Archive for the ‘Dependability’ Category

Service of a Happy Surprise When a Stranger Takes a Minute to Help

Monday, November 27th, 2017

There’s plenty to gripe about but I want to write about two positive things because you don’t want to hear about my attempt to get to Brooklyn by subway on a recent weekend. Embarrassing how nonexistent were communications that day between the track repair, motorman and station staff for a city the size of NY. We’ve never lived in such a well-connected world and I’ve rarely seen an example of such incompetence as happened that Saturday. Even the relatively new electronic messaging machines were out of order in all stations, bad timing or bad planning? There are NYC neighborhoods, such as Red Hook Brooklyn, where people lose their jobs because city transport consistently prevents them from arriving on time. A disgrace.


This is why I especially appreciated what happened on a Metro-North train recently. The doors had closed at our upstate N.Y. station and the train was about to move south when over the loudspeaker the conductor said loud and clear, “We’ve got a runner!” That could have meant lots of things [had someone robbed a passenger and was the person running away? I watch too many “Blue Bloods” re-runs.] But in this case he’d observed a passenger racing from the parking area towards the steps to the train platform. Had he missed this one, the runner would have had two hours to wait for the next train. I trust everyone else appreciated, as I did, the one minute wait so he could travel with us.


In another instance, I was about to leave for the station to meet my husband when over the office loudspeaker we were told that all elevators were stopped until the fire department checked out a smoke condition on the roof. This meant that I was probably going to be late arriving at the gate for our train at Grand Central Terminal because I couldn’t drag my suitcase down 11 flights of stairs.

“Big deal,” say you, because all the people you know carry a mobile phone. Not my husband. I knew he was at the Oyster Bar and I called there. I described him and his suitcase and the approximate location I knew he’d be seated to the woman who picked up the phone and she found him and gave him the message. Wow.

We’re all in such a rush or so involved in our own world we often don’t stop to do something meaningful for a stranger. Do you have any good examples of strangers helping others?


Service of Selective Impatience

Thursday, March 8th, 2012


Americans suffer from selective impatience. We fall for impulse purchases at checkout counters and demand to own high-priced items the second they are launched and put them on credit cards when we can’t afford them. We want to own a house this minute–we can’t wait until we’ve saved enough or generated sufficient income to cover the down payment and upkeep–and we’re the leaders of fast-food. As you read this paragraph you can envision our collective finger tapping.

lines-at-a-bridgeOn the other hand we wait in long lines to attend movies and sports events and for coffee at overpriced specialty shops, accept to be parked at bars for hours after table reservation time before being seated in tony, overbooked restaurants, stand still for 20 to 40 minutes waiting to cross a bridge at rush hour so we can commute by car, line up overnight to be one of the first to own the latest Apple tech toy and wait for hours for service and deliveries.

Those who can pay to shorten the wait. In “The Wait-Time Misery Index,” in The Wall Street Journal, Ray A. Smith reports that UPS customers pay $40 a year and a $5 per package premium for deliveries within a two-hour period. Crate & Barrel charges $89 to ensure a two or three hour delivery window.

Smith asks if you’d wait four hours for a friend who is late for dinner. “No,” he wrote, “but your cable company thinks this is a reasonable window of time to wait for service.”

I wonder who makes the rules that impact a client or customer’s time. These timekeepers act as though everyone can sashay to their desk whenever or select when they feel like teaching, nursing/treating patients or meeting deadlines.

ironing-clothesWhile waiting for a delivery in Atlanta, one woman in Smith’s story ironed 50 napkins and four tablecloths. I suppose you can line up such projects when waiting for service, repair or delivery, but should you have to?

Smith wrote “‘I see companies using the two-hour window as a significant marketing thing,’ says Bruce Champeau, Room & Board chief operating officer. The furniture retailer has had a two-hour window in effect since the mid-1990s. ‘It’s a matter of respecting the customer’s time,’ says Mr. Champeau.”

Why do we sell ourselves short? Shouldn’t this be standard and therefore nothing to market?

Smith continued “To make deliveries within a two-hour time slot, more companies are investing in software that helps determine the most efficient route. The technology can shave time off trips by taking into account speed limits, for example, and estimating how long a stop will take based on service type.” This is so elementary, it boggles. Invest in software? So many sophisticated GPS systems are free or incredibly inexpensive and have been around for years. And software isn’t going to calculate what an employee familiar with how the product works and how long it takes to fix, can do best.

Smith points out that lack of information is part of the frustration when waiting and notes how New York’s subway system lets passengers at some stations know how long they have to wait for the next local or express. I love this service, which I first saw in Paris years ago. But if you’re expected to attend an 11 o’clock meeting and you’ve been waiting for a delivery or repair since 8 am, what good is it to know that someone will be at the house by 2 pm?

Do you have a routine you follow when you have to wait for delivery or service? Do you pay a premium to shorten the wait window? Are you a selectively impatient person?


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 Financial Rating Agencies

Thursday, October 6th, 2011


The Standard & Poor’s downgrade of US debt sent shivers down spines. Frank Paine [known previously on this blog as Zachary], a retired Federal Reserve Examiner and international commercial banking officer, describes the world of financial rating agencies. He covers where and how they started, how they are used to analyze other industries and governments and he shares his opinion of how useful their conclusions are. 

He wrote:

An old friend who knows my background, and who is himself a retired international banker, recently asked me: “As a credit guy, what is your take on S & P’s downgrade?” He continued, “My initial reaction was positive, but what does it mean if, in fairness, they have to downgrade everybody else except Switzerland?” 

With a wonderful sense of irony, he followed this question with “Hope all is well.”  [He was referring to something else, but his choice of words and timing was wonderful!]

switzerlandWhat a great question!  There are a lot of interesting angles to this issue.  To start with, I’m not even sure about Switzerland, but doesn’t that raise the question of what use the ratings are if every country is rated the same?  They are useless if we can’t use them to distinguish varying levels of credit risk.

My understanding is that the system for rating publicly issued securities came into being quite some decades ago in large measure as a function of insurance company regulation.  The public policy issue was the companies’ solvency for paying claims (liability companies) or benefits (life companies).  It was thought that citizens buying policies were not capable of understanding the level of risk in insurance company balance sheets, and therefore there should be a way of measuring and communicating that level of risk that would not require “buyers to beware.” A corollary to this notion was that insurance companies should not be risk takers.

insurance1Over the years, regulators (and others) found that these ratings could have other useful applications, such as, for example, measuring the degree of risk in commercial banks’ bond portfolios. And indeed, many “players” in the finance industry found that it was easier and cheaper to measure their risk by depending on the ratings.  Even commercial banks, once places that were expected to do their own credit analysis, found (lazily) that they could outsource their credit risk management.  Instead of duplicating the agencies’ analytical work, they could simply borrow it, saving their own analysis for business that was not publicly traded.  In recent years, the agencies have developed a system for rating securities that are not publicly traded.  I am not an expert on this, but I gather that they have developed statistically based models that they feel are acceptable proxies for the publicly traded situation.   

But how does all this work when considering sovereign risks?  What statistical basis can one find for assessing the credit risk of sovereign states?  We know that they occasionally go into default, but do they go bankrupt?  Bankruptcy is a legal status, not a financial status.  To what court do you take a sovereign defaulter to get it to acknowledge bankruptcy?  None, of course…they don’t declare bankruptcy.  They default perhaps, or terms get adjusted, sometimes “haircuts” get applied, interest rates get reduced, and so forth, but they never declare bankruptcy.

Let’s take this a step further. With corporate business, there is a huge database of financial performance.  Using multiple discriminant analysis, one can even define the probability that specified factors will affect the probability of default and bankruptcy.  Can one duplicate this for sovereign states?  I would say “no,” because the database is simply not big enough.  And I think this is where the agencies slipped, basically because they put too much faith in their own models, and assumed that they could identify the factors leading to default, and then apply relevant probabilities.  The probabilities were highly flawed.

world-mapSo, how should one consider sovereign risk?  Sovereign risks are inherently political, and so the ratings must reflect political analysis, something that financial analysts are notoriously not very good at.  Heaven knows that political factors are what determine whether or how a country will go into default-the present state of things in the EEU provides an excellent example.

I believe that it is an error to think that rating systems designed for the management of corporate risk can be applied to sovereign risk.  Sovereign risks should have their own, separate rating system, based on political factors rather than financial factors.  Whether this can in fact be achieved is questionable, but the attempt might be worth the effort.  It probably should be done by separate agencies, thus avoiding possible conflicts of interest.

So, to summarize, all is not well.  This field needs a lot of work.

If Frank Paine is correct–that a country’s financial strength and stability should be looked at by a rating agency specializing in the analysis of sovereign states, not in financial institutions and corporations–was  the S & P downgrade more of a public relations slap than an accurate analysis? Do you think that most people have an idea that the economy is in deep dish distress without confirmation by a rating agency? Do you fear that we are on the brink of panic? Will the Wall Street protesters have any affect in redressing our problems?


Service of Pets II

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011


I could write about pets every week and have succumbed to temptation several times before, once to mostly crow about their charm and once to note how vets seem to take better care of animals than some doctors do people.

Many pay $ thousands for purebred dogs and cats, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” as Seinfeld would have said, especially if you plan to use the dog to hunt or rescue, if that’s what a breed has instincts to do. I don’t think I’d love a purebred any more than the cats and dogs in my household over the years. None of mine have been 100 percent anything, but they haven’t been working dogs or cats either [other than to smile at the camera].

seeing-eye-dogI admire Seeing Eye dog foster families who invite puppies to live with them until they are old enough to graduate to hardcore training. They also give the little ones initial instruction, for free. They know in advance that they must give up the furry love balls. Their reimbursement: That they are helping a stranger become independent, a remarkable gift.

In contrast I read about a different approach and reimbursement model in a recent front page story in The New York Times “For the Executive with Everything, a $230,000 Dog to Protect It,” by John Tierney. He wrote about tycoons and celebs who spend mostly in the $40,000 to $60,000 range for German shepherds trained to protect them and he obviously also wrote about the dog worth almost a quarter of a million dollars. The concept is that a dog is a cheaper guardian than a human security guard.

I wonder how reliable the dogs are at either $40,000 or $230,000 for a rough life in the security biz? I’ve seen the sweetest, gentlest dogs turn nasty/fierce/act dog-like in a flash provoked by something unfamiliar and sometimes, for no reason evident to me. I would worry that the dog might get a mixed signal and attack, by mistake, a visiting mother-in-law, friend or child.

What about dogs trained for police, military, drug detection and Seeing Eye work? Are they worth more, less, as much?

Are Seeing Eye dog foster families chumps doing their work for free when others are being well paid to train dogs or are the chumps the people who pay so much for a security dog? If money were no object, would you depend on a trained dog to protect you, your home and family?


Service of Who is Looking?

Thursday, June 16th, 2011


I met a friend for lunch at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan and noticed a park attendant working her heart out. We were eating our sandwiches and sipping our drinks under trees on this perfect almost summer day. Every table was taken by office workers and tourists doing the same. In the hour we were there, the attendant repeatedly emptied the trash from a small stationery container which, once empty, she’d spray with disinfectant every third time. She had to lift out the inside basket and turn the contents into a large trash bin on wheels that she rolled back and forth. I was amazed at her diligence–no rats in this part of the park that’s for sure–and I thanked her for it.

fire-fighter-badgeOn the other hand, a few weeks ago I drove through a small upstate town passing a sign asking me to slow up and announcing a collection up ahead for the local fire department. I expected to toss a bill or coins, whatever I could grab from my bag as I drove, into a bucket held by a fireman or volunteer. I didn’t see anyone near the cans or on the side of the road however there were a few buckets piled on one another on the yellow line in the middle of the road. Not a soul in either direction rolled down a car window to toss a coin or a bill in those buckets. If the firemen and friends couldn’t be bothered, why should we?

That day I was on my way to a craft fair in a field in upstate New York. Lucky I’d been there before. One untrained kid was doing a hesitant and dangerous job directing traffic at the exit which spilled onto the road I was on. When I got to the entrance a quarter mile past him–he didn’t tell me whether I’d be parking in the field to the left or the right of the road–I saw eight kids with the same tee shirts as his sitting around near the entrance on the left so that’s where I went. They were shooting the breeze. They should have been directing traffic on the road and in the large parking area. Guess they weren’t in the mood.

outdoor-food-vendorsWhen it was time for a snack I noticed a food vendor I’d not seen before. The stand stood out because it was the only one with a line. One youngster stood over three extremely hot metal plates making crepes. He poured the perfect amount of batter each time, painted it in a circle with a little wooden paddle, turned it and gave the finished crepe to another young man who filled it with chicken, veggies, cheese or whatever you wanted. The youngsters didn’t get ruffled in spite of the time it took to cook the perfect crepes and they never for a minute stopped. The result was delicious and well worth the wait.

There wasn’t a manager or boss in view so who of importance to the livelihood of the Bryant Park attendant or the crepe/sandwich makers would have known they were  meticulous in fulfilling their tasks? What inspired them to do their [unpleasant], no doubt minimum wage jobs so well? What were the firemen or the volunteers who planned the fundraiser and parking lot staff thinking? What signs do you look for when hiring such employees?


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 Dependability

Monday, January 3rd, 2011


I have mentored amazing college and grad students for years and have been impressed by hundreds of accomplished scholarship applicants since I’ve served on the New York Women in Communications Foundation scholarship committee. This is why I was distressed by the observation of a person I met over the holidays who described his experience hiring assistants.

onthephoneWhen an applicant calls him, he’ll say, “Please call me next Wednesday between noon and 2 and I’ll be able to speak with you then,” [or whatever day and timeframe they agree is convenient for both]. He said that he never again hears from 75 percent of job seekers. He explained why he always does this. “I can teach almost anyone what they need to know to help me, but I require a dependable person.”

I mentioned this to a friend who wasn’t surprised. He said that an assistant he’d recently hired arrived late his first day at the ad agency. He immediately called the young man into his office and said: “This isn’t going to work. Goodbye,” and noted, “Can you imagine arriving late on your first day at a new job?”

clockI was almost late for my first day at a new magazine. I couldn’t find the building! [Interviews took place at a borrowed office elsewhere.] The address would have put it in the middle of Madison Avenue. This happened long before cell phones. Turns out the publisher had given everyone the wrong street number–and because I’d left home in plenty of time, I was on time after dashing into every building on either side of Madison Avenue until I found the right one.

We have a furnace contract with the company that sells us fuel for the house yet we are insecure every time we call the company in an emergency because while the repair people might seem to fix the immediate problem, they inevitably create other ones. Meanwhile, we’ve found a young man who knows his boilers and furnaces and we sleep well after he’s installed the correct valves and reversed some of the incomplete “fixes” that the oil company staffers have made.

furnaceYou may wonder why we know that something’s wrong. Last week, after an emergency visit by the oil company repairman, the wall next to the furnace room shook violently when the furnace kicked in, something it had never before done, and we heard a new noise–that turned out to be air–that sounded like spitting water. We called in the specialist. He identified and fixed the problem in minutes and told us we can safely hold off on a major repair that the oil company person told us we must tend to ASAP.

Why doesn’t this articulate, knowledgeable and reliable young man have an assistant? None have worked out, he said. He hires his brothers or Dad when he needs a hand.

And it’s not just young people and assistants these days. When criticized for not returning to NJ after the late December blizzard snarled roads and highways, Governor Christie [whose Lt. Governor was out of state at the same time] said he’d promised to take his children to Disneyland and his children come first. He was in a rush to leave before the storm so he moved up his departure time. He could easily have sent his kids along with his wife and gone to be with them when the emergency was over. He obviously thinks it was an emergency–he requested Federal aid as a result of the storm. Think he’d fire an assistant or subordinate with an approach like his?

Has the Valley Girl-inspired “whateverrrrrr” word misled some people to think that any old how or any which way and/or time is acceptable? Is dependability perception or reality? Is dependability overrated? Please share some examples of reliable and dependable people and/or those who act less so.


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