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On Public Humiliation and Customer Service

Or “How I Really Hope Your Experience Reading My Books Is Nothing Like My Experience with ADT Security”

Note: Update at the bottom of the post – ADT did make an effort to resolve the problem as best they can, so bravo to them!

Raise your hand if you’ve ever left a bagel in the toaster a little too long.  Or if sometimes you pour oil into a too-hot pan on the stove.  Or hey, maybe you just like your meat with a nice sear.

Now raise your hand if you think any of the above should be cause for PUBLIC HUMILIATION.

What?  No one?  Really??  Hmm… Wish someone would tell that to my alarm company.

Last night, I decided to make a chicken caesar salad from scratch for dinner.  A harmless enough endeavor, it would seem, but apparently ADT Security thinks that an acceptable way for this routine meal to play out is this: with firetrucks and police cars (sirens blaring!) outside my house, my cat cowering in fear under the bed for 4 hours, and me and my husband literally shaking from an adrenaline high as we ate our (well-seared) chicken breast, and then me shaking further from FURY after a completely useless call to ADT to ask them for help in preventing this from happening again.

“What the hell happened?” you may ask.  Let me tell you:

The urge struck me yesterday afternoon for a chicken caesar salad, and miracle of miracles, I actually had everything I needed in the house to make it.  So an hour before dinner, I marinated the chicken, washed the lettuce, chopped up some homemade croutons, and started whirring together a zesty little dressing in my food processor.  Once everything was ready, the last thing I needed to do was grill the chicken.

Now, it’s still hovering in the mid-40s in New York most days, and as I just moved into my new house, I don’t yet own a grill.  BUT never fear, I was prepared: I have a stove-top grill pan.  And as a self-proclaimed connoisseur of chicken caesar salads, I happen to know that the best ones featured some nicely grilled chicken breast with just a bit of charring on the outside, so that was my goal.  Sear the outside just a bit and give it those nice grill marks, then pop that baby in the oven to finish cooking.

So there I am, bumbling along in a pleasant domestic bliss, the tantalizing scent of fresh-toasted garlic croutons wafting about me as the grill pan heats up over the stove.  I pull the chicken out of the fridge, spray a little oil onto the pan, gently lay a chicken breast over the grate, and… BAM.

All hell breaks loose.

REEEEEEP.  REEEEEEP.  REEEEEEP.  That’s the smoke detector in my kitchen going off, but it’s okay – it’s just an old one which isn’t connected to the alarm system, basically my warning that something bad’s about to happen if I don’t get my butt moving.

Deep!  Help!”  That’s me screaming for my husband to grab the dishtowel and start fanning the smoke alarm that’s actually connected to the system before it goes off, while I frantically leap from window to window to ventilate.

REEEEEEEEEEP.  REEEEEEEEEEEEP.   REEEEEEEEEEEP.  Aw, CRAP, and there’s the earsplitting shriek of the ADT alarm going off.  Deep has thrown the front door open and is now using a blanket to try to clear the air around the alarm.

“%^&* #U*O(UO! #T^&#%!!!  Gio sweetie, it’s okay, I promise, come back please!  &*^@ @^*&@((^$^!” That’s me cursing while simultaneously trying to comfort my terrified cat AND run to the alarm panel to shut it off.  I sprint across the house, almost falling flat on my face in my haste, but I somehow manage to maintain my footing and reach the panel.

“FIRE.  Alert!  FIRE.  Alert!”  That’s the alarm panel screaming OVER the deafening blare of the siren, as if I hadn’t noticed already that the alarm’s going off.  Thanks guys, don’t know how I missed that one!

Beep beep beep beep, ding!  Whew, I enter the code and shut off the alarm.  We get a full 3 second respite before the smoke detectors realize there’s STILL smoke and they go off again.  I stand there and repeat this process about 6 times until–

RING RING RING!  I pick up the house phone.  “This is ADT Security, we see that there’s an alarm going off at your house.”

“No kidding.  There’s no fire – I just burnt dinner.  How do I shut this thing off before the fire department comes??”

ADT hangs up, because they can’t hear me over the blare of their own alarm, just as I can’t hear the sound of my OWN THOUGHTS over their alarm.  Convenient.

RING RING RING.  There they are calling my cell phone.

“This is ADT Security, we see that there’s an alarm going off at your house.  Could you go outside?  I can’t hear you.”

“I’d love to go outside, but first I need to shut this f-ing thing off.  Can you do that please?”

“What?  I can’t hear you.”

ARGGGGHHHHHH.  I run outside barefoot (it’s 40 degrees, mind you), where the sound of the alarm is hovering just somewhere under 150 decibels (that’s the equivalent of standing 36 inches from an exploding firecracker).  “Okay, I’m outside.  There’s no fire.  I just burnt dinner.  Please shut the alarm off and tell the fire department not to come.”

“One moment please.”

And…. Silence.  Blessed, blessed silence.

But only for a minute.

WAAAAAARRRRHHHH BAWW BAWW – that’s the fire engine – and REEE-ROOO REEE-ROOO – oh, and there’s the sheriff!  SWISH-SWISH-SWISH-SWISH – ah, and there are all my neighbors swatting their curtains aside to see what the hell is going on, since sirens are about as common in our neighborhood as mutant zombie attacks.

You can imagine what happens from here.  The firemen come in and check things out, while my husband and I apologize profusely – me unshowered in my pajamas, flailing tongs about as I try to salvage my chicken.  The very patient men of my town’s volunteer fire department are understanding, and mainly just seem relieved to see that everything is all right.  The sheriff takes down our information to file his report, and is kind enough to comment that, “It smells delicious in here!”  And then they head out, and my neighbors go back to their own meals, probably muttering to themselves about that new girl who can’t cook (since this unfortunately is NOT the first time this has happened since I moved in 5 months ago – far from it, in fact).

So then it was over, kind of.  As the sheer and utter chaos of my life subsides, we sit down to eat, not joined by our cat, who would still be shuddering under the bed 4 hours later – a fact which is significantly more painful to me than the humiliation of all my new neighbors thinking that I am hopeless in the kitchen.  And by the time we clear the table, my nerves have calmed enough think clearly and I decide to call ADT to try to get some help with this issue.

I dial the 800 number, navigate hopefully through the voice prompts, and choose the option for “Trouble With My System.”  I explain to the nice customer service representative what happened tonight, how this is the fourth or fifth time it has happened, and that I’m trying to find a reasonable solution, since this experience is highly disruptive to me and my neighbors, damaging to my cat, and an absolute waste of the limited resources of my small town’s fire and police departments.

And what am I met with?  Nothing but disdain.

“Well, that’s just how the system works.  You could call before you cook and let us know to ignore the system for the next hour.”

“I’m supposed to call you every day before I cook dinner?”

“Do you burn dinner every day?”

Seriously.  They didn’t seem to care what I was going through, how this was affecting my family or my community, and most certainly did not care to hear my suggestions for how they might improve this customer experience for the future.  And there are A LOT of ways this process could be improved:

1. ADT could call me BEFORE they call the fire department, so I can tell them if it’s a false alarm.

2. Maybe #1 is too extreme and could delay service in the event of an actual emergency – okay, I buy that.  Then how about – at my request, after the third+ time this happened – ADT makes a note in their system that if the smoke detectors go off between the hours of 6-8 pm, I’m probably cooking dinner, and just during this time period, they should call first.

3. Here’s a simple one: When I put the code into the alarm and punch, “OFF” the system should actually LISTEN TO ME.  The sirens should stop, and if I do this quickly enough, ADT should realize there’s NOT A PROBLEM and not alert the fire department (or at least call first to check before they do).

4. Maybe I could have some way to disable the alarms preemptively, either by entering a code before I cook something for dinner that I know is likely to smoke or by simply pulling the alarm out of the wall (which is what I’ve always done with the simple battery operated detectors, but if I do that with this system, my alarm panel beeps incessantly until I put it back).

5. At the very least, someone from ADT could offer to come take a look at my system and give me a few suggestions, and should have noted my experience and sent the information to their product development team so that they can try to fix this experience as best they can.  But all I got was, “You burn dinner every day?”

(One caveat – I know from previous conversations with ADT that they feel their hands are tied on some of the solutions I suggested above, since apparently there’s now a state law that requires automatic fire dispatch before the homeowner is contacted.  But seriously, whoever came up with that asinine law has obviously never used a kitchen.  And I can’t be the only one experiencing this – ADT should go to the state armed with data about how many of these false alarms are wasting valuable municipal resources, and I’m sure something could be done, especially at a time when city/state budgets are so tight to begin with.)

Okay, enough about ADT.

I know this blog is supposed to be about writing.  So, how does this at all relate to my experience an author?

Here’s how: because I realize that, like an ADT security system, my books are a product, and the people who buy them – you, my readers – are my customers.  And that means you deserve the utmost respect and to feel that your experiences with my product – and opinions on how to improve it – are valued.

I just want my readers to know that if you ever think of any way that I can improve my products, I WANT TO KNOW ABOUT IT.  Whether it’s a typo or formatting error you come across, a potential plot hole, an idea for a character or story line, or even an account of how I repeated publicly humiliated you by making you cry/scream/laugh out loud while reading one of my books (okay, in that one case, I’ll probably just give myself a pat on the back… sorry!), PLEASE TELL ME.  (You can contact me here!)

I promise I won’t treat you how ADT has treated me.  Even if I can’t actually enact your suggestions, I will listen to them and explain why, and take them into account with my future work.  And I will appreciate that you took the time to give me your feedback.

Because that’s how valued customers should be treated.  Hear that, ADT?  I hope you’re taking notes.

Update 4/4: I received a call today from ADT customer service, and they apologized for the issue and suggested a solution which is about the best we could come up with given the constraints of the automatic dispatch law (which they also said they’d look into).  Apparently you can login to to set the system on “test” for an hour, so I can do this before I cook something (like a steak seared in butter, YUM) that I know is likely to smoke.  (Note, though, that this just prevents ADT from dispatching – it won’t prevent the sirens from going off in the house.  BUT, I realized that while the system is in test mode, I can take the smoke detectors down and put them in a closet, and then enter the code to stop it from beeping at me.  So this should be an okay preemptive solution, and as long as the smoke isn’t too bad, I *might* actually be able to pull it off on an accidental burn as well…)  A bit of a clunky solution, but hey, at least they’re trying.  Thanks for listening, ADT!  Now THAT’S how you do customer service.  :-)

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