Service of Limiting Communications

April 24th, 2014

Categories: Business Decisions, Communications, Emails, Stress

no emails

The French got the recent headlines but German companies such as Volkswagen already had email policies in place to curb the enthusiasm of people in management who send emails at all hours and expect employees to respond.

The alert employee who gets the worm–i.e. the promotion–must be on the job at dawn, at night and on weekends with eyes riveted on smartphone screens should a business-related email pop up. A friend’s former boss has a sleeping disorder which kept him up at night. My friend had a hard time fitting life in after 8 pm or 9 pm, when he left work, as there was no after work: He was expected to respond with charts, figures and explanations into the night.

early bird gets wormWrote Adam Auriemma and David Gauthier-Villars in “French Pact Could Give Workers an Email Break” in The Wall Street Journal:  “The French pact between companies and workers, settled last week and awaiting government approval, amounts to a declaration of principle more than law. It gives certain technology-sector workers the right to stop using work tools such as email and smartphones after logging France’s state-mandated maximum 13-hour day.”

What had Volkswagen done in 2011? It cut off email to 3,500 non managers at headquarters in Germany between 6:15 pm and 7 am. The authors reported Pew Research findings that email frenzies “start at the top,” as they increase with salaries, and they quote others who note the obvious: For the behavior to stop, the brakes must also come from the top. They wrote: “But as long as promotions go to the workers willing to do company bidding at any hour, policies intended to limit the workday are unlikely to matter, managers and scholars say.”

What do you think of email curbing policies? Are they realistic in a world where bosses and clients demand and expect immediate attention? Do you know of managers who overtax and burn out employees by expecting their full attention and immediate response 24/7? Are you one of those?

 Urgent stamp

Service of Responsiveness

April 21st, 2014

Categories: Uncategorized

Responsiveness 1

I’m knee deep in a project that involves cooperation with almost a dozen public relations account people to spread good news about their products [which should help sell more]. I’m astonished by how repeatedly I need to knock on many of their doors for basic information. All of it should be available in a fact sheet–the first thing most PR people produce on behalf of the items they represent. It saves hours in future when people like me ask for the basics.

In addition to the lack of this obvious document most don’t provide what I ask for so I must dig around in hopes of finding it on my own.

Check the website say you? Mostly it’s not there either. Ask them to send a sample to a member of the media? Be prepared to askwrapped package twice and a third time to confirm that it’s done as they don’t volunteer that they’ve received the request much less fulfilled it. Need to know if a spokesperson will speak with the press? It’s been weeks and I’m still waiting to hear from one rep. in this regard.

They are busy you say? Who could be busier than David Birdsell, Ph.D, Dean of the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College? In addition to his day job, that often lasts long into the night as I see him interviewed on TV news about political issues–he’s an active member of four boards. When I write him, he always responds promptly. And not just to me–to a recent graduate from another college he’s also taken the time to meet and a Baruch student from a different school than his.

American Story by Bob Dotson. Photo: Today.com

American Story by Bob Dotson. Photo: Today.com

Another responsive person with a demanding schedule is Emmy Award-winning NBC News correspondent Bob Dotson. The author of American Story (Viking Press/Penguin Group) and recipient of a 2014 Christopher Award, the masterful storyteller in both the book and on his “Today Show” segments makes time to reply. The editor of Artnet News, Ben Genocchio, passes along appropriate information to his staff and always lets you know that he has. He’s responsible for 10 full time editors and writers and five columnists on three continents. Father James Martin, editor at large of America Magazine and author of “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” and John Woods editor of Catholic New York consistently acknowledge receipt of material you send and answer questions.

So do two people in the sports world: Rick Wolff who hosts “The Sports Edge” Sunday mornings on WFAN Radio [he works in publishing during the week] and Len Berman. Berman was for years a TV news sportscaster and he now writes “Len’s Top 5,” a daily list of the day’s top sports stories. There is no reason for either one to reply to me yet they always do.

There are many others but you get the point.

Because I am a PR person I am particularly sensitive when industry colleagues have no respect for others’ time. Media friends have identified scofflaw PR types who don’t get back with them unless they seek coverage of their client’s news and then they are overwhelmingly persistent to the point of being annoying.

Is unresponsiveness an industry flaw–all the PR people in the first example work in the same one. I know it’s not just PR people. I rented space in a law office where one of the lawyers had people stacked up in the waiting room and he wasn’t even there yet. Have you experienced such behavior in other contexts?

keep people waiting

 

Service of Listening to the Experts

April 17th, 2014

Categories: Experts, Interior Design, Listen, Service

Listen

I drop off dry cleaning at a satellite where there is no tailor to measure clothes that need adjustments. I asked the cashier if I brought in a pair of my husband’s slacks the right length could the tailor work with them to shorten a new pair of khakis? She explained that this wasn’t a reliable solution because all pants aren’t equal and don’t fit the body in the same way so the lengths could be misleading.

TailorShe told the same thing to a woman who brought in formal slacks and jeans. The woman asked for the slacks to be cut to match the length of the jeans. The cashier warned the customer and was experienced/smart enough to have her sign a receipt to confirm that she’d been so cautioned. Nevertheless the customer returned enraged when the formal pants weren’t the right length.

window panelsThis reminds me of a similar selectively deaf client an interior designer told me about that I mentioned in a post long ago. Her client wanted to save money by ordering fabric panels for her window instead of a standard drapery style involving yards of fabric to fill the window with graceful folds.

The panels would be stationary, the designer warned, making the client a sketch that showed that they left the center of the window uncovered. The panels were fine, insisted the client, happy to save the cost of additional yards of expensive fabric.

Drapes open closedThe designer reiterated that she would not be able to cover the window with drapery fabric nor tie back the panels. The client said she understood and still opted for stationary panels. When the panels arrived, the client, a lawyer, hated them. She said “they don’t cover the window!” and subsequently sued the interior designer.

Do customers like this hope for miracles? Do they not listen? Do they distrust the expert? Can you recount similar examples?

 miracle

Service of Thanks II

April 14th, 2014

Categories: Etiquette, Manners, Thanks

woman reading a paperStudent texting

It’s not often that I read an article that contradicts my experience so dramatically. In fact, when I read Guy Trebay’s “The Found Art of Thank-You Notes,” in The New York Times I was working on yet another post about the lost art of thanks even when gratitude makes business common sense.

The Times article seemed to have been written either by a person associated with a luxury stationery industry trade organization pushing pricey engraved note cards, or perhaps Rip Van Winkle’s great, great, great grandson–someone who just woke up, having learned of a vintage art and in awe of the fresh, new concept. Another reason for the discrepancy between the experience of stationers and others he quoted and the reality I continue to face is that Trebay said that the reemergence of elegant thank you notes sent via USPS has been launched largely by the fashion industry. I am not associated with it.

The direction of the original post was based on an email conversation between me and Erin Berkery-Rovner. I shared my astonishment at how few scholarship applicants I’d interviewed for a generous industry-sponsored program had sent an email afterwards to thank me for my time to prepare and for the conversation itself. Each one of them had my address. I thought she’d be interested and surprised given her work as college career development executive/alumni job counselor/ headhunter.

student texting 2Most of the applicants were grad students and only one mentioned anything about my business, information easy to find on my website [in the signature template on my emails] or in a two-second Google search. I’m not the only stickler for this kind of acknowledgement in a business context. The scholarship committee chairs instructed us to let them know if applicants thanked or referred in any way to our careers. Those who didn’t were on the cutting room floor.

Erin responded: “I can’t believe some didn’t write back! I thought that type of note was normal-but apparently it’s a thing of the past. It’s pretty crazy!” She added: “I’m also surprised that only one looked up anything personal about you. Very strange!”

She continued: “I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I did an informational interview with a woman and gave her a lot of telephone interview 2information on getting into higher education. I asked her to send me a list of schools that interested her. She never did. And then one of my colleagues at a prestigious school mentioned an open job, and so I emailed the woman. By the time she got back to me it was too late–the job had already been posted and had been in interviews. And I even asked for follow up, and nothing, no thank you no nothing. It’s really odd to me.”

In your dealings with people who may want something from you—such as applicants for scholarships or jobs or advice-seekers you help pro bono—where do you see the pendulum swinging: Towards written notes, tweets and texts or no acknowledgement whatsoever? Have you, like Guy Trebay, seen an uptick in bread-and-butter letters?

hand written thanks

 

 

Service of Seeing the Light

April 10th, 2014

Categories: Medical, Medical Care, Uncategorized, Vision

eyes 3

Iris Bell described the impact of her cataract operation in an enlightened way. She is a graphic artist which is apparent in her descriptions of color.

If you know someone faced with such a procedure and is hesitating, it would be worth passing along her narrative. She noted: “It’s as if the very stuff the world is made of has changed.”

This is what else she wrote:

eyes 4I had the cataract in my right eye removed and replaced with a lens that gave me 20/20 vision. The result: I see colors accurately and have perfect distance and night vision.

People who’ve had similar procedures told me the effect was dramatic. I knew the brownish cast of my cataract had made it hard for me to see the difference between my blue and green bracelets unless I looked at them under a strong light. Over the last year I also noticed I had trouble seeing outside after dark.

Throughout this period of change I wondered what the real colors of some things were and how bright or intense colors and whites might be. After the surgery my husband, Paul, and I took the bus home. For 10 blocks I looked out the window at the familiar shop fronts, checking back and forth between my eyes, one as yet uncorrected. The effect was as if I took on and off sunglasses with brown lenses.

eyes 5When I got home I was overwhelmed by the feeling of joy the colors gave me. It was exciting to look at my things with my corrected eye. I’d bought many items for their special colors because they have a major effect on my emotions.

With my uncorrected eye my periwinkle items looked grayish blue. With my corrected eye I saw the color I loved. I’ve always thought of periwinkle as the last blue before a color become lilac. The cataract hid the essential subtle reddish tint which turns a blue into periwinkle.

In subsequent days I’ve been shocked by rediscovering the true colors of things I’d lived with for years: A kitchen sponge is vibrant lilac; a sparkle-covered fingernail file an elegant purple not what I’d previously thought of as an unremarkable pinkish purple and a ream of paper and bath towel are the color of the newest spring grass with sunlight shining through…not the dull hue of older grass. And I’d forgotten how bright green bok choy at my favorite Chinese restaurant looked.

eyes 6Dyes on different fabrics are too subtle for my uncorrected eye to register and the intense purple underside of a vine I’ve grown under plant lights for years is back for the right eye.  The gas flame in the stove startled me,  transformed from dull aqua to a brilliant spectrum blue with a fine edging of purple.    

There was a loss: My corrected eye sees the russet and golden grapes in a photo hanging in the kitchen as bland pastels, no longer the richer colors tricked by the cataract.

The most startling effect of the surgery lasted only a few minutes some 10 hours afterward. We were in our supermarket just before twilight: The clear glass front window looked as if it had been replaced by blue stained glass. We’d spent time walking in the grocery, with its warm lighting. I was now looking out at the cool light of early evening. It had been years since I’d recognized either of these types of light. My brain didn’t know what to do with them. By the time we were on the sidewalk I was getting proper information from my brain, there was nothing special to see, no bright blue light. Only if I was planning to paint a watercolor would I study the quality of the light and notice it had a blue cast to it. Non-artists usually don’t notice the color of light.

One of the reasons I wanted the operation was that my night vision was  so poor that I was uncomfortable walking outside after dark, even on our block. People would suddenly appear walking toward me. I’d only see them when they were several feet away.  The day after my surgery it was hard to believe this block had always been this brightly lit between the street lights, decorative lights on buildings and from entryways.

This new world of lovely colors and light sources is a pleasure to experience. I’m not ready to have my other eye corrected quite yet, I’m having such fun comparing the two worlds I see with my two eyes.

Since she wrote this, Iris said she plans to have the other cataract removed in a few months.

Not once did she mention discomfort or pain. Isn’t it remarkable that she took a bus home after an operation that once kept people in the hospital for a week? Have you undergone a procedure–or known someone who has–that has similarly so dramatically [and effortlessly] transformed a life?

eyes 7

Service of Art III

April 7th, 2014

Categories: Art, Emerging Artists, Fundraising, Museums, Trophy Art

Detroit Institute of Arts

Detroit Institute of Arts

The subhead in a New York Times op-ed, “Costs, Benefits and Masterpieces,” by Robert H. Frank was: “For Detroit and its endangered art collection, a classic question of economic trade-offs.”

In a nutshell the Cornell economics professor’s point was that a museum, such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, could do just as well collecting the less expensive work of emerging artists leaving the mega rich to pay humongous prices for famous paintings and lend them to museums, as necessary, for exhibits. Therefore museums, such as the one in revenue-starved Detroit, could sell its Picassos, Rembrandts, Gauguins and more to better benefit its citizens. 

"The Wedding Dance" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Photo: Wikipedia

“The Wedding Dance” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Photo: Wikipedia

Using “The Wedding Dance” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder as an example, he wrote that Christie’s estimates that the work could bring $200 million, noting that “Once interest rates return to normal levels — say, 6 percent — the forgone interest on that amount would be approximately $12 million a year.”

He concluded: “If billionaires choose to bid up the prices of trophy art, that’s their privilege. And because most of them will die with large fortunes unspent, they can buy what they want without having to buy less of other things they value. But because money for worthy public purposes is chronically in short supply, city officials and true philanthropists must grapple with agonizing trade-offs.

“Yes, communities benefit from famous paintings, but they also benefit from safer roads and better schools.”

Christie's Auction. Photo: artmarketblog

Christie’s Auction. Photo: artmarketblog

I like the idea of identifying talented emerging artists and filling museums with their work yet I see it as a short-term solution. Once the $billions are gone–and they soon will be–how then will the gluttonous city coffers replenish themselves? If a city like Detroit has such great collections, shouldn’t they be a tourist draw?

Perhaps Detroit can generate income by renting the master paintings to billionaires letting them display them in their homes and offices. With the rental money Detroit might make itself conducive to tourism. That’s key. When I used to visit Brooklyn Museum on a weekend some 20 years ago most of the exhibits were echo chambers. Last December, when my client produced the American Fine Craft Show Brooklyn at the museum on a famously snowy weekend, I was amazed by the hoards coming in the doors in spite of the storm.

Your ideas?

 

Brooklyn Museum in snow

Brooklyn Museum in snow

 

 

Service of Small Business

April 3rd, 2014

Categories: Government, Retail, Small, Small Business

standing on soapbox

America pays lip service to its reverence for small business and always has but like the parent who stays in bed or stares at the TV while he/she orders the children to attend religious services, it doesn’t do much to show its sincerity–at least in New York.

Take commercial renters tax. Who believes that big business pays this if a large corporation threatens to leave NYC? Reality check: Who cares if a small business packs up or closes down–pay the tax or else.

Then there are shakedowns. A friend who has owned a small store for years was recently told he had to post a sign in his window to alert the sanitation department that his garbage is picked up by a private company. He explained that he has nothing to do with garbage pickup, that he gives his garbage to his landlord who disposes of it. That doesn’t matter, said the unwelcome visitor. Insult to injury: In addition to such a hideous accent to his display window he is supposed to buy this sign and deal with the city to get it. Have you noticed such a sign? I haven’t.

Italian wineThe topic of landing hard on small business again came to mind when I read “Eataly wine store to close in liquor-license dispute” in Crain’s New York Business.

Lisa Fickenscher explained: “Celebrity chef Mario Batali will close the wine store at his Italian market, Eataly, for six months and pay a $500,000 fine to the New York State Liquor Authority as part of a settlement reached Tuesday with the state. Mr. Batali and his business partners, the mother and son team Lidia and Joe Bastianich, were accused of running afoul of state liquor laws prohibiting licensees from owning wine stores and wine importing or manufacturing businesses.” Mr. Bastianich “manufactures” wine at his Italian vineyard and the store imports wine. According to Fickenscher, it sells “1,000 vintages of Italian wine.”

In the agreement Lidia’s name will be removed from the license. Instead of losing their liquor license altogether, they agreed to pay the fine and close the store for half a year.

The Batali-Bastianich partnership while substantial– they also own a dozen restaurants in NYC and elsewhere–is small in comparison to Fortune 500 corporations. The business is hands-on and my guess the principals don’t have deep enough pockets to do what the giants do–pay lobbyists to change the law or create wrinkles in their favor.

yellow cabsAnd what about the proposed 30 cent surcharge on an already surcharge-bloated NYC yellow and green taxi fare: Add it to state, night and peak surcharges and you enter a cab owing $4.30. Mayor DeBlasio’s rationale for this increase is to help owners retrofit cars to accommodate wheelchairs. I am of average height and weight and can hardly fit in some of the cabs so please–short of adding a U-Haul, there’s no way these vehicles can be made wheelchair-friendly. So they must collect the tax and gain no advantage from it?

Further, how will this affect tips? Is it enough to make a difference except to fleet owners? Will owners of a single cab suffer from a drop in business? Let’s face it: Hedge fund and tech-billionaires don’t need cabs, they use overpriced car services and own limos. People with hefty expense accounts aren’t affected and many also hire car services.  Who else will feel the squeeze? People on fixed or low incomes who need cabs to get to doctor or hospital appointments. Who cares about them? They don’t pay big taxes, do they?

Am I looking at these examples through the eyes of a small business owner and therefore not clearly and objectively? Do you have other examples to add? Is it a New York phenomena or across the board?

small and big business

Service of No II

March 31st, 2014

Categories: Communications, No

Non

I previously covered the subject of no from the point of view of how to bounce back after hearing the word.

It takes equal skill for some to say it. I’m one of those who often fail. For one, because I so rarely do, nobody believes me. I also think that being in a service business I find ways to compromise when a client over-demands [with no intention of paying more], negotiating a plan that works for both.

But this spirit of cooperation doesn’t serve me well when I pile on obligations I could live without because I’ve not said “no.”  Because I’m an efficient juggler, someone with energy and a workaholic, I’ve been weak too often. Yet there are times I must disappoint.

Thumbs downSome of the tips Elizabeth Bernstein covered in her Wall Street Journal article “The Right Answer is ‘No’” is a start to reformation. She suggests rehearsing; having at hand a generic “I’ll think about it” statement if surprised; delaying response and being mindful of your tone when saying the dreaded word–keep it pleasant.

In a sidebar “Set Boundaries” she suggests “Blame outside circumstances or a prior commitment.” She warns that you should “avoid implying your obligations are superior to the other person’s request.” Unless the other appointment was to go window shopping with a local friend or something as frivolous, I disagree with this rationale. You have already said “yes” to a prior business or personal appointment so why set yourself up to disappoint and having to say “no” to the first person? Why even get into the specifics with Number 2?

Bernstein adds that you should repeat the refusal “so the other person gets the message,” and “resist the temptation to add ‘Maybe next time’–unless you mean it.”

What works for you?

Yes no

Service of Updating Information

March 27th, 2014

Categories: Communications, Courtesy, Manners, Retail

 

Checklist 2“Beadwildered” in New Jersey wrote me to share her recent experience at a small store – an incident that gives major clues to why, apart from the major changes in retail and the stress of having to close a business–this one hit the skids.

Central to this tale is the lackadaisical way in which some update business information on websites, which ends up frustrating potential customers and wasting their time. Reminds me of the NYC hotel at which a friend booked a room over the Internet. Only by luck did I call the place before she arrived to learn that it was no longer in midtown, [which was essential to her stay].  I can’t blame it on the web either. The days of print-only weren’t much better. Arriving at movie houses in NYC only to learn that the movie was no longer playing or the showtime hours were incorrect taught me: Call before going.

This is what Beadwildered wrote:

Beads on black dressI needed to buy some small jet beads to replace beading that has fallen off a cocktail dress.  Once upon a time, they were easy to find at a fabric or craft store.  But try finding a fabric store in the suburbs anymore. And the craft stores are all big-box stores out on the highways.  As it happens, I do have a local fabric store, but the owner said he can no longer get small packets of beads. He recommended a bead store three towns away. 

I looked at the website and the photos showed packets of beads.  While I drove the 20 minutes to the store it began to pour. When I got to the store, it was partially dismantled. 

A woman inside came to the door to find out what I wanted.  “I hope you’re not closed after I drove all this way,” I said. 

“We’re closed for good,” was her reply.  But she reluctantly let me in out of the rain. 

“Hadn’t you seen the sign? It was up for 19 weeks,” she said in a very disdainful manner.

“I live three towns away and rarely get over this way,” was my defense.  I drive out this way once in a while, but this is not the kind of store that stands out and catches your eye. 

Bead storeI told her what I was looking for, mentioning that I’d seen packets of beads on the website and didn’t think to call as a result.  “We haven’t had those in years,” she snorted.

She reluctantly let me poke around but kept saying I wouldn’t find what I needed.  As I looked, I commented that it must be hard to run a bead store in today’s world.  She indignantly said she’d been in business for 19 years but it was done now. 

Finally, she asked if I had a sample and I showed her one of the beads I was trying to match.  She snorted more loudly that they had nothing of the kind.  

As I went back out into the downpour, I reflected that if she’d always been this nasty and arrogant, she did everyone a service in going out of business. Granted, since she was no longer selling I no longer qualified as a potential customer.  But how hard would it have been to be nice?

Store closing signThe bead store owner had 19 weeks to note on her website that she was closing the store. Depending on one vehicle of communication–a sign–is never enough. And she obviously didn’t update the information on the web if she hadn’t carried the featured bags of beads for years.  In addition, the advantage of a small business is service. Granted closing a business that’s been in your blood for almost two decades is tragic. Beadwildered might not have thought twice about the inconvenience of her fruitless trek had the owner broken down to lament the loss or apologized that she’d gone out of her way for nothing. 

Retail is grueling, even when a business thrives. Retailers have nerves of steel to survive the whining and bilking that some customers depend on to chisel and defraud businesses big and small.

Are you acquainted with small retail businesses that flourish or any that have closed in large part for reasons they cause? What are some businesses that do a remarkable job of updating their communications with customers? 

Communication skills

Service of You Can Run But You Can’t Hide

March 24th, 2014

Categories: Automobiles, Board of Directors, Business Decisions, Retail

man with blndersCar with blinders on

I am breaking my rule not to mention brand names when addressing negative issues because of the size of the companies involved, the flagrant lack of concern for customer safety and the fact that this approach appears to be increasingly acceptable.

General Motors, Toyota and Target have been in the news not for their product launches and retailing innovations but because they sat on negative information of utmost importance to their customers resulting, in the case of the auto manufacturers, in death.

GM waited years before admitting to problems with ignition switches in potentially 1.6 million Chevy Cobalts. Some 12 people died as a result. I don’t know how many were injured.

Toyota hid information about sticking pedals causing cars to zoom ahead uncontrollably. They also kept mum about floor mats that interfered with acceleration. Both malfunctions caused injuries and deaths.

credit card at retailOn November 27th, two days before Black Friday and almost a month before Christmas, Target learned about the breach of its in-store credit card terminals affecting some 40 million and waited for weeks, until mid December, to own up to the disaster. I wouldn’t again charge a toothpick in this store–which I like–and I don’t carry much cash. A few years ago I was sent a new credit card immediately when TJ Maxx discovered credit card violations. These things happen and will increasingly. The prompt and seamless handling gave me more confidence in that brand.

I can hear the chorus from readers: “GREED made them do it.” But who is advising these businesses? Damage is so much worse when you don’t admit to wrong doing, causing more harm and dragging out the story so increasing numbers of people are adversely affected and more hear about it.

Why do executives, time and again, think that they will be the ones to make these problems go away before anyone notices? If they fear assault on their reputations once a disaster occurs, don’t they realize that by trying to hide they are only growing the circumference of their black eyes? Are immediate profits more important than reputations and conducting business responsibly because people count on the public’s microscopic memory?

dog with black eye

 

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