Service of Hello

February 11th, 2016

Categories: Customs, Greeting, Hello, Manners

Hello Bonjour

We once lived in a very nice apartment with a view of the Chrysler Building. It had a great kitchen and two large bathrooms but the door staff could be surly. We couldn’t wait to move from this rental [where, by the way, we were paying a fortune]. We’d leave or come home and few returned our “Hello” or “Good morning.” There were days I didn’t want to come home.

When I enter a taxi I say “hello,” or “hi,” and am often greeted by silence.  The driver might be foreign but he is working here. There’s one librarian who never responds to my greeting when I walk past her desk at the entrance. It happened again this Saturday. It’s not because she thinks people should be quiet in a library: In fact, she speaks at the top of her lungs when she deigns to address someone.  All the other librarians are responsive and pleasant. Her attitude rankles as she knows better.

Vintage ParisSo I was surprised when Emily Monaco made such a big deal about having to say “bonjour” in her Wall Street Journal article, “In France, Learning to Say ‘Bonjour’ a Lot.” She wondered why she was having trouble being accepted by her colleagues at her new job at a small media company in Paris. She was annoyed that the grin she used in the States didn’t hack it as a greeting in France where smiles, she wrote, are saved for close friends. A colleague told her she was expected to say “bonjour” to her officemates.

Liberte, egalite, fraterniteHer reaction struck me as whiney and naive, especially for a woman who claimed that she has lived in France for nine years. [You can hardly enter any place in France without being greeted this way.] Isn’t almost a decade enough time to learn the social ropes? Monaco wrote that having to say “bonjour” to all those she encountered every morning “seemed like a waste of time to me,” and explained that the custom “was rooted in that all-important French concept: égalité, equality.” She continued, “Modern France was envisioned as a country of equality; bonjour is an acknowledgment of your interlocutor, a nod to your coexistence. Omitting it isn’t just rude, it’s a refusal to see the other as an equal.”

Balderdash. Not to follow local custom is rude in France, rude in America, rude everywhere, period.

Most people like to be acknowledged, whether it’s Eric the security guard at the office who always says good morning and I always respond, or Luis the morning doorman at our apartment who always wishes me a good day and I wish him the same, or my husband who says good morning or hugs me when I return home at night.

I also think it’s important for a foreigner who wants to fit in–regardless of the country–to find out what basic greetings are expected, make them, stop complaining, criticizing or analyzing, or leave. And you?

Tipping hat

Service of Good Fortune

February 8th, 2016

Categories: Automobiles, Customer Care, Customer Service, Retail

Good fortune

Exemplary service is around if you’re lucky. It’s no surprise that most of it happens repeatedly in all the same places.

Milking it

Cumberland gas stationStopping for milk at the Dover Plains, NY Cumberland gas station on a Friday night there was only regular milk in the fridge in quarts. I brought one to the cashier and asked if she’d noticed any cartons of skim in the back and she asked me to wait a minute and dashed to look. She returned full of apologies saying that there was no skim or 1%. I was taken with her energy and sense of service. She could have so easily said, “No. Next!”

Note: Cumberland began its life as a dairy and it has morphed into a chain of convenience stores and gas stations.

Auto-matic

Barry LangIn “Service of an Expert Salesman,” I wrote about Barry Lang [photo at left] of Audia Motors in Millbrook, NY, in April, 2013. He hasn’t lost his touch. We’re leasing another Malibu and he makes it so easy: He takes care of all the paperwork with  the insurance company and the Department of Motor Vehicles and even more. I wanted to give the car a whirl before signing up for a new one. As we left the showroom–it was a week before we were to pick up the car–Barry told us he’d enrolled us to receive a $50 Visa Gift Card from General Motors, a promotion the corporation was offering to anyone who takes a test drive. Barry says he reads this blog on occasion. The fact he even remembered that I wrote one is over and beyond.

Snow-no, Joe yes

Trader Joe's 14th StreetA few days after New York’s January blizzard I went downtown to stock up at Trader Joe’s on 14th street. Shelves were empty because trucks were snowed in at New Jersey and Pennsylvania warehouses. My cashier suggested I call before coming next time and two days later I did. The man who picked up listened to me and immediately transferred me to another person who asked me what I was looking for. I reeled off my list from olive oil, chips and jam to popcorn–and he asked me to wait a moment. When he returned—he wasn’t long–he said, “I raced around the store and we’ve got what you want.” Wow. 

Love the glow

I recently placed an online order that I was to pick up at the Uniqlo 5th Avenue store in NYC [photo below]. I was charmed by the automatic response at the end of the procedure: “We hope you are as excited as we are about your order XYZ. You should receive an email receipt soon, with love from UNIQLO.” When I arrived on the day after the January blizzard, I’d forgotten my order number. No problem, “what’s your name?” asked the attendant who checked a printed list and out came the package in a snap.

Have you had the good fortune to land on a positive, helpful, enthusiastic employee or company lately?

Uniqlo 5th Avenue

Uniqlo 5th Avenue

Service of Eye-Catching Gifts

February 4th, 2016

Categories: Gadgets, Gifts, Retail, Time, Trade Show

 

Qlocktwo wall clock

Qlocktwo wall clock

 

I’ve highlighted some of the products that caught my eye at NY Now that ended this week. I’ve covered this tradeshow since well before the International Gift Show changed its name. I’d need more than a day to see everything and I was there only four hours hence the warning: This list is imperfect.

QLocktwo wall clocks by Biegert & Funk  [photo above] were showstoppers. The handsome clocks tell time in words: “It is ten to eight,” for example. The sales rep said they are made in Germany and Switzerland. The exhibit was clearly so popular that the staff had run out of marketing materials. I noticed that there were plenty of other timepieces at the show both to wear and display, a curious trend given the universality of smartphones, computers, laptops, tablets, automobiles and televisions all of which also display the time.

A French company, Cookut, introduced Creazy, a cup that you shake to make whippedRenova toilet paper cream in less than a minute. The secret: Three multi-faceted silicone beads. I stopped to admire myrenova’s toilet paper in juicy colors such as Marigold, magenta and lime. At the Ameico booth grownups had fun coloring a 71 x 39-inch coloring wall by OMY Design & Play.

Richard Upchurch founded and runs a two year old Brooklyn-based company, Brandnewnoise. He hand makes voice recorders and sound gadgets in his Red Hook studio.

sagegreenlife Edelwhite hydroponic gardenAt another booth I inspected the hanging indoor hydroponic garden, Edelwhite, made possible by sagegreenlife, [photo left], and had to touch Craft Advisory’s bubble wrap-like glass bowl [photo below] to confirm it wasn’t the real thing.

In the category of familiar if mislaid brands—I’ve not seen Louis Sherry chocolates in stores for years—I was glad that the 135 year old brand continues to sell its sweets in its traditional purple boxes [as well as boxes in other designs/colors]. My mother kept knickknacks in a kitchen drawer in a Louis Sherry tin box.

Whether or not you like to go shopping for gifts what catches your eye: Color, function, pattern, originality, or something else? With time evident from countless devices around us, to what do you attribute the burst of timepieces offered to the marketplace?

 Craft Advisory glassware

Craft Advisory glassware

 

Service of Questions

February 1st, 2016

Categories: Architects, Benefits, Questions, Unintended Consequences

questions 5

I have two questions that Google doesn’t answer and a third that you might not find on Google for good reason but it’s something you might like to know.

Henny Penny

I can’t remember ice falling from skyscrapers after a storm when I grew up in NYC but that might be because I didn’t live or go to school in neighborhoods with very high buildings. Or maybe I blocked it out.

Henny PennyMy question is: How come architects building structures in NYC today can’t come up with a way to stop this from happening? My office building had staff remove snow from the roof after the recent storm so nobody would get hurt. On the Sunday after 27-inches of snow fell on NYC we took a walk and were surprised by chunks of ice crashing on to sidewalks throughout midtown. This isn’t the first time yet many of the buildings we passed have been built in the last 10 years.

Partnerships

I [and thousands of others] had the looniest time getting on and off NYC busses three days after snowstorm Jonah. On Third Avenue between 43rd and 42nd Streets, ice several feet high lined the curb. Passengers jumped off the bus into deep slush and sloshed from 43rd  to 42nd in the street while oncoming traffic splashed them with icy mire. We couldn’t mount the sidewalk until we reached 42nd and turned the corner. It was as messy as it was dangerous.

Snow January 2016 004I was horrified on my walk home that night to see people with two choices to reach the steps of a bus. They could drench their feet to above their ankles in an icy soup or walk away from the bus, up the sidewalk to the corner and wobble through foot-high ice with a few footprints made by previous pedestrians and then quickly negotiate a tricky walk down the slippery street, in the dark, to the bus’s door. I realized what was happening when I approached the stop and saw an elderly woman, with a cane, who was attempting the latter option. Thankfully she’d made it by the time I got there.

Six days after the storm I came upon a dozen workers with shovels and a giant snowplow on a little used street. Most of the workers were hanging out [see photo below]. Clearly the city isn’t up to the task.

My question is: Why doesn’t the Metropolitan Transit Authority, with the city’s cooperation,** enroll the help of businesses or landlords to get them to clear/maintain three foot slits in snow/ice at bus stops that are in front of their property and keep it free of slush? **The city would compensate cooperating businesses through tax rebates.

Unintended Consequences

Santa gave my husband a Uniglo Heattech tee-shirt for Christmas to keep him warm. According to the Uniglo website, “The moisture-wicking fabric retains heat and also features anti-odor properties to keep you feeling fresh even when you sweat.”

Heattech T Shirt

Heattech T Shirt

But for him, Heattech, launched in Japan some 13 years ago, does something else that the company cannot promote on Google.

My husband suffers from a rash on his shoulders which itches all the time. A cream called Sarna works for about an hour but then the itching returns. However, when he wears his Heattech shirt, he doesn’t itch all day.

I read that the fabric also contains Camellia oil which according to an article on majoritymagazine.com, stays in the fabric up to 30 washes. This oil is said to help retain moisture. His dermatologist, who had not encountered Uniglo Heattech before, has suggested that if the textile retains moisture, that’s what alleviates the dry skin condition which causes the itch.

According to the magazine, “Due to Japan’s pharmaceutical laws, Unglo can’t officially claim that the presence of Camellia oil helps to retain moisture.” Uniglo probably can’t promote this wonderful health benefit here for the same reason: it would have to put the fabric through excruciating tests to prove and therefore promote such a claim.

Do you have questions that even Google hasn’t answered or surprise benefits of products you like?

NYC snow cleanup team.

NYC snow cleanup team.

 

Service of Businesses That Forget Who Pays the Bills

January 28th, 2016

Categories: Automobiles, Customer Care, Customer Service, Service, Service Personality, Technology

Paying the bills

Here are three businesses or employees who forgot that it’s through customers that they earn their salaries.

Face the Music

I read this on a friend’s Facebook posting: “I liked TOYOTA MANHATTAN until today. I had a 9 AM appointment for my car which I bought there at A VERY inflated price 1 ½  years ago and waited in line an hour and was told by an employee to go to the front since I had an appointment, only to be told to go back in line and by then, I’d lost 5 spaces. ANGRY. And the fact that 3 people were on their personal phones when I was waiting for an hour makes it worse!”

How do I know?

Newspaper delivery truck vintageI notified The Wall Street Journal, online, that we didn’t get our issue and received two automatic notices: 1) that they’d told the distributor and would credit us for a copy and 2) was a request to evaluate the service.  The wanted to know if I was  __ Delighted; __Fairly Satisfied or __Not Satisfied.

I clicked “Not satisfied” and because they asked respondants to explain, I wrote “How can I be satisfied when I don’t know when I will receive the missing copy?” We never got it as that is not an option when you report a missing copy online which was strike two. Further we have no idea if we were credited to receive an additional copy. My advice: Call, don’t report a missing issue online.

A Loyal Customer Left High and Dry

Employees [and policies] cause problems not only at world-renown brands. A follower of this blog, frequent commenter and friend called about a recent incident with a service her family has used extensively and loyally since the 1950s. Last summer she estimates that she spent $500 on dry cleaning at this suburban Boston company. Given their history, the company, that has four branches, has always billed her.

Dry cleaner in 1941

Dry cleaner in 1941

She was dealing with an employee, not an owner, when picking up clothes this week. She’d received a notice that they had some of her belongings that she might have forgotten. The young staffer insisted that the clothes might not be hers and said that in any case, she couldn’t take them unless she paid $103 on the spot. He presented no bill.

She explained that for decades the owners have billed her and that’s when sparks began to fly. He became increasingly rude to both her and her husband using an elevated, obnoxious tone. [Note: They are an elegant, distinguished couple.] He’s not a nubie: He told them he’d worked for the compay for six years. He didn’t flinch when she told him “We will never come back here. You have no idea how to behave or treat people.” She’s contacting the owners about him.

My questions:

  • Re: the Toyota incident, it’s amazing how employees aren’t embarrassed to take personal calls in front of a line of customers waiting for service, isn’t it? And why bother to make service appointments if you ignore them?
  • Saving itself money was the goal of The Wall Street Journal’s subscription customer service department. The idea was to get rid of a complaint ASAP, not accommodate subscribers. Can you share other examples?
  • As for the dry cleaner, does brand loyalty have no importance anymore? Does the in-your-face political atmosphere in some quarters feed such aggressive behavior?

 Yelling 3

Service of Giving Up Trying

January 25th, 2016

Categories: Age, Fashion, Youth

Older woman Rolex

When I read Jennifer Weiner’s piece, “One Day We Can Stop Trying, Right?” in a recent Sunday New York Times “Review” section, I immediately thought of my friend Harriet. In her 80s, less than a week before her death, she went with her companion to Daffy’s, a now defunct discount fashion store, looking for pretty things to wear. I can hear Harriet calling down from heaven with an answer to the question in Weiner’s headline. We’d hear an ear-splitting “NO.”

Harriet always looked terrific, her hair just-so. I remember a striking cornflower blue sweater she wore on one of the last days I saw her. She was indomitable, for years traveling alone across country to meetings with a bag full of meds and a horrifying lineup of chronic conditions that might have kept most close to home. [I didn’t learn about her illnesses for years and only then when I went to the hospital with her in Boston when she fell and broke her arm.]

gray hair style 4Was Harriet trying to look young or to get the most out of her life? She always wanted to look good and enjoyed compliments about her wardrobe, which were well-deserved.

I felt that Ms. Weiner implied that because a woman wants to look good it means she wants to look young and given the examples she chose to illustrate her piece, weight has a lot, if not everything, to do with achieving the goal. [I think that some women of all shapes and sizes who “dress too young” look older than they are especially when it comes to décolleté evening dresses that reveal old wrinkly skin and saggy breasts, but this is off topic].

Gray hair style 3She also seemed to be critical when she wrote, “The truth, as any woman can tell you, is that there’s no place, no profession, nowhere that a woman’s looks don’t matter.” And she used as an example members of a London group called Overweight Haters Ltd, who handed out nasty cards about gluttony to overweight people on the Tube. I have friends who are not thin and always look grand. Think about the giant benefit of being zaftig: You don’t have wrinkles.

In one of two major examples, Weiner maligned Oprah for promoting Weight Watchers as its spokesperson. She argued that such diets don’t work because the weight loss doesn’t last and suggested what if instead of “investing in paid diets and microdermabrasion, we donated our dollars to worthy charities and gave our time to the food pantry or elementary school? What if we thought about adding things to our lives—new foods, new skills, new classes, new walking routes—instead of taking things away?” Rather than following the Weight Watchers slogan “Lose weight and gain so much more,” she suggested for the new year that we “look beyond the superficial and all resolve to make more of ourselves, not less.”

Three womenCan’t women do all this and look good at the same time whether or not they are thin?

She criticized Kyle Smith of The New York Post. He responded to Carrie Fisher’s plea to fans via tweets that they stop discussing whether or not she’d aged well since the last time they saw her almost 40 years ago as Princess Leia Organa in “Star Wars” when she was 19. [One would hope she’d aged….goodness me!] She’d lost weight for the new film and Weiner wrote that Smith posited Fisher should thank the studio for making her healthy. She verbally winced at the contention that thin equaled healthy.

Fashion designer Eileen Fisher and her daughter Sasha

Fashion designer Eileen Fisher and her daughter Sasha

If a woman wants to look her best, does that mean she wants to look young and must be thin? What about men? Don’t most want to look good? Is there a point at which a woman or a man in good health, with sufficient funds, should stop trying and say, “To heck with it, I can’t be bothered to clean myself up for any reason or occasion?” And doesn’t attitude play a part?

Older woman Lanvin

 

Service of Paying it Forward

January 21st, 2016

Categories: Good Samaritan, Paying it Forward

Pay it forward

Yesterday I was in line at the cashier at the Amish Market, a gourmet grocery store best known for prepared foods, deli products, super sandwiches, giant barrels of olives, toothsome pastries, muffins and cakes, coffee—all sorts of goodies. Holding my hot soup container and a bag of rolls in one hand I groped in my handbag for my turquoise wallet which, due to its size and color, is easy to find–but it wasn’t there.

When it was my turn I asked the cashier to put aside what I wanted to buy, explained why, and went to an empty space out of her way but nearby so she could check out the others and I could look in my bag with two hands.

Olives at Amish MarketThe cashier said, “She wants to pay,” and I replied without looking up, “No thanks, I’m good,” thinking that I’d run next door—my office is in the adjacent building–and borrow money from the doorman or one of the tenants in my office.

Once I was satisfied that my wallet wasn’t there, and I’d called home to confirm I’d not left it behind, I said, “I’ll be right back” to the cashier. She handed me a bag with the soup and rolls in it and repeated, “That woman already paid!”

Amish MarketI’d been so busy fretting as I looked for my wallet that I didn’t even see what the Good Samaritan looked like. I asked the cashier if she could identify her, hoping she was a regular. I wanted to thank her [and return her money]. The cashier said there are too many customers, she wouldn’t remember.

I feel guilty especially for not thanking or in any way recognizing the woman’s generosity and kindness as I was busy worrying about the repercussions of the lost wallet while hoping that it would magically appear. Has something like this happened to you? What would you do at this point to rectify the situation if you were in my shoes?

 I feel guilty box

 

Service of Nicknames

January 18th, 2016

Categories: Name, Nicknames

Nickname

My friend Helen is known as Auntie Mame or Mame by a swath of her family, for the character Patrick Dennis created in a play and movie about an independent woman. My husband, whose full name ends in III, was known by his family as “Terzo, third in Italian. He was born in Naples.

My father got a kick out of gangster names, especially Greasy Thumb Guzik [photo right]. Then there are famous criminals like the Boston Strangler, Teflon Don or Birdman of Alcatraz. In show business there was ‘Ol Blue Greasy Thumb GuzikEyes—Frank Sinatra and Satchmo, Louis Armstrong [photo below, center].

Americans tend to shorten names [which I don't consider is quite the same as a nickname]. They think it’s friendly. A friend who once told me he preferred “Robert” was called Bob by most. Another friend, Nancy, used “Nan” in her email address so many call her Nan, not her favorite.

I’m known as JM by much of my family. I suspect someone on the American side started it when I was small as Jeanne-Marie was too long and difficult to enunciate, especially in a world in which “Mary,” “Jane,” and “Polly” resonated. In addition, my parents intended folks to pronounce the first word like jahnne, not gene. It must have seemed unnatural. Eventually the French side of the family picked up the initials.

We still shorten names a lot, but I don’t think we use nicknames as much. Would you agree? Is it because we’re not creative, that nicknames tend not to be PC, or that they are simply out of vogue? Do you have favorite nicknames?

 louis armstrong

Service of Loyalty

January 14th, 2016

Categories: Automobiles, Loyalty, Technology

Orchids for blog Jan 2016 002

Loyalty to my belongings has been a lifelong fault: You’d think I grew up during the 1929 Depression. What’s strange is that I’m fascinated by what’s new, love attending trade shows to be among the first to see the latest, adore to shop to enhance my wardrobe and buy gifts and I’m in awe of/admire innovation.

I realize that by taking loyalty to the next level, [jargon I despise], I’m being un-American because I’m not helping the economy. Here are examples:

I kept my first car 16 years even though at the end it broke down more than it ran. I remember a conversation with my father, the king of frugality. I’d called him to explain why I’d be late because the Dodge Dart had stopped running [again], this time on Park Avenue in the 30s. He said, “Maybe it’s time to give it up.” For him to say that was a shock!

The window of a basement laundry room of a co-op we once lived in was filled with orchids discarded by tenants once their flowers had finished blooming. [The plants were rescued from the trash by staff.] In our apartment our orchids bloomed on and off throughout the year. When we moved during a bitter winter in which they were exposed several times to frigid air and wind, the orchids suffered. Landing in a different place, with unfamiliar light and ridiculous amounts of heat, I didn’t hold out much hope for them. We never gave up and over the holidays, [see the photo above] they all burst into bloom!

Outdoor thermometerLast weekend I taped a thermometer’s suction cup to our bedroom window. Its ability to adhere had given out and yet it seemed a waste to toss it. When we wake up at the house, about the first thing we do in any season is to check the outside temperature. This stalwart gadget lived through quite a few winters, even last year’s blizzards and ice. It deserves another chance.

My brilliant IT man resuscitated my ancient Blackberry when it decided to stop showing emails. It does everything I need so why spend money and time to learn a new system when I already own a terrific device?

I worry every time I use our washer/dryer because Mr. Hobson, the crack repair man, is no longer in business. He also sold appliances and couldn’t compete with the big boxes. If the smallest glitch happens, we’ll be forced to toss and replace.

Do you know others like me? Are there antidotes?

Orchids for blog Jan 2016 004 flip sml

Service of Trends

January 11th, 2016

Categories: Uncategorized

Trends 1

Manufacturers and inventors keep an eye out for trends to determine what they’ll introduce, in what colors and materials, to address which needs, real or fabricated.

In The Wall Street Journal, Geoffrey A. Fowler and Joanna Stern shared highlights of the latest gadgets at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. In “The Wondrous and Wacky Year Ahead in Gadgets,” they chose to call out a laptop slimmer than a MacBook; a smartwatch focused on fitness; the Digitsole Smartshoe, a “highly connected sneaker”; a pod-based mixed drink maker [you’ve seen/used similar systems that make coffee]; a smart bed that “responds to your fitness tracker;” an alarm clock that awakes you with scents such as croissant or the sea and “Lego robots that teach science and coding.”

Trends 2It’s fun to conjecture what trends the creators tapped to determine the need for/timing of their gadget intros. For example:

  • Do they think we’ll have cause to drink as many cocktails as cups of coffee this year?
  • Fitness is on the tips of tongues of millions but how many exercycles and yoga mats can a health-driven person own? Enter some of these year’s intros: Will we become more vigorous and healthy as we compete with our records tracked by the latest gauges or will these gadgets soon pack landfills like exercise systems of yore?
  • Will our laptop choices reflect our fitness goals so we’ll toss out our “fat” ones in favor of a skinnier version?

Trends 3In another world dependent on trends, David A. Keeps, also in the Journal, interviewed five interior designers recently for their opinions of what was in and out of style. IN are: Black metals, rounded furniture, ornamentation such as tassels, Mexican midcentury modern and Scandinavian flat weave flooring. OUT are: Sisal and jute floor covering, “oppressive midcentury modern” and industrial looks, facets [on armoires or objets d’art] and rosy metallics.

Do you think that people toss their rugs and furniture if they learn that pundits consider them “Out”? How often would you change your upholstery, floor covering and window coverings if the expense was immaterial?

Do trends influence any of your purchases for yourself or others whether in technology, food or fashion?

 

Trends 4

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