Sunday, May 27, 2012

Customer Service and Other Myths……..

I don’t know. Maybe it is just me. Maybe I am getting a little cranky as the years fly by, but I am just not feeling the love from the world of commerce anymore. I don’t know what has happened to what used to be known as “customer service”, but it’s a premise that now could be listed on the side of a milk carton.  I mean, if you are at the grocery store and $47 worth of stuff fits into one bag, somebody there should say “thank you”.

 I am not asking for conversation, Lord knows, I am not one for idle chit chat, I guess I just want a simple acknowledgement that says “I know you can shop anywhere, thanks for shopping here”….and a simple one word expression of gratitude would do. Instead, recently, as I was caught between the cashier telling the bagger the horrid details of a date gone bad, I was so grateful to be done and on my way, that I was the one who said “thank you” as she handed me my receipt!

Two days ago, I stopped at a major national home improvement store for a small can of paint to finish a project. I selected what I needed and went to the checkout where two cashiers were engrossed in conversation. I was the only one there for the moment and stood quietly until they finished. Finally, one of them turned to me, “did you want to buy something?” Are you kidding me? “Oh no,” I answered, “I was just passing by and I thought I’d drop in to say hello”.

In New Jersey, it is illegal to get out of your car and pump gas. The men that are paid to do it, aren’t happy about that law either. It is an understanding between the driver and the station attendant. No customer service. No talking. (I'm actually kind of okay with that one.) Recently, I had to make an appointment with the cable company for a repair and was told that they would be here between 9:00 am and 7:30 pm. I asked what the chances were that it would be some time after twelve noon so I could go to work in the morning, and the CS rep responded “do you feel lucky?”

Now, I am going to interrupt this rant to exclude two major retail operations from offering poor customer service. The first one is the Apple Store.  We all know Apple doesn’t need to make one dollar more this year to still turn a profit, and yet, if you walk into that store, within seconds, a young person in a blue shirt will approach you to offer help. If you are having a problem of some sort, they will ask if you would like to speak with a “genius”. (It’s all free, so don’t ask how much it would be to talk to someone who is ‘just kind of smart’ like I did). Apple has nailed what it means to provide good customer service.

The other chain store is Publix Food Stores in Florida. Now, it may be the same in other states, but I have only been to the ones in Florida so that is what I will speak to. There are not any located in the state where I live, so you can imagine my surprise when I first shopped at a Publix and was greeted at the checkout with “Thank you for shopping here. Did you find everything you were looking for?” I replied with a few comments and she smiled, “I detect an accent. Where are you from?” (Yo, New Jersey has an accent?) When I answered, she responded, “Well, you have the best corn up there!” Bingo! She is also intelligent! And it didn’t stop there. When the bagger finished putting the groceries back into my cart, he asked, “Can I help you to your car?” Wow! Publix wins the prize on that one!

At Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retail store, there are only two people who talk to you (and often it’s the same person), the greeter on the way in, and the person who checks your receipt on the way out to make sure you are not stealing anything. Otherwise, you’re met with a compilation of grunts and pointing when seeking help from an "associate".

This morning, not familiar with the grocery isle set up in our local Wal-Mart, I asked a young man who was kneeling down stocking shelves where the Splenda was. He wildly threw his arm up waving over to the next isle. It was then that I realized he was texting someone while working. Yes, Wal-Mart, while you are watching me to make sure that I am not taking anything I didn’t pay for, your employees are texting from phones in their pockets – and it’s probably to each other.

However, I wouldn’t go on like this if I couldn’t offer a solution. Since very few people use cash anymore, I suggest that after swiping your card, and prior to you tapping out your pin number, a screen appears that asks you to check the appropriate box. “How would you rate our employees?  

o   Very Helpful
o   Somewhat Helpful
o   Just okay
o   Ignorant

I am telling you, retailers will find this one second survey a real eye-opener. Hey, maybe the responses could become an app that employees can download on their cell phones. That way, while they're  texting, they can see how well they are doing at their jobs. Or not.

Okay. I feel better. Got this whole lack of customer service thing off my chest. And before I get emails, I know that there are many, many people working out there providing excellent customer service and trying their best to deal with what I’m sure can be very difficult customers. But in the last few days, I just haven’t come across any. And I miss them. Is it just me?

PS. Thank you for stopping by to read this blog! (Whew! Glad I remembered that).

Cartoon provided by Image Google

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Thirty Eight Years....And Counting!

In just a few days, my husband and I will celebrate our 38th wedding anniversary.  And yet, the other day I introduced him as my” current husband”. I have no idea why that term came out of my mouth. We have spent the last 13,870 days stretched between morning coffee and late evening chats, I guess that is a current as it gets. And for the most part, they have been good days. Some have been great days, others, well, not so much.

But I really think it’s being able to embrace the non-eventful days that determines the longevity of a marriage. There are so many more of them. Now, God knows, our marriage is not always perfect. Sometimes, it’s not even always civil. But it’s always, always a constant. A reliable state that we are both very comfortable living in. And for us, that seems to be enough. Recently we were at a wedding where the couple left a questionnaire on each table seeking advice on making marriage last. Oddly enough, after many years, I honestly don’t have an answer that would fit most of the questions. But, that being said, here are a few things I do know: 

  • -          If you don’t marry someone who is also your friend, you’re sunk. It’s the friendship, not the passion that gets you through when the rest of the world seems intolerable.
  • -          I have learned that when your husband asks “do you want to know what I think?” the question is just a formality, you’re going to hear it whether you want to or not.
  • -          My husband thinks that everything I've bought in the last 38 years was on sale. If newly married, this is a good strategy to adopt because most men love a “deal”.
  • -          It is absolutely okay to argue over stupid stuff. They are the best kind of arguments because a lot of venting occurs with no real lasting damage. Years ago, pre-GPS, my husband was on my case about my inability to refold a road map on a car trip. I made several attempts at getting it back to the right position while he was yelling “you’re rendering it useless”. “Useless?”, I asked, “Really?” His voice got louder, “Yes, useless!” At this point, I rolled the window down and threw the map out into a 70 mph wind front. “Now, it’s useless.” I said.  Today, we laugh about that argument knowing that somewhere off  I95 in the state of Georgia, there is a Rand-McNally map in the woods. And it’s apparently not folded correctly.
  • -          I have learned that, if on occasion, you want to spice things up in the bedroom, do not mix body oil and satin sheets. It’s a longer drop from the mattress to the floor than you think.
  • -          I have learned that it is perfectly okay to sit for hours after dinner and not feel the need to make conversation. Everyone needs down time. A space to simply just be. I know he is there if I need to say something.
  • -          I have learned that after 38 years, I am grateful to have someone to share friendship, quiet times, laughter, and, when necessary, a clear-the-air argument. But most importantly, I am so grateful to be with someone who “gets” me. 

So what makes a marriage last? I can honestly say “I don’t know”. I guess if you’re really, really lucky, someone offers their hand and helps you get through each day, one at a time. And then, before you know it, there are more days behind you than in front of you, and your both still standing….holding hands. That is more than enough for me.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Aunt Louise…..A Mother’s Day Tribute

I don’t remember the moment I first realized how important she was to me. After all, I trusted her with two of the things I hold most dear in life-my sons. I don’t remember the exact moment she crossed from being the babysitter to being family. But it happened. And not just in the “oh, she’s just like family” vernacular. Oh no, she was family. We lived in adjoining townhouses, so proximity wasn't an issue and in 15 years, there wasn't a day, or at least part of one, that we weren't together. I guess you could say that Louise and I sort of adopted each other.

She had two grown sons who, for whatever reasons, weren't very active in her life (and that was definitely their loss). She didn't have a daughter, and I lost my mother when I was a young child. I had two babies 11 months apart, and was slightly overwhelmed with a husband working two jobs to keep them in formula and diapers. Louise didn't drive. I not only drove, but had a car. And as long as she was willing to help with one of the two occupants in the adjoining car seats, she was welcome to come everywhere the boys and I went. And she did!

Louise & Trevor
In an old station wagon that we jokingly referred to as the “red bomber”, the four of us would take to the road when I finished my part time morning job and head to the grocery store, K-Mart, the park or to Sunnyside Dairy Farm for ice cream and milk. It didn’t matter. We always planned some small outing requiring very little money, and made the most of it.

We started each day together, and it would usually end with the two of us sitting on my front porch watching the kids catch lightening bugs on summer evenings, or chasing leaves in the fall. There wasn’t a holiday or family birthday that Aunt Louise and her husband, Bill, didn’t spend with us. And, oh, those backyard barbeques featuring her favorite blue claw crabs! “Talking and chewing”, she liked to call the hours spent around the table telling stories and laughing. In later years, she revealed that those table time chatters were among her favorite memories.
Among my own favorite memories is that when you walked into Aunt Louise and Uncle Bill’s house, the buffet in the dining room was loaded with pictures of my two white, blond haired boys. How odd that must have seemed at first to her own family when they would visit. But to Aunt Louise, it was the way it should be.

The boys, walked in and out of her house at their leisure. Whether climbing up to the table for breakfast and letting Uncle Bill put hot sauce on their eggs, or spreading jelly on cornbread that Aunt Louise made in a cast iron pan, it was an extension of home to them. Literally, only a wall separated our two dwellings. From the time they were infants and could open their eyes and see her loving brown face, the boys were truly at home in her arms.

Going Shopping!
I actually can’t recall many memories of my sons as children that didn't include Louise. Her unconditional love for my family taught my boys, Trevor and Kyle, a tolerance of all people, an unqualified acceptance that I could never have taught them on my own. It is a character strength that they carry today as men. All the laughter and friendship aside, I am most grateful to her for that.

Sadly, Louise is gone now. But as a tribute to her for this Mother’s Day, I will tell you her most favorite story involving my son Kyle .She would tell it to everyone and anyone who would listen. Louise, this one is for you.

When Kyle was four, he was attending a pre-school, that Uncle Bill and Aunt Louise would take him to while I was working. One February, they were learning about black history. They were given coloring books with figures such as Martin Luther King, Eli Whitney and Rosa Parks. He brought the book home to show me. We were going through it when he pointed out that the teacher told him to use a brown crayon to color their faces.
“Why did she do that?” he asked me.
“Well, because they are African-American and they have darker skin then us, “I explained to him.
“Is Aunt Louise African-American?”
I was kind of waiting for this discussion, “yes, she and Uncle Bill both are”.
He sat quietly for a minute, and then asked “are they different from us?”
“I don’t think that they are, do you?” I asked him.
His hesitation surprised me a little, then he answered a firm, “No”
But then, he leaned in and lowered his voice. He seemingly wanted to let me in on a secret that only he knew. “There is one difference” and then leaned closer to my ear.
“When black people pee, it’s blue”.
“What?” I asked, not quite grasping what he was saying.
“Whenever, I go to the bathroom at Aunt Louise’s, I look in the potty and it is blue in there”
When I stopped laughing, I explained to him that she used a toilet disinfectant that I didn’t use at our house. 

He was happy with that explanation and went over Louise’s to have lunch with Uncle Bill. In his mind, any doubt of a difference between him and his beloved Aunt Louise, was gone. And all was right in his world.

Today, the buffet that held the many pictures of the boys sits in my house with a picture of Louise on it. It’s in the dining room, where she loved to spend her time “talking and chewing”. Throughout our home, there are pictures of her at the boys' sports awards, Christmas plays, zoo trips, and as they got older, graduations and proms. We are all so ever grateful for the blessing of her presence in our lives.
I miss you, my dear old friend. Happy Mothers Day.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Infomercials and Yard Sales.....A Definite Connection!

At first, it all looked rather innocent. A beautiful spring Saturday morning finds my husband sitting at the kitchen island with a cup of coffee and a golf magazine. “Morning”, he says as I come down the steps and head straight for the coffee pot. “Any plans for the day?” He’s in a good mood, I thought to myself. “Well, I was thinking, maybe we could…..” and then I caught myself in mid-sentence. Hidden under the golf magazine and behind his coffee mug, I could see the corner of his brown leather wallet. He tried to move it with his forearm, but it was there. The evidence is mounting. It’s early morning… coffee is made… kitchen TV is on… and he is in a really good mood… all leading me to the question I have to ask every few months…..”What did you buy?”

My husband, a man who has safely  invested every cent of every raise he has received for the last 10 years into his 401K, a man who, when it is his turn to grocery shop, sits and cuts coupons from all three newspapers delivered on the weekends (something I never do). A man, who every night empties all his change into our “travel” jar - is a sucker for infomercials.

I’m telling you, the man would buy a parcel of land on an Alaskan glacier if it was being sold at 2 a.m., by a stranger promising water front property after global warming sets it. Age, as with so many of us, has altered his sleeping habits making them a bit of a challenge. Hence, there have been many late night “shopping sprees” even more in the very early morning hours.

Realizing I’m onto him, he announces “It’s going to be your Mother’s Day gift!  It should be here in a few weeks.” At the time, Mother's Day was still several weeks away, but he always tries to target purchases around a holiday or birthday so as to anoint them as a "gift".A sly and manipulative move since it's harder to say "Are you freaking kidding me?" when someone is handing you a present.  

But I’m a little confused. “I thought the combination weed wacker/blower/tiller that came last week was going to be this years Mother’s Day gift!  He chuckled, “Oh no, I saw the look on your face when you opened it and thought I should go in another direction. This is something you will really like!” Bless his poor, kind, delusional heart.

And true to his word, I came home from work  just two weeks before the famed May holiday, and a brown truck was just pulling up to my house. “Hi Jo Ann, how you doing?” the driver said gathering the box from the truck and setting it on the front step. “I’m good Dennis, how’s the new baby doing?”….. (I can’t place all the blame for being on a first name bases with the UPS guy on my husband. I have a little problem with I then carried the box in the house and set it down in the living room where we walked around it for a week without a mention.

Then, with just one week to go before Mothers Day, I came home and found my husband and my son  eating pizza. Homemade pizza. “Oh, that looks great”, I said amazed at the aroma. “How did you make the dough?” And my husband smiled and pointed to the counter where what looked like an overgrown blender was squatting. “Here is your new Ninja blender, slash juicer, slash dough maker, slash food processer, slash smoothie and ice cream maker!”, he beamed. (All of which I have individual versions of – that he bought). I guess they felt the need to demonstrate "my gift" before wrapping it “Wow, that’s really something.”  I muttered. “Yes, it is,” he replied lifting off the lid and pointing his finger into the huge plastic cavity. “We made the dough in there-cleaned it up, made the sauce in there-cleaned it up, then put a ball of mozzarella in there, and cleaned it up.” The words “cleaned it up” were still resonating in my head when he added, “you can make a whole meal with just one item to clean”. Yes, but apparently several times.  

“And it’s called the Ninja?” I asked. “Yes”, my son answered. “And the blades are really, really sharp so be careful washing it, every time”. I then saw the Band Aides on the table. I hope the Ninja doesn’t clash with the Samurai knife sharpener that Dennis delivered three months ago. “And…”, my husband, now reaching for something else said, “this cookbook, a $35 value, was free because I bought this online. It’s not available if you buy the Ninja in a department store.” Macy's sells the Ninja? So pleased with himself, he was. I had to smile.

And, I must admit, the cookbook looks intriguing. My son, a professional chef, said the dough was the easiest dough he has ever made. Recipes include, roasted tomato & olive bruschetta, chicken tortilla soup, and frozen white sangria. If the recipes and the Ninja live up to my sons and husbands recommendations, this one might be a keeper (and not something I sell at a yard sale when he is golfing.) 

So it's all good and we are all happy....this time. But only a few nights later, the anxiety started all over again when I was laying up in bed reading and my husband yelled up "Hey hon, have you seen my wallet?"