Category Archives: Virtual Assistant

Has it really been that long?

You know it’s been too long between blogs when you have to look up your password.

Where has the time gone?  Let’s see, last blog, November 6th from Florida.  So, since then we’ve had the drama that is always December, New Years, my birthday and now we’re approaching the doldrums of February.

Perhaps time to use to be creative?

I haven’t done any painting since…the fall sometime…other than continually touching up my painting of the cottage.  I’m afraid to say “It’s finished” and I’m afraid to keep touching it up in case I go one touch up too far!  Finally today I started gessoing (not sure that’s a word) a canvass to cover up another attempt at the cottage but I don’t really have any inspiration at the moment so not sure what to do with it…but at least I did something.

cottage 012714 3  Believe it or not touched it up again after I took this picture.  Sigh.

Work has been crazy busy – best December I’ve had since I started the business in 2003 – so I guess my attitude about customer service is paying off.  But it doesn’t leave much time for more personal, artistic endeavours.     And life so easily gets in the way.  It seems I would rather be helping other people, looking after my customers’ needs, than doing things for myself.

Perhaps it’s time to force myself to do another art class but I don’t know what I want to do.  The first classes were great, but they almost confused me.  Try a little conte, try a little pastel, now it’s water colours, now acrylic, don’t forget the charcoal.  I was talking to my friend Wendie about my confusion and she suggested “go back to where you started, sketching people because that’s what got you into this”.  So perhaps I just need to grab a sketch book and sketch, sketch, sketch.  Maybe whomever is the speaker at my next BCX meeting can be immortalized or caricatured more likely.  Should I warn him?

So I’m on the hunt for inspiration.  It probably just takes keeping one’s eyes open and having a sketch pad or camera handy but it’s not something I’m used to – a new boundary to cross.  In other words, all suggestions gratefully appreciated and possibly immediately rejected.

Oh, and to follow up on my last blog, I’m now on a daily dose of Rhus Tox – which seems to be working.  Now as well as snake venom is working for a friend of mine, but I’m much improved.  Hmmm…poison ivy, I could draw/paint some poison ivy…

Happy New Year to all and best wishes for 2014!

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Filed under art classes, customer service, family, Health, Homeopathy, lessons, The Virtual Alternative, Virtual Assistant, Wendie Donabie

Happy Anniversary to me! 10 years in business today.

Wow, where has the last 10 years gone?  It seems like only yesterday that I walked through the doors of the Toronto Business Development Centre to apply for the Self Employment Assistance Program.  We were told to turn our phones off but Siobhan was expecting to give birth to Jaden any second so I refused and put mine on vibrate.  Two very important things happening at the same time!

Fast forward 6 weeks and I started the program.  It was a blur of information and on October 24th I graduated and The Virtual Alternative was born.  It was a very scary day but the TBDC took us out to lunch at a local Portuguese restaurant and Joe, not yet my husband, picked me up and whisked me off…somewhere,,, (funny the details we remember and the details we don’t).

There have been a lot of highs and lows since then…applied for my HST number at the end of 2005 – not bad going for 2 years in business – then suffered from a pretty bad low.  But here I am, 8 years after that, still going strong and loving being self-employed.

I have some terrific clients that I enjoy working with and every day is a new adventure.  Despite some days being at the computer at 5:45 a.m. and still at the computer past midnight, I would rather stick pins in my eyes than go back to working for someone else.  I’ve made some terrific friends, worked with some terrific colleagues and wouldn’t trade the last 10 years for anything.

So, to all my clients, friends and family, thank you for your support, it’s been a pleasure working and playing with you over the last 10 years and I look forward to another 10+.

Liz

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Customer Service par Excellence!

Some time ago, I blogged about an example of customer service that stood above the crowd:  when Jennifer of Oust-A-Mouse offered me a second unit, “on loan”, to help battle my cottage mouse problem.  Well, I am extremely happy to report that I have not seen any evidence of mice…no actual critters, no tell tale droppings, nothing.

And that, despite continuing to find new spots that we never cleaned in the first place.  Needless to say, those spots are being cleaned and bleached as they are found but still no new critters have made their way inside.

We even had renovations done to our fireplace hearth and the workman took the hearth out and left the inside wide open to the outside.  Still no critters!

Many years ago when I was newly in business, I had a client named Graham who gave me a fairly small job to do and for whatever reason, it just went wrong at every turn.  When I finally completed the tasks assigned, I was incredibly frustrated with myself that a fairly straightforward job had gone so awry.  I eventually handed Graham the finished job and never sent him an invoice.   Years later he came back to me with a $3500 project, which I was able to complete on time and on budget; a project I never would have seen had I billed him for the $100 job years earlier.

In the case of Oust-A-Mouse, it wasn’t that the product didn’t work, it was that I had so many mice, I needed two units to do the job properly.

In my opinion, anyone who stands as firmly behind a product as Jennifer does should be applauded and promoted.  In this day and age of disposable everything and an attitude of buyer beware, it’s truly refreshing to find a company like Oust-A-Mouse and an owner like Jennifer who offer an exceptional product and exceptional customer service.  I hope that at The Virtual Alternative we always strive to live up to Jennifer’s example.

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Creating a Safe Environment by Liz Saunders

On Friday I wrote about a nasty experience during Jaden’s swimming lesson.  At the time, I was told I needed to speak to the Crescent Town Club’s General Manager, A.N.   Today, since I had to go to Olivia’s and feed feline horribilous, I thought “I’ll kill two birds with one stone and see if A.N. is in the office”.

On arrival at the pool office, I ran into Ken who had been my witness and instrumental in calming the situation down on Friday.  He took me into A.N.’s office and we had a meeting.  Both A.N. and Ken agreed that the other woman’s behaviour was outrageous and they will be happy to help the police in figuring out who she is.  They have a zero tolerance policy in place which they want to enforce as well, so they have every interest in finding her too.  They had a really good picture of her from their security system and I confirmed that it was the woman in question.  Apparently it shouldn’t be long before she’s identified.

We then discussed possible solutions to dealing with the issue of getting Jaden in and out of his swimming lessons…which I’m pleased to say can now continue.   I think that they were very pleased that I was not trying to ramrod what I wanted through, but was willing to work with them and be as reasonable as possible.  They clearly understand that this is an issue and that it’s an issue that will continue to grow, rather than diminish.

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No Pictures Allowed! by Liz Saunders

Have you ever taken a picture in a grocery store so that you could remember something, possibly research it, or in my case call a friend and say “what the heck is this and how do you cook it?”?

I’ve done it lots of times.  I used to drive my friend Bruce buggy because I figured he should know what to do with bok choy…being oriental and all.  But no, Bruce was born in Canada and doesn’t have any more idea what to do with pigs feet than I do.

IMAG0088So imagine my surprise today when I went to check out a relatively new store in my ‘hood called either A-1 Premium or Al Premium (owner’s name could be Al, I suppose) and found some stuff that I thought grandson Jaden would love to see, although frankly it was making me a little queasy.   In fact, I commented to husband Joe that I felt like I’d walked into another country, the food was so varied and different.  Next thing I know I’ve got some goon following me around yelling at me “no pictures…no pictures”.   Husband Joe of course jumped to my defence before I had a chance to open my mouth.  “Why can’t she take pictures?” he asked.  “They’re just to show to our grandson”.

“No pictures!”  insisted our goon.  “You talk to Manager”, pointing to the very front of the store (we were at the very back).  “Nope”, said Joe.  “You want us to talk to the manager, you go get him”.  Well this deteriorated into “you do it” “no, you do it” and we walked away – with a goon shadow.  Next thing we know we’re being followed by our goon and a man in a red jacket who finally approached us and said “you no take pictures in store”.  And then he said something about the pictures ending up on the internet (of course, I thought “hey, great idea” – that had never been my intention).

Joe again explained they were only for our grandson – as I plotted Facebook and a blog – and red jacket walked away smiling.

As we finished our shopping – still under the watchful eye of goon – I started wondering if the fuss was about illegal aliens as employees.  What else could the big deal have been?

Still in this day and age of instant communication (have you seen the commercial where the man falls off the treadmill?) where a story of poor communication and therefore poor customer service can be spread in a heartbeat, this was very, very poorly handled.  Joe reckons we may be barred from the store for life.  I’ll have to check that out later this week.

And what was all the fuss about?  Well, here are the infamous pictures:

 

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Oust-A-Mouse Bait House Exemplifies Exceptional Customer Service by Liz Saunders

Back in the fall, our friends, Wendie and Hugh, came down to Toronto and we went to the Cottage Life Show.   While we were wandering around, I saw a booth displaying various types of insulation and I stopped to chat.  One of my questions was:  is your insulation mouse proof?  The response:  Are you kidding?  Nothing’s mouse proof.  They will eat anything…wood…steel wool…insulation laced with arsenic.  Nothing keeps mice out.  But there will be a presentation at 3:30 pm over there about how to mouse proof your cottage.

Fabulous, I thought and wandered “over there” at the appropriate time.  To my surprise, the presentation was by Jennifer Cambray, the President of JNC Innovations and she was talking about Oust-A-Mouse Bait House.  I say surprise because I had already had an Oust-A-Mouse Bait House at my cottage for a few years and I couldn’t say that it had really helped.  I still had mice everywhere I’d ever had them.  Jennifer’s presentation was both very interesting and quiet scary (Deer mice, Hantavirus) and she was fielding questions as the expert she is.

oustamouse

One woman was being quite rude in her challenges to Jennifer and Jennifer handled it like a pro.  Never having been one for confrontation, I decided to wander over to the Oust-A-Mouse booth and speak to her quietly.  She was held up for some time after her talk so I spoke to her husband who gave me Jennifer’s card and suggested I contact her directly.

This is where the incredible customer service comes in.  I contacted Jennifer a couple of days later (after the Cottage Life Show was done and she was home).  I told her that we had seen no appreciable difference after using an Oust-A-Mouse for a number of years and going through copious amounts of poison.  After a discussion of where it was, how I was using it, how much poison, etc., her response:  Then you probably have such a large infestation that you need another bait house which I will send to you free of charge.  If it works, you can pay me for it!

But that wasn’t all.  As she visits Bracebridge regularly, she dropped the bait house off at Wendie and Hugh’s for me.  She also included some rat poison – just to make sure I was using the right stuff –  and gave me instructions on exactly where to put it.

Now this is where it gets even crazier:  If I’m not mistaken, she also offered to drop by the cottage in the spring to help me make sure I had everything set up right and make sure I had bleached everything that needed to be bleached, stopped up holes, etc.   I was already so blown away by her offer to send me a bait house without payment in advance that I could have misunderstood that part.

In any event, between Xmas and New Years off we went to the cottage with our 2nd bait house to place under the bathroom.   Topped up the poison in Oust-A-Mouse bait house number 1 while we were there and then couldn’t get out of the driveway (a whole other story).

So, the days are getting longer and it’s only a matter now of a few weeks (okay, maybe 7 or 8) and we’ll be able to go see how the mice did over the winter.

But in the meantime, I have Jennifer’s card on my desk as a constant reminder of what truly exceptional customer service (not to mention standing behind your product) is all about and I strive daily to give the same to my clients.

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I’ve been instructed to be creative!

Where has the month gone?  I can’t believe I actually managed to type a blog back on January 5th, what with my hand still being really sore from surgery but I guess being pissed off helped.  Thanks to Witchy and some homeopathic remedies, I’m healing well and will be back into the blogging chair soon.

Since then, I’ve had a blog running around in my head about a company that displays customer service that is the antithesis of my recent bad experience with Pizza Pizza but have not written it yet as I’m trying not to strain my wrist more than I have to.

However, I saw my dear friend Witchy yesterday and my new instructions (aside from increase this dosage, keep doing the other, rub castor oil on your arm, etc.) include:  stop for a bit every day and either call a friend, write a blog or do something creative …well, I guess writing a blog can be creative but she meant draw a picture or do something artsy.

Well, I would love to pick up a pencil or piece of charcoal or conte and do just that, butluc studio-Entrance-150x150 I am intimidated.  I don’t have a problem using a pencil to try to draw an image of a person, but that’s not what Witchy wants.  She wants me to be expressive and uninhibited and boldly creative and I am, to quote the title of an art course at Luc Studio, a “terrified beginner”.   Therefore, starting in March, I am signed up for the course “Drawing & Painting for the Terrified Beginners“.

It’s funny that I’m so intimidated as I come up with creative solutions for my clients all the time, but pick up a piece of charcoal and apply to paper….shudder.  So for now, I will call a friend or write a blog …or possibly just journal and keep my thoughts to myself.

But as sooustamouseon as I feel able, you will receive my blog about Oust-a-Mouse and it’s incredible President, Jennifer Cambray.    I hope I emulate Jennifer’s level of customer service at The Virtual Alternative, but I’m not sure that’s even possible.  More on this soon, but for now, back to fixing a database.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ACANAC…Don’t trust them and don’t sign up with them! by Liz Saunders

We moved to our condo a year and a half ago.  At that time, I took the opportunity to switch from Rogers (who I had always hated dealing with) to Distributel DSL.  Turned out that Distributel was no better (ISP-wise) but they were nicer to deal with.  So in October, out of desperation to get my VOIP phones working, I tried again…with Acanac.  They were advertising a great price and their “line” was that everyone else inflated their prices and it really wasn’t necessary.  They sounded like the Little Engine that Could.  So I took a chance.

Bad move.  I failed to read the small print which indicated that they would bill me for a year up front.  Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to pay a year up front to an untried and true source.  So, the day I signed up, I cancelled the contract (they have a 30 day no fault cancellation clause).

And then the fun began.   Rather than cancelling the order immediately, they said “oh no, we have to charge your credit card but we will refund the money within 30 days”.  Right!  When I called the credit card company to challenge the non-reimbursed charge, they wouldn’t talk to me because I’m not the primary card holder (I still haven’t managed to get hubby dearest to call them).

So I kept nagging Acanac.  On December 1st, I finally got an email from them saying they had reimbursed the money – 2.5 months later!!!  Needless to say, the credit card company has charged us interest on the outstanding amount.  I have emailed Acanac repeatedly saying that in my opinion, that interest would not have been charged except for their actions (there’s nothing else outstanding on the card) therefore I want to be reimbursed for the cost of their unauthorized loan but nope, they maintain it’s not their fault.   I’m not sure whose fault they think it is, but they were the ones that had the use of my money for 2.5 months.

At the end of this week, post surgery, I will get hubby dearest on the phone to the credit card company to challenge the charge if I have to nag him the same way I nagged Acanac.  And if Acanac thinks they are finished here, they are wrong.  I will make sure everyone I know finds out about their disgraceful behaviour and attitude.

This is the antithesis of good customer service.  Had they never charged my card or reversed the charge immediately, I might have good things to say…as I did with Advantage Car Rentals.

At the Virtual Alternative, if a customer isn’t happy, work is redone – free of charge; money is refunded – even if not really necessary; money paid in advance for work that is subsequently not done, even if it’s the customer that calls a halt to the work – is returned.

For Acanac to have held my money so long that it cost me money is unconcionable and just plain bad business.

And for the record, I ended up with Tek Savvy but that has been worse than the DSL, so I’m looking for an ISP that will work …again.

 

A QUICK UPDATE:  Acanac finally refunded our money on December 1st after 2.5 months of nagging and interest being charged on my credit card which they would not cover.  Shame on you Acanac!

 

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Getting on with life! by Liz Saunders

I can’t believe two weeks have passed since my last blog.

During the cruise, when I was in so much pain from my arthritis, I promised myself that when I returned I would get on the phone to my hand and foot surgeon and make appointments.  Well, I like to keep my promises to myself so I did exactly that and my left hand will be fixed this month and right as rain for the new year.  Had to promise Dr. D that I wouldn’t do anything with my feet for at least six months after hand surgery.  When I saw Dr. C, he said “can’t do anything until June at the earliest”.  Perfect!  So, 6 months and 2 days after fixing my hand, I get both feet fixed at the same time!

Well god forbid I should relax and enjoy pain-free feet, instead 2 days after seeing Dr. C and having a cortisone injection in each big toe, my feet were feeling so pain-free, that I was moving too fast and slammed my baby toe (right foot) into a door frame!  Yup…broke it.  Doc thinks I may also have fractured my fifth metatarsal but I’m afraid to have x-rays.  If I walked into the hospital to have the hand surgery with a cast on my foot, surgery would be cancelled!  So, with the help of a cane, symphytym, arnica and calc phos (thanks Witchy Woman for the arnica) and okay the occasional Tylenol 3 at the beginning, I am soldiering on.  7 days later and I’m almost not limping…almost.

So, life goes on.  And that’s the beauty of being a virtual assistant.  I haven’t missed a day of work and none of my clients have any idea that I’m injured.  I continue to answer their phones, book their appointments, be the customer service rep, create their mailing labels (Xmas card labels and it’s already the 12th, but better late than never!) and clean up their databases.

Good thing they won’t be able to see my hand in a cast!

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It all boils down to customer service! by Liz Saunders

Yes, sitting on the floor of the plane between seats!

The trip is over.  I type this sitting on the floor of the plane because we’ve got the best leg room ever  right beside the emergency exit.  But I’ve never seen this much leg room, it’s awesome.  One of the best things of this trip.

The ship was quite impressive compared to the tug boat from 6 years ago, although as previously posted, I did run into an issue almost immediately.

Met and saw a number of interesting people… both on and off the boat.  Jamaica in particular was an experience.  The country is so poor that they natives are very aggressive with tourists.  It’s too bad because it really detracts from the experience.  And since tourism is one of their major industries, it leaves both a bad and sad taste in the mouth.

Imagine, as the voice of a number of companies, if I was rude, pushy and difficult because I was desperate.  People would not call back.  Have you ever had an experience with a debt collector or know what debt collectors’ reputations are all about?  Same idea.  You will pay…you will buy…you will take my illegal taxi on a trip you don’t want to take.

At The Virtual Alternative we pride ourselves on polite and appropriate customer service/representation of your business.   If you think of tourists the same way you think of customers you have to treat them well or they won’t come back!  I certainly will not be making plans to return to Jamaica any time soon, if ever.

So, the Jamaicans we met, while trying to survive, are actually biting the hand that feeds.

And a further example of bad customer service was that of Advantage Car Rentals.  My husband had rented a car – 4 seater with a trunk big enough for 2 suitcases.  When we got to Ft. Lauderdale – remember we were over 7 hours late – they told us they only had a Fiat.  A Fiat?!  2 seater with a trunk that would hold one small case.  Insisted that’s what we had ordered.  My husband would never have booked such a thing.  We argued and they insisted but we were both so tired and frustrated that he didn’t look for his confirmation paper.  Cost an extra $100 to upgrade to the 4 seater we had booked.

Do not use this company!By the time we returned the car, we had found the confirmation paper and we tried again.  Nope, Romel Jean insisted, we had booked a Fiat – that despite the fact that we had a piece of paper which clearly said “economy car” not “sub-compact car” and “4 seater” not “2 seater”.  Not wanting to miss the 2nd flight of our trip, we demurred to deal with it later.  What made it worth it was the horror on Romel’s face when I leaned in and read his name out loud – “What do you want my name for?”  “Well clearly”, said I, “we want it so that when we complain about the car we will also complain about your customer service…or lack thereof.”   Then he tried to fight with me!

Customer service.  It all comes back to customer service.  If you’ve got good customer service, people will return and tell their friends about you.  If you’ve got lousy customer service – or no customer service – people will not return and will probably tell even more friends the “horror story” they experienced.

If you want better customer service for your business, think of The Virtual Alternative, where customer service is our expertise.

And it bears repeating…look at this leg room! Those are my knees in the foreground. Look how far away my carry on is!

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