Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Service of Why Offer What You Can’t Deliver?

Thursday, February 1st, 2024

This package takes up little room. How can a drugstore run out?

We had our share of shortages during the pandemic. It’s a puzzle why some still exist. It’s also a mystery why a company that promotes a service isn’t prepared to immediately repair an obstacle preventing its delivery.

Nothing to Sneeze At

I was baffled that I couldn’t find pocketsize tissues in any of the drugstores near me and had to order some online. Given the gargantuan size of the OTC cold and cough meds market–$11.11 billion anticipated in the U.S. for this year according to statista.com—you’d think the stores would be prepared for dripping noses.

Those empty shelves are not a question of tight inventory control. Smart shoppers who want a holiday-related item like cute Valentine’s or Halloween decorations grab them fast these days or go without because retailers–smartly–don’t want to be stuck with leftovers. However, once the height of flu and cold season is past, we segway into allergy-related sneeze fests that keep Kleenex shoppers coming back for more.

Don’t Pass the Popcorn

I decided that Saturday was a perfect one to rent from Fios a movie I’ve been looking forward to seeing available on Demand. To navigate to Netflix on my Fios system I must first bypass Demand’s lively promotions for its movies for rent or purchase [see the photo below]. After countless attempts to download my choice and three quarters of an hour on the phone with Verizon I learned that the glitch had to be fixed internally. ETA of the repair? Monday at 9 PM. Three days?

I called Verizon when at 9 PM Monday I still got the “Oops.” I went through the rigamarole to finally reach a customer service person and was disconnected. My mood didn’t improve when I had to go through the entire thing again with no opportunity to skip the drill and type in the number of my ticket to get an update. The person I spoke with warned me not to call again until Friday to give them time to fix the glitch. It was repaired late Tuesday afternoon. I loved the movie which I watched Tuesday night: “The Holdovers.”

Are you surprised at what’s still missing from store shelves or how long it takes for a corporation to fix an error halting use of a revenue-generating service?

Service of Confidence

Monday, December 4th, 2023

Greeters at the first Society of Illustrators Craft Fair were welcoming and showed plenty of confidence.

I attended an annual meeting of New York Women in Communications last week. A panelist, Joanna Coles, said something I’ve heard or observed before that nevertheless resonated. The former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan and Hearst’s chief content officer from 2016-2018 pointed out the difference between men and women when, for example, technology, during a presentation, goes splat. A man might say, “that f-ing thing is broken.” A woman might get all flustered and mumble that she is terrible at all things technical.

I noticed a close cousin of that insecure behavior at the first holiday craft fair at The Society of Illustrators in NYC on Saturday. It took place in the society’s charming East 63rd Street townhouse. Most of the tabletop displays were staffed by women. I stopped by each one over three floors. Some female artists greeted me or smiled. Most sat silently on their chairs behind the tables or ignored me as they adjusted something in their display. Yet every man engaged me in conversation. Whose work do you think I remember most?

Just saying.

Are you surprised that these examples of reticence and lack of confidence continue to exist for some talented women? Do you have other examples?

Service of a Night of Contrasts: Art in 1905 vs AI in 2023

Thursday, November 16th, 2023

30 minutes well spent listening to the Met Museum virtual tour of the Fauvism show.

On a recent night I was watching the virtual premiere of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s tour of the exhibition “Vertigo of Color: Matisse, Derain, and the Origins of Fauvism.” At precisely the same time a friend attended a workshop about artificial intelligence—AI.

The years in question: 1905 and 2023.

I recommend that you spare 30 minutes to check out the museum tour conducted by Dita Amory, Robert Lehman Curator in Charge at the Met, and Ann Dumas, Consulting Curator of European Art at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. They tell us that in just over two months, in Collioure, a French fishing village, the artists “changed the course of French painting,” introducing modernism.

According to the notes accompanying the YouTube video, “With this new direction in painting, Matisse and Derain manipulated color in radical ways—nature took on hues responding to the artists’ sensations rather than reality. At the Salon d’Automne in 1905, when Matisse and Derain unveiled their controversial canvases, a prominent French journalist labeled them ‘les Fauves,’ or wild beasts.”

From the AI workshop, my friend shared an interesting AI-powered tool, Angry Email Translator, that will turn a nasty email into a polite, professional one. The workshop leader quoted Daniel Pink: “AI won’t replace humans. Humans using AI will replace humans not using AI.” His warning: “Be vigilant about the dangers” and advice: “Pay close attention and learn new skills.”

This morning, Dr. Arthur Caplan, Director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU shared some examples on WOR 710 radio. Take a radiology scan. With AI, the scan can be compared to hundreds of others. The experience of the radiologist can’t be nearly as extensive in identifying something that looks dangerous versus no problem. In addition, Caplan said, AI never needs to go to sleep and never gets tired which can happen to someone staring at scans all day.

Astronomer Carl Sagan said in 1979: “We live in an extraordinary age.” We still do. Isn’t it remarkable that we are alive to have access to such diverse, fascinating information?

Fifth Avenue in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fall 2023

Service of No Info at Information

Monday, July 24th, 2023


Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay  

I am intrigued by people who are so secure that they don’t care if they can’t answer a question even if they sit behind a desk with an Information sign overhead. This also goes for those who work in customer service or as dispatchers for a bus or railroad company. What really gets me is that when they can’t, many don’t try to find out the answer.

I’ve always been too insecure to behave this way.

I’ve been a volunteer guard in rooms in private homes for house tours produced by historical societies and before the visitors arrived I’d learn as much as I could about the antiques or paintings there in case there were questions. As a longtime PR person, I’ve felt that I couldn’t expect to know the answer to every question about a client’s product, initiative or organization and I wouldn’t rest until I found out and I’d get back to the inquirer a.s.a.p.

But that doesn’t seem to be de rigueur these days.

I was knocked off the New York Public Library eBook app which was strange since my membership is good until 2026. Nevertheless the popup notice informed me that my membership had expired therefore no eBooks for me.

I visited the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL) on Fifth Avenue and 40th Street, iPad in hand. The ground floor Information desk staff has previously solved all my issues and/or answered all my questions. The pleasant young woman that day sent me to the second floor. There I again stumped the Information attendant who called for the tech expert. Her first response on hearing my situation was that she hadn’t been trained in eBooks. Between the two of us we finally finessed it so that I am once again able to download eBooks. Hooray! But it took a while.

I guess it’s vacation time.

A friend found Long Island Railroad staff similarly lacking in knowledge with a dollop of “who cares?” She’d missed the train to her usual beach destination and there was an hour wait for the next one. She made a last-minute decision to hop a train to a different beach that required transfer to a bus. Not only did a person advising her in Manhattan neglect to mention that the wait for the bus would be half an hour—adding even more travel time to a much longer train ride–it turned out that between the ride, the wait and ride to the beach, she would have been better off taking the next rain to her original stop which is a short walk to the beach.

In addition, there were no signs indicating where the bus stop was located once she got off the train–two blocks from the station–and when she asked about the return bus schedule, all she was told was where to pick up the bus. No timetable.

Have you found that Information staffers aren’t always informed or helpful? Are any apologetic or do they seem content in their ignorance?


Image by D. from Pixabay 

Service of Technology that Eliminates Industries and Jobs

Monday, July 17th, 2023


Image by Kellie Nicholson from Pixabay

Technology trashing industries is nothing new. There are hardly any attendants in NYC subway stations. Machines that feed customer MetroCards have taken over and soon, Metrocards will be dinosaurs replaced by smartphones and swipeable credit cards. [Don’t get me started on the benefits of subway attendants such as safety and providing travel information that kiosks don’t provide.]

Smartphones have killed the camera industry. Computers have deep sixed administrative assistants. ATMs have thinned out the ranks of bank clerks. And on and on.

I used to work with an amazing company that in hours whipped together a beautifully decorated set to display a client’s products. Carpenters, painters, upholsterers and designers as well as photographers worked their magic resulting in photos of spaces that illustrated design stories. The sets had only two walls but looked like they were taken in an apartment or home.

After a few days the client would approve the photos–as many as six to eight images of “rooms” featuring fabric, wallpaper or other products. They were used to send editors to illustrate decorating stories, in advertising, on in-store merchandising units and in product sample books.

The cost was a fraction of what working on location in a home would cost. Plus, you wouldn’t need the approval of the homeowners for decorative changes.

The company thrived until photoshop and other remarkable graphic design tools stole their lunch. Sitting at a computer a techie, using the image of a room, could change out/update the upholstery, wallpaper and flooring, for example. The company went belly up.

I chose this example because actors—especially extras—face a similar fate. They are on strike for many reasons but one is to protect them from movie producers importing facsimiles of their faces to use in other scenes by using AI, without compensating them. They want and deserve compensation.

In what other striking ways has technology impacted the lives of industries and employees/workers?

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Service of Travel Tips

Monday, June 12th, 2023

I could almost have a picnic on the floor of this metro stop in midtown Paris.

I just returned from 10 glorious days in Paris. I plan eventually to share my thoughts about various adventures and impressions, but first some travel tips of both general use and about the City of Light.

Paris is cleaning the Seine so that Olympic competitors can swim in it next summer. Shot this from Batobus.
Not many Paris metro stations look like someone’s living room.
  • A portable charger for your phone is essential if you take lots of photos and rely on Apple Maps or any GPS app that gobbles up a device’s charge. I’d leave my hotel room in the morning and not return until evening and I’d want to be able to check what number metro to take.
  • Don’t hesitate to pack an extra pair of comfortable shoes/sneakers. You’ll wear them all and change them often if you’re a walker.
  • Jackets and vests from Uniqlo have deep inside pockets. These are perfect to store your passport, room key and metro card. The pocket protects these items against pickpockets and are easy for you to access.
  • If you plan to handwash socks etc., bring along a plug in case there is no stopper in your hotel bathroom sink.
  • If you’re staying in a hotel, listen to Nancie Steinberg when she suggests you bring a small bar of soap, unless you use gel for everything.
  • Pack cream rinse.
  • When you leave France, security is serious about seeing the quart-size see-through kit or baggie in your carryon luggage with liquids such as shampoo, mouthwash, makeup, etc. so keep it handy. You and the other tourists line up about 8 across facing security guards. Unless it’s right on top you’ll go nuts finding it in the mayhem of placing it, your jacket, electronics, camera, handbag and carry-on luggage in different plastic trays.
  • Bring a small empty plastic bottle that’s light and easy to refill with water and carry as you tour. Museums allow you to bring in liquids in bottles. Not usually a thirsty person, I was crazy thirsty during my trip.
  • If when you travel abroad you tend to react to the change in water and air [as I do, violently], I’ve found probiotics, one a day, help mitigate the worst. Check with your doctor. And as tempting as ice may be, pass when it’s served and drink your soda without. I even used bottled water for my water pic!
  • Don’t depend on Apple Maps. It was great to identify the number metro to take and which exit to use but unreliable above ground.
  • Paralyzing traffic goes on above ground and the metro is so easy to use. Compared to the NYC subway, you can eat off the floor.
  • Batobus is a great way to see Paris from the Seine. It stops in nine crucial places and you hop off and on as often as you like. I got on at the Eiffel Tower, took the entire tour and left at Saint-Germain-des-Prés.
  • Museum Pass was a lifesaver except at the Sainte Chapelle where the day I was there an angry security guard admitted those in the prepaid line last. [We’re supposed to go first.] I reported it to the museum pass folks. While literally broiling in line, I looked up the site and learned that the former chapel is now run by the government.
  • Even if you have a museum pass, unless you love waiting in long lines, if a website—such as the Louvre or Musée de l’Orangerie–recommends you get a timed entry, do so. Otherwise, having the pass gives you first priority access and that’s all you need.

Please share your travel tips about Paris or anywhere in the world.

This was the line for timed tickets at the Louvre. It moved fast. Sadly, my videos of the line without timed tickets were too big to post here.

Service of the Superfluous in Tech that Causes Confusion: YouTube to the Rescue

Monday, May 22nd, 2023

I have no confidence when I’m confronted by technology and I blame myself if I don’t catch on to something or if something goes wrong. When there’s a glitch with my new printer or laptop first I panic and next I rush to YouTube which usually provides a visual step-by-step rescue.

I bought an Apple World Travel Adapter Kit for my iPhone and iPad charger and was confused which was which because three of the elements looked the same. As much as I stared at the sketches on the box and the actual widgets, I couldn’t tell the difference between the electric plugs for Korea, Brazil or Europe.

I went to the Apple store in Grand Central with the box and a man on the welcome team handed me one of the connectors, but I wasn’t convinced.

Next, I found a wonderful video on YouTube—there are a bunch on the subject–in which the tech guru opened his box and went through the various elements. Towards the end he remarked that he couldn’t tell the difference between the three adaptors and I cheered!

I admit my eyes aren’t what they once were but even with a magnifying glass I had a difficult time reading the gray-on-gray EUR on one of the identical looking adapters. YouTube man pointed out where to look. Obviously the 20-something at Apple didn’t know where to look either. He had handed me the device for Korea.

I went to the Apple store for something else this weekend and while I was waiting for the product to arrive I mentioned this to the bright [very] young associate helping me. He said that the devices would be different even though they might look the same because they also address voltage in each country. He suggested I ID each country’s device with magic marker. I don’t expect to go to Brazil or Korea so…..

The voltage info also didn’t get out to the associate who handed me the adaptor for Korea. Lucky for me I know where to look to ID the correct device thanks to the fellow on YouTube. Maybe “Let me find out,” wasn’t part of the training language taught the first assistant either.

Have you been tripped up by a tech company when it turned out that it is they—not you—at fault?   

      

Service of Equipment Failure: Staples & Coupons to the Rescue

Thursday, May 18th, 2023

I am a luddite and depend on a mouse. Touchpads don’t work for me. They make me want to scream.

I was on deadline with a project and my wireless mouse died. I panicked, dashed into street clothes and off to Staples on Third Avenue and 43rd Street to buy another mouse, my lifeless one in hand. Money was no object because I had coupons worth $16. But which one should I buy?

Danny, the tech associate, opened my mouse—I hadn’t been able to. He said, “I bet you need a new battery.” He first went in the back and then rummaged through a few containers near the cashier stations and came up with a AAA. “There, you see? Batteries,” he said, as the blue light on the underside of the device came to life.

Off I flew to CVS where just that morning I received a 40% off coupon good for 24 hours. I have AA batteries at home but no AAA.

Success! Relief. Joy. And an example of memorable, engaged customer service.

There must be something in the air: Warm weather? The promise of summer vacation? My lucky day–one where the stars aligned in my favor, and everything went right. Plus: I’d been scrambling for a blog topic for today: another bonus!

Do you have an example of a sales associate saving a device rather than selling you one you don’t need? Or of a day that starts with a hiccup followed by a string of fantastic developments?

Service of Too Big to Work Well in a Country where Big is Best

Monday, March 6th, 2023


Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay 

My last post was about the trouble I’m having reaching Verizon to update my credit card info to continue the Auto Pay service on my business account. Verizon claims to be the largest wireless carrier in the U.S. with 142.8 subscribers.

Following are some more examples of organizations that may simply be too big to work efficiently.

Lights please

Con Edison describes itself as operating “one of the most complex and reliable electric power systems in the world, serving 3.4 million customers throughout a 604-squaremile service territory.” Last week I asked two men in the hallway on my floor what they were doing. A sliding door by the elevators was open revealing the meters for the tenants. Seems the meters weren’t communicating usage information so the technicians were retrieving it the old-fashioned way apparently typing the information into a laptop. I grumbled about technology gone wrong and one worker told me that lately his mobile phone has dodgy service, constantly dropping connections.

Can you hear and see me now?

Two weeks ago the fiber optic connection between my apartment building and the Verizon FIOS operation was interrupted causing a blackout with my high-speed Internet, TV and phone service. I wasn’t the only person here whose service was disrupted. Could have been due to something as simple as a finger smudge on a lens.

Love letters lost

A friend sent me a Valentine card from Westchester, 18 miles from where I live, postmarked February 9. It arrived on March 1. [Photo below.] I mailed an envelope to an address within my zip code that hadn’t yet arrived in five business days.

Oops

There seems to be a spate of almost plane related incidents in the U.S. and on March 1 CNN reporters Gregory Wallace, Pete Muntean and Jordan Valinsky wrote about five “recent near-collisions on US runways,” in Boston, Burbank, Austin, New York and Honolulu.

I agree with a comment by Lucrezia, a loyal reader, about the earlier Verizon post which addresses this one as well. She wrote: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that these corporate behemoths are taking on more than they can handle. In order to properly serve their clientele, they will either have to enlarge their staff or downsize. Being the greedy entities that they are, they’ll probably do nothing unless or until they face collapse.”

Do you think size and/or greed are the reasons so many procedures between giant entities and their customers are falling apart? Is technology put to use before it’s ready for prime time? Are there other reasons so much is running aground these days?

Service of When a Communicator Can’t Connect with a Communications Company

Thursday, March 2nd, 2023

I’ve done well helping clients communicate with consumer and trade audiences. So why can’t I get through to Verizon Wireless, a communications company? And how can a vendor expect a customer to spend as much time as I already have, simply to accomplish a routine thing—and still not succeed?

I tried on and off for three days to update my credit card information for auto pay on my business account. Every time I feel a sense of relief because I successfully navigated press 1, press 6 to get a person, I’m disappointed. What have I accomplished?  I think that I’ve paid twice for March service.

I was promised a callback that never happened. Why did I need one? The customer service rep told me there was something wrong with the system which didn’t accept my information and she’d get back with me. [Reps aren’t able to take credit card numbers over the phone for security reasons.] CVS and Trader Joe’s had no trouble with the new card.

After countless misfires I finally reached someone to send me the link to input the new information and she said it went through. I did a happy dance that turned into a scream when after the call I received a Verizon notification that I’d discontinued Auto Pay! Huh?

To rectify this I tried Verizon Chat—to get to it I went through another time consuming rigamarole–and soon learned that Alex handled personal not business accounts. She shared a few more toll-free numbers.

I’d already tried all sorts and if I got a person he/she was inevitably in the wrong department. When promised to be transferred to a person, I’d wait on hold for minutes and find myself back to the automated voice asking me to “press 6” which meant what I needed done didn’t match any of the options. I tried yelling at the phone and hitting 000000000000000 and #######. Or sometimes I’d hit number 1 as instructed—which promised me a live person–and it didn’t register so soon after punching in my phone number and responding to a link texted to my phone proving I’m legit, a computer voice would say “You didn’t respond. Goodbye.” My phone is new, by the way.

I’ve written to the CEO of the business division. I figure I have a month to work it out. How can my phones be disconnected when I’ve probably paid twice for this month? I’ll find out.

Think of the millions who must do the same thing because their card was lost, stolen or updated. Why is the staff clueless? How come a communications company in the phone business makes it so difficult to speak with someone?

Have you been frustrated trying to accomplish a routine operation at a giant corporation?


Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay 
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