Posted by admin on January 30, 2010
The power of a name is as ancient as naming. All throughout mythology, examples can be found of secret names, names that had the power to destroy, and names that had the power to bring great rewards.
-Kristen Hanley Cardozo
What, you may ask, does this have to do with engineering? It is an enigma, a puzzle, and engineers love to puzzle.
A saner person would have stopped at the nearest fast food fish takeout but not me. Driving home from work July 7, craving fish and chips, I stopped at Wally World, bought a deep fryer, took it home, fired it up, and cooked myself a mess. Don’t worry; they were healthful; I used whole wheat flour.
Although it served on a handful of occasions to make French fries, the fryer generally sat amidst the clutter of the small appliance cabinet, stuffed behind the blender, mixer, slow cooker, and food processor, all of which enjoyed more frequent usage.
One day last week, having half a bag of shrimp left in the freezer and a New Year’s resolution to declutter the kitchen, I remembered seeing a recipe for Masala Popcorn Shrimp on Monica Bhide’s blog, a blog inspired by the ingredients and flavors of South Asia and the Indian subcontinent , ingredients and flavors from a culinary tradition dating back to the bronze-age Harappan civilization and enjoyed by one fifth of the world’s inhabitants, a must-read if you enjoy experimenting with new ingredients.
I measured oil into the fryer, set the thermostat to 375F, poured a glass of wine, and slipped into the study to find and print the recipe while the oil heated. Returning to the kitchen, I poured a second glass of wine and began collecting the ingredients. It was then that I noticed that the oil was hot but the fryer was dead. I jiggled the plug, checked the breaker, checked the GFI, and tried a different outlet with no luck. With stomachs growling, my teenage son and his friend stared starvingly at me. “Fine,” I harrumphed, “we’re going out but you’re driving.”
The next day, after the oil had cooled, I strained it and cleaned the fryer. As I was drying it, I noticed a tiny, recessed reset button, undocumented in the manual. Using a chopstick, I pressed the button then plugged the fryer in. It was alive! I unplugged it, filled it with oil, plugged it in and set the thermostat. It started to warm up but after a few minutes I heard the reset breaker pop. The fryer was dead again. I thought I might throw it away instead of messing with it, since I seldom used it, but I didn’t. Instead I put the manual in the bag with my laptop and took both to work.
A few days later, having a spare moment I called the GE tech support number, 877-207-0923. After a few rounds of pushing 1 for this, 2 for that, and 3 for whatever, I was greeted by pleasant-voiced Francis who collected my contact information. No matter my frustration, I make being polite to support people a habit. I start by remembering and using their name. So, I wrote “francis” on a small yellow Post-It. We discussed the problem with the reset button. Francis asked if I had a receipt. “No,” I said. Francis said that the particular model fryer had a two year warranty, had been in production less than two years, and was only sold at Walmart. Therefore, even though I didn’t have a receipt, it was clear that the unit was under warranty and had been purchased at Walmart. She told me to clean it, take it to Walmart, take my cell phone, ask for a new one, and have them call her if they had any problem.
Two days later, I took the fryer to Walmart. I explained the problem to the customer service girl, who looked to be about 19. She asked if I had a receipt and I told her I didn’t. She asked how long I had it and I told her about 6 months. She said she couldn’t do anything if I didn’t have a receipt and it had been more than 90 days.
And then, it happened.
I extended my arms, cell phone in one hand and the manual with the 877 number and the yellow sticky with the word “francis” on the front in the other, saying “Francis said to call her if you had any problem.” The 19-year old quickly peeled off the yellow sticky, blurted “stay here,” and bolted.
She returned a few minutes later telling me to get a replacement fryer. I know she didn’t call Francis because she didn’t take the cell phone, she didn’t take the phone number, and she had been gone less than two minutes. So, I’m wondering what is the mysterious power that Francis wields over the people of Walmart, a mysterious power so compelling that the lone word “francis” on a yellow sticky causes customer service to bolt in terror, a word with the power to produce replacement fryers?
“What is the point,” you ask, and to tell the truth, I’m not sure. Perhaps it is that one should be nice to people at tech support. Perhaps it is the value of the individual person. Had I said, “Tech Support said . . .,” would the result have been the same, or was it only because that someone at tech support had a name? Perhaps it is that the universe is working against my ability to unclutter my kitchen? Perhaps it is that Francis’ good service inspired Walmart’s? Perhaps it is that the power of a name is as ancient as naming and the name “Francis” has the power to bring great rewards – at least at Walmart? Perhaps only Francis knows? Do you know Francis or do you know someone who might know Francis? Would you ask for me?
What do you think? Let me know by posting a comment!
Masala Popcorn Shrimp, photo by Nate Lankford, courtesy of Monica Bhide
German Shorthair Pointer, photo by Barbara Van Hoffman