Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The World Has Changed

Time passes strangely when you are ill and things seem to fall together in memory. This little story just happened to me and illustrates both that principle and the fact that the world has truly changed.

I have had a non-working power washer sitting in my garage for at least a year. As I recall, it worked until labor day last year (2011) after being purchased in August, then simply stopped.

I called the Lowes service center about getting it repaired and they gave me some interesting details.

First, I had registered the purchase...good to know.
Second, I had purchased it in June of 2010 ... a year before my memory indicated. Their records indicated I first called on Labor day 2010, not 2011.

It was WAY out of warranty, but they suggested I take it to my local store to get a repair estimate

Now here is where it gets surprising

I took it to my local Lowes and told them the story of how I got it, what happened, and that I wanted to repair it or kill it...get rid of it.

They tried looking it up to see if they could help, but they don't carry it any longer and I did not have a recipe. Yet, they still kept looking for an 'item number' to log a transaction against.

The manager came over and told me that, if they could find an item number to refund against, they would give me a refund.  The customer service clerk was not very hopeful, though, because everything had rolled off their database it being so old.

Then suddenly, he said, "got it". They quickly gave me a full refund in the form of a store credit and the manager helped me pick out another power washer from a different brand.

So, the question is, how'd they find the item number?

Not in their databases


By googling a few choice keywords, the clerk had located a cached page with a record of my transaction. Including the item number needed for Lowes to issue a refund. He said Lowes had just exposed Google to the customer service centers.

Amazing! Here, in the cyber ether somewhere, was an inadvertent backup of my transaction. Now, yes, that may seem a little creepy.  Turns out, the search area was confined to Lowes document data bases, using Google as their in-house search engine.

The world has changed. All the carefully constructed queries, reports SQL statements, Indexes, etc that a business might build to store and retrieve its data were useless in the light of a simple, full powered search engine like Google.

I'm reading David Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous right now and this truly brings it home. The key is not indexes, search words, or organization...the key is messiness and chaos...the inadvertent accumulation of data yet still in a form exposed to the power of a full text search engine.

A few years ago, this would have been outrageously difficult to do and Lowes would probably not even have contemplated a 2 year old archive for a single transaction so a customer could get money back?

Now they can, and were willing to do so.

I was amazed and happily so.

Yes, I spent $50 more on the new power was he than I had on the original ... so they made out OK ... but I made out evn better from my point of view.

The world has changed.