Archive for the ‘Dissatisfaction’ Category

Service of Gagging Customers

Monday, May 7th, 2012


In radio discussions after the Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, I heard someone say that you sign away your rights to sue when you take a cruise.

That’s not the only place a customer can lose his/her traditional rights.

According to Christopher Elliot, whom Arthur and Pauline Frommer interviewed on their Sunday radio travel show a few weeks ago, there’s a creeping trend in the vacation rental property business to require clients to sign non disparagement clauses. Break the agreement and you’ll be fined.

Arthur Frommer said that he feared the custom would leak into the hotel industry as well. And doctors have begun to ask patients to sign such forms, according to Elliot.

vacation-rentalsIn his post about vacation rental gag agreements, Elliot illustrated what happens with the Darows’ experience. They wrote a negative online review about their Scottsdale, Ariz. vacation rental that cost $3,500 for five nights. A letter from the rental agency which Elliot quoted went as follows: “It has come to our attention that you have written an unauthorized review regarding your stay at a home managed by Progressive Management Concepts,” it said. “If this review is published by, you will be in violation of the confidentiality clause of the rental contract you agreed to when you made your reservation.”

500Indeed, Tom Darow had signed a form that stipulated not to “discuss or disclose the occupancy of the subject property with any entity not bound by the terms of this agreement without the expressed written authorization of the homeowner and the property agent representing the homeowner.” The price of doing so: $500-precisely the amount that appeared on the Darow credit card. Eventually, the Darows removed their review from and got their $500 back–plus a $200 refund.

Wrote Elliot: “The vacation rental industry may be warming to rental contracts such as Progressive’s. Several property owners echoed the sentiments of [Chris] Barski, [Progressive’s attorney] saying that non-disparagement language is the only way owners can protect themselves from negative reviews. ‘Just a small comment can slide a slight negative sentiment to a disaster like, ‘Avoid this house,’ and boom! You could lose everything and go into foreclosure, simply because of that one review,’ says Ken Silverman, a principal for a land development company based in New York who owns a vacation rental property at a New Hampshire ski resort. ‘It would have to be offset by tens or hundreds of positives to not make a difference.'”

And Elliot opened the discussion to cover user-generated reviews, many of them faked and inappropriately glowing to make a property [or a product, book, experience-you name it]-appear better than it is.

He also provided a good reason for a property manager to ask to approve a review-because the writer might disclose information that might “make the rental unit vulnerable to theft,” such as a lock combination or street address.

The solution is simple: Before signing, read the small print. And before agreeing to a vacation rental property, find out whom you can call on the spot if something isn’t right. Call them in advance to make sure they’ll be there when you are coming, so if something happens, you’ll know what to do. The idea is to have zero reason to complain afterwards.

Do you know of other instances where customers can’t share their displeasure publicly without incurring fines or where their rights are restrained in other ways?


Service of Who Approved This?

Thursday, December 8th, 2011


I just wasted 10 minutes trying to order a Christmas gift on line.

Long story short, I went to the site’s online chat to ask how to delete something from my order. I explained that while I carefully clicked one size, the item on the invoice was a different–and the wrong-size–and I couldn’t see where, on the screen, to delete it. I’d added the right size and color by then.

I followed the directions of how to go back to the order page “without messing up our system by back-clicking” and thought I’d solved things by removing the “1” leaving the “quantity” square blank. Up came a red alert notice that in effect wouldn’t let me leave a blank quantity.

Back to online chat. I got a set of instructions to change the spam filter on my computer in order for their site to do thus and such ….at which point I thanked and said I’d cancel the whole thing and I got off the site.

llbean1Went to LL Bean where I noticed there was a delete option you couldn’t miss under every ordered item.

So I wondered who had approved the system for the first website. They sure knew what they were doing search engine optimization-wise: Their site was the first one that popped up when I inserted in Google the key words identifying what I wanted to buy. But their site wasn’t customer friendly for people who don’t want to muck around with their computer’s cookie and spam invasion-level just to buy something.

notthinking-003As for this self stick label, [photo left], the buyer at Home Goods hadn’t explained to his/her Chinese supplier that eight year olds don’t shop at this store so that most customers would be giving this item as a stocking stuffer or small gift and they’d want to remove the price. This wasn’t simple to do: The sticker was under cellophane wrap. So who placed the order and approved the shipment?

streetglitchestarlump002small2This asphalt street/sidewalk sculpture, [right] where the bus stops, has driven me nuts for months. I waited for someone to fix the sloppy application of asphalt. Nobody came. Yet somebody approved the job and somebody was paid. Who pays the lawyer and settlement when people tumble on the mess and hurt themselves?

streetglitches-flood004smallLast, on my walk to work yesterday, I was surprised by a lake on 47th Street near First Avenue [left]. It had rained in a mostly misty way the day before and overnight, but nothing much. It was still raining in the morning, but again, no cats and dogs. Near the UN and right by one of the Trump properties, one would think that engineers might keep drains clear or slant the street so that children didn’t mistake the spot for a pond for sailing toy boats. Imagine if we had a freeze: Ice skating for one and all! Cars slowed down when they saw the pool in daylight: At night, some might find the deep water in the middle of the street quite a surprise.

Have you wondered how certain procedures and/or jobs were approved and who OK’d them?  I’d love to know of other examples.


Service of Taxis

Thursday, August 11th, 2011


There were 7,700 complaints about taxi drivers in NYC, February-February 2010-2011, according to Andrew Grossman. In his Wall Street Journal article “Many Taxi Complaints, Little Action,” he noted that these reports of dangerous or discourteous behavior resulted in hearings for 11 percent of the drivers, according to Taxi & Limousine Commission statistics.

I’m also sure that the 7,700 complaints are only a fraction of the number of complaints that there might be. On the way in to work today I was almost run over by a taxi driven by a man who wanted to make the turn onto 42nd Street at Second Avenue when he was ready to, whether or not there were pedestrians crossing at the light. It happened so fast I didn’t get his license.

mail-a-letterGrossman also reported that after making the complaint, few bothered to take the next step to get the hearing process rolling, which was to send back to the city a letter that the city had sent them. Whew! What effort! An onerous time-killer.

Most city people or frequent travelers to cities have at least one memorable taxi story, their own or a friend’s.

A client told of a hair-raising drive to a NYC airport even though he had plenty of time and told this to the driver. He pleaded with him to slow down. Driver didn’t listen.

My parents found themselves face on with a taxi in a two lane, two-way NYC tunnel. He was passing another car and he ignored the “no passing” signs and double yellow line.

A colleague told of a nut driver who swore nonstop after she entered the car, using increasingly foul language. She scrambled out and tossed money at him when she could safely exit.

speeding-taxiI saw a driver, enraged from having to stand in traffic, dash off at such a rate his wheels jumped on the sidewalk at a crosswalk barely missing people waiting there for the light to change. His passenger must have had an anxious ride. Nobody on the street had time to note his license number because they were jumping out of his way.

Given the potential harm to others–Grossman described additional complaints such as “drivers offering marijuana and whiskey and pulling away before riders get both legs out of the car,” as well as one medallion with eight passenger complaints because the driver appeared to be sleeping or not fully alert–don’t we owe it to fellow pedestrians and passengers alike to follow up on such behavior?

What’s the cause of this passenger passivity: Lack of time? Ennui? Fear of retribution? Dread of causing someone to lose his/her job? Do you have a taxi story–good or bad?


Service of Big Companies Making Small Ones Look Bad

Monday, April 4th, 2011


I know of three recent instances in which large corporations made small business people look incompetent or irresponsible. I had to share.

A friend thought he’d lost it when he tried to download a document to a major international office support business. No matter what he clicked or how hard he tried to follow the instructions, he couldn’t send it. He finally picked up his laptop and brought it to the store. When he got there–the branch doesn’t give out its phone number–the staffer said, “Oh, you have a Mac. You can’t always download from a Mac.” Couldn’t the website have noted this weakness in a warning? Is a customer’s time of no value? I empathize. When technology lets me down I always blame myself.

vintagetelephoneoperatorThe second instance happened to me. A client was setting up his booth at an exhibit in NYC. I was on call should he need anything as his partner wasn’t able to assist him. I didn’t leave my office from the time I knew he was scheduled to download at the dock at 12:45. I check the phone periodically–a habit–by picking up the handset to hear if the telltale quick dial tone indicates that I have messages. After 4, there was one. My client left it for me at 1:30. I was horrified. My voicemail is part of a major corporation’s package. It’s not the first time that the phone message system has let me down. I’ve been at work until 8 pm some nights and only the next morning do I get a message left for me at 4 or 5 pm the day before.

And then there are those missing emails. I know I don’t get all of mine. The proof: Just last week I read an email response sent to many people on a committee. I’m a member but I never got the original one. When I checked, I was on the first TO: list. Scary.

On the bright side, there was some service connected to these instances of big companies making small ones look bad: They translated into a post.

These examples are not a conspiracy to knock out the small guy. No company deliberately harms its customers. I nevertheless feel helpless and frustrated because I can’t control every aspect of my business. Can anyone? Do you have any similar examples?


Service of Lessons Learned

Thursday, December 23rd, 2010


As we hurdle towards the new year, thought I’d address lessons learned inspired by Michael Kubin’s opinion piece in The New York Times, “The Ponzi Scheme that Changed My Life.” He’d lost the money he invested with Bernie Madoff and concluded that he’s better off for it because “Bernie Madoff opened my eyes. I now understand that life is a game of Minesweeper where the mines are real-and that letting someone else play for me is a losing strategy. For that I am, I dare to say, grateful.”

Kubin is obviously young enough to pick up the pieces and recuperate financially and he says he didn’t invest all his savings with Madoff and he still has money to invest.

About his conclusion to go it alone in future, we’ve covered before, in “Service of Specialists,” what can go wrong when you opt for a do-it-yourself approach. Usually it’s because you think you’re saving money not paying an expert-accountant, real estate agent, graphic designer, writer, marketing, advertising or PR executive. In most cases, such specialists will save time and trouble and generate far better results than you can.

moneyundermattressGiven that Kubin wrote that he has an “MBA from a well known Eastern business school,” he has more qualifications than most to make prudent and effective investment decisions. But he’s busy being a writer and media executive, according to the bio in the paper. Can he really do the best job by spreading himself so thin?  It doesn’t mean he should toss his money or a project at anyone and walk away. Supervision is imperative. Extremes usually never work.

If one doctor gives you an incorrect diagnosis or solution, do you eschew all medical help? If one hair stylist makes you look foolish or ugly, do you let your hair grow wild? If a gardener pulls out your flowers and waters the weeds, do you pour cement where a garden once grew?

I’ve been burned, not always by crooks, but at times by people who have made the wrong investment decision or medical diagnosis based on how they interpreted the facts they had. As I put my whole heart and brains into what I do and have not always achieved the results I’d hoped for, I like to give others some slack.  When I’ve had truck with a bum, I try not to paint all people in the profession or industry with that bum’s brush.

Please share some lessons you have learned. How do you bounce back from a reversal?


Service of Interruption

Monday, December 13th, 2010


At the first PR firm I worked at–a big one–we’d merged with a smaller one and I attended a meeting unlike any before or since. The head of the small agency had asked his account exec to tell us about her client. As she began to speak, he kept interrupting, demanding,  in irritating short barks, the names of media, dates, events and details. She didn’t complete a sentence without another bullet-like barrage of questions. The boss made us nervous and uncomfortable. You can imagine how the AE felt.

Similarly, Steve Martin must have cringed when the powers at the 92nd Street Y in NYC gave the public the upper hand the night he was interviewed by New York Times writer Deborah Solomon. They didn’t let him do what he’s done splendidly throughout his professional life: Engage audiences.

taketemperatureIn “The Art of Interruption,” an opinion piece in the newspaper sometime after the horrible evening, Martin explained: “When I arrived for Monday’s talk, I was informed that it would be telecast on closed-circuit TV across the country. What I wasn’t told was that the viewers were going to be encouraged to send in e-mails during the discussion: what I didn’t expect was that the Y would take the temperature of those e-mailed reactions, and then respond to them by sending a staff member onstage, mid-conversation, with a note that said, ‘Discuss Steve’s career.’ ”

His new book, “An Object of Beauty,” the topic of his discussion with Solomon, an art scholar, is set in the art world. You sign up to hear about a man’s book, movie, play, symphony or TV script, why should you expect to hear [yet again] about his career?

refundWhat’s worse, the Y offered to refund the ticket price to disgruntled audience members who sound like rude people with the attention span of a gnat, incapable of reading the title of a program, folks with the intellectual curiosity of moose and the patience of an infant.

I wouldn’t have returned a penny. My reasons: If I don’t like liver, do I order it and then complain to the restaurant that my dinner didn’t taste good and I want a refund?  If the subject of art bores you, then don’t sign up to hear about a novel that takes place in the art world, by an art collector interviewed by an art scholar. In addition, to give refunds would insult and be disrespectful of my guests, the two people I’d invited to speak.

Martin continued in his opinion piece, “I have been performing a long time, and I can tell when the audience’s attention is straying. I do not need a note. My mind was already churning like a weather front; at that moment, if I could have sung my novel to a Broadway beat I would have.”

How much should the public be allowed to intrude on a program mid-flight? Was this an attempt by the Y to appear hip and in sync with the social networking world? What would you have done? Can you share instances in which interruption has played a role? Can interruptions serve a valuable purpose?


Service of Annoying Customers

Thursday, November 4th, 2010


I was in line at Sam’s coffee cart on 44th and Third Avenue and the man ordering his Joe ahead of me was the kind of customer who’d drive me nuts. It’s not that he wanted anything exotic. But I could tell that he was someone I’d never want to share a restaurant meal with-or to serve.

He asked for two Splendas in a medium size decaf and a large coffee with skim and three sugars, and then he changed his mind on size or sweetener and….Sam was his usual cool, calm, pleasant self and didn’t skip a beat. [This eavesdropper was ready to scream.]

ordering-foodI’ve eaten with people who have nary an allergy but want to know every ingredient in each of six dishes before they will commit to a main course. Three minutes after they’ve ordered they wave wildly for the waiter because they’ve changed their mind.

And it’s not just the questions that get me, because maybe the person loves to cook and is curious about how the chef prepares short ribs; it’s the selfish demand for attention and time without regard to companions who might have places to go and customers at other tables who need wine, water or song.

Most of the posts on this blog are written from the customer’s viewpoint. What do your friends, colleagues and strangers do to aggravate staffers in retail or food businesses? If you’ve had one of those jobs, how do you handle these annoying types or don’t they bother you?


Service of Who Are We Fooling?

Monday, October 18th, 2010


NY Public Advocate Bill DeBlasio told Joe Bartlett on the WOR Radio 710 “Saturday Morning Show,” October 16, that there are 100,000 children who had  failed the New York State Regents math and English exams though orignally, they were told they’d passed.  Inflated grades were the culprits. What is worse than this news: These children who failed won’t be brought up to speed which is standard.

Instead, according to what I took away from the conversation, the system will start fresh and do better in future, more accurately grading the tests and having those who fail them immediately tutored.

A situation involving people shouldn’t be treated as I handle my checkbook, where I add or subtract to adjust a discrepancy that won’t go away when I [try to] balance the numbers. My fiddling concerns only me. The school debacle affects an enormous number of the city’s children who need help. To brush them off as though they are no more than an accounting adjustment broils and is wrong.

children-at-desks5And what inspired the inflated grades to begin with? The answer lies in previous posts on inflation. What’s the point of grades if they don’t identify who needs help? Why cheat the children, citizens and state by making things appear better than they are? Who are we fooling?

The City has what I consider another head-scratcher going on in the form of an experimental system for express busses. Known as “limited” busses, because they stop on avenues only at crosstown stops, they are wonderful especially if you travel on 1st or 2nd Avenues, quite a distance from the Lexington Avenue subway. The limiteds leap through traffic, as much as any vehicle can, and get you to your destination quickly.

The purpose of the 1st and 2nd Avenue experiment [and before that, in the Bronx]–is to help move people in and out of a bus quickly by allowing them to enter all doors, instead of only the front door where the MetroCard swiping machine is. The concept is good; the execution pathetic.

limited-bus1The City has placed machines on the street by the bus stops. They dispense paper receipts after you’ve slipped in your MetroCard where the machine subtracts the cost of the fare. Police are making spot-checks of the busses to confirm that everyone has a receipt. Trouble is: You never know when the limited bus is coming. If you pay for a receipt, it won’t work on a standard bus so you’ve lost the cost of the fare if a local comes and you don’t want to wait for the next limited bus.  Who knows when it will come? And if there is a crowd, you can miss the express bus if you’re in a line for a turn at a machine that, you can bet, won’t work in freezing weather or if it’s been vandalized. [One of the machines takes coins.]

Last, I tried to buy pretty commemorative stamps for a mailing at a country post office where I’ve bought hundreds of seasonal stamps for 15+ years. The branch had only 45 decorative stamps in the safe and in any of two workstations–none matching. This is scary: Feels very third world. It’s costly to design a stamp and once the art is in place, printing a good number at first printing is de minimus. Why bother designing them? Where is the lobbyist for the greeting card industry? NOTE: I dropped into the Grand Central Station post office and they had plenty of stamps. So are we closing small town post offices and giving them little to sell? Is it so nobody will miss them when they are gone?

What are your thoughts about these examples? Do you have other “Who are we fooling” stories to share?




Service of Dissatisfaction

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

dissatisfactionDiane Baranello of Coaching for Distinction just sent me, “Are You Being Served?” by James Surowiecki. The information in The New Yorker piece won’t surprise my readers. The author noted that these days almost nobody is happy–neither the served nor the servers. He also pointed out why employers don’t like to pay for service: It’s an expense with zero income-producing value in their opinion, and an easy cut in tough times.

Surowiecki referred to one survey taken a few years ago in which 80 percent of 300 large companies thought that they delivered “superior service” as compared to eight percent of consumers and he wrote “….one study suggests that only six percent of dissatisfied customers file a complaint.”

disgruntledSo what do disgruntled people do? I posit that they vote with their feet, though not all. Do most suffer in silence?

We walked out of a trendy bakery/restaurant the other week where we were ignored for several minutes by three people behind the counter. There was no “Hi,” “Be with you in a second,” or “May I help you?” When I asked my husband “What do you want?” as I was deciding whether a cranberry scone or a blueberry muffin was coming home with me, he replied: “To get out of here,” which we did. The place was almost empty, there were four customers at two tables. We passed by in the car the other day and crowds appeared to be leaving or entering.

Money goes to attract new customers, Surowiecki pointed out, instead of keeping existing ones. True to form, the bakery/restaurant has dotted the countryside with posters directing drivers to it and the place was given great coverage in a New York Times article about a month ago.

pileofmagazinesThis place isn’t alone to spend money to attract new customers and favor them. [We were new at the bakery, but as we were in the door, and there’s nowhere else nearby, I guess we no longer mattered.] Magazines use a model of spend-to-get-new readers and charge more to current subscribers. I refuse to pay the higher price for a magazine renewal for an expensive publication I’ve subscribed to for eons. New subscriptions cost $10 less. With my check, I send a copy of the blow-in card, circle the lower price and enclose a letter. It’s in my computer so doesn’t take but a second to change the date every year. The letter explains that I expect to be treated better than a new reader and to please honor me with the better price. It works. [I refuse to pay for any publication with a credit card. The thought of trying to break off the relationship with their ability to suck out any amount of money from me that they want–forever–gives me nightmares.]

I agreed with the author when he disclaimed the theory that poor service is caused by consumers who insist on cheap prices, thereby eliminating a business’s ability to provide good service. He mentioned, which in this context is the example de rigueur. We had a glitch this morning using I heard from Will Reed in customer service in minutes. Turns out we caused the malfunction. And back to the bakery/restaurant, how costly is it to say “hello, good to see you, be with you in a minute?”

I am sure that you can list many other moderately priced establishments both big and small that serve you well.  Won’t you please share? And we’d always like to hear of examples where you were a dissatisfied customer or employee.


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