Thursday, 30 June 2016

Customer Service Expectations

Expectation level for customer service

Today's post is brought to you by rage...

I've been dealing with some pretty crappy customer service and it has left me thinking about our expectations for service and if are expectations are too high in this day and age of constant connectivity? 

Here's the backstory:

I was given a really generous gift card for AMA from my parents for my 30th birthday a couple of months ago so that we could book ourselves a trip. Sounds fantastic right? It is! That is until we actually decided to go for it and book something. Let's just say AMA does not exactly make this easy! We're really close to their Kingsway location but the hours are really limited so it's nearly impossible for us working folks to make it there during the day. After that crazy seat sale to Paris came up a couple of weeks ago I found the name of a travel agent on their website and emailed her...she was out of the office for the next few days. Ok fine, called their call center instead and proceeded to talk to a not so helpful agent that couldn't find any seat sale prices for Paris ("maybe we don't have that deal"), whatever. I eventually heard from that first agent I spoke with but not until after the sale was done. Fine, we've moved on...Paris felt like a bit of a pipe dream anyways. 

Fast forward a few weeks to this past Monday, tons of really great deals to European destinations! We were looking at either Lisbon or Barcelona so I again emailed that first agent to see if we could make it work. Heard back from her on Tuesday (late) just saying to call her in the office on Thursday. I was a little worried about missing out again so I attempted to book the flights through the AMA website myself. After trying out a bunch of options I got a pretty much perfect flight plan, clicked check-out, filled out all our info, went to pay and bam...can't even use gift cards on their website! AHHH!! Frustration rising! Emailed screenshots of the flight plans to that agent and then called her first thing this morning, no answer, left a's now 3:30pm as I write this and I'm still waiting. I then went to Twitter, where the AMA Twitter person was surprisingly helpful and had someone email me ASAP. Turns out it's all too late though as the seat sale was over today and prices have doubled! Now I'm pretty much fuming and sad about missing out a second time on a fancy trip for a really great price. Now I know this is a total luxury and it's not a trip we'd be going on if it weren't for the great gift from my parents but I'm left feeling like it really shouldn't be this hard to give a company your business. 

Another thing is, AMA actually charges you for booking through them...about $60 per person I was told. So that would mean that even though I sent them the exact flights I wanted I would still have to pay them $120 just to use my gift card. 

Now that I've had a little time to cool my rage it got me thinking about what we expect from customer service. I think I'm reasonable to be annoyed at this whole run around but I also think it can be a challenge when we're expected to answer ASAP with our constant access to cell phones, email and social media. Is that just what customer service is or so we need to cut people some slack? I kind of think that if you are in a field (like travel) that is time-sensitive it really is important for you to be accessible, and if you're not you need to provide another option (maybe an out of office message with someone else's contact info). I was actually pretty shocked when I got much better assistance via Twitter than I did over the phone or through email, both of which seem more personal to me. 

Social media has to be challenging for companies dealing with constant complaints and it really doesn't feel like if you don't get a Twitter response back quick it can just make things least that's how I feel. What's the point of Twitter if not for immediate (and pretty much 24/7) assistance? Unreasonable, sure thing; but it seems to be the way the world is going. I feel pretty lucky to be in a business where instant responses aren't necessary and normal business hours are still valued. If clients email me at 5pm they rarely (if ever) expect a response until the next day. If they all of a sudden started contacting me through Twitter though, I would feel much more pressure to reply ASAP. 

Anyways, this rant is now longer than expected but what good is a blog if you can't use it as an outlet sometimes ;) 

What are your thoughts? Do you have certain standards for good vs. bad customer service? 

Expectation level for customer service

Friday, 24 June 2016

The #Brexit Victory

The impact of #Brexit

If you have any presence on social media you have likely seen #Brexit popping up everywhere the last few weeks, and even more so yesterday. Britain held a referendum yesterday on whether or not to remain a part of the European Union and after all the votes were tallied up it was decided they would leave. I’m actually pretty shocked by the decision, I knew it was going to be a close vote but I really thought the ‘remain’ side would come out on top but it ended up being the ‘exit’ side with about 52% of the vote. David Cameron has already announced that he will step down as Prime Minister by October (he was in the stay camp). Global markets have also taken a hit today and the British Pound plummeted by 10% reaching it’s lowest level in three decades.

All this doom and gloom seems to spell trouble for Britain. A bid advantage of being in the EU was free trade between European nations and that will now come to an end for Britain. Being a net importer, they are going to face issues on getting the goods they need into their border as I’m sure the EU will force their hand with some pretty hefty taxes. The decline in currency will also impact anyone from Britain wanting to travel outside the country and the volatility in the markets is already impacting people’s investments.

What does all this mean for Canada?

Britain and the European Union may be way across the ocean from us but this doesn’t mean we will be left unscathed by the referendum results. Even though the British currency is taking a hit it doesn’t necessarily mean this is a good thing for us. The US dollar is seen as a safe haven right now and that will likely mean an influx of people buying US dollars which has a negative impact on the Canadian dollar, which has already been hurting the last little while.

Canada also has a trade agreement in place with the EU and through this Britain sits as our third largest trading partner. Leaving behind the EU will take Britain out of that trade agreement and could potentially limit Canadian imports into the nation.

Global market volatility is a biggie for anyone with investments. Even if you aren’t directly invested within Europe you are likely to see some fluctuations in your portfolio and if you are, well, hang on! If you are feeling like taking a jump, the big drop in UK markets mean it may not be a bad time to buy some British stocks.

A Canadian interest rate hike will likely also be delayed which will keep mortgage rates low and wont do anything the rising concern of a housing bubble. A strong US dollar and weaker Canadian dollar puts pressure on the Bank of Canada to leave rates as is. Good news, bad news I suppose. For those with current variable mortgages or looking to re-negotiate a mortgage soon it means you wont see an increase in your payments but the scary housing market situation will be sticking around.

Your summer vacation to Britain may have just gotten cheaper. There was a cheap seat sale to Scotland floating around last week so if you jumped on that now might be a good time to load up on British pounds and save yourself some more money on your vacation. With that said, if you have plans to vacation just about anywhere but Britain you are likely looking at a heftier price tag because of the low Canadian dollar.


We’re in for a bit of a rough ride in regards to currency and the equity markets for the next while. Canada obviously wont be impacted as much as Britain but we’re also not completely sheltered either. The process of the UK actually exiting the EU will be lengthy and it will be interesting to see how that is actually accomplished and plays out…we’re looking at years not days. 

The impact of #Brexit

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Edmonton Summer Festivals

Summer is officially here and in Edmonton that means it's festival season. We are known as Festival City for good reason and although there are a growing number of winter festivals it's summertime that really shines. 

Now this is in no way a complete list of all the happenings around town but I've put together a few that are on my must-do list this year. 

Freewill Shakespeare
I'm hardly a huge Shakespeare fan but spending a sunny (hopefully) evening sitting in Hawrelak Park and watching some theater sounds like a pretty darn good time to me. The festival kicked off yesterday (June 21st) and performances will run right through until July 17th (everyday of the week but Mondays). Tickets are available from Tix on the Square or you can just buy walk-up tickets at the event. There's two different show options, Romeo & Juliet or Love's Labour's Lost. I'm leaning towards Love's Labour's Lost because I've never seen or read it but Romeo & Juliet is a classic...decisions, decisions! 

The Works Art & Design Festival
Outdoors and FREE, those are the two big selling features of The Works Festival for me. And you get to see some pretty fantastic art displays while you're at it. The Works sets up shop around downtown Edmonton from June 23rd until July 5th and this year there will be 55 exhibits featured at 29 different venues. Find a nice day and head downtown to stroll around and check out the creations. There is also a stage set-up in Churchill Square that will play host to a variety of musicians everyday of the festival from 12pm to 9:30pm.

Street Performers Festival
This is always a fun one for all ages. From July 8th to 17th Churchill Square will be taken over by a bunch of street performers from all over the world to delight the crowds with their ridiculous antics. Performances will run from 11:30am to 11pm everyday and each night ends off with a group show at 10pm. Quick tip, I've always found the group shows to be a little lame so I recommend heading there earlier to catch some of the artists performing their full sets. The event is free to attend but make sure to bring along some cash to pay your dues at the end of each performance you watch. 

Taste of Edmonton
My all-time favourite Edmonton festival that I make sure to go to (usually a couple of times) every year...because food! Taste of Edmonton is another festival that will take over Churchill Square (July 21st to 30th) but this time you'll be surrounded by food, lots and lots of food. Local restaurants set-up tents and you can purchase small sampler dishes of some of their most popular items. What could be better than an endless variety of food! You have to buy tickets to make payment quick and easy and if you act now you can buy advance tickets at a 20% discount. This is definitely the way to go as it will not only save you money but you'll get to skip the line-up for tickets which tends to be the longest. Another tip, try to avoid normal meal-times. Lunch hour during the week and anytime at dinner is always the craziest but if you aim to go mid-afternoon its usually a lot quieter so you can get your eat on faster. 

This year K-Days should be bigger and better than ever as they have added a second stage so you'll get double the performances...which are kind of the best part. This year you'll be able to catch shows from artists such as the X-Ambassadors, Matthew Good, Rachel Platten, Shawn Hook, Moist and many others. I'm planning to head over on opening night to catch the X-Ambassadors! All the shows are included in the price of admission so you'll also be able to check out the midway rides, carnival games and food. Rides before loading up on deep fried food though ok? Apparently this year they have deep fried coffee...not sure how that works but I'm game. K-Days runs at pretty much the same time as Taste of Edmonton, July 22nd to the 31st this year and if you want to catch the kick-off parade it will be held downtown the morning of the 22nd. 

Heritage Festival
Another great food festival! Ok, there's culture too but the main reason to go to the Heritage Festival is for the food (at least for me). It always runs over the August long weekend (July 30th to August 1st) and fills Hawrelak Park with the smells, sounds and sights of different cultures from all over the world. You'll buy tickets for food/drink items but there will also be lots of other stuff for sale so bring your wallet. You can buy tickets in advance from Tix on the Square, Save-on-Foods or Servus Credit Union locations starting July 1st but there's no discount for advance tickets, might save you a line-up though. Park and ride is the way to go as there is NO parking available at Hawrelak during the event and if you want to avoid the biggest crowds I suggest going right when it opens in the morning. 

Fringe Festival
Street performers, street food, and all the plays you could ever dream up (and some you couldn't...) The Fringe will take over Edmonton again August 11th to 21st in Old Strathcona. The play venues are kind of all over the place but the main festival grounds are all around the Arts Barns along 83 Ave between 104 Street and Gateway Blvd. The shows (there's a ton) can be really hit or miss so I like to hold off a couple of days until there's some reviews out to help narrow down your options. The Edmonton Journal and Vue Weekly are always good resources for reviews. The last few years the Faculte Saint Jean has been used as a venue for a few plays and it's one of the easiest and most accessible venues to get to. There's good (free) parking and it's air conditioned! If you're an avid Fringer you'll know that air conditioning is a life-saver if the weather is hot.

Symphony Under the Sky
Similar to Freewill Shakespeare but this time featuring the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra playing at Hawrelak Park. Shows will run for four nights between August 25th and August 28th. All the shows are different and include a Simon Garfunkel feature or Hollywood Favourites. Tickets are available online now and you can choose between reserved seating or bringing your own blanket and going with general admission grass seating. 

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

The Canada Pension Plan (CPP)

CPP and your retirement

As you may or may not have heard, there was a big meeting of the federal and provincial finance ministers yesterday to discuss changes to the Canada Pension Plan and it looks like reform is going ahead. The decision is nothing if not controversial (the government taking more of our money always is isn’t it) but I’m sitting on the pro side of the fence this time and it sounds like the majority of Canadians are too. In a recent poll completed by Angus Reid 75% of Canadians were in favour of at least moderate changes to CPP. Savings rates in Canada are really low and very few of us have employers that are still offering a pension plan. Many of our retired parents have money coming in the door every month not only from CPP and OAS but also from a defined benefit pension they paid into for years. Rarely is this an option in today’s world so I don’t think it’s a bad thing that the government is trying to bridge that gap a little. Running out of money in retirement is something that should concern all of us and having that guaranteed amount will help ease (at least a little) the burden that low-income retirees can place on the system.

Key Points
-CPP premiums will increase 1% for employers and employees once fully phased in
-increases will be phased in over 7 years, starting in 2019
-a $55,000 income earner will see an increased premium of $7/month in 2019 that will end up at $34/month by 2023
-currently CPP replaces 25% of income up to a maximum of $13,100 per year; under the new plan it will replace about 33% of income and the maximum benefit will increase by about $4,000 per year
-deal was signed by 8 provinces, Quebec and Manitoba did not sign
-CPP premiums have only been increased one time in the last 20 years

-Guaranteed income in retirement, no matter how long you live. This is a biggie and makes planning that much easier. Using your own savings for retirement means you have to speculate on how long you will live to know how long your money is going to last. Living until 105 vs 80 will have a HUGE impact on how much money you need but with guaranteed income like CPP or a defined benefit pension you will continue to get paid.
-Premiums are taken straight off your pay cheque so you never see the money in the first place. This is probably the number one tip anyone can give you about saving; make it automatic to avoid temptation!
-The graduated increase will make it less noticeable. If you’re around that $55,000 income level I talked about above I can’t imagine you are really going to notice that extra $7 you’ll be paying at the beginning…just one less trip to Starbucks a month guys. My property taxes seem to go up significantly more than that each year and I can be hard pressed to see how those extra dollars are making the city better. At least this increased payment will be coming back to me when I’m living it up in retirement.
-The household savings rate in Canada is at a scarily low 3.9% (down almost a full percent from one year ago!!!) I get it, debt levels are really high and the job market isn’t exactly flourishing (especially here in Alberta) but saving for retirement cannot be considered optional and with the government accepting this new CPP plan they are now forcing your hand. Don’t just go and now think I’m giving you permission not to save at all because of this, you still have to if you want to live comfortably in retirement but it’ll help.

-It will cost businesses quite a bit more when it comes to payroll, and this is especially challenging when the economic conditions are as poor as they are right now. I’m hopeful that things will have brightened a little by the time the new CPP rules come into play in 2019 but there’s no guarantees.
-Those you are self-employed will take the biggest premium hike as they are responsible for contributing both the employer and employee portion of CPP premiums.
-You lose control of your money by giving it to the government. This is a big con for people who are avid investors and want to be able to pick and choose what investments make up their retirement portfolio. Sure CPP is run by investment managers who have it invested in all sorts of areas of the market but you get zero say in how that’s done. For some people this isn’t a bad thing (not everyone has the desire to manage their own investments) but for others it can be real problem.
-This isn’t exactly a con but it is something to think about, that extra CPP amount you will now be getting in retirement COULD push you up into a higher tax bracket in retirement and limit the advantage of RRSP contributions. The advantage of RRSP’s is that you put the money in when you are in a high tax bracket (when you’re working) and then pay the tax when you are in a lower tax bracket (in retirement). If you end up being in the same tax bracket at both times there’s really no advantage. Having extra money in retirement is never a bad thing but this could alter your planning a little.

There you have it, a breakdown of the changes to CPP and my take on the whole situation. What do you guys think? Are you happy about the new amendments or are you hating on the government today? 

CPP and your retirement

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Do You Ever Daydream About Winning the Lottery?

Imagine if you won the lottery

How many times have you thought 'If only I could just win the lottery...' probably lots right? Me too. Today we're going to visit the world of wishful thinking and talk about how much money you would actually need to win to significantly change your lifestyle. 

A million bucks sounds like a lot of money (and it is) but's its no longer the kind of money that's going to let you quit your job and live the high-life. If you win $1,000,000 and invest the whole lot you should be able to get about $50,000 of income without touching your principal (based on a 5% rate of return). That's a decent amount of money to earn by not really doing anything but unless you're super thrifty you'll have to keep your day job. To put that in a perspective, the median household income in Canada (based on 2013 data) was $76,550. That extra $50k each year will give you some extra spending money but I can't see it really changing your lifestyle. 

If we bump up those winnings to $5 million that's going to get you an extra $250,000 each year based on those same assumptions. Now we're talking, that's almost an extra $21,000 each MONTH. That's the kind of money that will let you splurge on some pretty fancy vacations, but it's also the kind of money that can get people in trouble if they're not careful. Think about it, if you win $5 million and then spend $1 million on a brand new house, $100,000 on a couple of new cars, give some money away to all those long lost relatives that come crawling out of the woodwork, decorate that new house, go on some first class vacations, etc. that $5 million is going to shrink pretty quick and you wont be earning nearly the $250,000 per year you were expecting. Even if that amount is cut in half, that could very well be less than what your household income was prior to the big lotto about that job? 

This happens all the time (well not all the time since not many people actually win the lottery), people win millions of dollars and end up broke in a few years. 

Another scary thing (scarier actually) is how many people are actually banking on winning the lottery instead of actually planning for retirement. According to a study done by BMO in 2013, 34% of Canadians are 'relying on winning the lottery to fund their retirement'. Yup, 34%...that's 1 out of every 3 people!!! Does anyone actually know the odds of winning the lottery? Sorry to burst your bubble but the odds of winning the Lotto Max are 1 in 28.6 million and the odds for Lotto 649 are 1 in 14 million. The population of Canada is about 35.16 million people, if we just take the 34% who are counting on the lottery that would leave us with about 11.95 million. Based on the odds, not a single one of that group is going to win the lottery. How's that retirement planning looking now? Yikes. 

Sure it's fun to dream about hitting the jackpot, never having to work another day in your life and going on endless exotic vacations but those daydreams need to remain as just that. Take the time to save and plan while you're young and you can reap the rewards after lottery necessary. Then, if you do win yourself some money you wont be as likely to blow it all on a race car. 

Imagine if you won the lottery

Friday, 3 June 2016

Summer Bucket List

Welcome to June! The official start of summer is still a few weeks away but the start of June always feels like we're already right in the mix of things doesn't it? 

I was looking back on my Spring Bucket List post and I'm pretty impressed that I actually conquered everything on the list. We had a fantastic weekend away in Canmore, just recently checked out the Sherlock Holmes exhibit and I even started running outside again (just got that one in under the wire!) Now it's time to look ahead and plan out some fun events for the upcoming months. Any tips? What do you guys have on your list? 

Here's a few of the things I'm hoping to accomplish this summer...

I'm a big fan of packing up the pups and heading out of the city to explore. Edmonton has a really amazing system of trails in the river valley but they can get a little chaotic on warm weekend days so it's nice to escape the city and get away from the crowds. One of our favourite spots is the Cooking Lake - Blackfoot Provincial Recreation Area located East of the city. There's a ton of great trails and it's free entry. Elk Island is in the same area and is also great but you do have to pay to get in and it's often much busier. Devon also has a great trail system that's actually a continuation of the Edmonton river valley trails. I've also got a couple of places on our list that we've never been too, Chickakoo Lake Recreation Area and Miquelon Lake Provincial Park.

St.Albert Farmer's Market
I grew up in St.Albert and they have one of the biggest and best farmer's markets around but I haven't actually been to it in years. This year I'm going to make it happen. I really love wandering around farmer's markets in the summer, stocking up on fresh fruit and veggies and discovering unique products from locals. The first market is on June 11th and it runs everyday Saturday from 10am until 3pm right through until October 8th. Parking in the area can be a bit of a hassles but they're offering a free park and ride service, if you're like us and need to drive from Edmonton that might be the way to go. 

Roman Shades DIY
This video popped up on my Facebook and I'm kind of in love with the idea. We actually have these exact same blinds throughout our house and a lot of them are in not so great condition...we have a ledge in the bay window in our living room that the dogs like to jump up on and they have destroyed the blinds there. I'm hardly an avid DIYer but this really doesn't look that hard (famous last words!) I'm going to test it out on the blinds in our spare bedroom and see how it goes. The only concern I have is what they will look like from the back...probably pretty ugly if they are rolled all the way down hey? I think you could attach just a plain (and cheaper) piece of fabric to the back when you're done though, so you don't still see the slats. 

Summer Festivals
Edmonton is known for it's fantastic festivals and it's one of my favourite things about this city. During the summer it feels like there's something going on every weekend! You'll find me out and about at as many as possible, I'm planning to do a full post on the festivals so keep an eye out for that in the next few weeks. The ones that are on my must-attend list (at least so far) are Taste of Edmonton (because food...July 21-30), Heritage Festival (also food...July 30-August 1), and The Fringe (live shows...August 11-21). This year I also want to make it to one of the Freewill Shakespeare shows at Hawrelak Park, they've got a couple of 'cask nights' with Alley Kat Brewery that sound pretty tempting. My summer bucket list could pretty much be filled with festivals/events but I grouped them here as one instead. 

Tragically Hip Concert
I'm feeling pretty lucky that I was actually able to score tickets to one of the Tragically Hip shows in Edmonton during the pre-sale. It sounds like a bit of a disaster but I lucked out and picked up fluke I guess. They seemed to all sell out within a couple of minutes but I kept refreshing and about 20 minutes later some popped up. Buying concert tickets is the worst, seriously, someone fix this ok?! Anyways, full disclosure...I'm not exactly a big Tragically Hip fan but the bf and my girlfriend are so I'll do my homework, get a little more familiar with their music and go to the show. Either way, I'm sure the show will be pretty incredible considering the circumstances.

Run a 5K 
I'm adding this to the list to force myself into it. As I've said in an earlier post, I'm working on the Couch to 5k program (again!) and will likely need a little motivation to stick with it and registering for a race will help with will putting it here for everyone to see ;) I don't have a race picked out yet, I was thinking maybe Pets in the Park but that's on June 26 which seems really soon. There never seems to be a shortage of races happening during the summer though so I'll probably hold off a little and see what comes up. 

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Do Your Parents Have an Estate Plan?

You NEED to have a Will

The focus for today is everyone's favourite topic, death and dying. I know, I know but hear me's important. Chances are you will be dealing with your parent's estate at some point and having at least a basic idea of what is going on will really help when the time comes and your brain is too busy grieving to be able to think straight. 

First things first, do you even know if your parents have an estate plan in place? If you do, great, you're one step ahead....if not, well, you're going to want to find out. 

When we talk about having an estate plan most people know the importance of having a Will. A Will is going to outline what you want to happen to your property and money after you die. It will appoint an executor (if that's going to be you, be is NOT an easy job). Not only will your Will (will your Will...stupid word confusion!) out line who your assets go to, it can also assign guardians for any non-adult children and your funeral instructions. I highly recommend using a lawyer to do your Will; yes it's going to cost a bit of money to get done but it will cost a lot less than not having a Will or having a poorly written Will that could be disputed in court. A good estate lawyer will know what to ask to ensure everything is covered and your legacy will end up where you want it. There's a few stipulations when it comes to how money is dispersed within an estate. You have to provide for your spouse and any dependents (this includes underage children as well as adult children who can't care for themselves...I said can't, not wont). The amount will really depend on how big your estate is, if it's large it might just be a small portion but if the estate is small it could be the whole thing. Basically, you can't leave everything to your dog and nothing for your husband! 

Along with your Will there are a couple of other documents you'll want to get prepared, these are a Power of Attorney and Personal Directive. Unlike a will, which is for after you die, a POA and a PD are for when you are still alive and they will let you still have a certain level of control when you aren't able to make competent decisions. 

A Power of Attorney is the document that appoints a person (usually a primary and an alternate) who will act as the decision maker for your finances and property if you become incapable of making such decisions for yourself. You want to do your POA when you are in good health but it will only come into affect after a doctor or other medical professional (you can get specific about certain qualifications or number of opinions) deems you unfit to make decisions. Once that happens the person you have appointed as your attorney will take over the decision making, so make sure it's someone you trust and can handle that responsibility. 

A Personal Directive is similar to a POA but it deals with health matters. Here you will be assigning someone (often the same person) to make decisions for you regarding health care and personal needs if you are no longer able to make them yourself. A PD will let you still be the boss even when you can't actually make the decisions. Included in your Personal Directive will be directions on what sort of measures to take (extensive vs do not resuscitate orders), where you will live (at home if possible or a nursing home), etc. 

Not having a Power of Attorney of Personal Directive in place can make things really difficult on your family. They will have to go to court to have a trustee/guardian appointed for you and that's a lengthy, costly and invasive process. Again, this is going to cost you more in the long run than just getting your estate plan done now. 

Those are the three basic components of a comprehensive estate plan and you want to make sure your parents have all three in place. It's not going to be an easy conversation but knowing they have things in order (and up to date) and having at least a basic idea of what to expect will make an extremely challenging time a little more straight forward. If your parents don't have a Will, POA and PD or they need to be updated, I suggest you hassle them mercilessly until until you wear them down and they just do it. Maybe remind them that this is their chance to keep on parenting you even after they are gone...

You NEED to have a Will