Archive for the ‘Training’ Category

Service of Disregarding the Obvious: Laziness, Stupidity or What about Disengaged Travel and Real Estate Agents?

Monday, November 20th, 2017

Photo: business insider

News of two incidents fell into my lap at once involving agents, one travel, and the other real estate. Both could have caused costly inconveniences.

  • The first customer immediately discovered the omission made by the travel agent yet the agent fought tooth and nail not to fix it.
  • Luckily, in the second instance, the customer found the alarming basic oversights of the real estate agent before damage was done.

 Up, Up and Away–Almost

Photo: 123rf.com

A well travelled friend, Mary Joyce Smith–not her real name–has used the same travel agent for decades but the semi-retired expert was out of town when she needed to book a flight to Japan via LA. So instead Smith used a nationally known agency and was dismayed by the lackadaisical, inadequate service.

The tickets and itinerary came back with the name “Mary Smith.” Her middle name was missing. She asked for the addition of Joyce. She wanted her documents to match the name on her passport and official documents, especially important when travelling internationally in an age of hacking and stringent Homeland Security measures.

The agent told her, “I called Japan Airlines and they say it doesn’t matter.” [In the time this took, if she really called the airlines, she could have done what had to be done to add “Joyce.”]

More important: it mattered to Mary Joyce Smith, the kind of customer you want to have because she flies thousands of miles a year. She didn’t want the omission to delay her at airport security but really, she was the customer and the reason should not have mattered to the agent..

After numerous calls through “press one, press two” hell—she reached a supervisor who asked, “Why would they have left off Joyce? Of course it should be on the documents.” Nevertheless she received yet another email from the original agent who clearly has a hearing problem when it comes to customer requests. “The missing middle name doesn’t matter,” she repeated.

I was with Smith when she got this message and knew something was up as her lips tightened, her cheeks became slightly red and she rolled her eyes in irritation.

Open and Shut Case

Photo: thebalance.com

Another friend is selling his weekend house. On his return after a Sunday showing by a substitute real estate agent, he discovered one of the doors was left wide open to the elements, uninvited wild creatures great and small as well as humans. She also left lights on all over the house. What if he hadn’t returned until Friday?

The usual agent said she’d given strict instructions to the substitute—such as that the owners aren’t there during the week. But did she have to also tell the woman to close doors and turn out the lights? You wouldn’t need to go to real estate school to know this.

Why would someone in a service business fight a customer so hard when a fix is simple? How could an agency put a flake in charge of the security of a person’s home? As for both agents, is their approach due to laziness, stupidity or are they disengaged and in the wrong jobs? Can you share examples of fabulous agents?

Photo: thegrindstone.com

 

 

Service of Hardware that Computes In or Out of the Closet

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Midtown Outside turned

I visited a big box hardware store on Third Avenue near Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan looking for shelf brackets and flat shelves to fit two styles of tracks already installed in a closet. The perfectly pleasant associates I flagged down did their best to help but not one, on three visits, knew anything about the options. I bit the bullet, bought heavy shelves and brackets, dragged them home and was 50 percent correct in my bracket choices. Now I have brackets to return.

Hardware Brackets turnedI next visited a small hardware store a block from my office—Midtown Hardware, part of the True Value cooperative. I showed the cashier my photo, he sent me to the last aisle where there was only one bracket left that matched the snapshot. An associate jumped on a ladder and pulled down a box and found more. The cashier said, “Don’t be disappointed if these don’t work—there’s a chance you know. But at $1.30 each, you’re not risking much.” They were a perfect fit. My time in the store? Less than five minutes.

The brackets cost a fraction of those at the big box.

Wall clips for mop holdersI didn’t mention that on one of my forays to the giant emporium an associate, poised to direct customers, sent me to the very back of the store for wall clips that hold mop handles. I couldn’t find them and an associate in the department said they weren’t there, but she knew where they were so I followed her the equivalent of a city block, back where I’d come from in the first place. We roamed a few aisles, never finding the clips and as I had to leave, I thanked her and told her I really didn’t need them.

Back at Midtown Hardware, I asked Pedro the manager how he seemed to have everything a person would need in space smaller than a single department at the big box. I’d been to this neighborhood store over the years but couldn’t imagine that they’d have something as space-hogging as shelves or I’d have gone there in the first place. They had shelves too. [They were priced quite a bit more than the big box’s but the time and anxiety saved would have been more than worth it.]

Hardware inside turnedPedro’s secret? “If enough customers ask for something, we try to get it—especially if they are repeat customers,” he said. “We hire people who know how to do the work. They fix things around their own homes.” At almost any time of day, you’ll see an associate explaining a procedure to a shopper. In addition to retail customers, superintendants from miles around buy there.

And wall mounted clasps to hold mop handles? “They’re over there,” pointed Pedro.

An aside: the home improvement chain hasn’t suffered a whit. Its second quarter sales jumped 4.7 percent and profits are up 9.3 percent, so what impact did my experience have? Clearly none.

Do you buy the things you need from small gems like Midtown Hardware even though some of their prices may be higher than the big boxes or are these stores all gone where you live and work? Do you think the big boxes are better suited to customers who know what they are doing, not weekend do-it-yourselfers–people like me–who don’t have much of a clue?

Hardware another turned

Service of Coming Clean: Verizon and Laundry Card Supplier Make it Impossible

Monday, November 24th, 2014

 smart card in machine

Lots of apartment houses have laundry rooms and before the washing machines were retrofit to accept cards–a blessing–we had to collect countless quarters to wash and dry. It was nerve-racking.

It’s easy to fill the cards. You slip a credit card in a terminal on the laundry room wall, type in the amount of money you want to add to the laundry card and you’ve fed it.

This works if there’s telephone service.

Verizon has been unable to fix the building’s telephone since October 17. On that date building management was told it would be up and running by November 8. Now the fix date is November 20-something. Today is November 24–the building still has no phone service.

laundry smartcardAs my laundry card had run out of funds I explained this no-phone situation to someone at the laundry card company and asked them to take my credit card number and whisk me another card with $25 on it. A very polite person told me she couldn’t take this info over the phone. She said to mail my card to them with a check for the amount of money I wanted on the card, with a letter telling them what to do. Tick, tick, tick [will they wait for the check to clear or until they have 20 cards to make before cutting mine?] and the pile of laundry is mounting.

I know what you’re thinking: “So go to a Laundromat!” There isn’t one in our neighborhood anymore. There’s a restaurant where one used to be.

laundry smartcard 2You might wonder what happened: Did we get back the card? Yes.

Does it work? No. Calling it a smartcard is a misnomer.

We discovered this with three week’s laundry distributed in three washing machines. More phone calls. More time wasted. When I called for the second time on Friday, the voice on the phone told me that they don’t take checks and asked why I didn’t give my credit card.

And now we’re out the money that was left on the card that we sent for refill plus the $25 on the check.

In this day of high speed everything, I find this snail’s pace Verizon performance to repair a commercial line and the confusion, lack of training and inefficiency of the laundry card company incredible. [Do they realize that they are losing money if people can’t store money on their cards and use their washing machines?]

Have you been inconvenienced or flummoxed lately by technology you can’t access?

 piles of laundry

 

 

 

Service of a Timely Partnership: Tourneau Just in Time

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

watch 4

Sohpia Hollander’s story, “Time Tinkerers: Finding a Future Repairing the Workings of Watches,” she wrote about students who are saved by a time-honored profession: Clock repair.

A partnership program between a school for kids who’ve not made it in traditional high schools and the Tourneau Repair Center in Long Island City trains the students. Of 25 from the Manhattan Comprehensive Night and Day High School who finished this program–twice a week for two months–Tourneau employed six. Hollander quotes one student who “couldn’t focus and felt embarrassed asking questions or speaking in groups, he said. ‘I felt I was a kid with a hoodie on his head,’ he said. ‘I thought I didn’t have much to say.’

“But seeing the inside of watches sparked questions, he said. He was astonishedwatch 2 by the sheer number of parts. He found a new ability to concentrate as he tinkered with the tiny pieces. Understanding watch innards has become as addictive as a new videogame, he said. ‘Now I can take something that’s broken and fix it,’ he said…. ‘It’s a good feeling to solve other people’s problems.’”

Hollander reports that watch sales and production are brisk but that there are only six repair schools today as compared to 50 in 1955. She quotes Terry Irby, technical service director at Tourneau who told her that “If they didn’t make another watch, I think there’s enough work for another 50 years.” He admits there aren’t enough watchmakers. Where Irby works, some of the watches are in the $36,000 range. You’d want to take good care of such a piece.

Hollander continued: “Pablo Gonzalez, 19, enrolled in the program’s first class last spring. He was flunking his courses, clashed with his parents and hung out ‘with a bad group of kids,’ he said.

“‘I was really going downhill,’ he said. ‘Everything was going wrong.’ But he found peace in the three-dimensional puzzle of hundreds of miniature watch pieces. He began experimenting with other activities, learning how to play handball and rediscovering his love of skateboarding. ‘It makes you confident about what other things you could do,’ said Mr. Gonzalez, who was one of the first program graduates hired by Tourneau.”

Do you know of other such programs? Do you agree that while small, this apprenticeship approach, multiplied by businesses around the country, could have the kind of impact we need to get back on our economic feet?

watch 5

Service of Details II

Monday, October 6th, 2014

locking front door

Lots of my posts involve details—some that are missing and others I admire.

With all the news about Secret Service staff that forgets to lock the White House front door, lets any old person—in fact anyone–in the same elevator with the President and doesn’t immediately notice gunshot holes on the President’s home/office, and hospital emergency room staff that dismisses a sick patient who’d just returned from western Africa, it was time to again write about the subject.

I heard security pundits talk on WABC radio and NPR, to name two places, and in answer to “how could such mistakes happen?” both mentioned how underfunded the Secret Service is. It doesn’t cost a cent to lock a door, ask extraneous people to wait for the next elevator when the President heads towards one or to use one’s God-given eyes to check out a landmark building for gunshots. One bullet was in a window. It wasn’t seen for four days.

pick up the phoneAs for the Dallas hospital, seems nurses and doctors use a different electronic charting system where the patient with ebola was sent home. Would you leave to chance that a client or boss saw something on a chart—electronic or traditional–as important as a sick patient who had returned from a country where the ebola virus is flourishing? Communication people! Get out of your chairs or pick up the phone and speak to each other.

While some overlooked these crucial details, others gloried in attending to every one.

  • On my walk to work in Manhattan last week I passed a man by the window in a dry cleaning store leaning over a white shirt, tending to stains with meticulous care.
  • In a spotless apartment building a new employee did something to the hall floors that brought up a shine unlike any we’d seen in 10 years.
  • Merchandising in some stores is a joy to revisit, such as Cursive in Grand Central Station, Lyme Regis, Ltd. in Kent, Conn. and Lilli and Loo in Hudson, N.Y. Wizards select and place enticing treasures in eye-catching displays and are never caught off guard.

    Cursive at Grand Central Station

    Cursive at Grand Central Station

It’s ironic that these three examples are in non-essential, life-saving situations.

How does an employer best get the message to employees that how they do their jobs may be crucial to the survival of others and/or the business that pays their salary? Is attention to detail and common sense something a person is taught at home, in school, at work or are folks born with the gene?

Get the message

 

Service of What Were They Thinking II: Tour de France Spectators, Cross Training Flight Crews & Retail Missing its Target

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

tour de france 2014

This batch was far too easy to collect—a bad sign.

Selfish

“‘The worst thing is when people have got their backs to the peloton taking selfies,’ he said.” The he is professional racing cyclist Geraint Thomas; they are British spectators at the Tour de France in the stretch between York and Sheffield. According to guardian.com, Thomas continued, “‘I had a few of those and they don’t see us coming and are stood in the road and it is very dodgy.”

He “described the thousands of people attempting to take pictures of themselves as the peloton rode past as ‘the new pain in the arse’ for riders.”

Imagine being a cyclist who is derailed after all those years of training by bumping into a self-centered klutz taking photos of him/herself.

Train Crew to Move Air Passengers

airport checkinColleague David Reich boarded a flight from Austin to Dallas when passengers were asked to disembark while ground crew fixed a leak. He and many of those on board had a connection to catch. By the time he got out and saw one harried airline ticket agent and a daunting line of passengers looking to get out of Dodge…I mean Austin… he walked through the airport until he found an agent with no line.

He asked her why someone hadn’t assigned help for that agent in the boarding area outside the beached plane. Answer: Cutbacks. As airline management, wouldn’t you cross train flight crews so that while one helps passengers exit the plane the others might immediately pitch in to reroute them?

Lost in Transition

Paper napkins platesI scanned the aisles of my favorite discount store in search of the paper section that housed cards, wrapping, and party accessories until I found it. It had moved and the festive paper plates and napkins hadn’t journeyed with it. After an unsuccessful look in the sections housing food, cookware and tableware, I asked an associate hanging out in the paper area for help and she seemed so proud to say that she’d put them all in the checkout area. This bit of unrealistic creativity almost lost the place a large sale while gaining a frustrated customer.

Not on Target

Target foodTarget was such a fun place to shop—and then it wasn’t and its profits plummeted along with traffic and morale. Paul Xiobro and Serena Ng analyzed what happened in “Retailer Target Lost its Way Under Ousted CEO Gregg Steinhafel.” In digest form Steinhafel eliminated what made the company successful: He replaced creative leeway with “rigid performance metrics” and “mired [management] in a new thicket of bureaucracy.” He turned a company with hip image and cool products into a Wal*Mart wannabe.

They wrote that “‘the chain ‘lost a lot of what used to make it unique,’ says Barclays analyst Matthew McClintock. ‘There haven’t been exciting reasons to shop at Target in recent years.’”

In addition, according to the reporters, the store no longer took risks with new products—instead it increased food options–and rather than practicing its former visionary merchandising skills it sold the best shelf space to those who would pay most. It cut back worldwide trips by trendspotters and took years to implement essential initiatives such as store pickup of items ordered online. A test to add mannequins to the merchandising mix took months, wrote Xiobro and Ng.

Self-involved behavior and shortsighted, uncreative management decisions are formulas for a crash if not failure. What were they thinking?

Mr. Magoo 2

Service of What Doesn’t Have to Be

Monday, January 6th, 2014

slipping on ice

Walking around Manhattan a day after last week’s snowstorm some sidewalks were so clean they could have been in Arizona and others slippery and treacherous; some crosswalks had six to eight inches of ice water and slush that stretched into the street more than a healthy leap, [with slick pavement ahead], and others are merely moist.

There was no reason or consistency for the inconsistency, but the danger doesn’t have to be. Which got me thinking of similar instances.

Observant Waiters

waiter in dinerMy nephew eats out a lot. He’s easy-going, a generous tipper and he remembers names of restaurant owners and wait staff and they know his. 

However, when a waiter tries to take away his plate too soon–or that of his guest–his teeth grind. When he asks the waiter to leave the plate alone it’s obvious that he’s aggravated.

Waiting until everyone is finished before clearing may not be the kind of etiquette taught at a neighborhood diner, but pleasing a regular should be tops on the lesson plan. Watching the reaction of diners is an efficient training tool so customers need not be irritated.

Take Back that Name

Cook your ass offDan Barry wrote a very funny “Loose Ends” column, “One Cooking Show You Shouldn’t Try at Home,” in The New York Times. The name of the new show that gave Barry a chance to share a bunch of guffaws: “Cook Your Ass Off.”

Wrote Barry: “Now, to be clear, we are not talking about one of those community-access channels featuring an endless scroll of the local senior center’s lunch menu, or a man interviewing himself in his paneled basement.” The show is on HLN which is part of Turner Broadcasting Systems’ Cable News Network.

Turner’s spokeswoman told Barry “It is really supposed to be a playful, entertaining spin on the cooking competition concept…It’s a little tongue-in-cheek.”

I think it’s sophomoric and the result of lazy writers.

Cop Traffic

traffic jamI was caught on a NYC Third Avenue bus in tremendous traffic on a Thursday afternoon during the Christmas rush lugging very heavy packages. A 10 minute ride took over an hour as the bus cooled its heels, along with hundreds of cars and taxis, near no handy subway stop.

Anyone who has been to the city at Christmastime is thinking, “So???? What’s so surprising?” This traffic jam should not have happened. It occurred because people from all lanes on the wide avenue were turning right onto 34th Street and the traffic policeman at the cross-section seemed oblivious to his job—to control the flow. An illegally parked car on the avenue right in front of him added bottleneck to the paralysis.

There are so many things that don’t have to be. Can you add some?

Plus sign

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 Pets II

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

purebred-dog

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?

policedogs

Service of Practice

Monday, June 13th, 2011

high-school-soccer

Rick Wolff, host of WFAN’s “The Sports Edge” on Sunday mornings, interviewed Paul Tenorio of The Washington Post about high school soccer the other week. In comparing US and European youth sports programs, it’s clear that here, the emphasis is on playing and winning, not on practice. European youth soccer teams clock in at about three practices a week to one game, they said. The inverse is true for young soccer players in this country.

Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” isn’t handy so I turned to Wikipedia which describes the author’s 10 thousand hour rule. “Throughout the publication, Gladwell repeatedly mentions the ‘10,000-Hour Rule’, claiming that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours.” I agree with the practice part. That’s about five years working a 40 hour week.

communicationsI’m a believer in on the job training but the smartest office workers and best athletes need to perfect some skills and learn the rules of a sport or culture of a business even in something as obvious as person-to-person contact. Regardless of the burgeoning number of ways we have of contacting one another these days, we don’t always do so. Many students in university mentoring programs and the members of industry association committees who have recently graduated–even those who’ve majored in communications–would be given a D in responsiveness and follow through. There are exceptions and the careers of these young people are soaring.

If nothing else, a person needs to learn to listen, follow instructions and remember them to successfully complete the simplest task. It can take a while, less time with practice.

I just dropped off and picked up dry cleaning at an outpost in a rural area. A senior staffer was showing the ropes to a young-woman-in-training. The nubie will be in charge of this drop-off store and alone. Jen, who preceded her and was fabulous, worked there for over three years. Jen just moved to Seattle with her boyfriend. She told me that she didn’t know how to use a computer, but she never made a mistake inputting our jackets, coats, slacks and sweaters to the dry cleaner’s computerized cash register that spun out descriptions of our clothes along with the price.

What’s the rush to play before we have basic skills? Do we have no time to train or to practice whether in sports or at work? Does this approach affect the quality and expectations of our young athletes and workforce?

rushing

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