Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Tale of Two Complaints

Complaints aren't necessarily a bad thing.  Sometimes they reveal an issue that the person responsible didn't know about.  They also give the party responsible an opportunity to do some corrective action.  I had two incidents lately where I had to complain and the responses said a lot about the companies involved.

The first one involved my truck.  I have a 2008 Nissan Frontier.  It's been a good truck with no real issues so far beyond scheduled maintenance.  It was just short of 60,000 miles when I took it in to Anderson Nissan in Asheville for a rather extensive list of scheduled items.  A faint whine had recently started in the engine compartment.  Didn't sound like much and I thought a bearing might be going bad somewhere, so I asked them to check on it.

That afternoon, I got a call from the dealer.  In addition to the regular maintenance items, they'd found a few more things that needed to be done, and I told them to go ahead.  Then the kicker: the whine was due to bad timing chain tensioners and it was going to cost over $2,100 to repair, in addition to the $1,000+ that I had already expected.

Holy cow.  I hadn't budgeted for that.  I stammered around for a bit and then told 'em no, don't do that repair, not yet.  I had to calm down.  After a bit, I got on the interwebs and started researching the problem that they described.  The results were interesting.  It turned out that the failure of the timing chain tensioners was a well-known issue and that Nissan had issued a technical service bulletin about the problem, along with the fix, in 2004.  Yet they continued to use the failure-prone parts until maybe 2010.  The problem was bad enough that there are at least three class-action lawsuits pending against Nissan.

Ignoring the issue would definitely be the wrong answer.  The timing chains would eventually break, leading to destruction of the engine and an $8,000 bill for a new one.  Frontier owners on various Nissan discussion boards reported that their timing chain repairs had cost $1400-1800, considerably less than my price quote.

So the next morning, I walked into Anderson Nissan and had a discussion with the service manager.  I told her to go ahead with the repairs, but that I was extremely unhappy with having this repair come out of my pocket.  This was a widespread problem that was clearly the result of a design or manufacturing defect that should be covered by warranty by corporate Nissan.  Yes, my Frontier was out of warranty due to time, but it had less than 60,000 miles.  I didn't yell or scream: I stayed calm and let her know that I was unhappy and that I had very rational reasons for being that way.

This approach paid off.  She could see from her records that I'd followed the maintenance schedule religiously and I wasn't an asshole.  So she did what she could, which was knock $300 off the cost and recommended that I contact Nissan USA.  She said they were more helpful than most people realized.  So $300 wasn't enough, but it was a start.

I then contacted Nissan USA and described the problem and why I was unhappy.  The next day, I got a call from a very nice lady who asked me to send in a bit more information, which I did immediately.  A couple of days later, she called me back to say that Nissan recognized that this was a problem, but that my truck was well out of warranty; however, they offered over $900 to cover half the remaining bill.

I took it.  Could I have argued for more?  Maybe, but as they noted, my truck is 8 years old and stuff happens.  In the end, I paid $900 for a very extensive repair that is guaranteed for the life of the vehicle.  All in all, I think both Anderson Nissan and Nissan USA treated me fairly.

The second complaint also had to do with cars.  I rent a car from Avis periodically when I go to Indiana to train people heading to Afghanistan.  I'm on Avis' frequent-renter program that supposedly gives better service.  Two weeks ahead of time, I made a reservation for a full-size car.  Three days prior to the scheduled pick-up, Avis sent me an email to remind me of my reservation.  So far, so good.  Then I showed up at the Avis counter at 9 a.m., as scheduled, and they didn't have my car.  Not even close.  Instead, the best they could offer was a Nissan Sentra, which is at least three steps down.  I was not at all happy, particularly when I got a look at the Sentra in question.  It had 30,000 miles on it, along with a ton of dents, dings, and scrapes.  But there was nothing else on the lot and the closest alternative lot was 40 minutes away.  Since I needed to get started on the drive, I took it.

I got five miles down the road and turned around.  The Sentra was a piece of junk.  It was uncomfortable, noisy, felt used-up, had a rumbling coming out of the rear end like a wheel bearing was going bad, and had the worst radio I've encountered since a high-school buddy's 1965 Rambler.  I wouldn't have accepted it from Rent-A-Wreck even for a day of around-town driving, much less for a week and 1000 miles.  The original Avis counter couldn't help me, so I wound up driving to the airport.  There, an extremely helpful Avis representative swapped it for a nearly-new Volkswagen Jetta.  I wound up hitting the road over an hour late, but the Jetta proved to be the perfect car for a long-distance drive.  I loved it.

After the trip was over, I sent a note to Avis detailing the events and telling them how unhappy I was.  I'd made the reservation two weeks in advance, they had acknowledged it three days prior, and then failed to deliver.  Not only that, they gave me a car that shouldn't be rented to anybody.

The next day, I got a note from Avis saying that they had documented my case and "escalated it to the proper department for the necessary feedback."

And that's it.  Over a week later, they have yet to get back to me.  Not even a meaningless assurance that they will do their best to fill my reservation next time.

However, they did send me two requests to fill out a customer survey form to let them know how well they performed.  I ignored the first request, thinking that I'd give 'em some time for the "proper department" to get back to me.  The second request, though, was too much.  So I gave 'em an earful.  Or an email full, depending on how you look at it.

So there you are.  Two problems.  Two well-reasoned complaints.  Anderson Nissan and Nissan USA took my issues seriously and responded.  Good on them.  Avis blew me off, even though I'm a frequent renter.  Screw them.

Late Note: The day after publishing this post, I heard back from Avis.  They said, in part: "Any difficulties or problems encountered by a customer are a concern to us and we apologize most sincerely for any inconvenience you may have been caused.  Please be assured that your experience was not typical and the appropriate management teams have been advised.  Although we realize that we cannot make up for a disappointing experience such as this, we do appreciate your contacting us.  Only by being made aware of a problem can we correct it and offer the high quality of service that Avis customers expect and deserve."

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Figure Painting Workshop

I ran a figure painting workshop in my studio this weekend.  We had a full class of six students - the maximum I want in my studio so they're not falling all over each other.  The workshop ran for four hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

I divided the effort into two parts.  On Saturday, the students worked on a monochrome painting of the figure.  This was a value study done in only one color.  A painting done this way is often called a "grisaille" (pronounced "griz-I").  Grisaille means "gray", and a grisaille painting is technically in black and white, but since we used burnt umber or other colors, I prefer the term "monochrome".  (Okay, enough nerdiness, on to the rest of the story ...)

On Sunday, the students took the monochrome painting and went over it in color.  We focused on skin tones, warm and cool tints, reflected lights, shadow colors, background colors, and matching the values of the colors to the values of the monochrome.

Dividing the painting process this way might seem roundabout, but it's actually easier for many artists, including me.  It separates the decisions associated with the composition, drawing, and light/dark values from the decisions associated with color, warm/cool, reflected lights, and intensity.  The idea is to use a simple approach first to make the fundamental decisions about the composition of the painting, and then gradually add more light/dark values and then color until you get something you can consider done.  (Or until it's so badly messed up that you throw it away.  One or the other.)

I had a great time with the students.  This was the first time I'd put on this particular workshop and I didn't know how it would go.  When you have good students, it always goes well.  They all seemed to thoroughly enjoy the class as well.  I paused the painting process a couple of times each session so we could see each other's work, talk about what was working and not working, get the students to talk about what they were experiencing, and compare notes.  All of them had different approaches.  By talking about their issues, and about what they saw in each other's work, they could learn a lot more than if everybody was doing the same thing.

So here are a few images from this weekend:

Some of the students, hard at work ...

And here are their paintings:

I'm proud of the way all six of them developed over just two days in the studio!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Training Again

This past week, I was up at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in Indiana to train another group of Defense Department civilians who are heading to Afghanistan.  My part of the training program was to serve as a mentor to a team of ten people as they went through several days of increasingly complex immersive scenarios.  We put them into situations where they have to put their classroom training into practice.  They coordinate movements with their military security team, go to meetings with Afghan officials, try to establish relationships, try to figure out the underlying issues, respond to rapidly changing circumstances, get shot at, and report what they learned back to the senior military officer in charge.

It's always rewarding to see the teams develop, and this one was no exception.  Their approach to their first event was pretty lackadaisical - they thought of it as just another class and showed up late.  By the end of the event,  though, we were beginning to get their attention.  During the next day's events, they weren't quite on board yet and I would've only given them a C or a C-.  But after that, they understood what was going on and they dove into it.  One student told me "I was convinced I wasn't in Indiana, I was in Afghanistan!"  They played it for real and they did a great job.  At the end of the last event, the senior Afghan told them that they were fully ready to be advisors.  I've never heard him tell a team that before.

This photo shows part of the training.  The team had to go to a bazaar and talk to some local Afghan merchants about the local issues.  There was a lot to hear, learn, and respond to.  Then they had to get out of the bazaar when things went bad.  

I love doing this training.  It's so rewarding to see the light come on in their eyes, to see how far they come in just a short period of time, and to help them internalize concepts that will enable them to fully understand their role and possibly save their lives.  It's rewarding to know that I have the background and skill set to help them through this period.  I'll keep doing this as long as I possibly can.