Archive for January, 2019

Service by an Entertainment Company that was the Opposite of Entertaining

Thursday, January 31st, 2019

Photo: supportbee.com

It’s a shame when a company produces a good product and fails so miserably in the customer service department. Our experience with DirectTV is a perfect example. We had fine TV reception for years in the boonies in upstate NY when little else electronically-related worked. When we sold our house and discontinued the service, all hell broke loose. In a nutshell, the staff was poorly trained and had access to zero customer information.

A customer service rep who took the stop-order told my husband to toss the receiver as it was too old to keep. However, he said, “hold on to the plastic card in the receiver.” He’d send a package to our city address, he said, with an envelope in which to mail back the card.

Photo: newsroom.edison.com

Having not received the package, I called and spent 20++ minutes to learn that 1) the package was sent to the wrong address 2) they couldn’t correct the address in the system and 3) they couldn’t send me a new package.

After too many minutes of nothing and being put on hold, customer service person No. 1 told me that in order to make an address change I’d have to speak with three people. As the first two conversations were useless, and after the second one promised to email a document to me to confirm our account was closed, I hung up. Further, he told me to toss the plastic card: Nobody wanted it. [I still have it.]

I never got an email.

I’m nuts about protecting my credit and wanted proof that the chapter was closed. I also wanted to cauterize future bills. As I couldn’t find a place on the website to send an email, nor could I quickly ID appropriate names in a hasty Google search, I wrote Michael White CEO. I wanted a document that said we were officially cancelled.

This week we received a bill for TV service and I called DirectTV to learn what period the bill covered. [The bill said January 15 to January 16 which was silly as we no longer owned the house and $120-something was a bit much for a day.] I spoke with two people, neither of whom could tell me. We paid the bill anyway marking the check FINAL PAYMENT. I think we owed this money and that original bill was lost in the move shuffle.

So yesterday I got an email—and my husband said several phone calls at home—from a “Sr. Manager, AT&T Office of the President.” [AT&T owns DirectTV.] Long story short, there is nothing he can do about the tossed receiver that he said we leased and should have returned. So why wasn’t this noted on our record so that the first person we spoke to about cancelling the service could advise us properly?

The Sr. Manger gave me chapter and verse about the recent bill’s breakdown. How come nobody else could?

He hoped I wouldn’t get a bill for the receiver in future and was sorry that he couldn’t do anything about that.

I replied: “We were prepared to bring the box back to the city to ship it to you and did not because of the faulty information given us. I trust that you will figure out what to do so that we never again are billed for anything from DirectTV. The TV service we had was excellent but your customer service is unacceptable.”

Today I sent him an image of both sides of our DirectTV card [Photo of one side, above left]. I think it’s amazing after a major move that we still have it!

In this digital age, how can so many disconnects happen and so many untrained customer service people be let loose on the public by a major corporation? Everything crucial about an account should be on each screen for all to access. Have you had trouble discontinuing a service and/or been consistently ill advised by customer service?

Photo: vanwiefinancial.com

Service of Refills: Do Consumers Have the Time & Money?

Monday, January 28th, 2019

Photo: pinterest.com

I found fault with the hullabaloo over the so called huge benefits to the environment when businesses announced they were banning  plastic straws in the post “Service of the Last Straw,”—literally too little in the plastic litter wars.

I perked up reading Saabira Chaudhuri’s article “The World’s Biggest Brands Want You to Refill Your Orange Juice and Deodorant–P&G, Nestlé and others try to curb plastic waste; Tropicana in glass bottles, Tide in metal cans.”

Chaudhuri reported: “Refillables once dominated industries such as beer and soft drinks but lost out to convenient, affordable single-use containers. In 1947, refillables made up 100% of soft-drink containers by volume and 86% of beer containers, according to the Container Recycling Institute, a nonprofit. By 1998 those figures dropped to 0.4% and 3.3%, respectively.”

She added that the refill business exists but is niche, done by some grocery stores and entrepreneurs largely

Statewide Refillable Bottles Photo: kcts9.org

in shampoo and detergent businesses.

The trial will include PepsiCo’s Tropicana OJ in a glass bottle and Quaker Chocolate Cruesli cereal in stainless steel. Some of P&G’s 10 participating brands include Pantene shampoo in aluminum and Tide in stainless-steel.

In addition, Chaudhuri wrote: “Shoppers who the companies select for the trial will be able to order hundreds of products—including Nestlé’s Häagen-Dazs ice cream and Clorox Co.’s wet wipes—from a website for home delivery. Products arrive in a reusable tote with no extra packaging. Once finished, users schedule a pickup for empty containers to be cleaned and refilled. They can sign up for a subscription-based service that replenishes products once empty containers are returned. TerraCycle will handle delivery, returns and cleaning.

Photo: pinterest.com

“The products will cost roughly the same as the versions in single-use containers, but users will also have to pay a deposit of $1-$10 per container. Shipping charges start at roughly $20, decreasing with every item added.

“Susan Collins, head of the Container Recycling Institute, said high deposit fees could be a barrier to entry for many consumers. ‘It sounds like it’s only meant to attract the most green, virtuous shoppers,’ she said.

I’d add that customers who look for sales are also out of the loop.

“TerraCycle hopes to bring big retailers on board so that customers eventually buy and return most of the products in store or online via retailers, lowering the project’s costs and expanding its reach,” Chaudhuri concluded.

If shoppers don’t have a doorman or house staff or if they aren’t retired, who will accept the packages and what about ice cream sales shipped in summer? Will the shipping and container costs impact the success of these initiatives? Can we go home again, to the middle of last century, when refills in certain product categories were standard? Will a sufficient number of customers, spoiled by taking three seconds to toss out a bottle or container, make the time to wash out each container and prepare the package to ship it back?

Photo: etsy.com

Service of Running Late: It’s Good for Your Health

Thursday, January 24th, 2019

Photo: feelgood network

I was running late this morning  when I heard Len Berman and Michael Riedel on their WOR 710 morning show discuss an item news reporter Joe Bartlett covered–that people who are late will live longer. Fearing I misheard, I looked up the topic and found Michelle Ganley’s article on clickorlando.com.

Here are highlights. She “found some studies and articles (you know, ‘science,’) suggesting that people who are chronically late tend to see the glass half-full, and they actually have better health — and they might even live longer, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

Photo: debt.com

She wrote: “’Optimism helps people cope with disease and (even) recover from surgery,’ the Harvard article said. ‘Even more impressive is the impact of a positive outlook on overall health and longevity. Research tells us that an optimistic outlook early in life can predict better health and a lower rate of death during follow-up periods of 15 to 40 years.’”

She continued: “Optimism, in turn, also can lead to lower blood pressure, better cardiovascular health, fewer chances of a stroke and lower chances of depression. And all of those factors lead to a longer, healthier life.”

And late arrivers tend to be multitaskers which is a good thing wrote  Ganley .

Photo: bigworldsmallpockets.com

She added information from Inc.com: “’Why Chronically Late People Are Actually More Successful,’ [which] reaffirms that this is an optimistic bunch of people who are intrigued by everything, and quick to find solutions. Again, all good things!”

Ganley wrote this tongue-in-cheek, it seemed to me, and Berman, who clearly has been on the receiving end of hanging around waiting for chronic latecomers, didn’t let the story fly by without sharing his view. He said chronic latecomers disregarded the value of other people’s time.

Do you subscribe to the findings that report it is healthy and maybe even life-extending to be a person who is chronically late? What about the impact on friends and loved ones? As a person who finds being on time a priority–a stressful goal–maybe there is a load of truth here.

Photo: smartwomentravelers.com

Service of No Room at the Bar for Women: A New Kind of Discrimination

Monday, January 21st, 2019

Photo: grubstreet.com

I know men and women who, especially when eating alone, prefer sitting at the bar in a restaurant. Look at the images of comfortable seating that illustrate this post. Clementine Crawford, a well-travelled executive does and during many visits to the Big Apple she sat at the bar at her favorite watering hole: Restaurant Nello on Madison Avenue.

On her last stopover she was told to get up from the bar and to sit at a table. The bar was suddenly off limits to women alone at this Italian eatery–which  is no neighborhood pizzeria. Google touts it as a place “only for Jay Z or Russian billionaires,” which given its reputation for charging $275 for a plate of white truffle pasta is no surprise.

Photo: tastingtable.com

I read Stephanie Maida’s coverage of how this new rule was discovered. She highlighted Crawford’s experience from her essay, “The Night I was Mistaken for a Call Girl.” Quoting Crawford Maida wrote on guestofaguest.com: “‘I perched at my favorite seat at the bar and started to respond to all the emails that had arrived on the flight over,’ she explains. ‘A waiter approached – a familiar face, but oddly hesitant on this occasion. He advised – with evident embarrassment – that I was no longer permitted to eat at my usual spot and that I must now sit down at a table.'”

Men could eat alone at the bar Crawford observed on a second visit.

“Crawford learned ‘that the owner had ordered a crackdown on hookers’ and assumed management believed ‘upscale escorts working the bar lowered the tone of the place and would be less obvious if escorted behind a table.’”

Photo: Verbinet.com

Maida reported “She spoke to an owner, explained that she had been misidentified, and he responded ‘that he could run his business as he pleased, and that [she] was no longer welcome to eat at the bar, only at a table.’”

Having been evicted from my favorite perch I wouldn’t return to this place. This is New York City: We have 24,000 restaurants here, according to one estimate, and I’m sure a few would charge  hundreds of dollars for a plate of pasta to satisfy the insecure.

Restaurant Nello, with its bar rule, has propelled us back to the Victorian era. Was this a clumsy attempt by management to generate publicity? Do you like to eat at the bar? Why do people agree to subject themselves to such arrogance at any price? Have you heard of rules like this in other restaurants in this country?

Photo: lessings.com

Service of Drastic Measures that Saved a Newspaper Section: How Long Can It Last?

Thursday, January 17th, 2019

Sarah Mervosh’s New York Times article about the creative marketing measure The Portland Press Herald took to preserve its regional book reviews intrigued me as much as I worried that the rescue will last only a year. The dwindling number of these sections around the country is appalling and indicative of the poor health of the newspaper industry.

After reading that the largest circulation newspaper in Maine was going to cancel the section, best-selling author Stephen King, known for his horror books, asked his 5+million Twitter followers to “tell the paper DON’T DO THIS,” according to Mervosh. The paper challenged King—who worried that the lost publicity would rob local writers of the ability to buy bread and milk—to ask “his followers to buy 100 digital subscriptions.” They would reinstate the local reviews if he did and they did.

The Press Herald ran with the ball and this Twitter conversation took place with King:

  • TPH: “We’d be willing to bet a retweet by @StephenKing would get us over the threshold.”
  • SK: “Sales pitch? Blackmail? Either way, 71 people have subscribed so far. Are there 29 more Twitterheads out there who want to ante up? just asking.”

Photo: pinterest

The paper’s staff created a deal—for $15 you get a 12-week subscription. Chief exec of the Press Herald‘s publisher Maine Today Media, Lisa DeSisto “credited her employees for asking the community to pay for the journalism they want.”

They ended up with 200 new subscriptions in two days. The paper “pledged to continue the reviews of books about Maine or by Maine authors.” In addition, Joshua Bodwell with the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance raised enough money to pay for ads to cover the book reviews for a year.

This rescue happened as the newspaper reporter hemorrhage in this country continues unchecked. Mervosh wrote “the number of journalists across the country dropped by nearly half from 2008 to 2017, according to the Pew Research Center.” Recently 20 reporters were axed by the Dallas Morning News and almost all reporters are gone at The East Bay Express, she wrote.

A reporter with The Sun Journal in Lewiston, Steve Collins, wrote that it was “encouraging” that people saved local book reviews “But seriously folks, the chief reason to read your local newspaper is you need local news.” He added “Imagine a Maine where you know nothing about anything that goes on. That’s a real horror story.”

Given that most communities don’t count a popular author like Stephen King among their citizens to tout their cause, would such a tactic have legs elsewhere? Would crowdsourcing work for other newspaper sections? Should a community’s residents have to pay to ensure the survival of their favorite newspaper sections? Was the tactic blackmail or business today?

Photo: tulsahistory.org

Service of Questions—Does Google Have All the Answers?

Monday, January 14th, 2019

Photo: Machinedesign.com

Questions, without immediate answers, often pop into my head. Every post has them of course and I’ve also focused on the topic several times before.

Here are some recent ones:

  • How do commuters fill the time and not go crazy when a traffic reporter tells them it will be 80 minutes just to get on a bridge or in a tunnel to NYC during morning rush hour–which happened last week?
  • How do pet owners of average means pay the vet bill when they have more than two love-animals?
  • I’ve lived in a moderate sized house and apartments ranging from very large to moderate size and now I live in a small apartment. Why is it that my husband and I lose as many things in the small space as in the large?

Photo: scmp.com

I asked Mike, a millennial and techy and my office next door neighbor, if unanswered questions like these pop into his head and did he think about the answers. He said, “I Google everything. I’d rather know.”  The child of the Internet added, “Google has never steered me wrong.”

I use Google a lot but hadn’t thought to do so regarding this crop of questions and when I did, it satisfied a third of them.

  • Commuters in traffic: I’d already thought of learning a language or listening to an audio book which I also read about as a result of a Google search. To address the stress I hadn’t thought of wearing comfy shoes as that would be automatic for me before a potentially trying drive, or loosening clothes and stretching before heading home after a difficult day. None addressed how to tackle the surprise of an extra one hour plus to a commute.
  • Pet owners paying vet bills for many pets: I didn’t find a satisfactory answer to my second question though I admit I didn’t spend a long time looking. I read about what percentage of pet owners have pet insurance; How much should pet owners spend on a sick pet; How much is the average vet bill and How much does a dog cost monthly? I suppose the answer to my question is “these owners don’t go to a vet for routine care.” [Our bills upstate ran on average $350 for such care for one cat especially if a blood test was involved.]
  • Losing things in big and small spaces: Results for question number three were equally unsatisfactory. Response categories covered how to stop losing things at home and a prayer to find a lost item to how to find something you love.

What kinds of questions pop into your head? Do you resort to Google for responses? If not, how do you satisfy them?

 

Photo: dogster.com

 

 

Service of Grudges—Helpful, Joyful or Best Forgotten?

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

Photo: livescience.com

A friend fed her hatred of an ex spouse with such vigor it ruined much of the rest of her life. I learned from watching her and thankfully avoided the same pitfall, one so easy to drop into.

Jenny Allen’s Wall Street Journal book review of Sophie Hannah’s “How to Hold a Grudge,” [Scribner], caught my eye and interest. It’s a book about how to handle anger, Allen writes.

Photo: verywellfamily.com

Hannah comes up with 20 grudge types and Allen covers a few. She illustrates one, “Unreasonable Imposition Grudge,” by one friend putting another friend in charge of third friend who is an emotional mess while she’s out of the country. These two don’t know each other.

The “Ingratitude Grudge” is next. Two friends live in a house the parents of one have bought for them. When the friend whose parents did not buy the house take the girls out for a meal, the second set of parents never treat the other girl whom we assume lives rent free. Allen goes on to describe the “Assuming the Worst Grudge,” and the “Ill-Judged Joke Grudge.”

 “I recognized all of these, alas,” wrote Allen. “As I read through them, I found myself going over my own grudges. Then something happened, something Ms. Hannah promises her readers: The grudges started bothering me less. Some were just too ancient, or petty, or based on my too-harsh interpretation of someone’s behavior.” She described a minor grudge she tossed off but noted she didn’t feel better about a deeper one—a friend blabbed she was getting a divorce when she asked him not to. It taught her one lesson: Nobody can keep a secret. [Most of us know that, don’t we?]

“That’s a painful lesson,” Allen wrote. “It also points to the less-than-honest thing about this book: Ms. Hannah assures her readers that examining their grudges will bring not only insight but a kind of joy. Now that her own grudges have been properly ‘processed,’ she tells us, none of them involve ‘a shred of anger or unhappiness.’ I don’t believe it. An incident involving her brother and his crazy-sounding then-wife—he bullies Ms. Hannah, who’s barely moved into her new house, into rooting through all her unpacked boxes to find and hang a picture his wife painted so that the wife won’t get upset—‘permanently affected the degree to which I feel I can trust and rely on him.’ There’s no joy in knowing something like this.”

While Allen says that Hannah’s “resentment stories,” were fun to read because “they remind us of ourselves,” I’m not so sure they’d put me in a good mood. While I like helping others—and myself—out of emotional pickles, reviewing 260 pages of a strangers’ grudges, some of which remind me of things I’d rather forget, is too much sloshing in misery for me. One more time my mother’s saying works for me: “Bury the bone–just remember where you buried it.”

Do you find it beneficial to chew over old wounds and grudges for years or do you prefer to tuck them away and move on so as to clean the slate for a better day? Some grudges creep up and seep into memory though I prefer to recall happy ones and think I’m better off doing so. Acknowledging grudges is fine but nurturing them isn’t helpful or joyful—do you agree?

Photo: treehugger.com

 

 

Service of Some of My Best Friends Have Been Office Friends

Monday, January 7th, 2019

Photo: sheknows.com

I’ve often told the story of an office friend at my first job after college who called in sick for a week and returned to the office with a nice tan. She’d spent seven days in Florida. We worked in NYC and it was winter. I knew her plan and was relieved that the boss didn’t ask me anything about her absence or state of health. I’d never have the nerve to pull such a ruse then or now and wouldn’t have been thrilled to have to cover for her. We were close enough that we attended our respective weddings.

Melissa Dahl wrote “Why Work Friendships Can Be So Awkward” pointing first to a set of ex friends. Why?  One felt betrayed when the other voted against his proposal in a meeting. Another example: friends tired of fixing the mistakes of a pal who is terrible at his/her job.

Photo: nudge.ai

In her New York Times article Dahl quoted Rutgers associate professor of human resource management Jessica Methot, PhD, who said: “You’re co-workers first and friends second.”

Dr. Methot observed that office friends “don’t address problems they have with each other.” She found “One of the problems we see is that people who become closer with each other don’t actually communicate well. We see this with spouses really frequently—they expect the other person to read their mind and we see a watered down version of that in friendships. ‘You already know this about me, do we really need to talk about it?’”

Did any of your office friendships last after you changed jobs? Have you succeeded most easily in the workplace when you made no office friendships? Were you ever placed in an awkward spot involving an office friend? How did that impact the relationship?

 

Photo: express.co.uk

 

Service of a Surprise Ending: Books Win, E-Books Lose

Thursday, January 3rd, 2019

Photo: teleread.com

I wasn’t tempted by e-books. I stare at a computer all day and when reading for enjoyment, I prefer holding a book. Further I can find a comfortable position on a train or in a pile of pillows at home and balance the book on my lap.

“According to the American Booksellers Association (ABA), a non-profit trade organization for indie book shops, its membership grew for the ninth year in a row in 2018, with stores operating in more than 2,400 locations. Not only that, sales at independent bookstores are up approximately five percent over 2017.” So wrote Joshua Fruhlinger in observer.com.

Photo: quotemaster.com

He reported in November 2018 that e-book sales are stagnant. “E-book sales have slipped by 3.9 percent so far this year, according to data from the Association of American Publishers, while hardback and paperback book sales grew by 6.2 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively. During the first nine months of 2018, hardback and paperback sales generated nearly $4 billion combined; comparatively, e-books only raked in $770.9 million.”

Photo: amazon.com

Simultaneously, he noted, Barnes & Noble is limping, even though it put so many of the small booksellers out of business. (Remember the movie “You’ve Got Mail” with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan?) “According to the ABA, the number of independent booksellers increased by 35 percent from 2009 to 2015—the same years that Amazon was pushing the Kindle and Barnes & Noble was pushing its own e-reader, the Nook.”

He added “The numbers are indeed bad: According to Nielsen, 2016 e-book sales among the top-30 sellers were down 16 percent from their 2015 numbers. E-books’ share of all books sold is also on the decline, accounting for 27 percent of total sales in 2015 compared to 23 percent in 2016.”

Alexandra Alter in The New York Times used the word blockbuster to describe 2018 results for book publishers. “Hardcover sales are up, and unit sales at independent bookstores have risen 5 percent.” She mentions three books–“Fear,” “The President is Missing,” and “Becoming”–that passed the million-copy mark. Sales of some books were so brisk that they were out of stock at the height of gift-giving time. That’s not so hot for the authors who lose in both royalties and ratings.

Photo: visitlondon.com

The reasons for the book revival? Fruhlinger attributes it in part to “the simple joy that comes with scanning bookshelves and the subsequent, sensual act of reading an actual book. It seems that of the very few things people want to shop for in-person, books are one of them.” And he feels that hearing of the death of the book industry electrified fans into action.

He’d end up with nothing to read if he’d forgotten to charge his Kindle before a flight and resented that he couldn’t lend a book he loved. Twice he lost his Kindle when he left it behind, first in a plane’s seatback pocket and then plugged in for a charge in his hotel room.

I’d like to add that wrapping and giving a book as a gift is more satisfying than giving a virtual book.

Fruhlinger is a fair and balanced reporter. He wrote about a friend who tears through many e-books a week on his phone which is always with him. “Perhaps after years of e-book hype (and/or fear-mongering), we have finally arrived at a middle ground. When it comes to travel and convenience, it’s hard to beat e-books. But when it comes to a cozy book shop visit on a Sunday afternoon followed by a cup of coffee and your favorite author, nothing beats the real thing. And it appears that after years of experimentation with e-books, many people are realizing the same thing.”

Do you prefer e-books to hardcovers or paperbacks? Why do you think e-books are losing the competition in this all-things-digital-are–super-age? If you’re planning to write a book would you try to publish an e-book or a traditional one?

Photo: pinterest.com

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