Archive for February, 2017

Service of Slow Motion

Monday, February 27th, 2017

slow motion

I went to a giant US post office in midtown Manhattan last Saturday to ship a package. Watching the postal workers behind the counters was painful. They moved at the speed of a slug on crutches, as though their bodies hurt, not embarrassed that people in the growing line could see their lack of purpose. They all looked to be well under 40.

Valentine cardI thought of this when on February 18 a friend, CG, sent an email thanking us for our Valentine card that just arrived. It was postmarked February 6. At least it arrived! She wrote: “I don’t know what’s happening to the post office. I sent two Valentines to my sister’s house in California–one for my sister and one for Mom. Although I mailed them inside my local [LI] post office about two weeks before V Day, they still haven’t arrived. I even had the postal clerk weigh them to make sure they didn’t require extra postage. So I spent about $12 on cards and postage–for nothing.” She added: “I ordered a book from an Amazon reseller on Nov 30. It never arrived. Where do all these things go???”

Wish I knew.

PackagesI sent three small packages that were promised for February 15 arrival. One reached Westchester on the 16th. By the 18th the ones to Massachusetts and New Hampshire were still in transit with no activity on the USPS tracking site since the 14th. Not fun typing in 22 digits for a few packages every few days.

On the 18th –still no activity on the tracking site–I called customer service and decided not to wait the estimated 29 to 45 minutes to speak with someone who would no doubt reiterate what I already knew: The packages are “in transit.” So I went to the post office and an obliging young woman disappeared to check online as I’d done, learned what I already knew and told me to file a claim online. More work. Joy.

Postal worker Newman on Seinfeld

Postal worker Newman on Seinfeld

I got busy, it was a holiday weekend, and I remembered to look again on February 21. One package arrived in New Hampshire that day; the other arrived at the zip code “hub” where my friend lives. She reported that it also arrived at her apartment.

How is it that LL Bean can get me a package UPS Ground from Maine two days after I order an item—[and doesn’t charge a cent for shipping]?

USPS tracking screen grabHave you noticed that the less business it gets, and the more technical tweaks it adds, the USPS, once an essential, reliable personal and commercial communications partner, increasingly disintegrates? Do you still use it? When you do, how many days/weeks do you give to get a letter or package to someone on time?

Postal worker with packages

Service of Good and Bad Surprises at a Cash Register

Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

Rude

You find rudeness and grace in unexpected places.

I giggled at an outrageous comment a friend shared because it caught me by surprise. It was made to her by a snarky makeup sales associate for a major brand at a world-famous department store. She approached her counter with a friend and prospective cosmetics customer. In greeting, the sales woman turned to her and said: “I know you. You buy a lipstick from me once in three years.” It was rude and inappropriate and it sounded so New York-y yet it happened in New England.

Cosmetics in dept storeSeveral years before my friend asked this sales associate for a product she’d run out of. It was part of the brand’s new, luxurious line that she clearly didn’t carry. The saleswoman insisted on arguing that it didn’t exist, insulting her–even screaming. My friend concluded: “And the saleswoman has remained entrenched in her position for years.”

In a far less elegant place dealing with items at much lower price points–a supermarket—I had just the opposite experience. On either shoulder I was balancing two giant tote bags filled with my usual zillion pounds of stuff and my handbag. I’d come in for cider and noticed Bonne Maman jams on sale, two for $6. There was a “Closed” sign at one register so I stood in line at the next counter, juggling my heavy cider container, apricot and blueberry jams with my belongings that began to slide from my shoulders.

supermarket checkoutThe cashier on the “Closed” line, who had just finished with a customer, smiled and waved me over. I thanked her profusely, commenting that she was probably worried I’d drop the juice and jams causing a huge mess. “No,” she said, “I liked your face.” Made my day!

Don’t you wonder how the nasty woman in the department store keeps her job? The cashier at the supermarket had been standing all day in far from glamorous circumstances and was cheery nevertheless. How does she do it? Have you similar experiences to share?

 Gracious

 

Service of Why Don’t You Say So?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Say so

Communications is often not our strong suit. The cost? Customers pay the price in wasted time and/or mistakes.

Taxing

I ordered an item online from a high end men’s store and noticed, in checking out, that I was charged tax. For clothing that costs $110 or less, New York residents don’t pay tax. While it wasn’t much, it irritated me that tax appeared on my bill but because it was the last day of a super sale, I approved the order and wrote customer service [which was closed on the weekend].

TaxFirst thing Monday I got a response telling me that they will charge the correct total {without the tax} “when the order is ready to ship.” I was notified, but the tax was still there. So I whipped out another note–thank goodness for cut and paste and email. The correction was made.

Given that the store has a NY branch and that I assume more than one customer orders from NY, it would have been easier to note on the invoice that NY residents won’t pay tax for items under $110. Staff in billing should be similarly instructed….although I suspect that I may be the only one to care.

Check this out

I was having an annual checkup and on arrival dropped into the ladies room to wash the subway off my hands. There was a note warning patients not to urinate if they were having a sonogram. The office offers sonograms in a few parts of the body so out of curiosity I asked one of the technicians whether this directive applies to all sonograms. She said that it only applies to pelvic ones. So couldn’t that one word have been added to the warning?

Do it yourself and guess

USPS self service and binI used the do-it-yourself package mailing system at the Grand Central post office. One of the questions is “Will your package fit in the bin?” which it would. When done, I tried to open the adjacent bin and it was locked shut. So I had to wait in line anyway to find out where to put the stamped package. An exasperated postal worker, who looked at me as though I was dumb, pointed in the direction of a large canvas container on wheels placed well below the counter where nobody would see it with nobody nearby to secure it, either.

Was there a note stating what to do with a package on the bin parked next to the scale/shipping computer? No. Was there a note above the hidden container that collected packages? No. US Postal Service customers take note: Bring along your ESP next time you drop by.

Cross street please

When a business posts its NYC address on its website, if on an avenue, please note the nearest cross street.  I’ve lived in NYC most of my life and I don’t always know this information. [See 666 Fifth Ave and 546 Broadway, in photo below.]

Have you noticed that increasingly few businesses put themselves in their customer’s shoes in planning websites or procedures by anticipating questions or sharing clear instructions in the first place? Do you have other examples?

 Cross street please turned

 

Service of Discoveries

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

DiscoverySharing a few things I’ve learned or noticed within the last week.

Shoe Shine

The Hudson Yards subway station on the number 7 extension over by the Javits Center is buried deep underground so to reach the street you take Subway escalator Hudson Yardstwo very steep escalators. On either side of the moving stairs are one-inch brushes. If I had on leather shoes–even better with shoe polish handy–I could shine them simply by sidling to the left and then right of the step. I wouldn’t try it on the way down–it’s too steep. No doubt the brushes are on all the subway escalators…but they are not new and clean nor is the ride as long as at Hudson Yards.

If You Have to Ask You Can’t Afford It

I received a request to become a member of an internationally recognized NYC museum on an expensive, color 20″ x 6″ card folded in half. Nowhere were membership rates listed. “Is this the latest trend in fundraising?” I thought as I tossed the card, “or a mistake?” Or perhaps they don’t want members who care about cost.

Oh?

GraduationI graduated from the College of Liberal Arts [CLA] of an east coast University and discovered, when filling out a personal information update, that CLA no longer exists.  It’s called the College of Arts & Sciences these days. I mentioned this to a savvy friend and fellow graduate who keeps up on all things and she wasn’t aware of the change. Suggested to the alumni office that they make clear, when asking “which college did you attend?” that they add “formerly CLA” opposite the arts and sciences reference.

Have you made any surprising discoveries lately?

please join us

Service of Mood Change: NYNow and Then

Monday, February 13th, 2017

Witloft leather apron

Witloft leather apron

 

What a difference a market—or six months—makes. It’s as though a shade came down over the gift show—called NYNow—my overall impression of exhibited products was such a dramatic gear shift last week from last August.

I’d characterize what I just saw as visually quiet, matte in texture, mostly natural colors—lots of gray–and booths filled with linen, cotton, wood, ceramics, straw or products made to imitate them. Patterns were tribal-inspired. The few vibrant colors, flamboyant patterns and sparkles jarred.

Last week we were at the farm; last summer we prepared for an elegant party.

Walter GWhen I wrote about my last visit in “Service of What You Might Get For Your Birthday,” I was taken by the abundance of shiny things–highly polished stainless steel, aluminum, copper, platinum and some gold and silver tableware.

The reason for the shift could be timing. In August exhibitors/manufacturers are thinking of winter and holiday decor while a winter market dresses stores with summer goods. But glorious hot days can also call for all things sunny, crisp, clean and bright—they weren’t.

As always I warn that my impressions are made from largely visiting the Home section which represents relatively few exhibitors vs the whole, though I cover the same area year after year.

A few examples.

Fog Linen Work’s aprons, table linens and clothing, designed by Yumiko Sekine Farmhouse potteryfrom Lithuanian linen, epitomize the simple, natural style I described above as do Witloft saddle leather aprons from Amsterdam [Photo above] and pieces of Farmhouse Pottery from Vermont [Photo right].

One company, Couleur Nature Paris, true to its name, offered more than earth colors. It looks to the garden for inspiration but there was nothing glossy about its tea towels, tablecloths, market baskets and glassware.

I’ve previously written about washable, resilient, stretched and tanned paper totes and sacks. This market there were several in this category. The ones that caught my eye were by Bsimple Creations [Photo below, center]. An Italian brand, Essent’ial, featured paper slipcovers, an introduction for ecoitalystore.com.

hapticlab-sailing-ship-kite-white_d246919f-094e-4480-abb4-a4bd3ef17de1_grandeI was charmed by the handmade sailing ship kites in the Hapticlab booth [Photo left]. They were made, according to the website, “in collaboration with Balinese artisans exclusively for Haptic Lab from locally-sourced bamboo and nylon.” You can also display them as a mobile.

Some of Middle Kingdom’s porcelain vases at the show appeared to be a departure from the spring colors on their website. Oversized pieces with a tribal, ikat motif—especially the ones in a curry color—commanded the booth. Walter G’s hand block printed indigo and white textiles, cushions and napkins are designed by owners Genevieve Hewson and Lauren Emerson in Australia and made in collaboration with artisans from Rajasthan. [Photo above, left.]

Honest wood bowls, boards and accessories filled much of the Javits real estate. Peterman’s Boards and Bowls was just one.

The exhibitors hail from around the world. To what do you attribute such a change in mood to inspire this drastic shift in style or am I overdramatizing standard seasonal fashion tweaks and trends?

Bsimple CreationsBsimple Creations’ tote in treated paper

 

Service of Too Good to be True

Thursday, February 9th, 2017

F rated

David Segal, “The Haggler,” wrote in The New York Times about Lola Backlund’s experience with exorbitant shipping and handling fees—almost $50–after purchasing a $10 bottle of furniture scratch remover featured in a late night TV commercial. She estimated that the box might have cost $12 to wrap and send. While the Tarrytown NY marketer of the product claims it will refund money for its products, customers won’t see a cent back for its sky-high shipping charges.

Segal investigated and learned that the Better Business Bureau gave the marketer, SAS Group, an F rating and posted 169 similar grievances. The Pennsylvania attorney general’s office ordered SAS in 2011 “to pay restitution to consumers who said they were overcharged for shipping and handling fees after buying as-seen-on-TV products.” In addition, it “was prohibited from making false and misleading statements in future.” No more promoting a free product when it wasn’t really: Shipping and handling charges count.

SAS returned Ms. Backlund’s money immediately after the Hagglerreturning money intervened. But the point is that they—and others like them—continue to entice gullible viewers with claims of miracle products which may not be [though Ms. Backlund didn’t mention whether the scratches are gone from her furniture] and cheat on the transport charges. By the way, rubbing olive oil into a scratch or stain on wood will often tone down the wound.

We all wish for a phenomenal product that dices and slices, dusts and irons, sews on buttons and makes dinner in 10 minutes for $19.99 and sometimes we fall for the pitch. Have you? Were you sent shipping or other charges that were more than anticipated?

Shipping boxes

Service of a Small World

Monday, February 6th, 2017

228 East 45th Street lobby

228 East 45th Street lobby

Manhattan had 450 million square feet of office space according to a September 2015 article in crainsny.com. Who needs a statistic: Look around and you see plenty of offices. So was I surprised when I noticed two people who also work in my innocuous 18 story office building [photo above] who lived in apartment houses I once lived in. By NYC standards, with from 19 to 30 apartments, they are considered small.

mount vernon nyI mentioned this coincidence to friend and colleague David Reich, who was born, brought up in and still lives in the small Westchester community of Mount Vernon. His wife Roz marvels at the number of people they meet—from Maine to California—each with roots in this tiny city, population 67,292 as of the 2010 census.

Such happenstances haven’t often occurred to me. I was a kid on a vaporetto in Venice with my mother when she waved at a woman I’d never before seen. I think she was a distant cousin and the fluke had such an impact on me that I remember she was tall, wore her dark hair in a large bun at her neck and had a speech disorder as she was deaf, but not her name.

Have you experienced this kind of happy coincidence?

vaparetto

Service of Everything Old is New Again: Automat 2017-Style

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

 Eatsa back wall turned

Dashing down Third Avenue for a morning meeting I passed a business I couldn’t figure out at first glance. Was it a dry cleaner? No—no counter. Laundry? No. No washing machines–though I wondered what that wall of plastic bins were in the back [photo above]. Anyway, a laundry would be a nutty addition to a midtown neighborhood—43rd and Third Avenue–a block from Grand Central Terminal.

eatsa logo turnedI dropped in later to inquire. I gleaned food was the objective. I didn’t see the name, Eatsa, on the window—it’s on a wall inside. Right now pedestrians see only  a logo–a bowl of food with heat radiating from it [like the one on the white shopping bag, left].Eatsa has been open in NYC a few weeks.

Horn & HardartIn fact, Eatsa is a modern-day automat, an early 20th century concept. In the day, food was sold cafeteria-style from vending machines.

I returned at 1:00 and there was a short line that moved fast. Two young women guided people to iPads on stands [photo below, left]. I swiped my credit card, placed my order by tapping my choice and waited for my name to pop up on a screen on the wall. Soon it did and soon again a number popped up, much like the arrival time of a subway, telling me to go to cubby 19. There, in a cubby with my name on it [photo below, center], was my “No Worry Curry”—stir fried quinoa [pronounced KeyNois if you say the nois part like “nut” in French]; egg, arugula, roasted potato, spaghetti squash, pickled onions, red Thai curry, apple cabbage slaw and curried wonton strips. For $6.95 there was plenty for two. My mouth glowed for a while after lunch…the no-nonsense curry. The wonton strips were a wonderfully crunchy addition.

Eatsa ordering on iPadsThe concept was born in San Francisco. Founder, Dave Friedberg, made his money selling a weather data startup to Monsanto. According to Beth Kowitt in her New York Times article, “the tech-driven approach is a means to support a bigger mission: selling nutritious and sustainable food at a reasonable price.” I predict that eventually, the business won’t even need the ushers—everyone will know how to get their food from systems like this as they do their money in ATM machines.

Kowitt reported that automated ordering means he charges 30-40 percent less than Chipotle, his “fast-casual rival.” Because meat has what Friedberg calls an environmental cost, he doesn’t offer it. “Friedberg’s strategy to stay mum on the company’s environmentally friendly and nutrition bona fides comes down to his ambitions to reach more than the wellness and eco-warrior set. It’s a decision that distinguishes him from the rest of the restaurant industry, which is scrambling—and in many cases stretching—to claim its food is ‘clean’ and healthy.”

He’s invested in quinoa and is exploring other ways to make protein efficiently. “Friedberg, a lifelong vegetarian with a degree in astrophysics, then put together a spreadsheet that calculated the net energy to produce all different kinds of protein. His findings showed that quinoa required the lowest amount of energy to produce. It was also a complete protein and required a lot less water and fertilizer than other crops.”

I wonder if Friedberg knows that his first NYC restaurant is a block from where the last fabled Horn & Hardart stood. Until 1991 it was on 42nd and Third. It was late to the table, opening in 1958 when the first one launched in 1912. Then a cup of coffee cost a nickel. For years all the food cost increments of five cents.

The restaurant ushers said how the right food gets into bowls and to the correct bin is a secret nor would they divulge who or what is behind the wall of cubbies–a person? A robot? My name was also printed on the tape that ensured my container of food stayed closed.

What do you think of ordering food this way? Do you predict that fast food will increasingly be sold like this with minimal staff?

Eatsa door with name on it

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