Archive for the ‘Indifference’ Category

Service of Do It Yourself in a Digital Age: Saga of Installing a Cable TV Digital Adapter

Monday, August 19th, 2013

Digital Adaptor Box

Our cable television service provider sent us a letter headlined: “Name of Company is going All Digital” followed by the subhead “Order any Digital Adapters you may need today.”

The letter noted: “This will affect you only if your cable line is plugged directly from the wall into your TV, VCR or DVD.” Our TV is. The letter warned, “Please order before August 6 to avoid losing your picture on August 13.”

To get the box, which should have taken two minutes online, I spent over 2 hours in some eight to 10 follow up phone calls for reasons ranging from “your payment is past due,” which it wasn’t to my asking “where is the box you said would arrive on Saturday?”

Another call was to cancel a visit by an installer that we learned about through a message left on our home phone. We never requested this. From the start I’d opted for the do-it-yourself setup to save 1) $40+ and 2) the aggravation and stress of waiting for a service person to come on time–if ever.

The box arrived last week and after work one night my husband and I laid out all the elements on the bed in the order described in the brochure and methodically removed the existing cable from the original installation and attached the coaxial cable here and there, where it belonged. We were elated when the new digital box blinked at us with green flashes as it should.

We had no TV picture so I called the toll free number to activate the system as instructed and a recorded message said to wait an hour and call back if the system wasn’t up by then. I set a timer, ate dinner and called because the green flashes had turned to red ones and I couldn’t turn on the TV.

The nicest, kindest, most patient customer service person told me that I wasn’t going to believe what he was going to say. I thought, “Fiddlesticks: That I need a new TV.” That wasn’t it: “You don’t need a digital adapter, Ma’am. I will help you restore the setup you had.”

The coup de grace: Lucky I confirmed the next step: that I should return the digital adapter, cables, remote and instruction booklets in the box using the Fed Ex label supplied. “No,” he said, “Please return it to the Name Of Company‘s store.” Translation: More time wasted. I’m planning to hand them the open box–photo at the top of the post–so as not to spend another second on this project.

I have a while to return it before I’m charged for the device. The store isn’t convenient to my office or home. I hope there isn’t a line as the customer service man implied that I’m far from the only person in this situation. “Did you find out you needed the adapter via letter?” he’d asked me. We decided that I and all the others in my boat received the letter due to a database error.

I feel so insecure about my TV signal that I’m waiting for a blackout when I try to turn on the TV one night. If this happens, I’ll know how to avoid the phone and online technology and where to go to get another box and thanks to the dry run, just how to install it.

Have you experienced or heard of a similar mix-up? Think it is too much to ask that the database that caused the wrong people to get the misguided letter send out a second one telling those customers to ignore the first? Do corporations so hate admitting a mistake that they’d rather cause their customers to waste countless hours in fruitless pursuits while smugly charging them a tidy sum every month?

Service of Buying on Principle

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

The other week, NYC introduced its “Taxi of Tomorrow” and public advocate Bill de Blasio [Photo right, below] howled. I heard him talk about the city’s choice of foreign partner on the radio and on his website he noted that the billion dollar contract for “the exclusive right to manufacture New York’s taxis” is going to a business that operates in Iran. It’s one of a dozen car companies on de Blasio’s “Iran Watch List” that “targets businesses that operate in Iran and undermine economic sanctions.”

The website quotes de Blasio: “You cannot do business with the people of New York City with one hand, and prop up the dangerous regime in Tehran with the other. For our billion dollars, taxpayers and taxi riders deserve a guarantee that ____ will stop selling its vehicles to Iran.” I put the space in the quote although de Blasio identifies the company on his blog.

When I’ve met investment advisors, they’ve asked me if there are any companies or industries I wouldn’t want to support. It’s a good question for many reasons. Some might forget and inadvertantly invest in–and be accused of insider trading–stock in a company the firm they work for advises. Cigarette or arms manufacturers might be on the “no” list for others.

There’s a side issue to de Blasio’s point that’s worth a mention even if off-topic. I identified the car manufacturer to a friend who observed: “Why didn’t the city pick an American brand?” As I began to write I also remembered a buy American initiative where participating manufacturers hung the red, white and blue “Made in America” tag with logo on clothing, appliances and other products. Would this be unfitting today?

In wartime, many won’t buy anything made by their enemy. Some have longer memories than others and children often keep up their parents’ boycotts. Is such a consideration anti-business and therefore inappropriate in a tight economy? Or do we have no enemies?

Are there things you won’t invest in, buy, attend or support on principle, or is such thinking so yesterday?

Service of The Only Show in Town

Monday, March 19th, 2012

When Greg Smith left a much talked-about billet doux on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, “Why I am Leaving Goldman Sachs,” he set off enough tongue wagging that Mayor Bloomberg dashed to the banking institution to give management a supportive hug.

I read and heard some of the conversation.  Take-aways: The company was always known for making money and had no reputation for treating its customers either with kid gloves or kindly. Further, as they are currently about the only investment banking company left standing, companies that need their services don’t have a choice.

I thought of this when a client described his experience at a well known convention center, [not in NYC], where there is only one choice of vendor if you want to light your exhibition booth-an essential for visitors to see what you’re selling.

At some trade shows or art, craft and other events open to the public at convention centers, lighting is part of the exhibit space package, but not at this one.

My client followed the procedure and placed his order by fax, before the deadline. It was worth it: After the deadline, the price for the lighting would increase almost 60 percent.

On the second day of the show, he arrived five minutes before the doors opened as his exhibit was set up. He found a letter from the electric vendor in his booth. It noted that since he hadn’t placed an order, if he didn’t pay for the electricity at the show office immediately, they would turn off his lights.

With no minutes to spare before crowds swooped down the aisles, he dashed over and explained to two young men at this vendor’s desk that he had sent a fax with his order-even kept a confirmation that the fax went through. They replied, “That doesn’t mean it went through.”

He said he’d pay but as he’d placed the order before the deadline, he’d appreciate the pre-show price. Not possible. One replied, “It’s not up to me.” Client: “So who is it up to?” Answer: “It’s up to the fax machine.”

The young men went on to say that the instructions stated he should receive an email confirmation. There was no such info on the fax sheet-my client checked on his return to his workshop office–though he admitted it might have been in the online instructions.

“They weren’t aggressively rude,” he noted. “However, they didn’t get it and they didn’t care. They probably know that they are the only show in town.”

My client is a successful businessman and entrepreneur-which describes many of the hundreds of exhibitors at this event and thousands if you count all the others. He is so busy filling orders–and does most everything himself–that he hasn’t had time to lodge an official complaint to the vendor and the show management–yet another dynamic that this vendor and others like it count on. [Perhaps he’ll copy this post and fax it in with a note: “She is writing about YOU,” and that he tells them they are lucky because the blog’s policy is not to bash a brand unless it is in the news.]

This is my prediction: Goldman Sachs and this event’s lighting vendor had best watch their backs. Regardless of unpromising odds, I bet that an enterprising person with a better mousetrap and attitude, such as Fredrick W. Smith who founded Federal Express in 1971, will slip in and knock out Goldman Sachs, this lighting vendor and countless others. Who would have thought, some 41 years ago, that the United States Postal Service would have competitors such as FedEx and the Internet?

Do you know of other companies or services that are the only shows in town that don’t fight to maintain their positions, they smugly take advantage of it? How about those that honor their spot and try to do everything right?

Service of Who Approved This?

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

I just wasted 10 minutes trying to order a Christmas gift on line.

Long story short, I went to the site’s online chat to ask how to delete something from my order. I explained that while I carefully clicked one size, the item on the invoice was a different–and the wrong-size–and I couldn’t see where, on the screen, to delete it. I’d added the right size and color by then.

I followed the directions of how to go back to the order page “without messing up our system by back-clicking” and thought I’d solved things by removing the “1” leaving the “quantity” square blank. Up came a red alert notice that in effect wouldn’t let me leave a blank quantity.

Back to online chat. I got a set of instructions to change the spam filter on my computer in order for their site to do thus and such ….at which point I thanked and said I’d cancel the whole thing and I got off the site.

Went to LL Bean where I noticed there was a delete option you couldn’t miss under every ordered item.

So I wondered who had approved the system for the first website. They sure knew what they were doing search engine optimization-wise: Their site was the first one that popped up when I inserted in Google the key words identifying what I wanted to buy. But their site wasn’t customer friendly for people who don’t want to muck around with their computer’s cookie and spam invasion-level just to buy something.

As for this self stick label, [photo left], the buyer at Home Goods hadn’t explained to his/her Chinese supplier that eight year olds don’t shop at this store so that most customers would be giving this item as a stocking stuffer or small gift and they’d want to remove the price. This wasn’t simple to do: The sticker was under cellophane wrap. So who placed the order and approved the shipment?

streetglitchestarlump002small2This asphalt street/sidewalk sculpture, [right] where the bus stops, has driven me nuts for months. I waited for someone to fix the sloppy application of asphalt. Nobody came. Yet somebody approved the job and somebody was paid. Who pays the lawyer and settlement when people tumble on the mess and hurt themselves?

Last, on my walk to work yesterday, I was surprised by a lake on 47th Street near First Avenue [left]. It had rained in a mostly misty way the day before and overnight, but nothing much. It was still raining in the morning, but again, no cats and dogs. Near the UN and right by one of the Trump properties, one would think that engineers might keep drains clear or slant the street so that children didn’t mistake the spot for a pond for sailing toy boats. Imagine if we had a freeze: Ice skating for one and all! Cars slowed down when they saw the pool in daylight: At night, some might find the deep water in the middle of the street quite a surprise.

Have you wondered how certain procedures and/or jobs were approved and who OK’d them?  I’d love to know of other examples.

Service of Taxis

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

There were 7,700 complaints about taxi drivers in NYC, February-February 2010-2011, according to Andrew Grossman. In his Wall Street Journal article “Many Taxi Complaints, Little Action,” he noted that these reports of dangerous or discourteous behavior resulted in hearings for 11 percent of the drivers, according to Taxi & Limousine Commission statistics.

I’m also sure that the 7,700 complaints are only a fraction of the number of complaints that there might be. On the way in to work today I was almost run over by a taxi driven by a man who wanted to make the turn onto 42nd Street at Second Avenue when he was ready to, whether or not there were pedestrians crossing at the light. It happened so fast I didn’t get his license.

Grossman also reported that after making the complaint, few bothered to take the next step to get the hearing process rolling, which was to send back to the city a letter that the city had sent them. Whew! What effort! An onerous time-killer.

Most city people or frequent travelers to cities have at least one memorable taxi story, their own or a friend’s.

A client told of a hair-raising drive to a NYC airport even though he had plenty of time and told this to the driver. He pleaded with him to slow down. Driver didn’t listen.

My parents found themselves face on with a taxi in a two lane, two-way NYC tunnel. He was passing another car and he ignored the “no passing” signs and double yellow line.

A colleague told of a nut driver who swore nonstop after she entered the car, using increasingly foul language. She scrambled out and tossed money at him when she could safely exit.

I saw a driver, enraged from having to stand in traffic, dash off at such a rate his wheels jumped on the sidewalk at a crosswalk barely missing people waiting there for the light to change. His passenger must have had an anxious ride. Nobody on the street had time to note his license number because they were jumping out of his way.

Given the potential harm to others–Grossman described additional complaints such as “drivers offering marijuana and whiskey and pulling away before riders get both legs out of the car,” as well as one medallion with eight passenger complaints because the driver appeared to be sleeping or not fully alert–don’t we owe it to fellow pedestrians and passengers alike to follow up on such behavior?

What’s the cause of this passenger passivity: Lack of time? Ennui? Fear of retribution? Dread of causing someone to lose his/her job? Do you have a taxi story–good or bad?

Service of Thinking of Others

Monday, July 11th, 2011

I’ve covered manners from all sides in at least a dozen posts. Awareness of others, in some cultures, is all you need to get along. What’s great about it is that it’s not complicated or hard to do and takes little time to learn.

Here are a few recent examples of a few who need remediation to grasp the concept of thinking of others:

Need of a Change…But Where?

In his Social Q’s column in The New York Times, Philip Galanes selected a letter from a California reader who complained about parents who changed their baby’s diapers on dining surfaces: A communal table and an airline food tray. The solution was convenient for the parents but did they for one second think of the yech-factor for their neighbors some of whom were trapped in seats on the plane?

Water, Water Everywhere But…

We were riveted by Adam Hochschild on Book TV over the 4th of July weekend. The “Mother Jones” founder was discussing his book, “To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918.”

Unusual for Book TV, he accompanied his talk with photos and concluded with a compelling slide show of gravesites in France. At one point, his voice got rough and began to skip and I asked my husband, “Why doesn’t someone bring him some water?”  My husband noted, “Why isn’t water already up there?”

Hochschild soldiered on and when his voice gave out a third time, he asked for some water and eventually it came. Preparing for a speaker is more than sending out the invitations, ordering coffee and cookies and microphones. It involves common sense. Empathy and observation would help. Hochschild shouldn’t have had to ask.

You’re Here? So What?

We had lunch at an upstate restaurant we’ve been to quite frequently. We have spoken with the owner numerous times over the years. He wasn’t around when we arrived but soon stood at the hostess’s lectern pounding away at a computer and then he paced the floor a few times.

He never said a word to any of the guests, didn’t smile at us, say “hello” or look at our tables to check liquid levels in water or wine glasses. My husband said “Everyone has their bad day, maybe the chef or evening wait crew cancelled.”

Maybe, but I don’t think the owner of a restaurant can let his mood or stress affect his tableside manner. He isn’t thinking of its affect on guests who like to be made to feel welcome and who have so many other choices. Was he worried about the relatively new, successful Barbeque place across the street? His attitude is sending customers over there for sure.

His manner has already rubbed off on the hostess. She didn’t walk us to our table, waved us in the direction of a few of the options, was blasé in her greeting and enthusiastic only about getting to her mobile phone for a chat.

Do you have examples of people who haven’t–or have–thought of others? Do you agree that such a mindset is the key to success of much of what we do? Is it too much of a chore for most and not worth the trouble?

Service of Man vs. Beast

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

We attended a magnificent New Years Eve party with a wonderful group of people who gathered at the country home of friends handsomely dressed for the holidays both inside and out. Our hosts shared two stories that illustrate drastic differences between the care of animals and people.

I’ll start with John’s recent adventure to determine the cause for pain that has laid him low for weeks. During a recent visit to a specialist, the doctor noted that all tests came back negative and he told John to return in several months. Frustrated and wondering how he was supposed to work and live feeling as ill as he still did, [weeks of antibiotics hadn’t done the trick], John asked, “Nothing showed on the sonogram either?”

The doctor said, “sonogram?” and scuttled out of the room returning with Xrays that clearly showed his kidneys and three large stones. The stones weren’t going anywhere, said the doctor, who planned surgery to remove them in the New Year. He sounded surprised when he learned from John’s primary doctor that one of the stones had decided to move out on Christmas Eve. [The pain involved in this exit is said to be equal to childbirth.]

Almost simultaneously, John and Bob found the perfect white kitten to join their family and to become their black cat’s sister. Before they could take her home from PETCO, that helps shelters find families for pets, they had to fill out a long form about themselves and agreed to be interviewed by the kitten’s human foster mother/rescuer. [By the way: January 15 and 16 is a National Pet Adoption weekend at some stores.]

Hoping to move the process along, John told the PETCO associate that they had a city and country home, both were employed, had shared their lives with Spooky [the cat] for umpteen years and so forth. The only information that drew any positive reaction was that they had paid thousands of dollars to save Spooky who, as a result of complicated surgery and intensive care, lived an additional eight healthy years. Nevertheless before they’d let John take home the diminutive furry friend, he and Bob would still have to be interviewed and approved by the kitten’s volunteer foster mother–no exceptions.

I’ve been a pet owner for years and I’m impressed that animals aren’t handed out to people helter skelter. But something’s wrong here. How do we beg for human care that’s at least as good as how we treat our pets?

Service of Dependability

Monday, January 3rd, 2011

I have mentored amazing college and grad students for years and have been impressed by hundreds of accomplished scholarship applicants since I’ve served on the New York Women in Communications Foundation scholarship committee. This is why I was distressed by the observation of a person I met over the holidays who described his experience hiring assistants.

When an applicant calls him, he’ll say, “Please call me next Wednesday between noon and 2 and I’ll be able to speak with you then,” [or whatever day and timeframe they agree is convenient for both]. He said that he never again hears from 75 percent of job seekers. He explained why he always does this. “I can teach almost anyone what they need to know to help me, but I require a dependable person.”

I mentioned this to a friend who wasn’t surprised. He said that an assistant he’d recently hired arrived late his first day at the ad agency. He immediately called the young man into his office and said: “This isn’t going to work. Goodbye,” and noted, “Can you imagine arriving late on your first day at a new job?”

I was almost late for my first day at a new magazine. I couldn’t find the building! [Interviews took place at a borrowed office elsewhere.] The address would have put it in the middle of Madison Avenue. This happened long before cell phones. Turns out the publisher had given everyone the wrong street number–and because I’d left home in plenty of time, I was on time after dashing into every building on either side of Madison Avenue until I found the right one.

We have a furnace contract with the company that sells us fuel for the house yet we are insecure every time we call the company in an emergency because while the repair people might seem to fix the immediate problem, they inevitably create other ones. Meanwhile, we’ve found a young man who knows his boilers and furnaces and we sleep well after he’s installed the correct valves and reversed some of the incomplete “fixes” that the oil company staffers have made.

You may wonder why we know that something’s wrong. Last week, after an emergency visit by the oil company repairman, the wall next to the furnace room shook violently when the furnace kicked in, something it had never before done, and we heard a new noise–that turned out to be air–that sounded like spitting water. We called in the specialist. He identified and fixed the problem in minutes and told us we can safely hold off on a major repair that the oil company person told us we must tend to ASAP.

Why doesn’t this articulate, knowledgeable and reliable young man have an assistant? None have worked out, he said. He hires his brothers or Dad when he needs a hand.

And it’s not just young people and assistants these days. When criticized for not returning to NJ after the late December blizzard snarled roads and highways, Governor Christie [whose Lt. Governor was out of state at the same time] said he’d promised to take his children to Disneyland and his children come first. He was in a rush to leave before the storm so he moved up his departure time. He could easily have sent his kids along with his wife and gone to be with them when the emergency was over. He obviously thinks it was an emergency–he requested Federal aid as a result of the storm. Think he’d fire an assistant or subordinate with an approach like his?

Has the Valley Girl-inspired “whateverrrrrr” word misled some people to think that any old how or any which way and/or time is acceptable? Is dependability perception or reality? Is dependability overrated? Please share some examples of reliable and dependable people and/or those who act less so.

Service of Compassion in Medical Care

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Just how much empathy and compassion should a doctor feel and exhibit? I’m of two minds.

Dr. Sally Satel, who wrote “Physician, Humanize Thyself” in The Wall Street Journal, spoke of the White Coat Ceremony for medical students that she claimed Dr. Arnold P. Gold of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons popularized. The symbolism of the ceremony, according to the Columbia University chaplain, is for doctors to consider their coats “cloaks of compassion.” Medical schools all over the country now conduct these ceremonies.

And I’m all for it. Having witnessed a top-rated specialist [according to a yearly listing in New York Magazine] treat my husband, who was suffering and weak, with less compassion than a plumber would feel for a pipe, I question the man’s reason for becoming a doctor. We see misfits in all sorts of professions, which is no excuse, but this fellow was all sorts of things he didn’t have to be: Rude, offhanded and wrong to the extreme in his approach to a diagnosis. Turned out my husband did have something in this person’s specialty, generated by a nasty tick bite, causing two+ months high fever and eventually the inability to get out of bed. [Husband is fine now.] A person like this doctor wouldn’t understand the significance of this or any other kind of compassion-related ceremony.

On the other hand, when confronted with horrendous disfigurement and frailty or facing a tricky operation with scalpel in hand, a doctor whose empathy makes him fall apart isn’t of much help, either. Referring to “respectful attentiveness and a genuine commitment to a patient’s welfare” Dr. Satel wrote: “It happens not in the classroom, of course, but ideally on the wards and in clinics under the watchful mentorship of seasoned physicians.” Maybe the nasty doctor spent all his time in the classroom.

Dr. Satel points to government intrusion, at junctures in recent history, as the cause for lack of compassion. As doctors are increasingly robbed of options by insurance companies and/or time–because of paperwork required by government regulation in combination with the numbers of patients they must treat in order to meet budgets and satisfy what Medicare will pay for-they can’t squeeze in anything else, much less compassion. [Medicaid seems to have an unlimited bank account and my advice is if you get really sick, sell everything and go on Medicaid, but I digress].

Satel concludes: “Juggling the timeless injunction to all doctors-be a mensch-with concepts like ‘Medicare metrics’ and ‘standardization’ (the new watchwords in health reform) will make it even harder for the newly coated students to become the kind of doctors that they themselves would like to have. An induction ritual acknowledging as much wouldn’t hurt.”

Wouldn’t a compassionate person still be compassionate under any circumstances? Is it the patient’s fault that a doctor must see 30 patients in the time she/he used to see eight to 10 or that the doctor has a pound of paperwork to fill out after every visit?

What can the public do about changing this increasingly unreasonable turn of events?

Service of Guidelines

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Every job has guidelines. People often ignore, forget or question them but a few procedures are infallible and dangerous to disregard because of potential consequences.

Employees casually shrug off 1) good manners in communicating with office colleagues 2) a pleasant demeanor when speaking with patients and their family members in a hospital or nursing home or 3) gracious service at a spa or restaurant. You’ve heard the perpetrators claim: “Wasting time on such frills is so yesterday and I’m not paid for that, anyway.” I’m convinced that those sentiments manipulate insecure associates who don’t want to appear old fashioned–the opposite of hip–so they follow.

Nobody gets really hurt when people ignore some guidelines. Ignore others and the outcome can range from costly to horrific. A friend had to inspect every pill each nurse handed her husband while he was in the hospital because a careless one had given him a medication to which he was allergic. The warning about his allergy was clearly noted on his chart, but who looks?

Then there’s Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s downfall. For anyone dealing with the press, there is one guideline for which there are no exceptions: There is no off the record. Translation: Unless you don’t care or want it to leak out, when dealing with the media, keep your mouth shut about proprietary information or your opinion, if it doesn’t match the mission. That means not a word to your cousin, sister-in-law or some freelance writer for a publication that has nothing to do with your business–period. Why? Because the press’s guideline is the opposite: To get you to say something news, gossip or gotcha-worthy.

Some guidelines seem obvious and yet need to be spelled out: When planning a fieldtrip for children, spec out where you are going and every detail about the outing. Last week a 12 year old drowned at a beach that had no lifeguard. Two teachers from a NYC school and an intern watching 24 children by the ocean did not take the place of a lifeguard and a hidden rip current didn’t help. I’m dumbfounded that before finalizing the trip nobody called the town hall or local authorities to confirm that there was a lifeguard on duty or looked up the beach’s summer schedule on line.

Public school children aren’t the only victims. I knew a family who lost a child during an overnight at an expensive summer camp. The counselor pitched camp near a ravine and the child woke up in the middle of the night, became disoriented and fell into the canyon.

I admire the adults who take children on class trips especially in the NYC subway. I’ve seen teachers herd hoards of kids into a subway car and out at the right stop. It’s important to show the children points of interest where they live, but guidelines are essential in these instances.

What other guidelines are meant to be followed, no exception?

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