Customer Service and Manners

CaptureGreetings from SFO Red Carpet Club.  There were days, pre-marriage and definitely pre-kids, when I enjoyed flying, whether for work or for leisure…   And the Star Alliance network, led by United Airline (now United Continental Holdings) provided the widest reach.  Fast forward a few years (after a couple of 200K+ annual air mile years and joining million miler club) and marriage and kids, I now fly only when needed and necessary.  So when I logged on almost 50K miles in the last 60 days (no I am not trying to reach 2MM miler club), it was like learning a new trick all over again.  Here’s what I’ve learned…

  • Automatic Premier Gold status for million-miler does not get you whole lot, except for premier check-in line.  No wonder while back, a United million-miler sued the airline for breach of contract (before the merger, million lifetime miles got you premier executive, not premier gold status).  I feel like I’m treated better by Star Alliance member airlines when I am traveling abroad that United, which I have most loyalty to.
  • US flight attendants really do need a lesson in customer service.  Just because you start the sentence with either sir or ma’am that does not excuse rest of the sentence / paragraph that comes out of your mouth.  Specifically, a couple of flight attendants in my recent flight from ORD to SFO were behaving like two frat boys at division II schools.  It was embarrassing…
  • My recent flights on KAL, Singapore and Asiana served to only affirm my view.  Of particular note, I caught an Asiana flight attendant cleaning the lavatories during downtime so that the customers can have more pleasant flying experience.  25+ years of flying domestic airlines, I’ve never seen any domestic flight attendant do the same.

I can certainly empathize with tight margins and cut-throat environment that depicts the airline industry (I was an early guy at Orbitz so I do have some insight).  But it just seems like many US flight attendants, especially those with senority, have given up and are just going through the motions and are waiting for retirement (with apologies to those flight attendants who care and bust their butts to do their job right)…  Much like networking, customer service is just good humanity.  It has to be something you want to do and take pride in.  So what’s my solution?  Depressed million miler benefit combined with poor customer service, I don’t have much choice except to fly Star Alliance network airlines instead of United on international flights.  Then again I do have 500K miles on American…  Perhaps time to try a different domestic airline?

Sonoma-Cutrer (SC) Late Harvest Chardonnay


I consider Les Pierres, The Cutrer and Russian River Valleys collections from SC to be some of the finest craft white wines in the world.  With the region’s dense, gravely soil and even growing season due to cool coastal climate, the area known as Sonoma Coast Appellation has produced award-winning earthy, yet buttery flavored white wines.  But since Brown-Forman (if you have not heard of them, they own Jack Daniels) purchased the winery and my good friend Terry Adam retired as the head wine maker about the same time, I have not paid any attention to their offerings.  Until now…  SC unveiled the first limited edition wine under its SC Winemaker’s Release Series titled Late Harvest Chardonnay.  Produced using grapes left on the vine past ripeness and aged in French oak barrels, it has a sweet (but not overpowering) and exceptionally complex taste profile that pleasantly layers on the pallet.   They are available only in selected markets – I had to ask a friend on a business trip from California to put a bottle in his check-in bag.  I believe this may be the first legitimate hit under the new regime…  Something Terry would be proud of.

Going Cash Free? It’s Not Just for Consumers Anymore…

Yesterday I went to a soft opening for a new artisan bakery, Hewn Bread, in our suburban Chicago community of Evanston.  (Full disclosure: We knew of the soft opening precisely because we know the owners, but I’m a fiend for fresh-baked bread regardless, so I probably would have discovered it by smell alone if I hadn’t already known about it.)

Besides the expected shelves full of fine goods and the nostalgic “throwback” mental association I get from the growth of new businesses using good old-fashioned quality and simple, traditional methods, I was a little surprised to find myself paying for my rustic French Wheat Loaf with a debit card on the bakery’s iPad-style PDA.  I’d gotten used to seeing this at farmer’s markets and other parts of the “smaller” economy, but it was certainly new to witness such technology at a traditional retailer.

Part of the surprise was my own choice to use a debit card for a such a small purchase, which I generally disfavor as a consumer, because it’s typically unnecessary when I’ve got cash.  The other part of my surprise is really less unexpected the more I realize that modern business has changed.  I’m normally sensitive to the fact that the added costs of debit and credit transactions for the merchant are ultimately passed along to us consumers, and I always hear gripes on that subject from small business owners.  However, the social media interaction between this new business and its prospective customers seems well-served by this innovative technology.

At checkout I was given the option of having a printed or emailed receipt.  While I declined both options to avoid adding to the vaults full of paper and electronic receipts that drive my wife crazy, I suddenly got why cash-free or “cash-less” has become just as attractive for some businesses as it is for many consumers.  Small Business Matters recently posted an article on PayPal’s newest entry into the point-of-sale (POS) market that reflects this growing trend.  -Paul for SMBMatters  BTW, the bread was great!  What else would you expect to hear from a bread junkie?

PayPal encourages small retailers to ‘lose your cash register’

Summary: The mobile and digital payment company is running a competitive trade-in under which it will help retailers get outfitted with an iPad solution in exchange for old cash registers.


PayPal has launched a competitive trade-in-program designed to get more small retailers to use iPad point-of-sale (POS) solutions that happen to use its payment processing services.

Under the Cash for Registers initiative, companies will receive free PayPal payment processing services for the remainder of the year when they turn in their old cash registers and start using an iPad-based payment solutions, such as PayPal Here. The offer doesn’t just apply to the transaction fees for PayPal services, it covers them for credit-card, debit-card and check processing, according to the company’s information about the program.

PayPal Here encompasses an iPad, card reader, iPad stand, cash drawer and printer. There are a number of pre-integrated solutions that PayPal has organized to help with the transformation.

Some of the companies that PayPal is working with include Erply, a POS and inventory management software developer; Leapset, which integrates POS information with a company’s customer relationship management systems; Leaf, which develops customer loyalty  and business intelligence solutions; NCR | Silver, which provides POS hardware;  ShopKeep POS, which sells an iPad POS system; and Vend, a POS and inventory management software application developer.

The program officially kicks off in June, according to a blog post written by David Marcus, president of PayPal.

“In addition to this great offer, we will make participating businesses known to our 55+ million U.S. (128 million worldwide) and growing customer base, and drive meaningful incremental business to them, stimulating the vibrant small-business community in America,” Marcus writes.

The rise of the tablet computer has signaled a turning point for small-business POS solutions, a trend that began accelerating in 2012 and is continuing to gain momentum.

Related stories:

Reblogged from ZDNET.

By Heather Clancy for Small Business Matters

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.

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


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…

FTIL #14, Going Organic – Produce: What, When & Where

Buying Organic Produce NaturallyWhen our son was born, my wife switched everything to organic – sugar, shampoo, milk, blankets, etc…  Yes, she bought organic cotton blankets for their soft, supple feel…   I am certainly not against buying organic food, but with the average cost of feeding a family of four exceeding $1K per month according to the USDA, is there any room to still economize while “going organic”?

Do we really need to buy everything organic when it comes to fresh produce?  Various public health advocacy organizations recommend buying the following twelve fruits and vegetables from the organic aisle, based on review of USDA’s pesticide data: apples, peaches, imported grapes, strawberries, imported nectarines, domestic blueberries (my son’s favorite), celery, potatoes, spinach, bell peppers, lettuce and collard greens.  When it comes to other fruits and vegetables such as watermelons and mushrooms, you are better off saving a few pennies.  But if spending a few extra bucks gives you a piece of mind for your family, I’d say go organic even for blankets.  Here’s to enjoying the finer (organic) things in life!


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Putting On the Good Linens – FTIL #13

linen style

I love linen pants.  Stronger than cotton and guaranteed to wrinkle, it is the most perfect summer trouser for men when neither shorts nor jeans fit the social agenda and khakis and dress slacks appear to be over-done.  I’d wear linen all year long if I could – well, maybe except for during Chicago winters…  Spun and woven from the fiber of the flax plant, linen is one of the oldest textiles made (ancient Egyptians dressed their nobility and wrapped their mummies in it) and seemingly has never gone out of style…   And it is making a splash of recent with new color palette, straying away (successfully I might add) from the usual white and beige standards that hang in my closet.  Look for a full spectrum of color offerings, as well as a choice of textures.  Some of my favorites: orange sherbet pastel from Zegna; light navy blue tint from Canali; and Brooks Brothers linen pleats.

Here’s to staying cool and looking good while you do it!

FTIL 12 – Buying Your Own Island (Part 2 of 3 part series)

This is a follow-up to FTIL #7 published back in April. The McCaws of cell phone fame (Craig McCaw founded McCaw Cellular and Clearwire) have listed the family’s 780-acre private island also known to the locals as James Island off the coast of Vancouver, BC for a mere… drumroll please, 75MM. The island among other things, used to host a former WWII-era dynamite plant and at one point had population of 800+. For the hefty price tag, amenities are aplenty…

  • Four-bedroom, 5K sq. ft. main residence
  • Six guest cottages
  • Gym, store, staff accommodations
  • Airstrip
  • And most importantly… Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course

The family explained their motivation for the sale – “they have the perfect storm of kids’ activities and no one wants to be left behind.” Huh? Anyway, does anyone have spare $75MM to make the purchase? Especially given the current economic conditions, there’s room to negotiate… Happy hunting!

James Island

Five Ways to Soothe The Savage Beast

There was recently a study published in The Wall Street Journal about the pros and cons of using earphones at work.  Count me into the “pros” camp.  I have a rather eclectic music collection, and listen to everything from old Ned’s Atomic Dustbin to Daler Mehndi to Miles Davis.  As my daughter and I are slowly getting into gardening, I may take up my SMBMatters pal Richard Lee’s advice and play Beethoven’s Symphony #9 to the blooming pea plants in her garden.

As my last post shared the Top 5 Titles in my movie library, I’d like to extend this “taste reveal” to my music collection.  Here are the top 5 groups that get heavy airplay on my trusty iPhone.

The Beatles The Beatles

Steve Jobs considered the entrance of the Beatles into the iTunes Music Store to be one of his final great works.  Not one prone to unmerited positive affirmation, Jobs was quite effusive in his praise for the group, finding close personal connection with John, Paul, George, and the fourth one.  As Jobs did with Apple, the Beatles continually reinvented their style: the psychedelic, scruffy hippies behind Helter Skelter bore little resemblance to the squeaky clean team that debuted on the Ed Sullivan show a mere six years earlier.  Looking at their expansive corpus of work, awe-inspiring in terms of depth, breadth and diversity, it’s hard to believe the Fab Four were only around for 10 years.

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones' "Tongue and Lip Desig...

If The Beatles were the rock equivalent of Apple, we can then equate The Rolling Stones with Microsoft (a correlation made more literal by the use of “Start Me Up” in Windows 95 commercials).  While the Beatles flamed out fairly early on, the Stones continued cranking out the hits well into the present day.  As with Microsoft, the Rolling Stones of today are a much lesser version of their original incarnation.  Where the Beatles were all about originality, creativity, and an understated style the Stones were not shy about imitation and winning ugly.  Of the Stones’ 50 year lifespan, the 1968-1973 period is in my estimation their golden age.  Gimme Shelter and You Can’t Always Get What You Want artfully captured the tumult and upheaval of the Vietnam era.  Not surprisingly, Stones classics from this period factor heavily into the films of my favorite director, Martin Scorcese.  They always leave me with a great deal of Satisfaction.

The Doors

The Doors

In my teenage years I was not quite the paragon of politeness, obedience and the other virtues that I try to instill in my children.  I found a kindred spirit from the previous generation in Jim Morrison, frontman for the iconoclastic 60′s band The Doors.  As with the Beatles, it is hard to believe that they were only around for 4 years given the enormous cultural impact and the power of timeless tracks such as Light My Fire and People are Strange.  The Doors had many hooks, including the mysticism that infused their songs, accentuated by Ray Manzarek’s use of the organ.   Not to mention Morrison’s penchant for defying censors’ instructions and flouting the rules of public decency.

You kids out there – stay in school, and don’t be like Jimmy!

The Beastie Boys

English: Ricky Powell

Please see my earlier post on the Beastie Boys, inspired by the premature demise of beer-swilling hooligan turned enlightened elder statesman Adam Yauch.  The only thing I’d add is that the Beasties should have called it quits after Ill Communication.  While Hello Nasty gets passing marks, To the 5 Boroughs is quite embarrassing.

The Strokes

“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”  One of the best quotes from one of the greatest movies of all timeThe Godfather.  The best cannolis I ever had were from Venieros, a humble little Italian hole in the wall in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  During our year in New York City, my wife and I would routinely trek all the way from the Upper West Side to the LES to feast on these flaky, pistachio-toped powder-sprinkled delectables.  This would prompt our NYC friends to glower in disbelief: “you have a car in this city??”

Along with cannolis, one of my strongest memories of the Big Apple in 2003 was “Room on Fire,” the second album from Lower East Side standout The Strokes.  This song also marked a demarcation in my listening habits from analog to digital, as it was the first album I purchased from the iTunes music store.  Many have written off the Strokes as being derivative of previous punk outfits such as Velvet UndergroundTelevision, and the Ramones.  All true: in fact, Triumph the Insult Comic damned them with faint praise, noting “look how cute you are!  You’re like the Monkees, with a drinking problem!”  There is something, however, about the rough-hewn, ragged rebelliousness underlying tracks such as Alone Together and Reptilia, that takes me back to life in NYC.  Their last album was, admittedly quite a jumbled mess nowhere near the caliber of their impressive debut Is this It.  Let’s hope they redeem themselves with their next showing, and let’s hope it doesn’t take another five years.

Listen Up…

To be sure, there are some anti-social implications of tuning out the world with headphones planted in your ears.  That said, the benefits of background music on productivity cannot be overstated.   I routinely keep music in the background, whether filling out TPS reportsrunning, or broadening my horizons with the latest and greatest reading material.

Bear in mind that this list is by no means exhaustive, as it excludes other notable such as Dave Brubeck, Pink Floyd, and Jay-Z.  Nonetheless, as with my post on movies, I hope this prompts you to take time out of your busy schedule, think about who your favorite artists are, why you like them, and what this reflects about you.

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