Posts Tagged ‘communications’

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 Apology IV

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Sad Dog

I think that Donald Trump has done a disservice to the business of apologies. He doesn’t offer them, nor does screenwriter/film director Quentin Tarantino. Tarantino made headlines because he won’t apologize to the police whom he called murderers.

On a smaller stage, but in the same vein, a friend had a dustup with a major trump yellingdepartment store where clearly, the message about a customer being right or  treated with kid gloves hasn’t reached or been taught to staff.

She wrote:

“I had a horrific customer service experience both online and in the store. What got me was that not a single employee would apologize. Even the in-store person where I eventually picked up my order refused to do so BECAUSE he said the inconvenience and lack of communication wasn’t HIS Fault so he has nothing to apologize for.

“I was on the phone for 25 minutes today to find out if yesterday’s online order, promised for today, had arrived. I never got an email order confirmation, a receipt or a status update.

“The customer service agent kept repeating herself [while providing no information] and finally put me through to the store where I was put on hold at least 3 times. A guy at the store eventually found the order, but wasn’t interested when I said that it took forever for this to happen. He couldn’t explain the delay and wouldn’t attempt to answer why I got no email communication about the order. [The information would certainly have expedited the search and shortened my phone wait–or saved me the call altogether if I’d received an email confirming arrival.]

Not my fault“The same man was there when I picked up the order. I again asked him about the lack of communication and he was very direct in saying he had no idea why there hadn’t been any. He said that the online function has NOTHING to do with the store and that he had no reason to say ‘I am sorry for your inconvenience!’

“I told him it’s a competitive market out there and that the reason there is so much medical malpractice in the country is because it was found that docs won’t say ‘I am sorry.’ (I admit this was a stretch and slightly irrelevant but it happens to be true and I think says a lot!!)”

The recent great experience I had with CVS, that I covered in “Service of Sales Promotions,” is an example of a company that trains its staff to understand that customers don’t want to hear about the differences between online and in store purchases or possible Internet glitches. The store gave me a full return on the online purchase I made in error.

credit card theftI unfortunately had to again deal with my credit card bank–see last week’s post, “Service of Contagious Credit Card Theft,” because when I called to activate my card, it had already been used fraudulently! Seems someone had paid for a $9 massage. No wonder the bank was suspicious: The card wasn’t activated and whoever heard of a massage costing $9?

I hadn’t carried it for one second–it traveled from the company that fulfills credit card orders through the post office to my postbox. When the phone connection was poor, the customer service person–who had nothing to do with the lousy connection–kept apologizing. The one who shared the bad news did so as well.

Do you think that publicity about public figures who never, ever apologize impacts how the public treats one another? Do major department stores have floor walkers anymore who might hear conversations between employees and customers? Why do people find it so hard to say, “I am sorry this has caused you stress?” Do you find that an apology takes the sting out of an otherwise negative situation?

I am never wrong

 

Service of No News is Not Good News

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Photo: dot.gov

Photo: dot.gov

In the time it took us to get home on the 7:06 from upstate NY Sunday night [normally 2 hours], we could have been in London. I don’t blame Metro-North for the downed tree on the tracks. It is culpable of having no emergency plan, exhibiting inertia in extremis, and providing neither communications/information nor safety for its passengers. Goodness knows what they would do if they had to deal with injuries.

Photo: ewashtenaw.org

Photo: ewashtenaw.org

We were whisked off two trains with no explanation other than that only one track was in service. The first train we were on was jammed. Most passengers had suitcases, dogs, cats, bicycles, and packages or some combination.

After the first passenger dumping, when a second train arrived, a trainload of disconcerted people piled in the closest doors. We ran on the platform with our suitcases toward the back where the cars were emptier and we could sit. With many still on the platform—us included–the nasal beeping noise warning that the doors are about to close rang out at its standard time. But the numbers of passengers to embark was many times the usual. The warning was the only sound. Where was a conductor to say: “Please move along quickly but don’t worry, we’ll wait for you all to get in.” Nowhere.

Settled in the second train we were soon shocked when a conductor announced that we must all exit the train at Pleasantville and take a bus to North White Plains. Still nobody said why.

yellow school busThere must have been 1,000 people pouring out of the station on to the street. Eventually we saw three traditional yellow school busses. The scene reminded me of exiting the train station in Venice to access water transportation. In Italy it was also crowded and unnerving but we didn’t wait long and soon we, and our suitcases, were on board a vaporetto.

We confronted a very different situation in Pleasantville. Like Cinderella’s sisters—remember they tried to squeeze their huge feet into the diminutive slipper–hundreds surrounded each bus with hopes that they’d be one of the 45 adults to make it inside. It was survival of the fittest, strongest, pushiest and youngest. Friends who exited the station from a different place reported a woman pulled a man off a bus by yanking at his leg. One said, “I can still see a woman pushing her bicycle onto the bus. She was the first on and there was no room for the bike.”

Between our luggage and the ridiculous, frantic crowds we weren’t going near the mobs to try to get on. A vest like this--not this person. Photo: article.wn.com

I approached a man with a florescent orange vest with RR logo [like the vest in the photo from wn.com, at right–not this person] who was texting in the shadows behind the crowd. I asked what the backup plan was as clearly we weren’t fitting on a bus. He said there were four busses [we’d seen only three] and that it takes 25 minutes to drive to North White Plains. Half an hour later a fourth school bus arrived causing another riot scene. That one left with every inch of space filled with people—even in the aisles–which looked dangerous. The other drivers took the maximum permitted and didn’t leave the station until the aisles were empty. The crowd had become more frustrated by this time and this driver didn’t fight it. 

We spoke with the only police officer we saw. He knew—and did—nothing but said: “I’m here to make sure you don’t kill one another,” and then he walked away. He wasn’t near the mobs.

 vintage train setIn all this time not a chirp from Metro-North. We wanted to know if a crew was working to remove the tree, if someone was scouting up grownup busses with room in the belly for suitcases—anything official. Passengers continued to spill out of trains from up north to face scant transportation with us.

After an hour+ our friend John stormed into the station and down the stairs to the platform followed by Bob and us. He said it was clear that the only way we’d get back to the city was by train. Guess what we found: A train with people pouring out of it because it was changing direction and was now heading to Grand Central. There had been no announcement to alert the passengers upstairs.

I’ve enjoyed and depended on the railroad in many countries as well as here. I am fond of many of the conductors who take our tickets on the Harlem Line. Yet I feel ashamed that a major source of transportation in the NY metro area is as backward and unprepared as this line was on Sunday.

Why:

  • Would the RR accept more passengers from other stations when it couldn’t deal with those already waiting for busses in Pleasantville?
  • No megaphone or intercom updates from headquarters or the employee on location?
  • No local authorities to organize the passengers so we’d have a safe, fair way to get on a bus in a civilized manner?

And, how well could this crew handle a derailment with injuries or other emergency?

Photo: iridetheharlemline.com

Photo: iridetheharlemline.com

Service of Clumsy Communication

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Strong people

The three people who made these errors in judgment didn’t mean to offend—I’m pretty sure. All these examples involve volunteers.

Fifth Choice

Please helpA friend whose career is skyrocketing is counseling a fledgling group in her field pro bono. Several times one of the principals of this company has called and asked her if she can do something for them on such and such a date and when she says, “Yes,” the person replies, “Good. I’ve asked five other people before you so I’ll get back if none of them accept.” She is secure in her talent but found the communication insulting and irritating enough to mention. We now laugh because the situation has happened a few times since we first spoke about it and after the last, she told her contact that she’s done helping them.

Last Choice

panel of womenThen I heard about an organization’s committee co-chair who was looking for panelists among winners of a grant. She approached my friend, a winner, the day before the event, to see if she could participate. My friend knew she was clearly a last choice and said “no.” From the start the co-chair should have asked all the winners to attend—there weren’t that many–see who could come and then select her panel and moderator. The more the merrier: Their mingling before and after the formal discussion would have benefited the other guests who were attending to learn more about the grant.

Choice Words

I often identify the elephant in the room which is unusual these days–has always been in fact–and many don’t know what to make of it. If I’m on a board or a committee, I feel it is my responsibility to suggest a solution when most don’t dare recognize the problem. I know when and how to be deferential and polite and to carefully word what I write or say whether I’m suggesting a different approach or pointing out an error.

mistake 2I was taken aback when a person, in front of a third person, asked me recently to first show her correspondence I was going to send about a mistake someone had made. She said she feared I’d be too harsh. [Common sense taught me eons ago to be gentle when I want something/or a correction. It works.] This was not a client—I don’t make a move without client approval on copy and for decades my clients have trusted me to write appropriately worded missives. I was distressed that this person didn’t trust my ability to distinguish between offline private chatter and communicating with others. I sent the note, copying only those affected by the error—not this person [who was only peripherally involved]. The recipient was extremely apologetic as she realized she’d made a mistake—which happens. She immediately fixed what she could. As for my relationship with the distrusting person, my mother used to advise, “Bury the bone but remember where you buried it.” I’ll give it a try once again.

What causes some to take down others unnecessarily? Is it thoughtlessness? A feeling of power? A case of foot in mouth disease? A misunderstanding of the dynamic in a volunteer relationship? Have you been the target of such insensitivity? Then do you forgive–how many times–or walk away?

Volunteers

Service of Updating Information

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

 

Checklist 2“Beadwildered” in New Jersey wrote me to share her recent experience at a small store – an incident that gives major clues to why, apart from the major changes in retail and the stress of having to close a business–this one hit the skids.

Central to this tale is the lackadaisical way in which some update business information on websites, which ends up frustrating potential customers and wasting their time. Reminds me of the NYC hotel at which a friend booked a room over the Internet. Only by luck did I call the place before she arrived to learn that it was no longer in midtown, [which was essential to her stay].  I can’t blame it on the web either. The days of print-only weren’t much better. Arriving at movie houses in NYC only to learn that the movie was no longer playing or the showtime hours were incorrect taught me: Call before going.

This is what Beadwildered wrote:

Beads on black dressI needed to buy some small jet beads to replace beading that has fallen off a cocktail dress.  Once upon a time, they were easy to find at a fabric or craft store.  But try finding a fabric store in the suburbs anymore. And the craft stores are all big-box stores out on the highways.  As it happens, I do have a local fabric store, but the owner said he can no longer get small packets of beads. He recommended a bead store three towns away. 

I looked at the website and the photos showed packets of beads.  While I drove the 20 minutes to the store it began to pour. When I got to the store, it was partially dismantled. 

A woman inside came to the door to find out what I wanted.  “I hope you’re not closed after I drove all this way,” I said. 

“We’re closed for good,” was her reply.  But she reluctantly let me in out of the rain. 

“Hadn’t you seen the sign? It was up for 19 weeks,” she said in a very disdainful manner.

“I live three towns away and rarely get over this way,” was my defense.  I drive out this way once in a while, but this is not the kind of store that stands out and catches your eye. 

Bead storeI told her what I was looking for, mentioning that I’d seen packets of beads on the website and didn’t think to call as a result.  “We haven’t had those in years,” she snorted.

She reluctantly let me poke around but kept saying I wouldn’t find what I needed.  As I looked, I commented that it must be hard to run a bead store in today’s world.  She indignantly said she’d been in business for 19 years but it was done now. 

Finally, she asked if I had a sample and I showed her one of the beads I was trying to match.  She snorted more loudly that they had nothing of the kind.  

As I went back out into the downpour, I reflected that if she’d always been this nasty and arrogant, she did everyone a service in going out of business. Granted, since she was no longer selling I no longer qualified as a potential customer.  But how hard would it have been to be nice?

Store closing signThe bead store owner had 19 weeks to note on her website that she was closing the store. Depending on one vehicle of communication–a sign–is never enough. And she obviously didn’t update the information on the web if she hadn’t carried the featured bags of beads for years.  In addition, the advantage of a small business is service. Granted closing a business that’s been in your blood for almost two decades is tragic. Beadwildered might not have thought twice about the inconvenience of her fruitless trek had the owner broken down to lament the loss or apologized that she’d gone out of her way for nothing. 

Retail is grueling, even when a business thrives. Retailers have nerves of steel to survive the whining and bilking that some customers depend on to chisel and defraud businesses big and small.

Are you acquainted with small retail businesses that flourish or any that have closed in large part for reasons they cause? What are some businesses that do a remarkable job of updating their communications with customers? 

Communication skills

Service of Boring Academicians

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Professor 2

Wall Street Journal columnist and behavioral economist Dan Ariely answered the query of reader Rachel who among her questions asked: “How can experts be so bad at explaining ideas to others? Is this a requirement of academia?”

Professor 3Ariely’s reply was a bit longer than this, but the crux: “…..when we know something and know it well, it is hard for us to appreciate what other people understand. This problem is sometimes called ‘the curse of knowledge.’ We all suffer from this affliction, but it is particularly severe for my fellow academics. We study things until they seem entirely natural to us and then assume that everyone else easily understands them too. So maybe the type of clumsiness you heard is indeed something of a professional requirement.”

What happened to “know your audience and speak/write accordingly?” Letting academics off the hook like this smacks of condoning laziness with a dash of arrogance and a pinch of smugness. Either that or it translates to “don’t invite academics to speak with anyone outside their specialty,” which would be a shame.

Sometimes it’s the listener’s fault, not the speaker’s. Perhaps they don’t relate. I wasn’t in college long before I discovered what’s obvious: A professor who is dry as burnt toast to some is a fascinating lecturer to others. We all have our Dr. Blackwell. He was a typical absent minded professor who walked into walls, was awkward and long-winded and drove most of my classmates nuts. I found his words riveting and his clumsy ways charming.

Leon Botstein 2You can fill a thimble with what I know about music and yet I understand what the president of Bard College, Dr. Leon Botstein—also a conductor and scholar—says when he lectures an audience at one of his concerts. No doubt he covers different ground in a class of musicians. Botstein, [photo left], an academician if ever there was one, was president of a now-defunct college at 23 and joined Bard in this role before he was 30. He’s now 68.

Do you think that Ariely lets academics off too easily or do you agree with him—that they are what they are, live with it, amen. Do academicians feel pride in not being understood?

Professor 1

Service of Eye Contact: 60% of the Time Has Impact

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

EyeContact

A client’s first radio interview took place at a tiny station without an engineer so after saying “hello, have a seat,” the host/acting engineer apologized, turned her back on my client and conducted the interview without once turning around to face her because she was also operating the equipment behind the desk. That was an unnerving and extreme example of no eye contact.

Who thinks much about eye contact unless someone exhibits unusual behavior? A former client had the attention span of a gnat that his roving eye gave away. I never met with him unless I could spit out my question or comment in few words as his eye would soon wander to others in a room filled with people. If we met in his office he’d be distracted by whomever was walking down the hall.

We worked together long before smartphones and “FOMO” that Sue Shellenbarger described in “Just Look Me in the Eye Already,” in The Wall Street Journal or he, too, might have been diagnosed with Fear of Missing Out, one of the reasons people are glued to their phones. Staring so long at a device makes it uncomfortable for some to look at another human, much less in the eye.

Quoting Quantified Impressions she noted people should make eye contact 60 to 70 percent of the time, but that on average adults do so from 30 to 60 percent.

See eye to eye 3“Yet eye contact can be a tool for influencing others. Looking at a colleague when speaking conveys confidence and respect. Prolonged eye contact during a debate or disagreement can signal you’re standing your ground. It also points to your place on the food chain: People who are high-status tend to look longer at people they’re talking to, compared with others, says a 2009 research review in Image and Vision Computing.”

Wrote Shellenbarger quoting Ben Decker of Decker Communications: “People who avert their gaze too soon, or avoid eye contact altogether, are often seen as ‘untrustworthy, unknowledgeable and nervous.'” Decker also remarked that “Too much eye contact can cause problems, too. At work, holding eye contact for more than 10 seconds can seem aggressive, empty or inauthentic.”

In captions the writer describes “The Table Talker,” “The Laser Gazer,” “The Drifter” and “The Faker” and what impressions others get from each,

Have you been flummoxed by awkward or nonexistent eye contact? Does it ever occur to you that a person may have vision issues? Do you think a parent or guardian teaches, “Look Mrs. X in the eye when you shake her hand,” or is it something humans pick up naturally by imitating others?

See Eye to Eye

 

 

 

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