Archive for the ‘Staffing’ Category

Service of How Does a Company with Nasty Rules Attract Employees?

Monday, December 30th, 2019

The US unemployment rate is at 3.6 percent. If it truly reflects the numbers of unemployed then workers can afford to be choosey especially in a place like New York City that is crowded with low pay opportunities.

Jonathan Stempel’s article, “Starbucks settles New York probe into illegal sick leave policy,” opened my eyes to another nasty practice of some employers. The Reuters reporter wrote: “Starbucks Corp agreed on Thursday to pay restitution and accept greater oversight to settle a multi-year probe finding that it had illegally required New York City employees to find substitutes when they needed to use sick leave. ” The amount: $176,000.

Officials said Starbucks violated New York City’s Earned Safe and Sick Time Act from April 2014 to February 2016 by requiring employees to find replacements before using sick leave, or else face possible discipline including termination. [In the third quarter of 2014 the economy grew at a record pace.]

Who came up with this punishing concept? Picture you sick at home with the flu. You can barely call in sick much less call around to find someone to take your place.

In addition to continuing to deep six the mean sick leave practice, Starbucks must also clearly explain its policy to its more than 8,000 New York City employees, and detail its compliance within six months to regulators, Stempel reported.

In January 2018, Starbucks adopted a nationwide policy granting employees one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. That equates to roughly seven or eight days a year for a full-time employee.

Have you heard of over-the-top employment practices? Do you think this one came about because the company felt that too many employees called in sick simply because they didn’t feel like working and it wanted to discourage the practice?

Service of Where Is Everybody? Looking for Help at Retail Today

Thursday, May 10th, 2018

Are there longer lines when you check out in large retail stores these days? Have you had a hard time finding anyone to answer a question or direct you? The Wall Street Journal’s Suzanne Kapner offered reasons in “Stores Slash Staffs and Watch Lines Grow.”

Since 2008, she reported, Macy’s has cut 52,000 workers–full and part-time in stores, warehouses and at headquarters. During the same period at J.C. Penny, “workers have disappeared twice as fast as department stores,” now 112 per store down from 145.

“Retail staffing hasn’t kept pace with growth in the broader economy or population gains in the past decade. The number of salespeople at retailers grew by 1.5% over the past decade, even though the population served by each store has increased 12.5%, according to government data. At clothing and accessories stores, the number of cashiers is down more than 50% from 2007.”

In the lead, Kapner attributes the “assault” from Amazon while others blame cuts at headquarters, smaller stores, do-it-yourself checkouts, more full-time workers reducing the number of part-timers and “shelf-ready packaging that they say makes existing workers more productive.”

To redress overzealous cutbacks, Kroger grocery store is adding 11,000; Dick’s Sporting Goods plans to add 10 percent and Macy’s will bolster staff in fitting rooms, dress, women’s shoe and handbag departments “for the most impact.”

Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union president Stuart Applebaum told Kapner:  “If brick-and-mortar retailers can’t compete on price in an online environment, the only thing that allows them to survive is to provide a positive in-store experience.”

Kapner reported that “Over the past 12 months, 86% of U.S. consumers say they have left a store due to long lines, according to a survey conducted by Adyen, a credit-card processor and payment system. That has resulted in $37.7 billion in lost sales for retailers, Adyen estimates.”

According to a Saks employee on the job 24 years, sales associates in the NYC flagship “process returns, restock shelves and fill online orders which takes them away from selling.”

Is there a solution? Kapner wrote: “Retailers typically set staffing as a percent of sales, but a growing body of research suggests it should be based on foot traffic. The problem is twofold: Many retailers don’t track traffic and even if they do, they are reluctant to add labor, which is already among their biggest costs.”

A Florida chain installed cameras and noticed that even though one store was packed during the afternoon, sales were down at that time because staff was overwhelmed. Sales increased when management added two people during the busy hours.

Do you frequent major retailers? Have sales personnel been distracted or nonexistent? Are there other answers to fighting behemoth and online venues that don’t shoulder a retail rent expense? Do people have shorter patience when waiting for help or to pay in a department store than at a discounter? Are there other businesses that, like retail, use financial models from a different time that no longer apply?

Service of Staffing

Monday, August 15th, 2011

MTA Sercurity

I was inspired to write today’s topic because of something that happened last week. As I arrived at the bus stop at 42nd Street and First Avenue at 6:30 pm, I saw four Metropolitan Transit Authority security staffers giving tickets to passengers who couldn’t prove they’d paid for their ride. On First and Second Avenues, to get on a Limited [express] bus, passengers must slip a MetroCard into a kiosk on the street before boarding and keep the ticket that comes out as proof. [I wrote about the system when it was new in Manhattan in “Service of Who Are We Fooling.”]

I heard the security people say that they’d given three summonses. Then they all walked across First to enter a large van [illegally double-parked]. A summons costs $100 according to an article in The New York Post about an outraged passenger who got a ticket because she didn’t understand the system. [I couldn’t find what the fee was by Googling key words and MTA.]

A ride costs $2.25. The MTA lost $6.75 but generated $300 because three people allegedly hadn’t paid for their rides. As excessive as the fine is, I can’t see how it will cover the cost of four salaries and a large van and I don’t know why 1) the security team needs a van; can’t they take busses to the stops? 2) It takes four people to do this at any time, but especially after rush hour.

A bus driver, seeing the security uniforms at an upcoming stop should open only the number of doors as security staff on the ground. [And there should be signs in huge red letters at each stop warning people about the fine. I don’t like the surreptitious nature of the punishment and underhanded method of generating income, although that’s not the subject of this post.]


Years ago when we lived in another borough we’d go to an intimate Hungarian restaurant that had only one waitress. The prices were reasonable and the food hearty and tasty so the place was generally full. She served us all cheerfully and the wait for anything from more butter, bread or another beer was always short. She had the rhythm of her job and required focus and energy.


I read nursing and hospital journals when I had a client in that industry. Staffing studies found that a hospital with too many nurses couldn’t rise to emergencies as the workers were used to a sluggish pace nor could those that were severely understaffed and already running at full speed. The staffing sweet spot was in between. No surprise.


I sat next to a very smart, articulate man on the train last week who had the kind of job where he could commute four hours+ daily so as to live in deep dish country. He was able to do it because he never had to work late or get in earlier than usual. I learned at the end of the ride that he worked for the Federal government. He also told me that while at work he did his job but that many colleagues didn’t. He suggested something that I’ve always suspected: Instead of Federal program cutbacks, we could eliminate a lot of expense by cleaning house.

There are people with graduate degrees in HR and I am sure that they conduct countless studies and read staffing formulas galore. In so many instances, staffing seems like common sense. Do you agree? Can you identify instances of over and understaffing?

Service of Who is Looking?

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

I met a friend for lunch at Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan and noticed a park attendant working her heart out. We were eating our sandwiches and sipping our drinks under trees on this perfect almost summer day. Every table was taken by office workers and tourists doing the same. In the hour we were there, the attendant repeatedly emptied the trash from a small stationery container which, once empty, she’d spray with disinfectant every third time. She had to lift out the inside basket and turn the contents into a large trash bin on wheels that she rolled back and forth. I was amazed at her diligence–no rats in this part of the park that’s for sure–and I thanked her for it.

On the other hand, a few weeks ago I drove through a small upstate town passing a sign asking me to slow up and announcing a collection up ahead for the local fire department. I expected to toss a bill or coins, whatever I could grab from my bag as I drove, into a bucket held by a fireman or volunteer. I didn’t see anyone near the cans or on the side of the road however there were a few buckets piled on one another on the yellow line in the middle of the road. Not a soul in either direction rolled down a car window to toss a coin or a bill in those buckets. If the firemen and friends couldn’t be bothered, why should we?

That day I was on my way to a craft fair in a field in upstate New York. Lucky I’d been there before. One untrained kid was doing a hesitant and dangerous job directing traffic at the exit which spilled onto the road I was on. When I got to the entrance a quarter mile past him–he didn’t tell me whether I’d be parking in the field to the left or the right of the road–I saw eight kids with the same tee shirts as his sitting around near the entrance on the left so that’s where I went. They were shooting the breeze. They should have been directing traffic on the road and in the large parking area. Guess they weren’t in the mood.

When it was time for a snack I noticed a food vendor I’d not seen before. The stand stood out because it was the only one with a line. One youngster stood over three extremely hot metal plates making crepes. He poured the perfect amount of batter each time, painted it in a circle with a little wooden paddle, turned it and gave the finished crepe to another young man who filled it with chicken, veggies, cheese or whatever you wanted. The youngsters didn’t get ruffled in spite of the time it took to cook the perfect crepes and they never for a minute stopped. The result was delicious and well worth the wait.

There wasn’t a manager or boss in view so who of importance to the livelihood of the Bryant Park attendant or the crepe/sandwich makers would have known they were  meticulous in fulfilling their tasks? What inspired them to do their [unpleasant], no doubt minimum wage jobs so well? What were the firemen or the volunteers who planned the fundraiser and parking lot staff thinking? What signs do you look for when hiring such employees?

Service of How Much Are Your Customers Worth?

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Customer service was the topic of a segment on CBS Sunday Morning recently. We heard how much more it costs for a live operator to handle a query to customer service–$7+ if the person works in the U.S. vs. $3+ if they’re responding from overseas. The really cheap route, recorded voice accompanied by the dreaded “press one, press two” costs some 35 cents.

To make the right decisions, a business owner has to ask him/herself:

**How much does it cost to acquire a customer? Less than a penny? $10 or $20?

**How complicated is the product to use?

**Is repeat business important?

**Does wasting someone else’s time matter to you?

**Are you impregnable to negative buzz because you are protected–such as investment and commercial banks and mortgage lenders–or because people have no choice about using you if they want/need your service–such as cable or satellite TV in places there are no other options?

I’ve left off the list “personal pride in providing the best.” What company doesn’t claim to manufacture or import or sell or represent innovative, unequaled, top-quality products made by inspired, loyal employees? But do all/most?

Here’s one that does-Loft, part of the Ann Taylor family of women’s fashion stores. I thought I’d slipped into another era or maybe I wasn’t in Times Square but in the south or Midwest. On entering, a young woman smiled and sounded as though she meant “hello.” Two associates, in different parts of the store, subsequently asked me if they might help me. They, too, sounded as though they wanted to. They were like well-trained maitre d’s at the finest restaurants who quietly patrol the floor and unobtrusively add value to the experience. One of them approached a woman who was trying on jackets. He quietly pointed out where the nearest mirror was. Preventative retail service, like healthcare, what a concept! [Readers have repeatedly written about similar experiences at Gracious Home in NYC.]

What additional questions should a business ask itself when determining the type/cost of customer service assistance to invest in? How much more would you pay a retail establishment, importer or manufacturer to provide great customer service? Should a business give you the choice and charge more or less depending?

Service of Ensuring Work

Friday, August 13th, 2010

A friend and reader of this blog, DB, wrote me last week and inspired a post about jobs and helping others keep theirs. The subject is spot-on in this economy when it is jobs–or lack of same–that many, including me, think is causing this economy to flounder.

She wrote: “In fast food places, I like to leave my tray on the table and full of my used food plates and wrappers rather than carry the garbage to the trash bin and the tray to the stack in a holder. I’ve noticed that people with disabilities frequently work as table clearers. I feel that my deliberate neglect allows such citizens not only to provide a service-but also to keep a job.”

DB continued: “Am I being rude or am I more thoughtful to add to the load of the person who was hired to do this menial task? This question plagues me every time I knowingly do not clean up after myself.”

For the same reason, another friend, PE, refused to use the New York City subway/bus MetroCard when it was introduced for fear of putting token booth attendants out of business. Her prediction was accurate: Today there are few token booth people to sell MetroCards [or to guide and guard customers on subway platforms]. The option of buying tokens is gone.

PE also refused to use ATM machines. She wanted to help ensure bank clerk’s jobs.

I believe in progress and using technology to run an efficient business. Using paper cards instead of metal tokens and computer-driven machines [when they work] instead of people fits. Paper and machines cost less.

I never thought I was endangering a person’s job by cleaning up after myself in a place that expects me to do so, but DB makes a good point. Using this train of thought we have all added to the problem because computers have removed the need for millions of office and factory workers. I don’t know what I’d do without my computer. Sure she gets sick like a person and misses days of work until the computer doctor can pay a visit, but when she works, she’s a godsend.

What do you think is the most effective way to help ensure others’ jobs? Or instead of trying to save jobs, should we be focusing on creating real, long lasting ones? Like what?  The pundits don’t seem to know.

Service of Welcome

Monday, March 8th, 2010

We enjoyed an enchanting evening to celebrate a family birthday at a NYC restaurant located in a quiet enclave, Tudor City, near the UN. Food, ambiance and service were appropriately delicious, festive and charming, but our welcome wasn’t.

In fact, the welcome was so out of sync with the rest of the otherwise perfect evening that the first thing I did on arriving at the office the next morning was to write the chef and his partner to tell them what happened. How would they know otherwise? And had the weather not been so bad, had we not been in an isolated part of the city and had this not been a happily anticipated birthday party a deux, we might very well have walked out and missed the rest of the evening.

After much Googling and web site scouring I could find no email address of either man, so I mailed a letter to the partners.

As Snoopy would start this chapter of the story, “It was a dark and stormy night.” And boy was it. Once inside, our eyes adjusted to light in the even dimmer entrance and dead silence ensued. We stood feeling awkward with our dripping umbrellas, coats and hat and had no idea what to do with it all or with ourselves. You get the picture. There was plenty of staff. Three people stood  like statues looking at us from down a hall, hanging out around the reception stand. I included both the great and the bad in my letter

I received an immediate response from the restaurant’s service director, Carolyn DeFir. Her letter was gracious and apologetic. She understood the importance of this detail which, for whatever reasons, the trilogy of greeters didn’t.

Maybe they or their parents never entertain at home. Why do I think this? Would anyone leave guests at the front door and not greet them, take their coats, relieve them of their soaked umbrellas, make them comfortable so that they wouldn’t ruin furniture or carpeting by having to toss these things somewhere?

Ms. DeFir wrote, in part: “I agree with you whole-heartedly that the first impression is a strong one and I am sincerely embarrassed and saddened that you had such a negative start to your evening with us. I do not want to make excuses but I will apologize and I think that perhaps you caught us at an off moment in ‘our game.'”  She also enclosed an extremely generous gift certificate to encourage us to return–or to give to a colleague–and asked that we let her know when we planned to come so that she could “take excellent care of you myself.”

Oh, the name of the restaurant? Convivio.

In a subsequent email correspondence responding to my query asking her if she wanted me to mention the name of the restaurant in my post, Ms. DeFir said she didn’t mind and continued, “I think the bigger lesson I wish people knew and understood is that there are 200 plus people eating in our restaurant a night. While myself and my management team strives to know how each person feels, we clearly cannot get to every single person.  I wish more people would speak up both positively and negatively while at the restaurant.  It gives me a chance to fix things or say thank you to guests while they are still in my care.  I would love to look someone in the eyes and apologize if needed or thank them for their praise.”

I understand her reasoning and her point, and I know plenty of people who wouldn’t mind speaking up about something negative, but unless I could figure out how to do it discretely, off in a corner, I’m not one of them. We always rave about the food, its presentation or compliment the service, if appropriate. But making a fuss, whining or complaining breaks the joyful mood not only for us, but for other guests around us.

When I explained my point of view to Ms. DeFir, she wrote, “I’m so glad you had the opportunity to bring this to my attention! I had sincerely never thought of it that way before.”

I recently wrote about the Service of Excuses where nobody is at fault or takes responsibility for what they have done or what has happened. Not Ms. DeFir. Her attitude and approach will insure our return.

Back to the unwelcoming welcome committee: There are so many critical jobs, such as the first person a guest sees at any restaurant, that some think are below them or are inconsequential when, in fact, the performance of these key people is as important as the chef’s or the cook’s.

Can you think of some other examples? How would you motivate people in unsung jobs or is understanding the importance of what they do instinctive, not taught?

Service of Ho Hum

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

New York-based editorial consultant and author, Mervyn Kaufman, sent this yesterday afternoon. It’s too great–and frustrating–not to share.

He wrote:

It’s the holidays.  Tourists are pouring into town, and stores are begging people to come in, use their supplied discount cards and buy something. Everywhere you go you find a holiday feeling. . . .

. . . Except at the post office.

The U.S. Postal Service has repeatedly and shamelessly raised its rates while cutting back on its service.  One part of their enterprise is strictly business-as-usual, however: the people behind the bullet-proof glass are as indifferent as ever.  All appear to have been trained to move at a glacial pace, a deliberate attempt to engender anger and resentment.

Today, at my neighborhood branch, there was a serpentine line that almost reached the front door, but there were only two windows open, and the people manning them must have been champion exponents of post-office training:  I’ve never seen people move more slowly.

Yes, there was some attempt to manage the crowd, but whether you were a mother with a babe in arms or an elderly woman on a walker, you waited in an endless line while people were shipping off armloads of gifts to far-flung places.

Despite the fact that the holidays are predictably busy (and might I suggest profitable?) times for the U.S. Postal Service,  no additional manpower stood at the ready, and clerks went off willy nilly, to lunch or wherever, without so much as a nod to a woman-obviously a manager- whose earnestness was unmatched by any authority.

Today’s visit (and 45-minute wait) registered as appalling and unnecessary.

There are plenty of competitors out there, plenty of firms eager to assume the lion’s share of Postal Service business.  Some, like UPS and FedExpress, are already doing so.  Others will surely come along to siphon even more post office business away.

Frankly, I couldn’t be happier.  I found today’s experience degrading…
and this is only the 7th of December.  What’ll it be like on, say, the 20th?  I’ll never know; I’ll restrain myself from setting foot in that place until some kind of desperation sets in.

Today I felt like a onetime Soviet consumer waiting in line for bread, for God’s sake!

What has your post office experience been of late–good or bad?

Service at 1,000+ Supermarkets vs. a Pair of Bread Boutiques

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

Off the bat, I’d guess that the service at an upscale Manhattan bread boutique with one branch would be a gazillion times better than in a supermarket with over a thousand outlets.

Not true.

According to Timothy W. Martin in “May I Help You?” an April 22nd Wall Street Journal article about the Lakeland, Fla.-based Publix supermarkets, the service in these groceries is superb. This is in contrast with my experience at a high-priced city bakery.

Martin wrote that one day the Publix president, Todd Jones, noticed a missing bagger in a St. Augustine branch. Like a great maitre d’ in a top restaurant, who picks up and delivers plates if need be, Jones pinch-hit for the bagger until a replacement arrived. And, Martin reports, in this economy the chain is maintaining its staffing and lowering prices to please current customers and attract new ones.

Back to New York City, I tried to buy a loaf of bread from an Upper East Side bread and muffin bakery and after waiting in line for what seemed a long time, noticed that the customers behind me were being helped. So after a salesperson had finished with his customer, I asked him about one of the breads in the window. He answered and walked away, mumbling, “I will be right back.”

He was gone. I was still waiting.

The next free salesperson, a woman, called out, “who is next?” and turned to the man behind me, asking him what he wanted. I said that I was next and she snapped, “Let me finish with him first.” He hadn’t ordered a thing–she hadn’t yet reached for a crust or crumb on his behalf.

But I’d had it. I stormed out of the store without a word. The customer she’d tapped called after me, “Ma’am, Ma’am,” but by then, I was beyond wanting to spend $4.00 for a small loaf of bread and to feel unhappy and angry at the same time. The bread was no longer a treat.

Got back to the office, looked at the bread boutique’s web site, found an e-mail address and dashed off a note describing my experience.  That was four days ago. I haven’t heard a peep.

Something tells me that Mr. Jones from Publix, with millions of customers, wouldn’t let an angry customer slip through his fingers as quickly as this bakery has.

I find it fascinating that a bigger retail operation can out-service a two-horse boutique. Can it be a regional issue? Some might blame a New York City attitude. I was born, brought up, live and conduct business here. I don’t treat people that way nor do I expect this kind of treatment from anyone at any price.

In a future post I plan to ask some experts to address how an operation with more than one branch assures good service. I’ve always been fascinated by how it’s done. The owners can’t be in two or a thousand places at once. What are your theories?

Service of Being a [Great] Customer

Friday, March 27th, 2009

We welcome this guest post from R C-F, a New England-based high school math teacher whose approach reminds me of what another calm, gentle woman I know says if, in spite of being gracious to the person serving her, she’s treated rudely. “I’m sorry you dislike your job so much.” Sometimes she needs to repeat this because the comment surprises the perpetrator. Often this bit of understanding turns around a surly attitude.


On to R C-F who writes: “I keep thinking of instances when courtesy makes a difference in this world especially when it comes to service, interactions and community. Courtesy, thoughtfulness, awareness of the needs of others, reaching out even when it makes you look and/or feel foolish, all those are essential to the survival of our culture, or so it seems to me.


“Just recently I was at a Starbucks and got a shrug and “we don’t have that” to a query about a mix of regular and decaf. I sympathized, asked about the equipment and how business was and suddenly, I had a mixed espresso coffee that was delicious.


“And when I went back to the counter to tell the man that the coffee was wonderful, he was at first suspicious, then broke into a marvelous grin. Nice. Nice for both of us.


“Helping people who are working in a store, helping to pick up a mass of cans that a customer in a hurry knocks over, helping report broken glass or excellent service to a manager–all these things take time, may be frustratingly treated lightly, but I think they are always worth it.”

When you’re the customer, what techniques do you use that turn around an inappropriate attitude? Or do you stay silent and vote with your feet and never return?

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