Category Archives: Customer

Suggestions Toward a Personal Caller Feedback System

I have a process I use to gather feedback on my calling in pursuit of continuous improvement. My “day job” background is in business process & product engineering, program management and quality systems – so bringing a closed loop monitoring and improvement process into my calling is somewhat of a natural thing for me. I’m not trying to say my system is the best and that everyone should follow it but rather that this is what I’ve found to be effective for me. I offer for you to take what parts you find valuable from it.

Personal Considerations

  • Do you really want direct feedback? Asking for others to provide input on your performance can be a quite personal thing. When folks shower you with compliments it can be wonderful! When the comments are complaints or a need for improvement, it takes a bit of resilience to get past your personal reaction and gain the benefit of others’ perspectives.
  • When do you want feedback? I welcome feedback at any time which doesn’t impede my performance (e.g.: not when I’m walking through or actually calling a sequence). I know others who don’t want to hear anything the night of an event they’re performing, or only want it at the end. Early and often, positive or problem is fine with me! Praise can wait but problems should be surfaced ASAP. My way of looking at this is: the sooner I know of an issue, the quicker I can do something to address it. In my experience dancers will quickly forget a transient problem if you can rally in good spirit and supply them with fun from there forward.
  • How do you want to get feedback? Do you have the interpersonal skills necessary to actually be welcoming while someone is telling you face to face about how you annoyed them? Or do you prefer avoiding such interactions and wish to provide another means for them to submit their feedback to you?
  • What will you do with the feedback? In my opinion, if you ask for feedback you must honor the investment people are making to supply it by incorporating the learning into your future performances. They should see the result of their investment or there’s no motivation to continue their making such an effort. This doesn’t mean you have to always agree with their input! It’s not that unusual for me to receive diametrically opposed comments or something that doesn’t match common practice or my own experience as a dancer or caller. However, I’ve found there is almost always something you can take away from each person’s supplied feedback to carry forward.

Soliciting and Welcoming Feedback

At my gigs I make a clear request for feedback on my performance. Typically I will make a verbal solicitation “on mic” somewhere early in the event. I try to make this brief and with humor such that my request doesn’t burden the dancers. I’m clear about the ways I welcome feedback plus that I’m truly soliciting both positive things and opportunities for improvement. It appears my interest in feedback has become well accepted – dancers now offer me their views on other caller’s performances and selected material, even when I’m simply there to dance!

Opportunities for Caller Feedback

  • Feedback Notebook. I have a standard school composition notebook with a distinctive graphic pattern cover, a big bright orange “Calling Feedback for Don Veino” sign on the front and a pen on a leash. I put this in a visible spot in the hall for dancers to access. I’ve recently taken to holding it up during my solicitation so folks can recognize it and only afterward placing it in the hall. I check the book when I have a moment (i.e.: at the end of the break or evening), making sure to keep it available to others. I try to ignore it otherwise so folks are free to use it without concern I’m watching over them. If I find a note that warrants follow-up while at the event I try to seek out that individual (if possible) to ensure they know I accept their input and value it. This has often caused folks frustrated with me (i.e.: in my pre-perfection early calling career 😉 ) to become valuable allies.
  • Web Comments. For a while I tried putting up a little poster with a QR code/web URL to a comment form for folks to use. They didn’t. I discontinued it.
  • Dancers Coming Up to Speak Face to Face. I’m thankful that folks give of themselves to come and speak with me about my performance or material. I’ll often write myself a note after such conversations to be sure to retain the key points of our talk. I make sure to thank them for their feedback – no matter what it is. I do my best to keep a pleasant, engaged expression on my face if the message is uncomfortable for me – even in those situations I know they’re giving me a gift. I try to engage them (if they appear to be willing and doing so will not impact their fun) and listen more than I talk to ensure I fully understand their view or reasoning. It would be a lot easier for them to simply ignore me or to avoid my gigs in the future – by engaging with them I’m demonstrating my real interest in their views. I try to always close with a sincere “thank you” and assurance I’ll honor their input.
  • Checking in with Dancers. I periodically check in with dancers, once the sequence has settled down and folks are out at the top, to see how things are going. I don’t do this more than a couple of times in an event and choose best opportunities. For instance, if there’s a sequence I’m calling for the first time, I may run down to say “I’ve never called this one before – what do you think of it?”. I only do so if things are stable without me, it appears the dancers are not otherwise engaged in conversation and mostly only with folks I know would be willing.
  • Checking in with Organizers. I try to check in with the dance organizers when they’re not otherwise engaged – best times are when they’re out at the top, at the break or after the dance while I’m helping break down the sound system or similar. I try to ask open ended questions about how they feel things are going/went. They may even have their own feedback system for their series’ dancers – if so, you can say you’re interested in what folks tell them about you.
  • Checking in with the Band. At the break I will typically ask the band if they need me to do anything differently and get their input on how things are going for them. I’m usually able to express hearfelt appreciation for their music at the same time – it’s a pleasant surprise when they ask me how they’re doing in return. Similar follow up at the end of the dance as appropriate.
  • Checking in with Colleagues. If there are caller or musician colleagues on the floor at an event I may seek them out at a suitable time for their view on the event. I’ll typically ask them specific questions about some aspect I’d value their expert opinion on. This makes it easier for them to provide valuable input, rather than a generic “nice dance” comment. I’m not asking them to tell me how great I am!
  • Checking in with a Mentor. Earlier in my calling career I was fortunate to gain a primary mentor to bounce things off of and get feedback from. They were in the same dance community orbit as I was calling in, so I’d often have an opportunity to get their views on my own work and/or hear their opinion on how someone else’s event was going when we’d talk on the sidelines. Compassionate honesty is the key value here. It was really rewarding when those conversations later evolved into being more of two-way thing, and something I really miss now.

Utilizing the Feedback

Once you’ve got feedback, it’s your job to figure out what is valuable, take away the lessons to be had from it and make changes (or enforce good things) going forward. One thing I do that may seem counter-intuitive is to leave all the pages of input in my comment book, even if the comments are critical of me. I may sometimes write an explanatory margin comment (e.g. if there was a complaint or compliment about a given sequence, I may add the dance name) and my takeaway of what the cause of the problem was or my planned solution. This transparency into problems might possibly hurt my reputation under an “I’m always perfect” publicity mindset, but I think it solidly demonstrates my openness and willingness to engage to improve. One exception: if a comment mentions another performer or individual in a negative way I will redact that part – it’s not my place to impact another’s reputation!

Summary and Solicitation

I’ve found these feedback techniques to be invaluable as part of my overall tool set in development as a dance caller and choreographer. As is typically the case under continual improvement systems, serious users may see most rapid improvement in the earliest stages. As things evolve, the need for significant correction diminishes and gains become harder to achieve. While in my earlier calling career I could typically count on several comments with each and every appearance, it’s not unusual now for me to have no written comments for extended periods. Sometimes there’s blips with lots or little new info to leverage. Folks are typically more willing/interested to share praise face to face – so you may find it more difficult to capture the learning from that (e.g. particular dances which folks enjoyed enough to mention, why they enjoyed a given evening more than another, etc.).

I hope you’ll find this information useful in your own personal development and welcome hearing about any other techniques you may utilize to gain feedback toward improving your own calling.

Using DeposZip Under Linux (Mint 11/Ubuntu 11.04)

Our new credit union provides the capability to do on-line check deposits using an application called DeposZip. Of course, their web site only mentions support/instructions for Windows and MacOS, not Linux. Well, the application is actually server-hosted and uses a Java applet (or some ActiveX thing if on Windows) to get things done.

If it goes as planned, the application can work with your TWAIN-enabled scanner to get the check images directly within the application. Sadly, this did not work for me – it produced a pop-up window saying only “SK.gnome.TwainManager.getDefaultSource()LSK/gnome/twain/TwainSource;”. I figure this is refering to a value that is supposed to be defined somewhere (and is not?), but in looking at the file system and googling I came up with nothing. OK, so the application offers two more options under the applet, copying the image from the clipboard (which also did not work – with no error this time) and loading an image file, which does work.

To create the image file, I scanned the front and back of the check separately using XSane and saved each as a .png (or jpeg) image. I then loaded these images as requested by the application. DeposZip took the 200 dpi color scans and further processed them to what looked like high contrast greyscale or B&W images shown in a preview. The rest systematically worked OK from there, the deposit was accepted for processing.

BTW, DeposZip also offers a “zero client” version as a link in the footer of the applet. This seems to load another page totally doing away with the java applet and using instead a standard web form with upload link for the image files. This works similarly to the above, but without the image preview you see in the applet happening until the next step in the process.

So long as you follow the endorsement instructions exactly (which unfortunately require you to write a whole lot of stuff on the reverse of the check) and the check is below $1500, the deposit will go through fine. Nice way to avoid a drive to the bank or ATM!

A Frugal Shopper’s Bonus: Ebates

One of the earliest sites I joined on the internet was this one, way back in 2002 – wow, 2002! Seems like things have changed so much, so quickly!

OK, back to the real point of this post. I’m frugal, I admit it. When I buy something significant, like a new car or computer, I research them and strive to find the best one and to get the best price. So when I’m done, it annoys me if I find out later I missed an obvious chance to save more. When buying stuff on-line, Ebates is frequently that chance.

Ebates is a referral/rebate system for on-line shopping. They have selected partners that will give you cash back – in most cases on top of any other coupon or deal – for items you purchase after going through the Ebates site to get there. You get the cash back as a total accumulated through Ebates, paid quarterly. Their partners are ones you likely already are looking at, you just don’t know otherwise about the rebates! Examples of their 1200+ store partners are HP, Dell, Godiva, JC Penney, Sears, Macy’s, LL Bean, etc., including my favorite computer/electronics store: NewEgg.

Generally, the only thing you have to do is remember to visit Ebates first, then follow the link from their site to the place you’d otherwise shop already! After that, it is all automatic (in a few cases, you need to enter a discount code or similar). Generally, you get 1-6% cash back, but I’ve also seen ones as high as 15% or fixed dollar amounts like $60. For stuff you were already going to buy.

So now you know why I kick myself if I forget about using Ebates. Don’t kick yourself – join and start saving now. If you follow my link here to sign up, I’ll possibly get a small reward for referring you and you’ll still get the same great deals – so please click below to join for yourself (and me). And remember to use them afterwards!

Great Customer Service Sells!

I’m a firm believer in being an assertive customer when a product does not live up to your expectations. Great companies know how to handle that and turn your relationship with them to an asset.

Just concluded one such experience with Richard Green at TofuXPress. My wife had purchased one of their devices for me after seeing the Rube Goldberg method I had previously used for pressing the moisture out of tofu in preparation for frying. They make a device that does this neatly, without the stacks of plates and various heavy items from the kitchen that I’d used before. My only problem was that a tab on it broke, very quickly after I’d received it. I put the broken piece aside with the intention of following up, but of course life intervened and I didn’t get around to finding the box to get the contact information until after the warranty was up.

So I tried contacting them, told my story, and offered design change suggestions to address what I’d seen. Richard, their Operations Manager, responded nicely and a conversation continued from there. Long story short, they made an out-of-warranty exception and sent me not only that part, but also two others that mated with it. The new part had a design change just like what I had suggested. Now I have nothing but appreciation for them and we have drier tofu again without the gymnastics!

I highly recommend tofuXpress.com.

CSV File Import to Quicken 2007

Tonight I was spending some time catching up on many (more than I care to mention) months’ worth of finances. A couple of accounts had significant transactions which needed entry into Quicken. Due to Intuit having disabled direct connection with my financial institution (because they want me to buy something newer than what I’d already paid them for), I was stuck with the prospect of having to enter many things by hand. Ugh!

Well, a bit of googling later, I came upon http://xl2qif.chez-alice.fr/calc2qif_en.php . This is an OpenOffice.org spreadsheet macro to convert csv data to QIF format. Unfortunately, Quicken 2007 will not support QIF import to bank accounts (yet another planned “feature” vs. it working successfully in a prior version) but there is a workaround… you can simply import the QIF into a “cash” account and then cut and paste the transactions over to the correct account from there.

It worked almost perfectly. I downloaded the csv files from my financial institution, opened them in OO Calc and then applied the macro to map and save the selected data to QIF for import into Quicken. The only issue was that I could not get the amounts of the transactions to import for some reason. In all fairness, it is late and I didn’t spend much time trying — it was much easier to just type the figures by hand into the otherwise complete entries. Way better than doing it all by hand!

This may be the final shove to move me to an open source finance program. Intuit’s business model of breaking SW features I’ve already paid for is problematic. This, coupled with the complete uselessness in the past few years of the Quicken to TurboTax import, takes the cake. I guess they can’t compete on new features alone? I would routinely and willingly pay for updates before, when features got better. But now that MS Money is dead as competition, I don’t expect things with them to get any better soon.