FTIL 16 – Bhambi Laws

bhambiOnce you’ve had a set of threads custom tailored, it’s hard to go back to the off-the-rack routine.  WSJ recently published an article on the finer points of alpha dressing where a banker had the inner pocket of his jacket precisely dimensioned to fit his choice of smart phone brand.  Little over the top if you ask me but you get the point…

One of the more respected establishments in North America for custom tailoring is Bhambi’s located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.  For almost half a century, they’ve been dressing celebrities, CEOs and politicians.  When Watch! Published an article on the operations that a father and son team runs, I had to write about so called The 22 Bhambi Laws of men’s couture.

  1. Know yourself.  Then get dressed.
  2. Quality is just important as the fit.
  3. A cheap suit fits no one.
  4. Every man alive is too young to smoke a pipe.
  5. A man looks better in a suit than anything else in his wardrobe.
  6. Even Ned Beatty looks good in a black turtleneck sweater.
  7. Act your age, not your collar size (not sure if I get this one).
  8. Jacket sleeves are tailored so that half an inch of the shirt cuff shows when your arms are at your sides (I think this rule is somewhat regional).
  9. Pants are cuffed so that no sock shows while you walk.

10. Your collar should complement your face.

11. Black shoes, black belt.  Brown shoes, brown belt (for extra style points, match belt buckle with band on your watch).

12. On jewelry: one ring.  One wristwatch.  You are done (cannot agree more).

13. One pair of top quality shoes is better than 10 cheap pairs.

14. Denim is for weekends.

15. That said, with a good white shirt, navy blazer and sharp pair of jeans, you can go just about anywhere.

16. Gray flannel pants are the navy blazer of cold weather.

17. A Crisp white dress shirt is the gray flannel pants of shirts.

18. The cheap suit is fused; the strong suit is stitched.

19. Just as important as the clothes; fresh haircut.

20. Your exterior side pockets remain sewn shut.

21. Unless you’re being financially compensated for it, wear no visible logos.

22. Business casual is no longer about Khakis.

There are lots of wisdom in these words…   Here’s to finer things in life.

Double Your Twitter, Double Your Customer Satisfaction

“Sorry, I was sending a tweet”Photo - Ted

One of the funniest scenes in the recent Seth McFarlane movie Ted is when the titular ursine character crashes his car and then offers this feeble apology to his victim.  This incident reflects the ubiquity of Twitter everywhere from business, to politics, to running.

My SMB Matters colleague Richard Lee recently mused about the US Postal Service’s poor customer relationship management practices.  In contrast, I’d like to share an episode that illustrates exemplary customer service, enabled in large part through Twitter.

Take the Good, Take the Bad
I’ve mused before about the consulting profession, wherein the unparalleled intellectual opportunities, exposure to diverse organizations, and network building co-exist with the challenges of a peripatetic lifestyle.  As I’d noted at Built in Chicago, there are a host of products to help manage these issues, but at the end of the day they can still be taxing.

Photo - DoubletreeIt goes with saying that the hotel stay is a central element of the consulting lifestyle.  On the recommendations of a few colleagues, I recently stayed at a DoubleTree.  The burnt cod and limp, flavorless asparagus I had for dinner at the hotel restaurant one evening left much to be desired.  My dissatisfaction was compounded by two other factors that greatly reduced my productivity:

  1. Dysfunctional wireless service that made the days of dial-up seem like science fiction
  2. Disinterested waiters whose turnaround time would frustrate even Rip Van Winkle

Inspired by Dave Carroll’s now-classic video diatribe against United Airlines, I took to social media to voice my discontent, firing off this angry tweet:

Barking up the Right Tree
While I’d previously used Twitter for a variety of purposes, customer service hadn’t been on the menu.  DoubleTree definitely changed my viewpoint that evening.  They quickly responded to my tweet, sent me an email, called me, and made every effort to rectify the situation.  The pièce de resistance was an assortment of wine and cheese waiting for me that evening in my hotel room, along with a handwritten letter of apology.  A cursory glance at their Twitter feed reveals that it is standard operating procedure for DoubleTree to keep close tabs on all customer feedback (positive and negative) and respond quickly.

Obviously, for a hotel with so many locations, (along with the fact that there are many travelers with axes to grind and Twitter accounts), there is a high degree of automation to the process.  Nonetheless, the human followup was excellent, and a nice contrast to the disinterested “yeah, not our problem” responses I’d previously received from the front desk.

Not a Game Changer, But…
Between the two hotels I’d recently stayed at, I definitely preferred the Marriott to the DoubleTree – mainly because of the high number of Marriott Rewards points I’ve socked away over the years.  However, the highly responsive, proactive behavior of the DoubleTree increased my satisfaction with the chain.  As such, I made sure to sing their praises the next day via Twitter.

Having witnessed the perils of TWD (Tweeting While Driving) that befell Ted, I also made sure to put my car in “Park” first.

Frustrating encounter with the USPS

usps_logo

Many of you don’t know me personally. While I write about buying islands and linen pants, I’m really a numbers guy.  I tend to lead and manage by the book (and as my partners claim, I keep them and the rest of the team in line). When I encounter a lack of process and transparency, my head spins. Such is the case with a recent order from Amazon that the United States Postal Service (USPS) managed to butcher.

Here’s my tale, with apologies in advance to hard working carriers out there, after placing an order with Amazon “delivered” by the USPS. The story starts with an online tracking effort via Amazon that shows USPS attempted to deliver the package on 11/16 and 11/17th and could not. Of course this is impossible since we have 24 hour doorman and receiving room in our apartment in downtown Chicago. Then USPS says they delivered it on the 19th but there is no sign of the package. With this information, I decide to stop by the main post office on Dearborn (downtown Chicago) on the 20th (Tuesday of Thanksgiving week) and ask to see the supervisor after the front desk clerks prove useless.  The USPS team then gives me an inside look. They send me to the loading dock in the back.  After talking to 2 or 3 mail carriers, finally I get hold of the supervisor (Mr. A) who says that he’s about to leave so come back tomorrow morning at 8AM.  I show up at the loading dock at 8AM on the 21st (day before Thanksgiving) only to find out that Mr. A did not show up for work – another carrier tells me to come back after Thanksgiving. I show up at the loading dock 8AM on the 26th (Monday after Thanksgiving) and another carrier tells me – I can’t make this up even if I wanted to — that Mr. A has retired.  By now, I’m livid based on the time wasted. I ask to see Mr. A’s replacement and a carrier sends me upstairs distribution area to see a supervisor named Mr. B. It is there that I learn that apparently I’m not supposed to upstairs under any circumstances due to Home Land Security concerns. Hence my walking through the distribution center unescorted (without a badge) ruffles some feathers. Regardless, Mr. B hears my story (he was actually trying to be helpful – even gave me his personal cell number) and tracks down a carrier named Mr. C who swears up and down that he has delivered the package to my building. Mr. B asks me to wait a week until they sort it out internally.  Well, I wait a week. And there’s still no package and my calls to USPS are not returned. By now, I am done with showing up at the dock at 8AM routine too. Enough.

I contact Amazon’s customer service this morning – an interesting process by the way because there is no 800 number given on the site, only after you plug in the order number and answer a bunch of questions, the site asks you to plug in your number and press either call me now or call me in 5 min button.  I press the “call me now” button and some lady from an Indian call center rings me exactly a second or two later.  I explain the story to her. She checks my accounts and sees that we have ordered an absolutely ton of stuff from Amazon the last 10 years (and have never had issues) and promptly offers next day delivery on replacement goods.  One call from Bangalore (Amazon): problem solved. Countless run-ins and phone calls with USPS: nothing. When interacting with USPS employees on US soil, I felt like I was talking to a wall.  Amazon on the other hand, leveraged technology and friendly, a low-cost Indian customer service center and solved the problem in 5 minutes, thus keeping me as a loyal customer at the end of the day.

Is it time to retire the USPS or can anyone fix this great institution of ours?

 

FTIL 15 – Buying your own island (Part 3 of 3 part series)

Lanai

Leave it to Larry Ellison, the billionaire founder and CEO of Oracle, to make the news with trophy acquisitions – trimaran (and bankrolling the entire team) that won the America’s Cup; a fully functional fighter jet; Japanese-style personal estate in Northern California; etc.  While his recent endeavors to purchase a professional basketball team has hit a few snags, the Maui News reported that he has closed a deal to purchase 98% of Lanai for 500~600MM from an entity controlled by David Murdock (I actually had no idea that Lanai is privately owned until now…)   I guess 780 acre James Island for sale by the McCaw family is not splashy enough for the 3rd richest person in the US.   Neil Abercrombie, the state’s governor commented, “it is my understanding that Mr. Ellison has had long standing interest in Lanai.  His passion for nature, particularly the ocean is well known specifically in the realm of America’s Cup sailing.”  Well, let’s just hope Ellison does not close down pineapple plantations in favor of real estate developments like Murdoch did…

Is China’s Economy Overstimulated?

Economies of Scale. China Manufacturing Base

Economies of Scale. China Manufacturing Base (Photo credit: Cory M. Grenier)

The Danger of Chinese Overproduction

via Shade Tree Economist

Coal, iron ore, steel, cotton, clothing, heavy equipment, ship-building, solar cells, LEDs, and property. All of these commodities at one point or another in the last year have been a hot topic due to overstocks caused by government-influenced overproduction. Falling prices and decreased global demand have crippled many participants in these industries, and many bankruptcies and collapses have occurred. And they are emblematic of the problems that China is going to continue to face in the future.

China’s economic growth has been based significantly on a rapid expansion of government stimulus through monetary expansion over the past several years. And this policy has borne fruit.  GDP is up, and growth rates, although not always meeting expectations, regularly exceed the growth rates being achieved in the rest of the world. But this growth comes with a price – an instability in the very markets it seeks to develop and grow.

Monetary stimulus injects liquidity in to the markets in an effort to circumvent the natural processes and operation of the markets. Normally, the interest rates indicate to consumers and producers the level of saving being undertaken by the public, and the amount of resources that are being set aside which can be borrowed to promote capital growth in longer term industries. When consumers are interested in near-term satisfactions, their time-preferences are high, and a high interest rate is required to induce them to lend.

When consumers’ preferences are for the greater amount of satisfactions that can be obtained by holding back on consumption and waiting for longer-term projects to be finished, their time-preferences are low, and they are more willing to put their money into loanable savings which lowers the rate of interest. The interest rates, therefore, help to coordinate consumer desires with production plans through investment activity.

By artificially lowering the interest rates, false signals are sent to producers that consumers are interested in more investment activity than they actually are. Businesses begin, therefore, to take on projects that they otherwise wouldn’t, because the restricted available funds would restrict the number of entrants into a particular field.

But now, too many funds are available, and all sorts of business activity is begun. This looks great on paper, as all sorts of development, construction, and hiring are initiated, which leads to all sorts of development, construction, and hiring in the subsidiary industries which feed these projects. But the problem is that too much has been begun. More so, in fact, than the public actually has an interest in.

Slow as you go

Slow as you go (Photo credit: Konabish ~ Greg Bishop)

When the time comes for these new products to hit the economy, there isn’t sufficient demand for them all. A situation of oversupply begins to develop. In order to correct this, the market insists on a fall in prices in order to match the actual demand with the existing supply. But many of the projects that were started depended on a “stability” of pricing that would engender them with a certain level of expected profits. The fall in prices, therefore, cuts profits, and makes many marginal firms untenable. A spiral begins to develop as firms rush to correct their business plans to meet the new reality, and economic trouble ensues.

This is the situation that China finds itself in today. Government stimulus has been great for boosting production rates and GDP growth across the country. All sorts of ore and steel and agricultural products have been produced by the massive expansion of productive capacity of the Chinese economy. But this monetary stimulus has only managed to result in the Chinese economy overproducing in all sorts of sectors, and has not managed to create sufficient demand for these projects to keep the market cleared.

Normally, the markets would penalize overproduction through losses, and production would only be expanded to fit the projected actual needs of the public. But these restrictions have been circumvented by the rules and regulations businesses in China have to face. Instead of cutting back on production in the stimulated fields, incentives are given to the industries they feed, the buyers of those products, to expand their own production in order to clear the increased supply. But this only succeeds in pushing the day of reckoning further into the future.

It does not succeed in correcting the initial economic instability, which continues unabated, and, in fact, continues to expand under the previous incentives. Moreover, it succeeds in creating a second instability, in that the newly stimulated production areas eventually face their own problem of overdevelopment.

Overproduction of iron ore leads to stimulation of and overproduction of the steel industries, which lead to stimulation of and overproduction of ships, heavy equipment, and buildings. Overstimulation of cotton leads to stimulation of and overproduction of textiles which leads to stimulation of and overproduction of clothing. Overstimulation of photo cells and solar cells leads to overstimulation of and overproduction of the solar industry. Eventually all sectors of the economy are promoted beyond the ability of the public to consume.

All this stimulation by government leads to a wild euphoria of participants in these industries. People feel liberated with the new incomes they have and the fresh money in their pockets. This leads to wild spending habits and speculation in all sorts of areas. Lately, it has been reported that speculative bubbles in wine, apples, property, and even graves have grown up all over China. Some cities, such as Changsha, are even reporting how people are “releasing their spending power” by borrowing against paychecks in order to keep up their newfound lifestyle. Many of these bubbles have already burst, such as in the mining town of Ordos, while others are showing the early stages of a collapse.

Chinese efforts to contain the oversupply through government buying programs are only going to make things worse. Many such efforts were attempted in the United States during the Great Depression, only to be rejected as failures. Government buying programs only succeed in transferring ownership of the supply to the government without curbing, and even sometimes encouraging, through creation of a guaranteed buyer, the habits of the producers.

Eventually this stock must be liquidated, either by direct destruction and loss by the government, or by dumping programs, which will only succeed in bringing about price swings on the markets as prices are initially depressed from the dumping before rising back to the rate at which the Chinese government continues to buy. All of these policies end up destroying wealth by simultaneously attempting to encourage and discourage production.

Clearly, the Chinese government has a serious problem on its hand of what to do with the monster they have created. To let the markets correct is to allow a liquidation and correction to occur, revealing the error of their ways. But to let the process continue is to run a race against reality, with the magnitude of the problem, the size of the economic instabilities, growing greater every day.

SMBs Using Social Media For Customer Service

An unhappy customer can reach a lot more people than they used to thanks to social media, so how can you deal with it when it’s your company coming in for criticism?

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

If you don’t have all the information, publicly acknowledge that you’re looking into it, advises social media consultant Amy Neumann. You don’t want to immediately admit fault, especially if there are potential liability issues, but you don’t always have the luxury of gathering all the information before issuing an initial response.

Post an FAQ on your blog or website to make whatever information you have readily available. Not only will that help reassure customers, but it will help defuse speculation on public forums like Facebook and Twitter. And a forum on your own site could help people vent in a less public way and give you a chance to address their concerns.

If it turns out you were at fault, let people know what concrete steps you’re taking to prevent future problems. It’s not enough just to blandly promise to do better.

If your company wasn’t at fault, respond with the facts and avoid appearing defensive or attacking your critics. Assure the public that you remain committed to your brand’s quality and ideals.

Adapted from 6 Steps to Survive a Social Media Crisis by Joe Taylor Jr. at Small Business Computing.

It’s 2013 and I’m just finding out about the Xbox Smartglass!

xbox_SG

The Xbox Smartglass app is an enhanced technology that allows your android or apple device to communicate with your Xbox 360! “How does this work?” You might ask. The answer is simple. Your devices and tablets can communicate with each other, so why not with your gaming console? The technology works whether you’re at home or another location and with any system just sign in.

As I’ve previously said, the Xbox Smartglass app and your tablet, as long as it runs on androids operating system, or your iDevice it will automatically connect once you’ve signed into your Xbox live profile and opened the app. From there you can control your Xbox and do things like stream videos from the web, play a DVD, or start your game. However from that point you will need to connect your controller. You can use your keyboard on your tablet or iDevice instead of opening up the not so sufficient and slow keyboard method that your Xbox 360 offers.

Being able to type a message and even search the web from your tablet to your console is a simple and pretty cool feature. With Xbox Smartglass I’ve noticed that it memorizes what games or apps I play most on my console. It has even memorized movies that I’ve viewed from watching previews and performing searches. It keeps up with your achievements and awards. I thought that the Smartglass app was especially needed seeing how often I game, use Netflix, search the web, and chat with friends. Another cool feature is the ability to change and edit your profile and avatar. You can multitask and still access your friends list to see what they’re playing or watching.

I can’t see a reason not to download this app onto your device right now and get connected without a controller and the difficulties of typing from your own keyboard. So go and download the app and explore all it has to offer!

xbox_SG2

Leap Motion is set for take off!

Sometime early this year, Apple will be releasing a new wireless device that has been compared to Microsoft’s Kinect. This new device or technology is called the Leap Motion Controller/ Sensor. This device acts as a wireless controller for your computer, whether you have a Mac or a PC this device is compatible and lets you scroll, pinch, click and grab using only your hands!

leap1

 

The use of Leap Motion will electrify you and you’ll get a totally different feel for your computer, job, and gaming console. Yes, I just said gaming console, but for now, let’s stay on the path discussing how this technology works. Leap Motion brings together the works of touch free, 3D motion sensing and motion control, sounds a lot like the kinect right? Well with this technology being about the size of an iPod will give you a whole new look on computing, LEDs, and sensors. The way it works is you just simply plug it into your computer like a USB, install the software and wave your hand to begin.

Besides the technology impacting the world of gaming, it will also bring endless possibilities to healthcare, engineering, and art. We’ll find out next time just how much of an innovation Leap Motion really is!

leap2

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