Service of Putting Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes

January 29th, 2015

Categories: Customer Care, Customer Service, Customers, Technology, Uncategorized

Someone else's shoes

In one day two things happened that made me wonder about customer service programs that don’t take into consideration routine customer habits.

Pennies Wise

Does the person who configures the electronic customer service systems for large corporations think about where people might be and what information they’d have access to when they call to request a repair? Not everyone is at the office or at home with a file cabinet filled with past bills handy.

During an ice storm our phone at the house went dead. When, the next day, we could get out and into ice stormthe car by treading carefully on a glossy rink on flagstones worthy of Rockefeller Center, successfully coaxing the car up an icy driveway slope to the road, we were able to call Verizon to report the problem by mobile phone. [Verizon cell phones don’t work at the house so we drove to a place they do.]

Before we could speak with a person—I began slamming 0000000 to get out of the computer voice maze that wasn’t in the slightest advancing the cause to repair my dead phone—the irritating recorded voice asked for our account number. I didn’t have it with me. Next it asked for the amount of the last bill. I hadn’t memorized this either.

First petDoes the person who set up the system, meant to reduce live staff time, commit such info to memory? What happened to “what’s the name of your first pet?” or “your mother’s maiden name?”

I was fuming as I waited to speak with a customer service representative. The call should have taken a second and I’d already been on hold for 600. I was, after all, reporting that the service wasn’t working. So was this the best time to alert me that the rep might tell me about additional services?

I explained to the live person–who may have been sitting in sunny Florida and unaware of icy conditions in upstate NY–that the outage clearly was weather-related and nothing to do with “our equipment” and she insisted that someone be home for a technician to come to the house. So I made an appointment.

Meanwhile, I called the house and heard a constant busy signal for a few more hours. Finally the phone rang and our answering machine kicked in. Hooray! A working phone.

When I called to cancel the appointment I did it through the voicemail system. The only question the recorded voice asked was why I’d cancelled: “Was your equipment the reason for the failure?” I hollered “NO.” There were no options such as “The phone works now.”

Much Ado About My Package

USPSI asked to send an order to my office. On Sunday I received a notification that the USPS had tried to deliver it on Saturday and nobody was there to sign for it. On Saturday the USPS doesn’t send mail to any office in this 18-floor midtown Manhattan building—so why would it send a package?

I clicked the link in the notification to fill out the info needed to get someone to redeliver the package and after doing that I clicked something else on the form where I learned that the USPS doesn’t redeliver to this building.

post office at grand centralThe next morning I visited our 10017 post office, a big one next to Grand Central Station, on 44th and Lexington Avenue. A helpful postal worker punched in the 17 tracking numbers in a computer on the floor and said, “It’s at 10022.” I asked for the address of that post office. “You can’t go there—it’s not open to the public.” I told him that it says on line that the USPS won’t redeliver to 228 East 45th Street. He said, “Wait. There’s nothing you can do but wait.” So I did. And after all of that, the package arrived with the mail the next business day.

Technology without thought doesn’t save staff time and it doesn’t help customers.

How can a company like Verizon that handles incredible amounts of technology accept a  customer service telephone application that is customer tone deaf and doesn’t free up its live staff? What was the point of the misleading USPS online information and links other than to cause me to waste time?

tone deaf

Service of Keeping Secrets

January 25th, 2015

Categories: Need to Know, Secrets, Security

Top secret 2

“Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead,” –Benjamin Franklin

“To keep your secret is wisdom; but to expect others to keep it is folly,”—Samuel Johnson—both on

Clearly General David Petraeus wasn’t speaking to a dead person if he, in fact, whispered classified information along with sweet nothings to his then paramour and biographer Paula Broadwell. As a high-profile person it surely was folly if he did do it.

Telephone 1Jack Shafer took a balanced view of the matter in “In Defense of David Petraeus,” in He posited whether “the case should have been brought in the first place,” observing that government officials deliberately leak information “sometimes to float a policy balloon, sometimes to undermine their bureaucratic opponents, sometimes by mistake, and sometimes (I’m only guessing here) to placate the mistress who is writing an adulatory biography.”

Shafer reports that 1.4+ million are cleared for top secrets and that they create “tens of millions of new classified documents each year.” He quoted the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s observation that with so much at top secret level it slows information between policy makers creating an unsafe, rather than a safe, situation. Shafer wrote: “If neither justice nor national security are being served by pressuring the general, prosecutors should back off.”

top secret 3The reporter doesn’t suggest that Petraeus should go Scott free if he did this as it sets a bad example for lower level people who handle security matters. Shafer asks: “Did we experience a genuine security lapse in the Petraeus case, or are we merely relearning the lesson that Moynihan taught, that the bureaucracy, determined to cover its ass in advance, classifies way too much material?”

We don’t yet know, and Shafer points to two hints that reflect the benign nature of the info Broadwell received. According to the Washington Post, “aides and military officials” passed along the schedules and PowerPoint presentations in question to Broadwell. Quoting Bloomberg View, Patraeus has been “casually advising the White House on Iraq” and his security clearance still holds. Shafer concludes: “Does the right hand of the government know what the left is doing?”

Until the top security definitions are redefined, is it up to anyone to determine that one bit of information is more or less secret after the fact or are rules rules? Is this accusation a tempest in a teapot fueled by a political enemy of Patraeus or the administration? Do you keep it simple and never share sensitive work information with a soul or do you make exceptions under certain circumstances?

know the rules

Service of Arts Attendance

January 22nd, 2015

Categories: Arts, Concert, Live Performances, Museums, Theatre

standing ovation

Alexander Forbes wrote “Why Falling Arts Attendance Has Major Implications for the US Economy,” in He based his arguments on the result of National Endowment for the Arts {NEA} studies.

Attendance at musical performances—jazz, classical, opera, musical theatre—as well as plays, ballet, art museums and galleries, all of which he called “benchmark activities,” have declined between 1992, where 41 percent of US adults attended at least one, and 20 years later, in 2012. That year, 21 percent visited a gallery or art museum and 33 percent went to any benchmark activity.

audience in the park 2Of those who attended an event, 73 percent “said their main reason for doing so was to socialize with friends or family, while 22 percent who wanted to participate in an arts activity but didn’t, say it was because they didn’t have someone to join them,” wrote Forbes.

So who is attending, according to the NEA? “Despite similar household incomes and education, people who call themselves middle-class were more likely to attend the arts than those who identified themselves as working class.” Forbes noted the obvious fact that people who define themselves as working class may be working on weekends and evenings when events take place and museums and galleries are open.

kids at concertHe reported that the misunderstanding by some that arts are “for elites by elites,” is worse than before. “Anti-arts rhetoric has become particularly malignant in the years since the economic collapse with many populist-leaning politicians worldwide attacking the arts as unnecessary luxuries that one percent-ers like to enjoy and make the rest of us pay for.”

So what do the arts contribute to US GDP? Forbes wrote $698 billion in 2012 or 4.32 percent of GDP. Note: He clarified that the figure included film, television and advertising industries along with the usual suspects.

Yet he didn’t point out essential information: What percentage of the $698 billion do TV and advertising represent? [I’m giving film the benefit of the doubt and determining that people attend movie theatres though clearly Netflix sales count in this number.] He compared the total to the construction industry with “only” a $586 billion contribution to GDP and transportation and warehousing–$464 billion.

museum visitorsForbes highlighted the trade surplus generated by the arts–$25 billion—which, given that we don’t export a great deal these days since we stopped manufacturing much, is significant. He also reported that “for every 100 new jobs created in the arts, 62 new jobs are created, on average, in other industries.” And: “For every dollar of increased spending on artworks, $1.98 of total economic output is created. In the case of museums, every new dollar of demand creates $1.76 of gains.”

Do you think that the impact on this country’s economy of fewer people attending “benchmark arts activities” will be as damaging as Forbes suggests should the downward slide continue? Do you attend such events to socialize? If nobody is free to go with you, do you stay home? Are there other potentially dire consequences of this downward trend?

dancers on stage

Service of Opening Wallets for Charity

January 20th, 2015

Categories: Charity, Fundraising


Give generously

In Anna Prior’s Wall Street Journal article “How Charities Can Get More Out of Donors,” I learned that the emotional ask—sharing heartwrenching descriptions of people in dire need–isn’t as effective as it once was. What is? “Trumpeting the fact that the charity got a gift from a big-name donor.” Experiments cited in the article proved the point. Bill and Melinda Gates open checkbooks. Why? “Because it’s so hard for individuals to evaluate charities these days,” Prior wrote.

The issue of the effectiveness of public recognition–even for smallish donations–show that the probability of giving was 13 percent + for alumni who were told their donations over a certain amount would be published in a newsletter vs. 11 percent for those who weren’t. Further, contributions were $8 more on average with the former group.

high end office designFor those who resent paying for overhead–large executive salaries, meetings at resorts or fancy office furniture for example–a study showed that those told that every penny they donated was going to the cause, as overhead had already been covered by previous gifts, tended to give more.

“As part of the research,” wrote Prior about a study conducted by Uri Gneezy, Elizabeth Keenan and Ayelet Gneezy at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management, “they sent 40,000 solicitation letters to people, divided into four groups. One group received a standard letter asking for money, the second got a similar letter saying a private donor had already given seed money to the cause, and the third group’s letter noted there was a matching grant available. But the fourth group got a letter telling them that the charity had already secured donations to cover its overhead costs, so every subsequent dollar donated was going directly to programs.

“According to the study, 8.55% of people in the fourth group donated, compared with 4.75% in the second group and 4.41% in the third. And total donations for the fourth group were $23,120—almost triple the first group’s $8,040, and nearly double $13,220 in the second group and $12,210 in the third. ‘The average donor doesn’t seem to care about the size of the overhead, as long as they aren’t the one paying for it,’ says Mr. Gneezy.”

solicit outside storePrior also covered what’s most effective for in-person solicitation. No surprise that those outside a store got more when they asked for it than those who silently stood by a bucket. The question charities need grapple with is: when does aggression become an annoying turnoff?

There’s also pressure for people to announce their gifts via Facebook, such as offering incentives via matching grants of from $1 to $5 in the donor’s name if givers promote their donations on their Facebook walls. People preferred doing this via Facebook than sending email messages to friends.

Have you been convinced to donate money to a charity based on correspondence; seeing on social media that a friend or colleague donated; via requests from friends or colleagues or promises that your name would be publicized as a donor? Do you have your list of charities from which you never waiver? Do you like others to know you are a donor? What inspires you to open your checkbook and what turns you off?

write a check

Service of Privacy II

January 15th, 2015

Categories: ER, Medical Care, Privacy

watching tv late at night

In a holiday card a friend mentioned that she suffered from a condition I wasn’t familiar with. So I looked it up on Google, but I did so reluctantly. I figured that my SPAM file would soon be filled with remedies for the disease and that commercials about them would appear every time I opened Facebook, CVS or Amazon.

In The New York Times Metropolitan section Charles Ornstein wrote “Dying in the E.R. and on TV,” about a family shocked to learn that their father/husband’s last minutes on earth in an ER appeared on “NY Med.” His wife happened upon the program during a sleepless night about a year after her husband’s death. He’d been run over and doctors were shown trying to save him. They couldn’t.

no entry without permissionNobody got his or the family’s permission to film him nor were they aware that a film crew was in the ER. Even though the health department concluded that the hospital “had violated” the patient’s “rights and indeed, its own privacy policy” regulators “did not impose any sanctions on the hospital,” wrote Ornstein.

He continued, “Federal health officials are still reviewing whether NewYork-Presbyterian was obliged to get permission” from the patient “or his family before allowing a TV crew to film him.” The hospital’s lawyers argued in State Supreme Court that you need permission to share information after a person has been examined/treated but that the film was shot before. An appellate panel dismissed the case. The conduct “‘was not so extreme and outrageous’ to justify a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress,’ the judges wrote.”

Hospital erThe hospital also claimed that they didn’t identify the patient and nobody would know who he was. However a woman who knew the family called the patient’s wife and asked if she’d seen the program as she’d recognized her husband on the show. The wife and children said that they were traumatized.

The family wants the case to go in front of a jury as they feel that their peers would agree that “a wrong was done.” At the moment apparently there is no case. The dead man’s wife said that if there wasn’t a law to prevent such filming there should be one and she plans to make it her business to get one.

Would you want to be photographed in the E.R. without permission while out of it or subject a family member to the same, regardless of outcome of the treatment? Do you feel this instance was a breach of privacy? Do you think that the judges, who wrote that there was no ”intentional infliction of emotional distress,” might say the same of anyone who has injured someone in an accident that clearly they did not mean to happen? Wouldn’t such a precedent remove the potential of millions of lawsuits in any number of instances?A law

Service of Silent Guests

January 12th, 2015

Categories: Entertaining, Etiquette, Excuses, Manners, RSVP, Uncategorized

woman at desk

What is it about responding to invitations? Ellen Byron wrote about the chronic avoidance in The Wall Street Journal with two titles: In the paper, “Please. Pretty Please. R.S.V.P,” and online, “Nobody RSVPs anymore.” The “anymore” in the latter title was a head scratcher given that this breach of manners has been happening for eons in both my personal and professional lives.

Byron reported that one company hired a person to follow up with 3,300 travel agents to avoid last year’s holiday party glitch in which 30 guests weren’t served and 60 ate in the hallway because so many showed without responding.

Come to my partyOne event planner reported that an additional 33 people appeared at a wedding to which the caterer expected 456. The staff ripped into bolts of fabric to fashion last minute tablecloths and scrounged for chairs to accommodate the guests.

Committment issues are to blame say some manners pundits. Being invited to too many events was responsible for silence according to others. Take children’s birthday parties. Parents are urged to invite the whole class so none of the children feel left out which means a parent with two young kids might be faced with 88 RSVPs if each child attends a school with 45 in each class. [While a great concept, in practice it has flaws: Can every parent afford to host and feed 45 kids and to buy 44 gifts? There must be a better way, but I digress.]

Hosts are told to follow up with guests many times even after they’ve said they are coming. I am annoyed writing this tip. Doesn’t the guest have a calendar and/or memory?

Stack of invitations 1Some respondents are so dumb they return a printed RSVP card without noting their name. For this reason hosts are told to number the cards lightly, in pencil, to match the number with a guest on the invitation list.

There should be a master list of people who chronically show up unannounced or don’t show up when they say they will so that they are omitted from invitation lists forever.

Why is it up to the host to do all the work? Doesn’t the invitee have any obligations? Short of never entertaining, do you have other suggestions to help reverse this breach of etiquette? Are you a chronic delinquent responder?

stack of invitations 2


Service of Trust II or I Wish It Were True

January 8th, 2015

Categories: Medicine, Quick Fix, Scams, Trust

Tax relief

I would like to know how you gauge which commercials to trust, especially those involving health-related products, identity theft protection, tax relief advice, weight loss, gardening aids, deer and mouse repellants.

identify theft protectionI was inspired to cover the topic [again] after listening to a segment of “Health Matters,” on NPR sponsored by Sharon Hospital in Conn. The doctor, Jared Zelman, shared sage if obvious advice: Don’t believe quick fix solutions regarding weight loss remedies or those described by people who claim to have been cured of their chronic diseases simply by taking X. The hospital and/or doctor must come across plenty who fall for useless tonics or they wouldn’t select the topic–there are so many other potential ones.

Deer eating plantsRadio personalities tout [and say they swear by] miracle anti-wrinkle creams, weight loss tonics that take off 30-40 lbs. in a month, easy back tax relief for those who owe $10K or more, foolproof rodent repellants, effective organic garden pest deterrents and protection from identity theft. The latter makes me chuckle: If Sony, Target, TJ Maxx and Home Depot can’t fend off hackers while allegedly spending $billions, how are Mr. and Mrs. Middle America supposed to protect themselves by tossing monthly dollars at some company?

If I’d saved what I’ve spent on useless mouse and deer repellants alone I’d be on easy street. I continue to fall for what I so desperately wish would work. Do you? And as I asked in the lead, how do you know what is really effective? Are you ever tempted to give something new a chance?

garden pest

Service of Food Fashion

January 5th, 2015

Categories: Fashion, Food, Nutrition, Sheep Marketing

Kale bin at Adams on Dec. 23, 2014

Kale bin at Adams on Dec. 23, 2014


I’ve covered this topic before but was inspired to write a reprise from a slightly different point of view.

I recently heard a gentleman farmer note that nobody bought beets from his stand beetsthis summer yet they were popular until then, yet, he said, he couldn’t refill fava bean bins fast enough. Have you made fava beans? They take forever to open. Where do these people find the time?

A few days later I passed what was left of the kale at Adams in Kingston, N.Y. on the eve of New Years eve. Next to healthy piles of eggplant, carrots, broccoli and nearby peppers mere scraps of individual branches remained. [I could understand why many stalks of attractive asparagus stood tall at $4.99/lb.]

Do you follow your taste buds or food trends? If you liked beets last year, why wouldn’t you like them this year? Is one website or TV cooking program wielding palpable influence on food choices? How do certain foods, like turkey, cranberry sauce and sweet potatoes keep their places no matter what?

typical thanksgiving dinner

Service of Adult Meltdowns

December 29th, 2014

Categories: Uncategorized

robinhood radio


Jill Goodman, co-founder, along with Marshall Miles, of WHDD, “the smallest NPR station in the nation,” as the Sharon, Conn.-based radio station calls itself, recounted a recent incident at Citarella. The popular Manhattan gourmet market is known for seafood and prepared taste treats.

The meltdown happened in the checkout area of the always busy market where there meltdown 3were at least four people waiting for each cashier said Goodman. A woman of some 35-45 years acted like an overtired three year old. Goodman observed the expressions of the cashiers and store staff which indicated that they were familiar with this character and her tantrums.

That morning’s guest on  “The Breakfast Club,” agreed that such behavior, which at one time was unacceptable and rarely seen, is on the rise. She said that were she the store manager she’d approach the spoiled adult and ask that she leave and never return because her conduct was disturbing her other customers.

Over the Christmas holiday, I was watching 1940s movies where a raised voice or raucous laugh were received with rolled eyes and disdain by men and women dressed for dinner at home in white tie and gowns. In a movie today we would hardy notice a hoot or a holler over drinks before dinner. The vintage stiffness is in sharp contrast to the kind of meltdown that Goodman observed in public. There must be a happy medium.

Do you agree that expulsion from the premises is the only effective way to stop aggressive, entitled, spoiled, undisciplined adults from bullying and manipulating others to put them first while creating atmospheric collateral damage for a retail operation that works hard to achieve a cordial ambiance to match the quality of its wares? How did we get from overreacting to a raised voice or original manner of dress to tolerating outrageously bad behavior that spoils the atmosphere for others?

meltdown 2


Service of What Am I Worth To You?

December 23rd, 2014

Categories: Education, Salaries, Uncategorized

Graduation 1

It’s hard to place values on earnings these days: Writers are paid a pittance, far less than garbage collectors or sports figures, and college presidents’ compensation averages in the six figures—up to $6 or $7 million in public and private colleges respectively—while students fall into deep-dish debt to pay the freight.

Valerie Strauss shared the list of college presidents’ compensation in her Washington Post article, “The surprising top 10 highest paid private college presidents.” She read the information in The Chronicle of Higher Education which, she noted, just reported on the latest data. It’s from 2012.

The amounts surprise me, not the people—about whom I graduation 3know nothing, with one exception: The man whom she listed at the $6 million level, according to a May 2014 report by the Chronicle. He was E. Gordon Gee. But she didn’t identify where he earned it so I turned to Google to find out.

That’s where I discovered Jordan Weissman’s article in “This State College President Earned $6 Million Last Year. Should You Be Mad?” He confirmed the amount Ohio State University paid Gee, $6,057,615, much of which “came from built-up deferred compensation and severance,” wrote Weissman. He continued: “Gee retired from his post last summer after he was caught on tape disparaging Notre Dame and Catholics. (He’s now running West Virginia University). But his $851,000 base salary was also the highest among state school leaders.” Some model for students and a real fundraising magnet, right?

graduation 2So whose compensation–$7,143,312–was the top among private college presidents? Shirley Ann Jackson, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.

According to the Chronicle, “on average, a private-college president’s salary accounted for about 0.5 percent of his or her institution’s overall budget in 2012,” wrote Strauss. I have no way to determine the impact of the $6 and $7 million on Ohio State’s and Rensselaer’s budgets.

How do boards of trustees justify such figures? What makes one president worth so much more money than anyone else—their fundraising track record? Do you find that the range of compensation these days is unrelated to what a talented person in certain industries made 10 years ago?

graduatuin 4



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