fixed so that any other potential customers who live in the Northern Mariana Islands wouldn’t have the same problems and hassles.

I clicked on their “contact us” button and wrote them an e-mail about my concerns and not having them recognize that we have the U.S. Postal system here and should have the same postal rates as any state, or Hawaii, which they did list in their state pull down menu. I got an e-mail back from one of their customer service representatives who said, “Dear Harry, I would be happy to help you with this. However, I am unable to change the shipping options once the destination address has been entered. It will only be able to ship with the corresponding shipping method. If there is anything else I can do for you, please let me know”.

I read that e-mail first thing Thursday morning, so I wondered if I hadn’t shaken all the cobwebs out of my head yet. I gave my head a good shake and read it again. Nope, same thing, she was basically telling me, yes – I’d like to help you, but I can’t so I won’t, but if there is something else I can do for you, let me know. That was a customer service representative? With the time difference, their office was now open so I could call their toll free assistance number. I figured I might have better luck talking to someone on the phone. It was just my luck to have the same girl who wrote me the lame e-mail answer the phone. I tried explaining to her once again that the Northern Mariana Islands are a U.S. Commonwealth, and we have the U.S. Postal system here, so they should be charging us the same or at least giving us the same options they would give any state. Her response was that she didn’t have the ability to change anything on the order form so therefore she couldn’t help me, was there anything else I needed? I said yes, I need to talk to someone who can actually help me then and will listen to what I’m telling them. She asked if I’d like to speak to someone in the head office, I said sure, so she transferred me. I wasn’t really surprised when she screwed that up too and just connected me back to the same customer service number I had called originally. But this time I got a guy who was much more helpful and on top of his game. After explaining the whole situation to him, he said, well that’s something that our IT guys should be able to fix very easily, and either add Northern Mariana Islands to the state pull down menu, or allow various shipping options if you list Northern Mariana Islands in the country pull down menu. He said he would happily pass it along to them and request that they fix and update their system. That is all I was asking for, someone who would listen to the situation, apply some logic and then find a way to fix the problem.

I was very tempted to just write back a disgusted e-mail when I got her first response thanking her for doing nothing. But that wouldn’t have accomplished anything besides possibly making me feel slightly better at the time. But by following up, and calling the company, I’m hopeful that they will actually recognize us as part of the U.S. Postal system now and give us more affordable shipping options. Not only will that be good for my little online Axe Murderer Tours merchandise store, but it will also be good for anyone who decides to buy one of my shirts, hats or other pieces of merchandise, and it will also be good for any other budding entrepreneur in the CNMI who wants to come up with their own logos and start their own online store too. I’m still waiting to hear back for sure whether they will actually follow through on this or not and offer various shipping options to us, but I’m hopeful that once they check into the situation, they’ll realize there is no reason not to update their system. And if they are a good business, they will do what it takes to attract more customers and to make it easier and more affordable for customers to use their service from out here.

But when we’re confronted with those situations, what do we usually do? Do we take the time to try explaining it and finding someone who will actually listen, or do we just write them a nasty gram thanking them for nothing? One gets results that will help not only you, but everybody else as well, and the other only makes you feel better temporarily. It may take a little more patience and determination to pursue these sorts of things, and you’re never guaranteed to get the results you’re going after, but if you don’t try, you’re almost guaranteed that nothing will change. Unfortunately not all employees that are in the Customer Service department really belong there or will go above and beyond to actually deliver customer service. But don’t let that stop you, ask to speak to another customer service representative or ask to speak to their supervisor, keep trying until you find out that they don’t understand the situation and don’t want to understand the situation, they refuse to do anything about it because they really don’t want your business that bad, or until you find someone who can actually do something about your problem and come up with a solution.

If you want to see my store and see just how easy it is to have your own online store without spending a penny of set up money, you can check it out at What kind of logo or design ideas are just floating around in your head waiting for an opportunity? Good luck with your ideas and good luck to all of us in having Cafepress offer us all more affordable shipping options since we are indeed a part of the United States.

Food For Thought is now available online at and if you want it by e-mail distribution please send me an e-mail at

I’m Harry Blalock, thanking you once again for giving me a generous slice of your valuable time, and allowing me to share my Food For Thought.

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