Archive for the ‘Attitude’ Category

Service of Retail Etiquette: How Does the Message Get So Garbled?

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

 

Photo: epicurious.com

Retail stores are having a heck of a time so when I hear of one that sells a good product but whose owner or employees miss the mark in service, I wonder what’s going on.

There’s a bakery in a charming Litchfield, Conn. town that sells scrumptious delicacies that look as delectable as they taste. Friends surprised me when they served a delicious cake from there at my last birthday, [I didn’t think they knew what day it was], so I know about the quality of the goodies.

Photo: archiesonline.com

The friends who made my birthday dinner—I’ll call them Fred and Paul–had been asked to buy brownies for another birthday person who preferred them over cake. Paul described what happened: “As we walked into the bake shop a man with an unpleasant look on his face stared at us. The brownies were under a glass bell, priced $3.00 each.

“Fred asked for 12. The owner was horrified—actually angry. He gritted his teeth and snapped ‘Why didn’t you call ahead!?’ He feared that there wouldn’t be enough for other customers.”

Paul continued, “Didn’t the owner register that we were giving him business too? He opened a bag—instead of a box–and threw them in, one by one, while continuing to seethe. I was close to telling him to keep them. Fred also controlled his anger. But we were stuck–we’d been asked to contribute these favorites.”

Photo: marthastewart.com

There’s a bakery on First Avenue and 57th Street in NYC—Andres–that sells amazing palmiers, aka elephant ears, which I adore. If for whatever reason they don’t have any when I drop in, I’ll go another time or I’ll remember to call first!

What does it matter who buys what you’ve made as long as you have no leftovers at closing? If a bakery’s logistics are faulty it’s not the customer’s responsibility. If you’d been Fred and Paul, would you also have held your tongue? Good bakeries are few and far between in rural areas. If you had walked out of this bakery without the brownies, what would you have told the hostess and what would you have brought instead?

Photo: pinterest

Service of Enough Already: When [Too Many] Things Keep Going Wrong

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

bad luck black cat

I was once pick pocketed at a personal low point and I’m sure it happened because I was both distracted and nervous, therefore a great target for a talented person. I was having more than a bad day or week—it was more like a bad year–but, as a good and sage friend often says calmly, regardless of the calamity, “this, too, shall pass.” And, indeed, it did.

There are ways to help things along according to Sue Shellenbarger in her Wall Street Journal article, “Having a Bad Week? Tricks for Turning It Around.” She wrote: “You can’t fend off all bad luck, but if you change your reaction, it can have a very powerful effect.”

Good luck four leaf cloverShe noted: “Mishaps make people feel anxious and uncertain, and often lead them to look for patterns as a way to regain a sense of control, according to a 2008 study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and Northwestern University.

“At these moments, it is worth remembering that misfortune is often a random event. There is always a probability that several bad things will happen at once, says Jane. L. Risen, an associate professor of behavioral science at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and a researcher on judgment and magical thinking.”

Good luck horseshoeWe all know folks who think that the universe is against them. Others consider themselves lucky no matter what—that things could be worse, so they feel grateful. Richard Wiseman conducted a study years ago that corroborates the usefulness of this approach. An example of how it plays out might be that if a right-handed person breaks a hand they react, “Isn’t it lucky I broke my left hand!”

There’s also the issue of the jinx. Shellenbarger described a man for whom the roof fell in after his friend observed that his decade old jeep never needed repairs. Not only did it suddenly break down the next week but his credit card was stolen, his computer crashed losing his book manuscript, he sprained his ankle and had an unfortunate first date, but that wasn’t all. To pull himself together he headed for his motorboat and a calming ride but then its steering mechanism locked as he was making a turn with the result that it travelled in circles for ages, in front of an audience on land who thought his predicament hilarious.

“At times we get so rattled by a bit of bad luck that we make things worse,”  Shellenbarger wrote. “A belief that you are unlucky has been linked to deficits in decision-making skills, self-control and shifting from one task to another, according to a 2013 study led by John Maltby, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Leicester in England.”

Shellenbarger described a woman who suffered a ridiculous number of catastrophes ending up with a broken wrist so she couldn’t work. “She took comfort in thinking about her network of family members and friends, who would type for her if necessary. She credits her positive attitude as the reason she’s recovering faster than expected. “Another helpful technique is mental time travel, Dr. Risen says. Imagine yourself in the future; think about how, after the misfortune is over, you’ll have a good story to tell.”

Do you knock on wood? It helps, she wrote, because it, like finding a four leaf clover or carrying something that you think brings luck, will inspire positive expectations “as if you’re shielding yourself from bad luck or drawing good fortune your way.”

What techniques do you use to turn around a spate of bad luck? Do you have talismans or routines that break a spell or help give you back your equilibrium?

 knock on wood

 

Service of Making the Best

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Photo: news.bbc

Photo: news.bbc

Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out,” is credited to three-time All-American basketball player and coach John Wooden. I’ve chosen three examples to illustrate this great quote.

Patrick Donohue

Patrick Donohue

I first heard it at The Christopher Awards last week. If there is one person who took this quote to heart it’s Patrick Donohue who said it in accepting the James Keller Award, named after the organization’s founder. His daughter’s baby nurse shook the infant so violently that she destroyed 60 percent of the rear cortex of the child’s brain. That was 10 years ago. Since then Donohue founded a research initiative as well as the International Academy of Hope—iHope—the first school for kids with brain injuries like Sarah Jane’s and other brain-based disorders. It’s in NYC and he plans to expand to other US cities. 

Father Jonathan Morris, Carol Graham, Major General Mark Graham [retired]

Father Jonathan Morris, Carol Graham, Major General Mark Graham [retired]

Carol Graham and Major General Mark Graham [retired] accepted Yochi Dreazan’s award. Dreazan was honored with a Christopher for his book, “Invisible Front.” The Grahams also illustrate the Wooden quote. The book is about how the Army treated the deaths of their sons. Jeff was hailed a hero after being killed while serving in Iraq and Kevin’s death, by suicide, was met with silence. Today the Grahams work to change the Army’s treatment of soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], to erase the stigma that surrounds those with mental illness and to remind active duty, National Guard, Reserve, veterans and family members that seeking help is a sign of strength. This summer General Graham and associates plan to convert two call centers into one which will be supported with private funding: Vetss4Warriors.com @ 855-838-8255 and Vet2Vet Talk @ 855-838-7481. The keys to their crisis prevention telephone program: Trained peers counsel and advise callers, provide referrals and follow up with them. 

Murray Liebowitz

Murray Liebowitz

Murray Liebowitz is the third example in this post. A stranger to us, we attended his memorial concert at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College last Sunday. A passionate music lover with a special appreciation for Gustav Mahler, Liebowitz paid for the concert–Mahler’s Symphony No. 9–so that it was free to the mourners as well as to the community. He made the arrangements with Bard president Leon Botstein before he died. Tributes in the program described Liebowitz as “modest,” “kind,” “direct,” “generous,” “loyal,” “disarmingly unpretentious,” “delightful,” and “warm.” But he wasn’t always successful. This Bard board member went bankrupt when his first business failed. His New Jersey egg farm thrived until supermarket chains put him out of business. He earned his fortune in his second career as a Florida real estate developer.

Botstein wrote in the program, “Murray Liebowitz was a true gentleman. He was a man who enjoyed enormous success in business but one who never let success in life go to his head. We live in an age where money and wealth appear to be valued above all other achievements. They stand uncontested as the proper measure of excellence. To be rich, it seems, means that one might actually be superior to others. This corrosive calculus is one in which Murray never believed. He was without arrogance.”

Many face personal tragedy, devastating business reversals—and even overwhelming success—and make the best of the way things work out. Can you share additional examples?

making the best of bad situation 1

Service of a Cheery “Hello”

Monday, September 29th, 2014

smiling cashier 4

Wall Street Journal columnist Joe Queenan doesn’t like friendly employees. If he returns to his local drugstore in a day, he resents it when cashiers wish him “a good one” for the fifth time. He expects them to remember that he’d been there recently.

And he wants greetings to be genuine. In “Save That ‘Hello’ for the Next Customer,” he wrote: “Not everyone at the drugstore is equally adept at being ‘spontaneously’ hospitable. A couple of staffers had not said hello to me or anyone else since the Clinton administration, but then one day some manager obviously cracked the whip. Suddenly, they started saying ‘Good morning’ in an android-like fashion, as if they had a gun cocked to their heads.”

smiling cashier 3Some of the cashiers admitted, when he asked, that they’d been instructed to be “extra nice to customers.” He observed that their tone especially grated when he went to the store after a funeral.

He complained that supermarkets give similar instructions to their cashiers who must tell a customer to have “‘a good one’ even if they look like they might smack you.” In addition to insincere employees who are cheery because they are told to be, he dislikes strangers who say “hello.”

He continued, “There are several issues here. Misanthropes—and there are a lot of us out here—think of hyper-effusive greetings as an invasion of privacy, almost as a casus belli. That’s why we like to vacation in France, where you hardly ever run the risk of encountering belligerent conviviality at the retail level.”

Smiling cashiers 1So he could be left alone he wishes that a store’s rewards card could be programmed to indicate to staff that this customer doesn’t like to be greeted with a smile.

I wasn’t able to tell how much of Queenan’s tongue was in his cheek. I complained to management at an upstate gas station convenience store about its belligerent staff because they ignored not only my greeting but me. One of the things I resented was the total silence in reaction to my “hello,” or “good morning,” as well as “might I pay for this please?

Do you like it when retail staff greets you with a smile and happy word or does it rub you the wrong way? How can you tell if a greeting is genuine? Does it matter? Should a cashier be expected to remember that a customer has been to the store several times in a day?

smiling cashier 2

Service of Caring too Much

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

love work

Can a person care too much about the place they work?

Sue Shellenbarger attempted to answer the question in her Wall Street Journal article, “When it Comes to Work, Can You Care Too Much?

She divided employees into “organization lovers” and “free agents.”

Frustrated at workLike any lover, the former can get hurt and become disillusioned. She describes the type in a sidebar as “caring, committed, attached and involved” as well as driven to contribute, to inspire others and play extremely well with team members. Simultaneously Shellenbarger’s summary also portrays them as potential malcontents, prone to get frustrated over things they can’t change and they react “emotionally to employer missteps.”

When BP blundered, wrote Shellenbarger, one of its employees, Christine Bader, quit. “‘The hurt ran much deeper when BP’s problems came to pass, because I was so in love with that company,’ says Ms. Bader, author of ‘The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist,’ a book about how people advocate inside companies for social and environmental causes. ‘My sense of identity was really shaken,’ says Ms. Bader.”

Shellenbarger continued: “Nearly 1 in 3 employees are strongly attached to their jobs and organizations, and their numbers are edging higher, based on a biannual Gallup survey that tracks attitudes common among organization-lovers. Some 30% of employees are ‘engaged,’ or involved, enthusiastic and committed to their jobs, up from 28% in 2010, the survey shows. Women have an edge, with 33% of them falling into this category, compared with 28% of men.”

wtf faceReading Shellenbarger’s description of free agents, I’m not so sure such passionate commitment is an edge. Free agents are, she writes, “detached, calm and self-directed. They leave problems at work, feel more in control and take missteps in stride.” She lists as “cons” that they also change jobs frequently and “can be seen as cynical.” Shellenbarger doesn’t share examples of such employees.

I know where I fit and in typical grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side-of-the-street mode I wish I were more like the other. And you?

 grass is greener

Service of The Only Show in Town

Monday, March 19th, 2012

fingerprint1

When Greg Smith left a much talked-about billet doux on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, “Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” he set off enough tongue wagging that Mayor Bloomberg dashed to the banking institution to give management a supportive hug.

I read and heard some of the conversation.  Take-aways: The company was always known for making money and had no reputation for treating its customers either with kid gloves or kindly. Further, as they are currently about the only investment banking company left standing, companies that need their services don’t have a choice.

flashlight-in-darkI thought of this when a client described his experience at a well known convention center, [not in NYC], where there is only one choice of vendor if you want to light your exhibition booth-an essential for visitors to see what you’re selling.

At some trade shows or art, craft and other events open to the public at convention centers, lighting is part of the exhibit space package, but not at this one.

My client followed the procedure and placed his order by fax, before the deadline. It was worth it: After the deadline, the price for the lighting would increase almost 60 percent.

On the second day of the show, he arrived five minutes before the doors opened as his exhibit was set up. He found a letter from the electric vendor in his booth. It noted that since he hadn’t placed an order, if he didn’t pay for the electricity at the show office immediately, they would turn off his lights.

fax-with-copyWith no minutes to spare before crowds swooped down the aisles, he dashed over and explained to two young men at this vendor’s desk that he had sent a fax with his order-even kept a confirmation that the fax went through. They replied, “That doesn’t mean it went through.”

He said he’d pay but as he’d placed the order before the deadline, he’d appreciate the pre-show price. Not possible. One replied, “It’s not up to me.” Client: “So who is it up to?” Answer: “It’s up to the fax machine.”

The young men went on to say that the instructions stated he should receive an email confirmation. There was no such info on the fax sheet-my client checked on his return to his workshop office–though he admitted it might have been in the online instructions.

“They weren’t aggressively rude,” he noted. “However, they didn’t get it and they didn’t care. They probably know that they are the only show in town.”

My client is a successful businessman and entrepreneur-which describes many of the hundreds of exhibitors at this event and thousands if you count all the others. He is so busy filling orders–and does most everything himself–that he hasn’t had time to lodge an official complaint to the vendor and the show management–yet another dynamic that this vendor and others like it count on. [Perhaps he’ll copy this post and fax it in with a note: “She is writing about YOU,” and that he tells them they are lucky because the blog’s policy is not to bash a brand unless it is in the news.]

This is my prediction: Goldman Sachs and this event’s lighting vendor had best watch their backs. Regardless of unpromising odds, I bet that an enterprising person with a better mousetrap and attitude, such as Fredrick W. Smith who founded Federal Express in 1971, will slip in and knock out Goldman Sachs, this lighting vendor and countless others. Who would have thought, some 41 years ago, that the United States Postal Service would have competitors such as FedEx and the Internet?

Do you know of other companies or services that are the only shows in town that don’t fight to maintain their positions, they smugly take advantage of it? How about those that honor their spot and try to do everything right?

 no-competition

Service of Carrying Things Too Far

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

carrythingstoofar

I thought that the cupcakes confiscated by the Transportation Security Administration officer at the Las Vegas airport over the weekend a bit much. He considered that the frosting fell into the forbidden gel catetory.

In the world of sports, Blue Hills Regional Technical “was leading, 16-14, when Cathedral’s quarterback, Matt Owens, slipped through an opening and dashed for a 56-yard touchdown,” Rea Cassidy Reported in the Boston Globe in “Call in Blue Hills-Cathedral game needs to be called back.”

“Here’s where the rules came into play,” continued Cassidy. “While running toward the end zone, Owens raised his hand, for about three seconds, in celebration. Apparently, Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association rules forbid a player to celebrate before entering the end zone. So, the touchdown was called back, and Blue Hills went on to win.”

shhhhhhhhContinued Cassidy: “We are a society that has so many rules it’s a wonder anyone is allowed to say or do anything anymore.” {The bold emphasis is mine.}

“In the case of this game, the rule was created to prevent taunting and poor sportsmanship. Fine. No one wants to promote or witness poor sportsmanship. So create concise rules that penalize players for malicious or deliberate taunting, rather than for jubilation during the biggest moments of their lives. I don’t want to go to games and watch kids celebrate like timed robots. They are not robots; they’re people,” Cassidy wrote.

president-obamaIn unrelated instances, a few weeks before, there was a spate of school suspensions of small children. One boy was punished for being a racist when he told a friend that a guest speaker reminded him of President Obama; another for sexual harassment because he said to a pal that he thought one of his teachers was cute.

Meanwhile, there are newbie congressmen and women who sit like sticks in Washington, refusing to budge from a strict doctrine when their inaction will hurt the economy, many of their constituents and might even affect the outcome of the Presidential election in a way that isn’t in their best interest. Their closed minds and smug intransigence blind them to the advice of their political leader and many of their party colleagues who are willing to bend for the greater good. Thank goodness someone drilled sense into some of them in the short term but their attitude has infected Washington and the quick fix political antibiotic that just happened won’t cure the patient.

Can you think of other instances of people carrying things too far or am I being too harsh in my examples?

halt

Service of who’s the Boss?

Monday, November 28th, 2011

whos-the-boss

A friend who lives in New Jersey sent me this guest post.

It covers several vivid examples of frustrating civil disservice. In a period of high unemployment, with thousands willing to take the place of the rude, inefficient staff she describes, I wonder how these people keep their jobs. They also seem to have no idea of who the boss is.

She writes:

After the freak late-October storm, the debris from our decimated trees was piled so high along both sides of our narrow road that cars could barely navigate.  I called town hall to find out whether the township would be collecting the debris or if we, the homeowners, would need to find a way to dispose of it. I was told that the township would collect it all within three weeks. 

snowstormThe township underestimated how long it would take to collect the mountains of debris in our hard-hit town.  As our yard services collected leaves and put them in the road for collection, it became almost impossible to drive down our one-way road without damaging the car.  We were among the last in our town to have power restored, so I had hoped we would be among the first to get our branches collected.  A dream, as it turned out.  The county and the towns around us began to clean their streets, but we saw the piles get bigger as more deadfall and leaves came down and were added to the piles.

On the day before the three weeks expired, I came home to find my street blocked.  I didn’t mind because it meant the township was finally collecting the debris.  It also meant that all traffic had to go the wrong way up my one-way road.  So anyone leaving home and heading out the correct way was encountering a neighbor trying to get home and coming the wrong way.  With next to no road left to start with, it was a disaster. 

snowdebrisAt the end of the day, the crew had barely cleaned up in front of the first four houses.  Municipal employees are not known for working weekends, so I assumed it would be Monday before they resumed.  And at the rate they were working, it would take a week just to clean our road.  By then, town hall was closed so I called the police station to find out what information they had.

I got a snippy female desk officer who basically told me that the township was doing this out of the goodness of its heart and had no obligation to assume what should’ve been the homeowners’ responsibility.  So I should just be patient.  She repeated that over and over.   So I lost my cool, developed a little attitude of my own and finally hung up on her. 

The more I thought about what she’d said, the madder I became.  The officer’s attitude spoke volumes about the sense of “us” vs. “them” you see so often in local government.  And she clearly felt part of “us” – meaning municipal government — as opposed to “them” – meaning residents.

The municipal government is not some paterfamilias dispensing favors.  It comprises elected officials, who serve at the will of the residents, and municipal workers, who are hired to serve those same residents.  Their salaries and the costs associated with providing services are covered by the taxes we residents pay.  My township is in Essex County, NJ, which means those taxes are pretty hefty.  The township, then, is us – the people who reside there.  

The whole thing recalled a situation several years back.  One of our neighbors (a serial “flipper” who got caught when the economy headed south) tried to get four variances to subdivide an unsubdividable property. At one of the endless hearings, I found myself making a speech to the planning board members about the essence of their job:  to represent the rights of the many against the rights of the few.  Those of us opposed to the subdivision and what it meant for our neighborhood – the majority of households around the property in question – did not have the sense that the planning board understood that.  All too often lately, it seems that elected officials and the civil (too often uncivil) servants they hire forget who the boss really is:  We, the voting, tax-paying people.

Have you had such an experience with local authorities? Any ideas of how taxpayers can get efficient, cordial service from them? How do taxpayers cajole civil servants to do their jobs and represent their interest? Do you think they realize who the bosses are?

 bad-attitude

 

Service of Matching a Person to the Job

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

job-interview

In a response to a previous post, Mervyn Kaufman explained inadequate service by retail staff by pointing to lack of motivation, inexperience, poor pay and/or little to no training. He especially resents  it when sales associates don’t know their inventory. Mervyn also blamed a store’s cynical management that believes it can get away with such poor performance and maintain business levels. I agree with him.

Short of asking each person who provides lackluster/inadequate service at retail or in a service job or restaurant, it’s impossible to know all the reasons. In some cases the reason is as simple as the wrong person has the job.

office-lobby-reception1In the New York Times “Social Q’s” column, columnist Philip Galanes advised a Houston man who staffs the desk in the lobby of a big building. The receptionist, Joseph Z, told Galanes that it was exhausting when he had to smile, nod or wave back each time someone who’d just passed his desk did so again within minutes. “I’m sure it’s annoying to be cheery all day, but short of a large ‘One per Customer’ plaque, I’m afraid that smile fatigue is simply a peril of your profession,” wrote Galanes. I asked the guard/door person in the lobby of my office building whether it annoys him when people say “hi,” “bye,” wave or smile at him even if it happens within minutes. He said he liked it. I think that Galanes might have told “Joseph Z. in Houston” to get a job better suited to his personality. Maybe he could ask for the night shift.

In another instance, I dropped by a high-end deli near my office to buy a pound of ham. I wanted it cut very thick and held up two fingers, at least a quarter inch apart, to illustrate just how thick. The ham here is baked with bone in and is unrelated to the lumps of pressed meat you see at many delis.  My heart sank when the counterman turned in my direction to weigh a pile of very thin slices. He’d used the slicing machine, not a knife. Did he hear me? Did he understand English? Listening carefully and giving customers just what they ask for determines the success of a place that sells special things and charges appropriately-i.e. plenty–for them. Did the manager check for this trait when he hired the guy, even if he’d had umpteen years experience at a supermarket deli counter?

turkish-food1New York has great ethnic restaurants and many are value priced. I’ve noticed no relationship between the level of service and the price. I’ve enjoyed the most elegant and cheerful dinner service where grilled chicken shish kebab served with rice costs $12. Imagine being a waiter here, standing and walking all day long with enough energy at night to be pleasant when tips, based on a negligible total, won’t stretch far?

Can you think of instances where a person’s personality, rather than or in addition to skill, determines their success or failure at a job?

good-personality

Service of Complaining

Monday, September 19th, 2011

complaints

I touched on this subject in November 2009 in “Service of a Smile” and wanted to take the pulse of how everyone felt the “smile at all costs, let it go and move on, get over it” attitude was doing in the business world and elsewhere after a few years of being battered by the economy, budget and job cutbacks.

I’m not so sure that walking around 24/7 with a glorious smile, as though everything is fabulous when maybe it isn’t, does much good  for a person. True, it’s great for everyone around. There are times when a serious face is in order and I don’t mean just at funerals or when firing someone. Serious doesn’t mean gloomy, angry or grouchy. While most headshots are of smiling faces, some of my favorites show a thoughtful expression.

smiling-salesmanThe exception: sales. Who wants to buy anything from a too serious person [except maybe a surgeon]? You want to feel welcome to spend your money. Another exception: On job interviews. You must look as though you haven’t a care in the world and that you like facing eviction. [Annoying, yes?]

Overall, I haven’t changed my opinion: When something or someone is worthy of complaint or criticism, noting a better way of doing or writing it is not destructive, grouchy or negative. Just whining without offering or working on a viable solution is a waste.

As I decided to write about this topic, so did Cindy Adams in her column in Friday’s New York Post, “NYC’s right to kvetch.” [If there had been room in her headline, I think a more appropriate title would have been “New Yorker’s right to kvetch.”] Adams wrote: “Google defines this as nag, complain, sound off. New York defines it as a local inherited divine right.”

kvetchAdams noted: “In Utah, kvetching doesn’t happen. The reason being, who can they kvetch to? Like a buffalo really cares to hear what your mother-in-law did Friday? And what’s to kvetch about? Not enough lox to go with the Salt Lake?”

And “A guy whose birthplace was Kansas City told me: ‘Cranky New Yorkers always fuss and fume. We don’t do that in Kansas.’ Me: So where do you live? ‘New York.'” Adams also pointed to countries with kvetching populations such as Egypt and France.

Maybe my take is colored because I am a New Yorker and half French.

Do you complain? To whom? Does it make you feel better? Is it a myth that only grouchy New Yorkers are kvetching sourpusses? Have you been able to train yourself so that negative things roll off and don’t bother you? Can you “Keep calm and carry on,” the words on the cover of a notebook I carry in my purse, a gift from friend and PR pro Nancie Steinberg?baby-complaining

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