Service of More Ying than Yang in New York

March 30th, 2015

Categories: Uncategorized

NYC

One of the great things about New York is that the people who work, live or visit it are singular and contradictory. Based on recent observations–the preponderance of which were positive–I wonder if I’ve detected a trend.

Crunch

fender benderWalking to work last week I heard the unhappy sound of crunching steel. Nobody was going fast in morning traffic on Second Avenue, so it wasn’t a loud crash–just an “oh, no!” kind of noise. The van and the SUV were each making a right onto 45th Street. The drivers pulled over to get out of the way and each jumped out of his vehicle. The van driver said “Are you alright?” to which the SUV driver said, “This was my fault.” I didn’t see if they were local. It sure didn’t sound like a New York kind of conversation and I was impressed.

Office Support

Security desk east 45 streetThe same day, on my way into my office building, I saw the security man, Eric, run for the front doors. That’s unusual. He sits behind a large desk in a spacious entrance, [photo at left] making people sign in, overseeing the elevators, the fire alarm equipment, and so forth. Unless he’s leaving the building, he’s never by the doors. But that day, he noticed a blind woman entering. She was clutching a support cane and a tenant, who was leaving the building, held open the door for her. Eric cheerfully escorted her to an elevator and up to the floor she was visiting.

Lake Leaping

man helps over puddleI was chatting about a project on my mobile phone, focusing on hearing words over sirens and other street noise, racing to catch a train. After crossing a street I was suddenly confronted by a small lake of water that reached around the curb, requiring a 2.5 foot leap from street to sidewalk. [It mystifies that this type of water backup is typical of this island.] What complicated this crossing was that it occurred at a building site. Equipment lining the street and avenue gave me a few choices: Leap over the little lake and possibly miss and twist an ankle, sacrifice one of my shoes and splash my clothes or retreat to the other side of the street which was in the wrong direction. I said, outloud, “Oh my,” as much to the person I was speaking with as to the air. Suddenly a man ahead of me, who had just cleared the moat, turned and held out his hand and said, “I’ve always wanted to help a woman like this and I’m Jewish.”  Note: New Yorkers often speak in such non sequiturs. I have no idea what he meant but was grateful. I called him “Sir Walter Raleigh,” and thanked him.

City Siren

parallel parkingThat same week, walking east on 53rd Street after dark, I heard a cacophony of sirens and honking and then noticed a procession of at least 15 police cars with flashing red lights crossing First Avenue heading west and intending to proceed up the street between First and Second Avenues. Stuck at a standstill, the siren noises ratcheted up a notch to a wild throb.

Meanwhile, a private car was taking its time parking, holding up the passenger cars behind it and the line of police cars. The driver was moving at such a remarkably slow speed that I noticed him. He was oblivious to both the ear-splitting noise and the flashing red lights that punctuated the night like a fireworks show a few feet in the air. All but one police car gave up on 53rd Street. Some backed out on to First Avenue while others swung uptown on the avenue. The parker was a poster child for a self-centered person oblivious to others or their surrounding. Too bad the police were in a rush because the parker should have received a fat summons and had his license revoked. Anyone this blind and deaf and disrespectful of the law should not be allowed to drive.

As a big fan of the city, the first three examples were thrilling. Do you think they’re indicative of a trend? Sadly I wasn’t surprised at the fourth. Are you? Have you noticed instances in New York or other cities that indicate a striking regard for others or the opposite?

Love NYC

Service of Penalties For Doing Nothing Wrong

March 26th, 2015

Categories: Automobiles, Credit Card, Credit History, Insurance, Penalties

pillory

I knew of a fellow whose car insurance company considered him accident prone for which he was penalized. It had nothing to do with his driving record. He’d park his car in town and on three occasions over a few years another vehicle ran into it. His mistake was to report each incident. The first insurance company dropped him and the next Parked Car hit insurer charged him more.

I wonder if a similar thing will happen to my credit rating. I understand that one of the ways to decrease your credit rating is by ordering too many cards. A few months ago I got a new credit card because Home Depot was hacked. It happened to thousands if not millions of others. We had no choice: A new card arrived in the mailbox. [A friend told me that now this store asks to see your driver's licensee if you buy goods worth more than $50. Good.]

Credit ratingThis week, someone tried to buy food from a ShopRite supermarket in New Jersey using my credit card number. The card’s security office called to confirm that the purchase was mine because, said the security man, the store had questioned and refused the charge. I assured him I was speaking with him from my desk in NYC, my card in hand, and that it wasn’t me buying groceries. I asked how the perpetrator got my credit card number and he said that there are so many ways he couldn’t tell me which it was.

I now have a second black mark to jeopardize my rating, and also the inconvenience of seven to 10 days without a card I use almost daily. I also must notify EZ Pass of the new number, and any other service that automatically charges expenses to my card. Didn’t I just do that after the Home Depot card fix? Grump.

smartphone 3This new card business is costly for banks. No wonder credit card companies want to move 100 percent of the charging process to smartphones: Someone steals the phone and replacement is the owner’s problem. Surely the swindlers are currently figuring out how to outsmart the phones. It will also be inconvenient for those without the newest phones–which in this harsh world will just be tough for them while great for phone sales.

I wonder how ShopRite staff knew that I wasn’t using my card. We swipe cards–they never go near the cashier who might feel the quality of the plastic or notice something strange about the card’s layout. In addition to examples in insurance and credit card worlds, are we potentially penalized for other things we have no control over?

Naughty Child in corner

Service of Matching a Person to the Job II

March 23rd, 2015

Categories: Uncategorized

You're hired

I last covered this topic in 2011. A comment by my hairstylist, Stacy, inspired a reprise.

man with gray hairShe told me about a tall handsome stranger who came to the shop without an appointment asking for a trim. She had her hands full so while she would have liked to do it, she couldn’t.

When the shop owner asked another stylist, who was reading, she declined saying she was expecting a customer and wasn’t free to take the job. She was still reading long after the new customer left. She later told Stacy that she disliked working on old people. Stacy estimated that the man, with graying hair, was in his 60s. He was well dressed and very well preserved. She added that this fussy stylist hardly said a word to any of her customers and usually sported a sour look. Stacy concluded that she’d rather be working than sitting around.

hair stylist 1We agreed that not all customers want to chat. Stacy said she gauges whether a customer does or doesn’t like to talk and acts accordingly.

Do you speak with the person who cuts/styles your hair? Do you think that the perpetually silent type may not be fit for a styling career? What about someone who is picky about what customers she’ll work on—is she/he in the right business? Have you come across anyone recently who should clearly be doing something else for a living?

 

vintage barber shop

Service of One More to Sell

March 19th, 2015

Categories: Customer Care, Details, Retail

Empty store shelves

The formula used to hold that a retail store would be better off tossing out an item than turning away a single customer because it had run out. Retailers were also advised to keep shelves full otherwise customers lost confidence if there were large gaps where merchandise used to be.

I went to a major office supply store to buy a printer cartridge today and while I was there asked for a multiple power strip. The enthusiastic and helpful young salesman first checked that I hadn’t missed any—the shelves were indeed empty—and he immediately called a colleague in the storage area.

Empty store shelves 2The store, that has countless laptops, tablets, computers and other devices that might need to be plugged in or charged at one or another time didn’t have a single power strip at any price. I then remembered that the last time I was there the store had run out of the Cannon cartridge I needed. On my way home that night I found one at another store.

So I wasn’t surprised by the quarterly earnings report for this chain. According to Drew FitzGerald and Chelsey Dulaney of The Wall Street Journal, the chain “reported another quarter of declining sales and dwindling store traffic, deepening the retailer’s challenges…..” That makes 11 such quarters. If they don’t have it I can’t buy it.

Yesterday I went to a drug store chain on 42nd street and Third Avenue at 3 pm—it’s open 24/7–and took the last of a popular item. The next customer looking for it will leave empty handed.

purchase by date on milkThere’s a gas station in upstate New York near the railroad station. On my way to the house on a Friday night I often drop in to buy milk but try not to. Why? For one thing they don’t sell fat free milk so I live with 1%. Worse: The “purchase by” date has either expired or is about to—and I’ve told them. I am better off buying milk at a grocery store the Sunday before and leaving it in the fridge as it’s still fresher than what I’d buy at the station five days later. [The local grocery store in the town closed a few months ago.]

Imagine what the rent for retail is in midtown Manhattan and what it costs to run a busy gas station. The irony is that the latter company started in the milk business!

Do people no longer pay attention to “purchase by” dates on food? Do you think that businesses are trying to keep inventory so lean that the old retail models no longer apply? Perhaps they think that you could use the Internet as backup, but if you need a printer cartridge, milk or OTC pharmacy item right away, in addition to the outrageous cost of shipping, what good is next day delivery?

 I want it now

Service of Freedom of Speech

March 16th, 2015

Categories: Free Speech, Religion, Speaking Up

Free Speech

I woke up on Sunday to a rip ‘roarin conversation on WABC Radio’s Religion on the Line between co-hosts Rabbi Joseph Potasnik and Deacon Kevin McCormack and their guest, Michael Meyers, president of the New York Civil Rights Coalition. The topic: The University of Oklahoma students who chanted a racist song on a bus. Two, the leaders, were already expelled from the school. Their fraternity chapter that was evicted from its house on campus was closed by the national organization.

I felt that the co-hosts  [pictured at right] were surprised by Meyers’ arguments. Rabbi Joseph Potasnik Deacon Kevin McCormack 2

Meyers said that the University president, a government employee, had no right to expel anyone because of this country’s commitment to freedom of speech. He noted that the incident happened off campus and was brought to the world by a video that nobody has to look at–they have to take action to see and hear it.

He felt that it was up to the University to do a better job of educating its students, not expel them for their words; to teach them to express their opposing ideas so that the words are challenged by words, not by punishment. He said that it’s not up to the government to teach good manners. He mocked the university president for being overly dramatic when he claimed he had a sleepless night over the incident.

He granted that as a private institution the fraternity was within its rights to punish and close the chapter.

Michael Meyers NY Civil Rights CoalitionMeyers [photo left] agreed that racism and anti-Semitism are wrong, but, he recalled, even Martin Luther King Jr. said you must let people speak.

The message of the Rabbi and the Deacon was that in religious communities, people have a moral responsibility to address [and punish] hateful or demeaning comments. They parried Meyers’ comments and said that words can be as dangerous as actions. The Deacon, who is also the principal of Xaverian High School in Brooklyn, pointed out that he is able to expel students for such actions because he works for a private institution.

While co-hosts and guest clearly didn’t agree, the segment ended with laughs by all when the Deacon said he’d like to continue the conversation with Meyers over dinner and the Rabbi, known for his quick wit and love of teasing, suggested that Meyers remember to bring his checkbook.

Where do you stand?

images2T1C1N8K

 

Service of the [Lost] Art of Grace and Gratitude

March 12th, 2015

Categories: Uncategorized

Sir walter Raleigh 2

Waiting for the elevator at the office Monday morning I was first in an informal line having entered an empty lobby. There are four elevators in the building. Elevator 1 came and I started to enter—I was the only woman in the front hall—and was almost knocked over by two men jostling to get in first.

waiting for elevatorThe incident brought back what happened Friday night in the parking area of the Dover Plains, NY railroad station. Friends warned us Thursday to leave the city early because we might have trouble with ice. We feared a reprise of three weeks ago when we had to be towed out of our icy spot so we took their advice. Between kitty litter, my sister’s tip of putting a bag under the wheels and a guardian angel’s push, the car surprised us by jumping out of its icy spot and onto the cleared lane.

Cleaning car of iceBehind us in another row I saw and heard another couple chopping ice and spinning wheels attempting to get out of their parking place so I asked if they could use kitty litter. They said “yes,” the woman walked over to our car and I walked with her back to hers, opened the bag, sprinkled the litter strategically under her wheels and placed the bag I’d used under a key wheel. Out popped their car and I applauded.

The woman was driving; the man jumped in and off they rode. Neither of them said “thanks,” didn’t wave, the driver didn’t honk twice in recognition nor did they drive over to our side of the lot, which is where I thought they were in such a rush to go.

I hesitate to give up helping strangers—people tell me I should. It goes against my grain, though I’m tempted. Have you become discouraged helping strangers? Have you given up doing it? And do you always wait your turn in line?

help a stranger

Service of It’s Never Enough

March 9th, 2015

Categories: Estimating, Gardening, Moving, Uncategorized

Falling short 2

There are certain situations and circumstances that occur that no matter what I do, I miscalculate. Either there’s never enough or I haven’t accomplished as much as I thought.

Here are two examples:

flower flat 3When I buy impatiens or other such flowers for a garden border, to surround a tree, or to fill planters and pots around our property I can buy far more than anyone might ever need and then some and yet I always come up short. Why does it matter? It means I usually can’t match the colors or types of annuals when I go back to the landscape place for more plants the next weekend. And not finishing a chore all at one time is annoying.

packers 2Here’s the second example. In preparation for a move, I combed through my belongings night after night for weeks and weeks and threw out over 100 plastic bags worth—the 30 lb size. I also brought to the fabric collecting place at the farmer’s market even more. The apartment had a clean, Zen like look to it as did almost empty drawers in bedroom, kitchen and living room cabinets and furniture yet it turned out that I should have tossed much more. Three trained moving company wrappers worked an entire day just to pack the “little” that remained which shocked me; it took days to unwrap it all from hundreds of boxes. I tossed even more after the unpacking.

I mentioned this to an acquaintance who shared a similar story. She owned a vacation house in Massachusetts that she visited only a few days a year. It had no clothes or food in it and was practically empty. When she sold the house, she ordered a small dumpster. The rental place didn’t have a small one free so she took the large size. A crew filled the large dumpster to overflowing which stunned and baffled her.

leftoversSuch lack of judgment doesn’t happen to me all the time. I buy and make enough food to give some away after a dinner party—which is what I want to do–and get all my Christmas gifts bought, wrapped–and shipped, if needs be–in time. What is it about estimating flower flats and moving that makes/made me fall so short? Has this kind of thing happened to you?

 falling short

Service of Computer and Software Support

March 5th, 2015

Categories: Patience, Technology

software 1

Frank Paine, a retired Federal Reserve Examiner and international commercial banking officer, has previously written guest posts for this blog. He is more than comfortable around computers so when he proposed this topic, and wrote the following, I jumped at the chance to publish it and look forward to your answers to his questions.

Frank wrote:

laptopI just bought a new laptop, a Dell equipped with Windows 8.1.  While I haven’t had any problems with the machine, I have had many problems with the software I bought with it. 

Dealing with Dell’s software download department has been a nightmare, with several problems still pending.  I’ve been getting answers to questions I didn’t ask, lengthy prescriptions for what I should do to make something work using a browser I don’t use (and which I learned isn’t compatible with the software I had ordered), and a version of Internet Explorer (which I hate) that doesn’t work because of an extension that was added that I didn’t want.  Oh, and also, I received a bunch of software that I didn’t order and didn’t want and more…Very frustrating!

Help buttonI sent a couple of e-mails to Dell’s Customer Support on the specific instructions of Technical Support.  Both received automated replies saying that I could expect a reply within 24-48 hours (usually), although they gave themselves some wiggle room by saying that depending on the nature of the inquiry, the response might take longer.  96 hours later, there has been no response. 

I’m not expecting a clear answer, but I’ve had times (not yet with Dell) when software vendors never did reply.  What has your experience been? When should I stop being patient? How long is it appropriate to wait before following up?

As I read Frank’s story I imagined myself in a swivet with a looming deadline, programs I needed that weren’t working and an attitude from those I was counting on to fix the glitches of “you’ll hear back from us when you hear back.” My suggestion is to use the resource– www.gethuman.com–that DManzaluni recommended in a recent comment to get Dell’s phone number [or any other corporate consumer service number] and call right away.  And you?

Patience

Service of the [Very] Good, the [Extremely] Bad and the Ugly: A Real Estate Tale

March 2nd, 2015

Categories: Customer Care, Customer Service, Real Estate, Uncategorized

real estate

We recently worked with two New York City-based real estate agents. Rating their performances from one to 10 they represented the top and bottom of the spectrum. One agent, Linda Gawley, Managing Director, Charles H. Greenthal Management & Residential Sales, spent hours mopping up the mess left by the other who was careless and disrespectful of both our agent’s time and of us.

Her aggressive lack of participation was clearly a cause for kudos by the agency she works for. Make money by doing and spending nothing? Congrats! That’s the crystal message we got from the executive at the major New York real estate company who responded to our complaint letter.

Do nothing and get paidIn our letter we asked that this agency refund the fee. We heard that it’s not a practice for one agency to pay another in such an instance so we offered the option to return the money to us. Their answer: “No.”

The agent lived in her client’s condo apartment and was leaving. We wanted to sublet it and to do so we needed approval of the apartment owner and the building’s board of directors. Following is an abbreviated list of her elementary mistakes that jeopardized our move-in date and caused us inordinate stress.

Our agent remained calm and courteous even when snapped at. We knew something was up when Ms. Gawley questioned the spelling of the apartment owner’s name on the lease. It was an unusual interpretation of a French name. [My father was French so I noticed it.] “It’s correct,” barked Ms. ___ during a conference call we were in on. In fact, it was incorrect, so our certified deposit checks were inaccurate as well. This kind of sloppiness followed and tripped us up throughout the process.

The  apartment’s owner–Ms. ____’s client–wanted to meet us across the street from her office/apartment. She wasn’t free so Ms. Gawley squeezed in the appointment to her schedule. Ms. ___ had not given her client a copy of the lease we signed nor had she warned Ms. Gawley to bring one so when he asked for one, Ms. Gawley appeared unprepared—something she never is.

Because of delays caused by Ms. ___’s carelessness on February 1 we did not know whether we would have access to the apartment or if we had been approved by the building’s board of directors and therefore, whether the movers would be allowed in the building on Monday February 2.

Our board package was not submitted promptly because Ms. ___ hadn’t counseled her client to sign either the standard lead paint or child guard disclosure forms, discovered at the final hour. In the response, the real estate executive did not refer to this glitch.

She brought up another one. She wrote: “Unfortunately, we sleeping at desk 2encountered a big snag at this point which caused us a delay. Upon review, the managing agent discovered that the owner of the apartment was not carrying the proper insurance. This is highly unusual, because it’s imperative for all owners to have valid insurance at all times, so of course it was completely unknown to Ms. ____. This is the purview of the managing agent, not the listing agent, and it would not be in Ms. ___’ typical scope to verify the insurance.” I underlined the words “typical scope” because I thought they were clever. What is her scope? How seasoned an agent was she?  Since she lived in the same place for a period of time, was she there legally?

We wanted to know where we would be living in the city [our weekend home requires a five hour commute round trip] but that was only the half of it. Should we cancel the movers [who had already stored our belongings for a week] and Verizon/Fios, which we ordered for move-in day so we might be connected to the world? What about business appointments  later that week–would we be free to make them or would we be waiting for the movers?

In the agency’s response, the executive wrote: “On the 30th, Ms. ____ received verbal confirmation from the Board President that the waiver had been signed, which she immediately relayed to your agent.  Did your agent not relay that information to you?”

Given Ms. ____’s slipshod track record, and the fact that the building’s managing agent couldn’t verify the information, Ms. Gawley wasn’t about to suggest that our movers park outside the building first thing Monday February 2 until she knew for sure they would be allowed in. She asked that we delay the movers to Monday afternoon. They lost a morning of work and had to leave [house rules] before they were done. When the Fios technician came he didn’t have our computer, phones and TV to connect them causing costly repercussions for us.

411 sink Feb 1“Broom clean,” was not the way Ms. ___ left the apartment. Illustrative of her modus operandi see the photos at right and below left of just some of the things we found. They don’t capture the dirty towel on the bathroom floor and filled coffee cups and water bottles. In her letter the executive wrote, “she apologizes that her movers left a few items behind.” 

Ms. ____ had told us she was moving a few blocks away as well as to Connecticut but obviously didn’t relay the former info to her employer who claimed that from Connecticut she couldn’t have conveniently checked how the movers left the apartment. Funny: We’d just moved out of a city apartment followed by a two hour drive upstate in a blizzard and left not a spec of dust behind much less garbage bags worth of stuff.

411 stuff left behindThat Ms. ___was snarky and never apologized to us for her [in]actions was as grievous to me as the time she stole from Ms. Gawley and the stress she caused us. I also had a bad reaction to the patronizing tone of the executive’s letter, i.e. “Moving is always stressful.”  Between us my husband and I have moved some 50 times, sometimes across oceans, into property we’ve rented or owned, yet neither of us has experienced a move as bad as this.

I am tempted to write “The Haggler” in The New York Times’ Sunday Business Section but I want the episode behind me. If you need a great agent to buy or sell property I’ll put you in touch with Linda Gawley. Bad agents work all over, not just in NYC—I’ve hired and heard about lousy ones. Haven’t you?

Does someone in a service business–like real estate agent, PR or advertising exec–owe counseling to their clients or has it become yet another area where the client is expected to know everything and to get zero guidance and direction from the specialist?

Service of Birthday Cards

February 26th, 2015

Categories: Birthday Cards, Greeting Cards, Humor

Greeting cards 1

I haven’t been to a card shop in a while because I buy a lot of greeting cards at Trader Joe. I like the illustrations of the artists they select, the sentiments as well—many make me smile–and the paper quality is excellent. Further, you can’t beat the price: $.99.

In addition, thanks to a wonderful present from my friend Erica Martell, I have a subscription to jacquielawson.com. These e-cards are fabulous.

greeting cards 2On a recent visit to a traditional card shop with a large selection I had to pull out and read too many before finding one I could buy. I was flabbergasted by the number that celebrated how great it is to drink too much on your birthday. Is drunkenness funny? [They were in the “funny card” section.] I mentioned this to colleague David Reich and he observed that eating too much is also touted on cards. Another bunch were written for adult first graders: They peddled scatological noises.

New Yorker Card 1Maybe the cold weather has frozen my sense of humor. I love receiving and giving witty cards. I’ve found some amusing ones at stratospheric prices–$6-$8/each–without a birthday greeting that I have adapted for the purpose. I also use note cards bought at museums, but they aren’t funny, just pretty. The New Yorker cartoon cards, [photo left and below], when you can find them, are super. They are blank inside so like museum note cards, not strictly for birthdays.

None of the birthday cards at the large store evoked even half a ha. Have you noticed this about the current crop of popularly priced choices? Does nobody mail them anymore? I like to display the ones people send me or my husband. They make me happy long after the occasion is over. And you?

greeting cards 4

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