Archive for the ‘Appreciation’ Category

Service of Praise Glut

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

I love complimenting people and try to live by the adage “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything–but try to look for something legitimate to admire.”

I don’t think compliments happen too often after childhood when caregivers yell out “GOOD JOB” when a child turns a doorknob. I write a boss about an outstanding staffer or speedy response to my inquiry and most often get back a note that says “We appreciate your comments because most customers contact us with complaints.”

My friend Nancie Steinberg sent me Lucy Kellawy’s article, “You might be a total genius, but I wouldn’t tell you so,” in the Financial Times. Kellawy writes from London: “Last week, when a woman in our travel department booked me a flight, I sent her an e-mail: ‘That’s absolutely marvellous – thanks so much.’

“In congratulating her so warmly for doing her job, I thought I was being charming and gracious, but now I see I was actually doing something rather darker. Not only was I debasing the language, but was pushing a drug that turns people into demotivated, infantile, praise-dependent junkies.”

She goes on to tell about a colleague whose boss at his new job elaborately praised him for each and every utterance in his columns. She added: “When I said that this sounded rather nice, he gave me a scornful look. It made him think his editor stupid, which made him feel stupid by extension. To be considered a total genius for merely delivering his column on time was degrading all round.”

And she pointed out that exaggeration and overstatement is rampant in the workplace in the UK these days [American style] where all staffers are called “talent,” and an ordinary comment is referred to as “insight.”

She goes on to write: “Congratulation inflation not only damages language, it is bad for us psychologically. Praise is a Class A drug and we crave more and get upset when we don’t get any in sufficiently pure form.” She compared workers to 10 year olds in a Columbia University study where those praised for being clever gave up when given a tough task and those called diligent kept working until they met the challenge.

I disagree with Kellawy. At almost 5 pm on Friday I sent unexpected copy involving a tight deadline to Emily Moses, a junior staffer working on the New York Women in Communications account, asking her to distribute the info to two boards, expecting to see it in my email inbox on Monday. She sent it in minutes. I was elated. I thanked her then and commend her again here. Emily would move on a dime if she thought it important so why be stingy with praise?

How do you take to praise? Does it motivate or impede you? Do you dole it out generously or judiciously? Can there ever be too much?

Service of Help from Obvious Places

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

In a Wall Street Journal article, “In Jane Austen 2.0, the Heroines and Heroes Friend Each Other,” Arden Dale and Mary Pilon write about 19 year old Ben Kemper, a Jane Austen fan/member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, who planned to dress up in period clothes for the annual Austen birthday tea in Boise, Idaho.

As interesting to me as the Austen craze among mostly young women that the article describes is Kemper’s proposed solution to fulfill his dress up plans: “The outfit will be ‘the whole shebang’ says Mr. Kemper, who hopes to scare up some yard work so he can pay for the new threads,” wrote Dale and Pilon.

With the exception of babysitting which seems to be a thriving business, [older teens with driver’s licenses can get $12/hour while tweens with parents nearby $3-ish per hour according to] it’s been eons since I’ve seen or heard of youngsters doing yard work or odd jobs or asking for same.

At least I don’t see young Americans doing yard work in our upstate town. Wonder if they are applying themselves to career-enhancing internships? Have all figured out how to pay the pocketbook-boggling college tuition fees ranging from $20,000 to almost $60,000/year by lining up scholarships or did they all land with rich parents and do they have transportation to get them to and from higher-paying KP or order-taking jobs at MacDonald’s or Burger King?

I’m not convinced that youngsters are paid more at these places then at home. My mom hired a sister and brother team to paint her apartment. These college students were careful with her and her furniture, did a spectacular and clean job and she was happy to pay them a higher-than-average wage for their attention-to-detail and to her needs. They came when they said they would and finished on time. What normally is a disruptive and horrible experience turned out to be kind of fun as she also enjoyed the kids’ company!

Do you think Kemper turned to such work because he’s of another period, the 19th century, or because he lives in a part of the country where normal things still happen? How long has it been since you’ve hired or heard of a youngster doing crucial odd jobs for you or for anyone at home?

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 Memorials

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Many remembered and honored the victims of terrorism on the 9th anniversary of September 11 this weekend. The outpouring of emotion and media coverage in the New York City area was poignant.

A friend asked me, “Why are we making such a big deal over 9/11, when,” he noted, “nobody did or does about World War II where so many more people suffered and died–or over other wars for that matter?”  So I decided to share my point of view.

This memorial recognition, while related to the topic of patriotism that I wrote about  in “Service of Independence Day,” is different. It has to do with respect and gratitude.

Back to my friend’s words: I think his impression depends on how you define “big deal” and “nobody” and how people honored their war dead in the past and are comfortable expressing emotion today.

As a child, I attended a yearly memorial mass with my father at the French church, St. Vincent de Paul in New York City. Dad, a World War II veteran and prisoner of war who escaped, was French. In the back of the church, dressed in military uniform, musicians blew trumpets and horns mid-service, so loud that most jumped in their seats, startled even if they anticipated the alarm. The church was always full.

That was largely the extent to which Dad shared his war experience with me, although it scarred his life and his family’s.

I visited Normandy a few years ago and couldn’t face the cemeteries with thousands of crosses and stars of David and I didn’t know one of those fallen soldiers. Instead, I marveled at Normandy Beach-so barren with not a bush or tree to hide behind. I was awestruck when I saw, in three dimensions, how exposed those soldiers were. You’ve seen the soldiers jump off the boats into enemy gunfire in movies and vintage newsreels. My husband’s uncle landed at that beach and survived. Just imagine.

There are over 58 thousand names on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. Other memorials, such as Holocaust Museums or Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam, attract millions yearly from around the world.

So why does one horrific event that exterminated a few thousand continue to pull on our heartstrings and how come we recognize these dead, almost a decade later, from what was equivalent to a battle more than a war, with the same fervor as the year after? The raw wound might be because the act broke all rules of war; attackers victimized innocent citizens and involved no military forces. We are more vocal and emotional than our forebears where stiff upper lip was the fashion. And, I think, we are still shocked by the sheer below-the-belt, horrific ramifications of it all.

What do you think?

Service When It’s Great

Friday, July 30th, 2010

A recent American Express Global Customer Service Barometer inspired me to cover instances of great service again-it’s been a while. The Barometer reported that Americans will pay an average of nine percent more to receive quality customer service and that 61 percent noted that in this economic environment, service is more important to them.

The latter surprises me because I expect top quality service regardless of the economy, but I digress.

Happy Surprise

I was having guests on the roof of our NYC apartment and lined up some volunteers to help me install the chair cushions, stored elsewhere both to preserve them as well as to keep them from flying off and injuring someone. When I got home that day the super-and he is-told me that the cushions were already on the chairs and the tables all cleaned–a blessing on a sweltering day.

Four Star Credit Card Bill Resolution

My heart sank when I saw my credit card bill this month because it showed a finance charge and an unexpectedly large total. My habit is to pay the full amount so as to avoid both instances. I no longer get back my checks or even facsimiles, and I didn’t make a copy of the check mailed, so I figured I was up the creek. The issuer-USAA-which has never let me down, came through again. I asked the customer service rep to look at my payment history. He put me on hold and on his return didn’t question me and told me to delete the finance charge. It wasn’t  so much money, yet I was so relieved that I didn’t have to argue or speak with a thousand people.

Immaculate Delivery Follow-Up

The Wall Street Journal is delivered to the office. In the last month or so, it’s gone missing on three occasions when nobody in the building received a paper, according to the responsible man at reception. The third time it happened, I called the Journal and a copy came by messenger within an hour. I subsequently received emails from the paper and the newspaper delivery business as well as a phone call from the newspaper delivery concern’s customer service department. I was impressed at how much they wanted to keep the Journal’s and my business.

Exemplary Honesty

We totaled the car earlier this year and our trusty warhorse, with close to 135,000 miles on it, was sent to car heaven. Before it left, we visited it one last time at a garage a few towns away where someone representing the insurance company had seen it and determined that it wasn’t worth repairing. We were there to retrieve the stuff in it, though we could only open one door and the trunk. A week or so later, my husband got a letter with a $20 bill in it from what he thought was an employee of the car cemetery. The letter explained that the writer had found the bill in the car. So my husband wrote the chairman of the insurance company-USAA again-to let him know what a great supplier he had.  In return, he got two telephone calls from USAA until the rep found him in. He thanked my husband for the letter, and told him that the man who had returned his money actually worked for USAA and that he would be commended for what he’d done.

Friends Who Help

My last example is the service of friends. I was one train stop from where I get off on Friday night when my husband called to tell me he was stuck with a flat tire in a torrential storm. I reached the only car service in the vicinity and the woman explained that she couldn’t pick me up because of a fair going on in town so she couldn’t get near the station.

For years, I’d patted the cat of a couple who traveled on the same train and who got off a few stops north of mine. Their cat purred so loudly you’d hear him even if you were seated four or five rows away. People don’t generally speak with strangers on this train, but we began to chat. On hearing of my situation they immediately told me they’d drive me home. They live in the opposite direction, it was late, and their kitty gets carsick but they didn’t hesitate. I know it’s not service when friends do you a huge favor, but the feeling of gratitude is similar.

Do you have examples of great service to share?

Service of Early Adopters

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Thank goodness for early adopters. A friend’s husband was always the first to own the latest gadget and I admire adventurers like him, although I’ve rarely been one.

The most obvious reason is related to cost. The frugal shopper in me remembers paying a fortune for a calculator, which became a promo giveaway a few years later.

And then I experienced another reason to hold back: To let others iron out the kinks so when I buy the gizmo, gadget or new-fangled whatever, it’s flawless.

I helped launch an innovative home furnishings product that interior designers scrambled to be the first to install. We were thrilled to take photos of this innovative window shade in the wonderful settings they created. They loved the look.

And then the complaints began when the ground-breaking cord mechanism stuck and decorators and homeowners alike found that they couldn’t clean the shades as instructed.

So I remembered not to be first when I considered an electric car and then wondered where I’d find plugs to feed it during my travels [or even where I live]. If I hear of a new medication, I don’t want to be the one to exhibit side effects that didn’t come out in drug trials.

The iPhone 4 brought this topic to mind. The New York Post headline, “Apple Slapped with ‘Death Grip’ Suits Calling Out the iPhone,” reflected some of the drama surrounding the sensitive antenna that frames the phone [on the left-hand corner] and causes dropped calls on the device that ranges in price from $700-$200. Some of the first adapters are suing Apple and AT&T, according to Emily Ngo and Michael Blaustein, who wrote the article, for “negligence, breach of implied warranty, knowingly selling a defective product and a slew of other charges.”

One of the phone owners Ngo and Blaustein quoted said he “felt like a guinea pig.” In my mind, that’s what early adopters are and have always been and that’s the service they provide us all. They often pay a lot of money to satisfy their adventurous and inquisitive natures so that the rest of us can enjoy the fruits of their support.

What has been your experience when you’ve been an early adopter and are you driven to be one?

Service of Little Luxuries

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

It’s easy to criticize how others spend–or you may feel waste–money. We all have our little luxuries and they aren’t the same. Chances are, what’s important to you is considered frivolous to someone else and vice versa.

An acquaintance bought a pair of non-prescription designer sunglasses at what was for her a bargain price of $150. They normally cost $400, she said. Hiding behind those shades must make her feel like a million bucks. As long as I don’t squint when I’m in the sun and they look OK, what makes me happy is to pay $25 or less for sunglasses. I love beautiful clothes and accessories, though I’ve never been fashion label-addicted or impressed. It’s the overall effect I’m after at the best price I can find. Neither of us is right or wrong.

A bag of truffled [sic] popcorn @ $8.99 for three ounces and a $206 olive-wood handled picnic knife were featured in a Town & Country column, “Life’s a Picnic,” in the June issue. They got me thinking of my little luxuries. My current favorites: Verbena-scented soap, greeting cards on fine paper, creamy lipstick, getting my hair done when I don’t need it cut, buying a perfect gift and dinner party favors.

I also observe others’ essential non-essentials. Some are not so small.

**A frugal friend who lived in a series of rental apartments couldn’t move in without a new refrigerator and top-of-the-line washing machine. In every other way, she was totally unspoiled and a penny-pincher by necessity. Hot water, disinfectant applied with a new sponge on the appliances that came with the apartments was not an option for her.

**Another pal watched every dime spent on herself and spent almost none. Fresh flowers were her only extravagance if you don’t count the wonderful, creative gifts she gave friends.

**I know people who still smoke. A pack runs upwards of $7 in New York City and I bet they can’t buy just one.

**Brought up to read the right side of the menu [where the prices are listed] before ordering food at a restaurant, I discovered my mom wasn’t as careful when traveling.

**Some eat dinner nightly with a bottle of wine. If you know where to buy wine these days, it can cost less than soda, milk, juice, or bottled tea or water. Compared to water from a tap, all of these drinks are luxuries.

**Manicures, pedicures, massages and other spa amenities may not be my style but are very much in style and beloved.

What are your small–or not so small–luxuries? Have these changed recently? Are you judgmental about friends’ picks? Any in particular?

Service of Tips

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

I’ve wanted to touch on the topic of tips since April when Susannah Cahalan wrote about them in The New York Post. In “Tip-jar madness takes city,” she pointed out that tip cups are cropping up all over the place where we’d not before seen them-at hot dog stands at baseball games, in movie theatres by the popcorn, soda and candy counter, even at stores with grocery baggers. Nobody takes bags to a car for customers because most city people don’t have or use cars for grocery shopping. And in the suburbs, people bring their heavy bags to their car in carts.

I began to look for tip cups and notice them now on deli counters all year long. We’d see them only at holiday time before.

Cahalan wrote “New Yorkers are typically more generous than the rest of the nation-paying an average gratuity of 18 percent, versus the nationwide 15 percent.” At the end of the article, she provided an estimate of tips that New Yorkers give a year–$3,333.79. I haven’t totaled mine, but I disagree with some of the figures on which her total is based-which is a demographic issue. I don’t hire a nanny so the $777 allocated doesn’t apply but there is no money listed for a cleaning person.

We give far more than $30 to our building superintendent and each doorman at holiday time, but we don’t eat out three times a week anymore so I doubt that we give $1,170 to restaurant wait staff. I prefer walking and taking the subway–the fastest way to get around town–so I doubt I tip cab drivers $308.88 in 12 months. And I never go to the hairdresser for a haircut only, so it’s hard to tell what part of the tip I give relates to the $34.23 Cahalan allocated, but this seems on the low side. In fact, the proportion of tips for waiters vs. say, a doorman you see daily appears out of whack and points to another reason the population is becoming increasingly fat.

There are times when I enjoy giving a tip. One is when I buy a case or two of wine at Trader Joe on East 14th Street [which is easy to do as you can pay $36 for a dozen pretty amazing bottles]. There are volunteer staffers with hand trucks to walk the cases–cheerfully–to your car even if it’s parked a few blocks away. They won’t even let you load the boxes into the trunk.

Another is when the store has kitty litter only in 50 lb bags, not the usual 20 lb ones I prefer. I’m grateful for help lugging the bag to my car and pleased to thank with more than a smile.

A former boss told me that she left a restaurant near Lincoln Center that had the worst service she’d ever encountered and as she walked up Broadway, the offending waiter raced after her to tell her she’d forgotten to add a tip on her credit card receipt. She was outspoken and you can imagine what her response was.

What about cab or ambulette drivers who provide harrowing rides?

On the other side of the coin, I was appalled by an overstuffed 20-something brat who complained about the tip rule that’s clearly marked on menus at most restaurants in the city. For parties over six or eight, management automatically adds 15 percent to the bill. His gripe: “I paid $100 for my meal” [and given this was some years ago, make that $150 today]. “Why should I pay any more than that?” Guess this miser thought waiters in expensive restaurants work for free. The rule was made due to such stingy, self-indulgent people.

My mother’s next door neighbor was constantly annoyed because the super at their apartment building dragged his feet when she called him to fix something. She noticed that the same man came in a trice when my mom asked for help. Mom told her a million times to give the super a tip when he’d worked at her place and she’d say, “I only tip at Christmas.” No wonder she often had to wait until then to get action.

For a haircut, meal or manicure, what percentage do you tip? Have you noticed tip cups in new places where you work and live? Do you feel intimidated into give tips when you see a cup or even when service is poor?

Service of Bonuses

Thursday, April 29th, 2010


There’s lots of talk about Wall Street and bank bonuses as well as the toys in Happy Meals, which got me thinking of the subject of the windfalls I’ve most enjoyed.

milkshakeIn college, Brigham’s milk shakes stood out. Next to a tall glass of thick coffee ambrosia–sometimes chocolate or strawberry–the milkshake-maker set down the icy-cold metal container in which s/he’d assembled–and the machine stirred–the concoction. The bonus contained almost as much as the original portion. Sigh.

lifesaverI’ll never forget the Lifesaver books my mom got as a stockholder [maybe from Kraft Foods?] at Christmastime. The packaging was in the shape of a book which, when you opened it, was filled with a remarkable assortment of Lifesavers. I’ve owned stock in various companies for eons and I’ve never received such a gift.

I’m thrilled when a conductor gives the audience an encore, which happens less and less these days. Union rules?

freeadviceShortly after I’d left Art & Antiques magazine, I helped out a stranger who called for advice about his art gallery opening. Someone suggested to him that I might help even though I’d launched a business in a different stratosphere. During our brief phone call, I recommended media he should invite and made some marketing suggestions. I soon forgot about the conversation that was similar to hundreds that I’ve had over the years. On Thanksgiving morning, the elevator man handed me an envelope from the gallery owner. In the thank you note was a very generous check. It was the first and the last time I saw a cent from someone needing “just a little information.”

When newsletters were printed the old fashioned way, large PR agencies spent a ton of money with local printers. The one we used was tremendously generous. As we left the restaurant after lunch, the waiter handed me an entire cheesecake because I’d swooned over the slice I’d just eaten. A total treat.

I mentor college and graduate students. When they incorporate some of my suggestions into their approach, or continue to ask me questions once the relationship/school year is officially over, these events are at the top of my bonus list.

What have been some of your most memorable or favorite bonuses?


Service of Details

Monday, April 26th, 2010


Every business involves hundreds of details. I often think that one of the clues to Martha Stewart’s success is that she is said to be a micromanager and detail-obsessed. Time permitting, so am I, revising and editing copy until the moment I send it to a client or post it here.

Many businesses succeed regardless. A mystery.

Details be Damned

After a tasty lunch as a guest at a white tablecloth level restaurant near our office, a PR colleague and blogger, David Reich, My 2 Cents, mentioned something that I also notice when I walk by it several times a day: The street outside this place, that makes an effort with its food and décor, always looks fiercely skuzzy. Nobody polices the sidewalk and curb during the day to pick up what people toss, nor does it look like they ever scrub the real estate around them. It always looks dingy and dirty. It’s not the case with any of the other [food] businesses around us-including the Chinese [largely] takeout spot with the $1.85 wonton soup I mentioned in “Service of How Do they Do It?,” an earlier post. The takeout place is just 300 paces up the street and around the corner.

Irony: The restaurant has plenty of customers and doesn’t seem to suffer from what for us is a turn-off.

drwaitingroomI went only once to a particular blood test mill. Why? There was no soap in the bathroom and when I inquired, the woman who took my blood shrugged. The waiting room was standing-room-only.

sundaynytimesIt drives me nuts when I get home and realize that my Sunday newspaper is missing a section–usually a favorite. I blame myself for not carefully vetting the stack before heading for the cashier. At $5 to $6 [upstate surcharge], I expect the assemblers to take care. The paper is usually a sell-out at the grocery and convenience stores, gas stations and pharmacies that carry it.

Detail Delights

Twenty blocks north of the restaurant-with-the-dirty-sidewalk there’s an indoor parking garage–on East 63rd Street off of Lexington Avenue. I’ve joked for years that I should have a picnic on its shiny, freshly painted gray floor. I’ve never seen such a remarkably clean garage entrance–or business–open to the public, anywhere. I’ve also never seen anyone drive in nor have I parked there-my car isn’t clean enough.

hairsalonWhen I get my hair done, Stacy gives the woman who washes it some of the shampoo and cream rinse she buys because she doesn’t like what the salon owner supplies. I’m not there often enough to tell whether she has more clients than the others. She’s always busy when I come.

I admire well-made clothes, and price doesn’t always enter in. I’ve been appalled at the lousiest construction and sleaziest fabrics of clothes hanging in some of New York’s trendiest boutiques while finds in favorite discount haunts feature the finest cotton, silk or linen with well-finished seams and detailing. Go figure.

My dentist, Kenneth Hochman, “Service of Assistants,” makes me laugh [and not just to show off his handiwork].

Sam, the coffee-cart man on East 44th Street, “Coffee Service with More Than a Smile,”  knows my name, how I take my coffee and waves at me as I walk by.

What details do you appreciate most and which missing ones annoy you? Do you think the omitted ones affect business success?


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