Chicago Boyz

                 
 
 
What Are Chicago Boyz Readers Reading?
 

 
  •   Enter your email to be notified of new posts:
    Loading
  •   Problem? Question?
  •   Contact Authors:

  • CB Twitter Feed
  • Blog Posts (RSS 2.0)
  • Blog Posts (Atom 0.3)
  • Incoming Links
  • Recent Comments

    • Loading...
  • Authors

  • Notable Discussions

  • Recent Posts

  • Blogroll

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Archive for the 'Customer Service' Category

    Covid-19, Remote Work, and Offshoring

    Posted by David Foster on 13th August 2020 (All posts by )

    The general attitude toward working from home has certainly changed over the last several years.  In 2013, the then-CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer, banned work-from-home at her company.  And in 2017, IBM established a similar ban. Both of these actions were based on perceived needs to improve productivity and collaboration at those companies

    But in 2020, a lot of companies that moved to work-from home in the Covid-19 environment…because they had no choice if they wanted to continue operating at all…have apparently found it to be working to their satisfaction, and many though not all employees like it, too.  And there is starting to be significant impact on where people choose to live…see these comments from the governor of New Hampshire, Chris Sununu.  The term ‘zoomtowns’ has been applied to locations where people choose to live and work remotely, based on a locality’s attractive characteristics and good Internet connectivity.

    I do think that a comprehensive work-from-home environment can result in losing something in terms of unplanned interactions…I’ve personally observed several significant product and business initiatives that resulted from such interactions, and there are also interesting historical cases. But such things are difficult to measure, and financial benefits and convenience of work-from-home are likely to prevail, perhaps excessively so in some cases.  In any event, the Yahoo! and IBM approach of broad-scale top-down corporate edicts is unlikely to be a good one.

    Another kind of remote work involves the use of people at remote locations…though not necessarily at home…to perform machine-control tasks that would previously have had to be done on-site.  The robots being used by Federal Express at its Memphis facility sometimes encounter problems that they can’t solve…they can be ‘advised’ by humans located in San Antonio. There are projects underway to make municipal water treatment plants remotely operable, either for emergency backup (as in a pandemic) or for normal operations, and there are also initiatives focused on remote operation of other kinds of infrastructure, utility, and industrial facilities.

    If something can be done by people who are remotely located within the United States, then in most cases it will also be doable by people who are remotely located in other parts of the world.  In my 2019 post telemigration, I wrote about the increasing feasibility of offshoring services work, not only manufacturing.  A lot of this has been going on for software development as well as for customer service.

    It may turn out that, in many cases, remote work in the US turns out to be just a waystation on the road to remote work somewhere else.

    Posted in Business, COVID-19, Customer Service, Economics & Finance, Energy & Power Generation, Management, Tech | 42 Comments »

    Oh, FFS!

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 22nd July 2020 (All posts by )

    As if it wasn’t enough for the joyless, bitter scolds among the wokerati to have an absolute tizzy over the head of Goya Foods being civil and respectful of the office of the President of the US, another provider of excellent and relatively inexpensive foodstuffs is in their cross-hairs. Unlike the president of Goya Foods who basically told them to pound sand – and is now enjoying the economic benefits of having defied the wokerati – the management of Trader Joe’s is beating a sniveling and apologetic retreat, and promising to redo their policy of labeling their various ethnic food items with a suitably ethnic variation on ‘Trader Something-or-Other’. This was a bit of light-hearted bit of humor on their part, playing with naming stereotypes, but good lord, the grim and determined wokerati cannot abide any humor at all and so the whole concept must go. The Daughter Unit tells me, and the above link conforms, that the whole thing started as a petition by high school students, which doesn’t surprise me in the least. I suspect the responsible students are the earnest and censorious sorts, desperately trying to out-woke each other.

    Frankly, the whole ‘Trader Joe’s’ South Sea Island – Tropical Paradise motif always struck me as a last gasp of the 1950s ‘Tiki Culture’ and about the only one which didn’t involve a bar decorated with fishing nets and dried starfish, and fru-fru drinks with little umbrellas in them. Trader Joe’s various products are high quality, reasonably priced, and the social-consciousness is laid on with a light hand, in pleasant contrast with the mountain of ostentatious correctitude and high prices offered at Whole Foods. There is a reason the latter is derisively known as “Whole Paycheck.” I can only think it’s only a matter of time before the social justice warriors go after Trader Joe’s for that bit of cultural appropriation as well.

    At least the providers of groceries are not having as rotten a year due to the Chinese Commie Crud as Hollywood is. Theaters shut down, premieres cancelled, top-flight releases like Greyhound, with Tom Hanks and based on C.S. Foresters’ war novel The Good Shepherd diverted to release on streaming video, the fall-out from “Me Too” and Harvey Weinstein’s wholesale-level practice of the casting couch, the apparent urge among our producers of entertainment to whore after foreign audiences, and now looking to curry favor with the hot new trend of ‘anyone but white heterosexuals in front of the camera and behind it as well as behind it in any capacity’ … well, Establishment Hollywood has earned the foul reputation they richly deserve. Those of us in flyover country are watching old movies on DVD (from our own libraries, let it be known) or on streaming video, watching foreign films or series – practically anything other than grim parables and lectures by the wokerati.

    Comment as you wish: what are you going to watch, now? The Daughter Unit and I are watching episodes of Are You Being Served? Which has the side benefit of being gloriously politically incorrect, and not featuring any masks or six-foot apart social distancing. (The Daughter Unit and I temped for a few months at an upscale department store over the holiday season some years ago. We consider ‘Served’ as nearly a documentary on retail sales at a certain level.)

    Posted in Advertising, Capitalism, Civil Society, COVID-19, Current Events, Customer Service, History, Media, Military Affairs | 37 Comments »

    Madness and Maddow

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 31st March 2020 (All posts by )

    The Navy hospital ships promised by President Trump to deploy to New York and Los Angeles arrived on-station as ordered a few days ago. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, presumed for some obscure-to-me reason to be associated with the provision of news to the public, and most recently famed through peddling Russian conspiracy theories regarding Trump’s election for the past three years, had ridiculed the President’s proposed schedule as “nonsense. ” She, or whatever pronoun she goes by, had loudly and publicly claimed that it would be “weeks” before the hospital ships arrived. Instead, the hospital ships arrived more or less to schedule. A lesser news-person would have the decency to be embarrassed over how transparent a prediction-flop this was. Not this Maddow person, it appears. This is not a good thing, and not for the reason first assumed. PBS’ Yamiche “Rolie-Polie-Olie” Alcindor baldly admitted, and in nicer words, that the name of the game for the national establishment news media is “Get Trump!” and anything goes, fair or foul (mostly foul) will serve that end. Well, really – those of us who have been paying attention, especially for the last decade and a half (or longer) have known very well that the name of the game as far as the establishment national news media is concerned, is to enthusiastically smear Republicans and their conservative supporters (no matter how mild or harmless) the pretext, and to excuse Democrats and their supporters, no matter how vile the offense and actions. Nothing new here, move along. SSDD, as we used to say in my active duty days. (Same sh*t, Different Day.) Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Business, Capitalism, Conservatism, COVID-19, Customer Service, Media, North America, The Press, Trump, USA | 21 Comments »

    Book Review: The Good Jobs Strategy, by Zeynep Ton

    Posted by David Foster on 19th January 2020 (All posts by )

    Retail businesses are associated with low pay and high employee turnover–especially in the case of those retailers who offer low prices–and the same is largely true of customer-service call centers.  It has been generally assumed that low wages in these operations are a necessary concomitant of low prices for consumers, and that only businesses serving a premium-price customer base can afford to pay high wages.

    Comes now Zeynep Ton, arguing that the low-wage strategy is not the only one available to retailers and other customer-service businesses that need to offer low prices, and that indeed often–usually–it is not the best strategy.  She draws connections between the pay and hiring strategy of a business and the operational basis on which it is managed.  To wit:

    Low pay and high turnover implies minimal employee training, because you can’t afford extensive training for employees who are going to leave in a matter of months.  Minimal training implies less operational flexibility, because employees will not be cross-trained for other functions.  An environment of high turnover and not-well-trained employees implies that employee functions must be strictly proceduralized, often to the point of excessive rigidity.  And the lack of flexibility driven by minimal training and experience makes it harder to build in appropriate staffing “slack” to handle peak demand situations.  The lack of slack and flexibility leads to endless emergency rescheduling of personnel, reducing morale and further increasing turnover.  (She provides some vivid examples of what this endless and short-notice rescheduling can mean to the personal lives of employees.)

    On the opposite site, higher pay can contribute to lower turnover, making more-extensive training economically viable.  Better-trained employees can more easily perform multiple functions, so that absences or staffing imbalances have a less-harmful effect.  Better-trained and more highly-motivated employees don’t need micromanagement, either by human managers or by systems and procedures.

    Ho, hum, you say, what’s new?…people, especially consultants and professors, have been writing for years about why employees should be treated well and how it pays off to do so.  How is this book different from a million of others?

    The Good Jobs Strategy is, in my view, something quite different from the typical “just treat ’em right” sort of soft, warm, and cuddly advice often found in books and LinkedIn posts.  The author ties the feasibility of the high-pay / high-expectations strategy to effective operational management, with the right systems, procedures, and incentives to enable such operational excellence.

    An interesting example the author mentions is that of Home Depot. She credits much of the chain’s early success to its high-quality associates–“knowledgeable and helpful and willing to do whatever it took to help you, even if that meant explaining to you that you didn’t actually need what you came to buy.”  The associates tended to be former plumbers, electricians, etc–and they were employed full-time.  HD grew very rapidly–“customers were driving two hours to go to its stores and, once they experienced the service and great prices, they kept coming back”

    But, with the growth came problems.  There was a lack of discipline in the stores, in how the stores communicated with headquarters, how the company selected its products, and how it communicated with suppliers.  “In 2000, bills and invoices were still processed by hand, and headquarters communicated to 1134 stores via fax because there was no companywide email.”  In 2008, two senior IT executives (newly hired from Walmart) concluded that Home Depot’s IT systems were about where Walmart’s had been in 1991.  In summary, HD had become “a classic example of a service company that did not fully appreciate the role of operations in making customers and investors happy…Operations are all those factory-like activities that a business has to carry out in order to provide whatever it is that it sells. ..In a retail store, for example, operations involves things like having the right product in the right place, having a fast checkout, and having a clean store.” Zeynep Ton says that internal measurement systems often don’t focus on such matters–at one retailer she worked with, “Twenty percent of the (store manager’s) score had to do with the store’s customer interactions.” In this chain, “mystery shoppers” would score the store on things like how the employees greeted customers and made eye contact.  But, she notes, “kindness or friendliness won’t make up for operational incompetence. ..It is hard for your dry cleaner to make you happy if you can’t wear your favorite suit to an important interview because they didn’t get it cleaned on time.”

    When Robert Nardelli became HD’s CEO in 2000, the systems and procedures problems were rapidly addressed.  Gross margins and net profit margins increased substantially.

    BUT, “the culture of cost-cutting was soon felt at the local level, where store employees, who were once at the center of Home Depot’s success and at the top of Home Depot’s inverted pyramid, became a cost to be minimized.”  The company started hiring part-timers, in the name of both staffing flexibility and cost…the knowledge level of the typical employee encountered by a customer fell noticeably.  By 2005, HD was ranked lower in customer satisfaction than was K-mart.  Same-store sales growth fell and even became negative.  Nardelli left the company in 2007.

    Zeynep Ton summarizes:  Operational designs don’t execute themselves.  They depend on having the right people, and having those people motivated to do the right things.

    The book discusses the actual complexity that exists in many seemingly-simple businesses, and the fact that individual employee decisions do make a difference. “If you are a supermarket employee shelving a case of toothpaste and all but two of the tubes fit on the shelf, should you take the two extras back to storage or would it be better to squeeze them onto the the shelf, even if it doesn’t look so good?  If a tomato looks just a little soft, should you take it to the back room now or wait until it looks worse?  Maybe it will be just fine for a customer who wants to make tomato sauce…it is hard, if not impossible, to make such work so simple and simple and standardized that anyone can do it without exercising judgment.  Things happen in real time at retail stores, and employees have to learn to react.”

    (It is incredibly refreshing to see a B-school professor thinking and writing at this level of detail and specificity)

    One interesting company discussed in the book is QuikTrip, a large chain of convenience stores combined with gas stations.  The company is very selective in its hiring….the author compares getting hired there with the difficulty of getting into an Ivy League college.  In the Atlanta area, 90% of applicants don’t even quality for an interview, and of those who do, only one out of five is selected.  Turnover rate among QuikTrip employees is only 13%, far lower than the industry as a whole.  The chain emphasizes speed and flexibility…”QuikTrip’s fast checkout is a site to behold.  One thing that makes it so fast is that any employee can use any register at any time without making the customer wait.  If you regularly shop at a supermarket, you know it’s no fun waiting for the cashier do a changeover.  The other thing that makes QuikTrip so fast is that employees have been trained to ring up three customer per minute.”  She says that the employees can even calculate change in their heads!

    Other examples discussed include Costco, Trader Joe’s, In-N-Out Burger, and the Spanish supermarket chain Mercadona.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, Customer Service, Human Behavior, Management, Tech | 31 Comments »

    Chinese Chequers and Other Spectator Games

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 17th October 2019 (All posts by )

    The irony of very well-recompensed nominally-American basketball players of color reacting with wild indignation to American criticism of China with regard to heavy-handed treatment of citizens of Tibet and residents of Hong Kong is of a density so thick and heavy that it threatens to drop through the core of the earth and come out the other side. This of course, after months of rather public displays by professional athletes of color making a big thing of knee-taking and demonstrations of disapproval during the playing of the American national anthem at the start of various games. This cheap display of woke-virtue sporting world division may already have sunk the National Football League, in the minds and hearts of those fans of football in Flyoverlandia-America. I suppose now we can look forward to seeing the same fatal holed-below-the-waterline-and-sinking-fast pattern in the round-bouncy-ball franchise; honestly, it’s as if the NBA is basically saying, “Hold my beer and watch this!” Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Business, China, Current Events, Customer Service, Film, Media | 16 Comments »

    Retconned America – The 1619 Project

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th August 2019 (All posts by )

    It appears that this week, the New York Times, the so-called paper of record, upon whom the self-directed spotlight of smug superiority ever shines – has now taken that final, irrevocable step from the business of reporting news and current events, matters cultural and artistic to becoming a purveyor of progressive propaganda. Of course, as characters in British procedural mysteries often say, ‘they have form’ when it comes to progressive propaganda; all the way from Walter Duranty’s reporting on famine in the Soviet Union through the drumbeat of ‘worst war-crime evah!’ in coverage when it came to Abu Ghraib, and the current bête noir – or rather ‘bête orange’ man bad. It seems that it has now become necessary for the Times to make the issue of chattel slavery of black Africans the centerpiece, the foundation stone, the sum and total of American history. Everything – absolutely everything in American history and culture now must be filtered through the pitiless lens of slavery.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Anti-Americanism, Civil Society, Customer Service, History, Leftism, Media, Tea Party | 33 Comments »

    Robot of the Week

    Posted by David Foster on 9th March 2019 (All posts by )

    Fedex local delivery robot.

    I can think of some conditions that might be problematic for these things to deal with.

    Posted in Customer Service, Tech, Transportation | 3 Comments »

    Hate Crime Speech

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th September 2018 (All posts by )

    When it first became politically trendy to back passage of ‘hate-crime’ legislation, I privately thought it a bad idea, while understanding completely why it was an appealing notion, especially for political and social entities which presumed to act on behalf of those threatened by weaponized hate. The fear in such communities was real, every bit as real as the threats, the vandalism, the lynch mobs, and disenfranchisement. It would take a politician with balls of brass to stand up before a group who justifiably were frightened by all that, and discount those fears. It was the easy way out for politicians, the media and social organizations to portray hate crime legislation as a good and discount those doubts held by those of us with inclinations toward the philosophical. A crime was a crime: there were already laws on the books dealing with vandalism, murder, arson and so on. A motivation for committing a crime ought to be of interest only in establishing the guilt of the perpetrator, not for piling on additional penalties. We do not have windows to peer accurately into the souls of others. Essentially, classifying a crime as a ‘hate crime’ was punishing the thought, over and above the actual crime itself. I didn’t think it was a good idea then, and still don’t think so – especially given the overwhelming numbers of so-called “hate crimes” which turn out to be either deliberate hoaxes, or the deeply imaginative letting their imaginations run away from them. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Americas, Big Government, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crony Capitalism, Customer Service, Just Unbelievable, Leftism, Society | 7 Comments »

    The Dogs Don’t Like It

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 4th August 2018 (All posts by )

    The title of this post is the punchline to an old, old story about the limits of advertising; a story which may or may not be based on fact. The story goes that a big food-manufacturing conglomerate came up with a brand new formulation for dog food, and advertised it with a huge, costly campaign: print ads, TV commercials, product placement in movies, TV shows, county fairs, giveaways and sponsorships; the whole ball of wax … and the product cratered. The CEO of the company is irate and demands answers from anyone who can give him a reason why. Didn’t they do everything possible to make their dog food brand the market leader? Image everyone at that meeting looking nervously at each other at this point – because they have done everything possible … except for one small thing. Finally, someone gets up sufficient nerve to answer. “But the dogs don’t like it.” Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Advertising, Business, Civil Society, Conservatism, Culture, Current Events, Customer Service, Human Behavior, Media, Politics, Trump | 13 Comments »

    The Custom of the Country

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 21st April 2018 (All posts by )

    I always had rather a soft spot in me for Barbara Bush; the exemplary old-school upper-middle-class good wife, with her triple strand of pearls, and the way that she didn’t give a damn about going prematurely white. That was the way she was, and she didn’t give two pins. Class – that’s what she had, the class of a previous generation; a class now belatedly appreciated and mourned, now that the upholders and exemplars of it are almost now gone from between us. Among my transitory friends in Korea was a security policeman who had come off the White House protection squad at the end of the senior Bush administration: he adored Barbara, who called him Timmy – possibly the only person on earth besides his mother who did so, as he was one of these six-and-a-half foot tall human hazards in traffic, who looked rather like an Irish-Anglo version of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
    So – I took brief note of her passing; yes, good to die at home, refusing anything but palliative care, among family, and those whom hold you in affection. I am certain that Timmy – wherever he is now – is riffling through his fond memories of his particular First Lady and drinking a toast to her. A good long life, well lived, a loving marriage, well-adjusted and successful children, and grandchildren; what more could a brief life on this earth offer? I also drink a toast to Barbara Bush, and convey my sincerest condolences to those who loved her, a circle which extends far beyond those of her blood family. (I wish, though, that she had not been so catty about Sarah Palin, but I guess she was just going along with the old-line Establishment GOP crowd.)

    This appears to be a simple social courtesy too much for a certain professor of … something or other at a California State University. Oh – it’s the one in Fresno. Fresno – like Bakersfield, it’s own punishment. (Yes, I am letting my latent California snobbishness show. Yes, there are places in California too infra dig for words. Fresno is one of them, although it did feature in a hilarious and all-star parody of 1980s dramas like Dynasty and Dallas. I continue.) The tweets posted by this so-called professor (of what, pray tell? Oh, dear – of English.) Couldn’t prove it through the content of her tweets, which largely appear barely literate speak for themselves – mostly a narrative of vicious ignorance and malice. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Current Events, Customer Service, Education, Leftism, Media, Society | 13 Comments »

    Entitled

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 31st December 2017 (All posts by )

    I see by another link on Insty Saturday afternoon that the United Airlines- Sheila Jackson Lee flap has not quite faded away – much as MS Jackson Lee, AKA ‘the Queen’ or ‘Cruella’ Jackson Lee likely wishes it would. I surmise that this bit of congressional bad behavior is still rattling the newshounds and the commentariat for several reasons. The first of these is that ‘Cruella’ is one of the dumber members of Congress. (The honor of the dumbest must go to Hank “Guam Might Tip Over!” Johnson, of whom it might rightfully said – stealing a paraphrase from the late Molly Ivins about another spectacularly dumb career politician – “Lose any more IQ points, and his staff might have to put him in a pot in the corner and water him three times a week.”) But there’s more! ‘Cruella’ Jackson Lee has been acknowledged hands down for many years as the rudest and most abusive boss on Capitol Hill. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Civil Society, Current Events, Customer Service, Diversions, Human Behavior, Politics | 17 Comments »

    2017 Reading, continued

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd December 2017 (All posts by )

    A Prophet Without Honor, by Joseph Wurtenbaugh.  An outstanding work of alternative history.

    It is now known that when Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland in 1936, his forces were under orders to withdraw if faced by serious opposition by the (then-much-superior) French and British militaries.  But these countries did not take action, being focused on their economic problems and convincing themselves that the German move wasn’t really much of a threat.  But they didn’t know about the Withdrawal Order.  What if they had?

    Some of the characters are fictional, others are real people imagined as following different trajectories.  The central figure is a German officer named Karl von Haydenreich; he has become friends with American officer Dwight Eisenhower and this friendship will prove critical in changing the course of history.

    Very well-done, should not be missed.

    The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz.  Advice about running a startup from a venture capitalist…the author is cofounder of the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz.  A lot of worthwhile points, some of which should be obvious, others not so much so.

    Understanding what you did wrong if you hired an executive who did not work out:  Horowitz goes through several possible causes of the failure, including this:

    You hired for lack of weakness rather than for strengths.  This is especially common when you run a consensus-based hiring process.  The group will often find the candidate’s weaknesses, but they won’t place a high enough value on the areas where you need the executive to be a world-class performer.  As a result, you hire an executive with no sharp weakness, but who is mediocre where you need her to be great.

    On excessive focus on quantitative metrics:  “Management purely by numbers is sort of like painting by numbers–it’s strictly for amateurs.”

    I especially like Horowitz’s emphasis on the importance of organization design, and the point that all such designs are compromises…indeed:

    The first rule of organizational design is that all organizational designs are bad.  With any design, you will optimize communication among some parts of the organization at the expense of other parts.  For example, if you put product management in the engineering organization, you will optimize communication between product management and engineering at the expense of product management and marketing.  As a result, as soon as you roll out the new organization, people will find fault with it, and they will be right…Think of the organizational design as the communications architecture for your company.  If you want people to communicate, the best way to accomplish that is to make them report to the same manager.  By contrast, the further away people are on the organizational chart, the less they will communicate. The organizational design is also the template for how the company communicates with the outside world.

    The book was inspired by this thought:  “Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, ‘That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.'”  For example:

    The hard thing isn’t hiring great people.  That hard thing is when those ‘great people’ develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things…The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.

    Fifty Inventions that Shaped the Modern Economy, by Tim Harford.  Includes not just the sort of things that would typically show up in an ‘inventions’ list, but also such things as double-entry bookkeeping, tradable debt, the welfare state, and the department store.

    Regarding the latter, Harford credits Harry Gordon Selfridge, who worked for Marshall Field, with creating the concept.  Key to the new stores was the idea that “just looking” was okay, indeed was to be positively encouraged.

    Selfridge swept away the previous shopkeepers’ custom of stashing the merchandise in places where sales assistants had to fetch it for you…he instead laid it out in the open-aisle displays we now take for granted, where you can touch a product, pick it up, and inspect it from all angles, without a salesperson hovering by your side…Shopping had long been bound up with social display: the old arcades of the great European cities, displaying their fine cotton fashions–gorgeously lit with candles and mirrors–were places for the upper classes not only to see but to be seen.  Selfridge had no truck with snobbery or exclusivity.  (When he opened his London store), His advertisements pointedly made cleaer that the ‘whole British public’ would be welcome–no cards of admission are required.”

    Harford also mentions an Irish immigrant to America named Alexander Turney Stewart.  It was Stewart who introduced “the shocking concept of not hassling customers the moment they walked through the door. He called this novel policy ‘free entrance.”  Stewart also introduced the concept of the clearance sale and established a no-haggle pricing policy for his good.

    Discussion of inventions such as the department store provides a useful reminded that so many of the things we take for granted–with ‘things’ including assumptions about ways of doing things as well as tangible objects–haven’t always existed; somebody had to think of them and drive them into reality.

    This post to be further continued.

    Posted in Book Notes, Business, Customer Service, Entrepreneurship, Europe, Germany, History, Management, Organizational Analysis, Tech | 4 Comments »

    Informers and Tattle Tales

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 13th September 2017 (All posts by )

    Tattle tale tit,
    Your tongue shall be slit,
    And all the dogs in the town
    Shall have a little bit! – trad. schoolyard taunt

    How bizarre it is to come to a time in these sort-of-United States where certain people who might otherwise have been mistaken for grownups appear to take great pleasure in channeling their inner selves; that of a malicious, sneaky tattle-tale, running to the teacher to inform on their fellow students at every opportunity. We do not — yet — have the equivalent of the East German ‘Stasi’, where half the population eagerly and voluminously informed on the other half. I would have assumed that Americans, young and old, despised tattletales – the adult version every bit as much as the juvenile variety. But we have moved on, it seems. A certain kind of mentality seems bound and determined to sign up as informers even before such volunteers are requested by the authorities in various venues.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Customer Service, Diversions, Human Behavior, Just Unbelievable | 18 Comments »

    Summer Re-run: Granny Clarke

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 10th July 2017 (All posts by )

    (A summer rerun from my other blog – a diverting reminiscence of California and Old Hollywood)

    Granny Clarke was the mother of my mothers’ dearest friend from the time that JP, my next-youngest brother and I were small children, before my sister Pippy was born, and my parents were living in a tiny rented cottage in the hills part of Beverly Hills – a house on a dirt road, with the surrounding area abundant in nothing much else but chaparral, eucalypts and rattlesnakes. Mom and her friend, who was eventually of such closeness that we called her “Auntie Mary” met when Mom began to attend services at a Lutheran congregation in West Hollywood, rather than endure the long drive to Pasadena and the ancestral congregation at Trinity Lutheran in Pasadena.
    Auntie Mary Hammond was a little older than Mom, with four sons, each more strapping than the other, in spite of Auntie Mary’s wistful hopes for one of them to have been a girl. The oldest were teenagers, the youngest slightly younger than JP . . . although Paulie was as large and boisterous as his older brothers and appeared to be more my contemporary. They lived all together with Auntie Mary Hammonds’ mother, Granny Clarke, in a townhouse in West Hollywood, an intriguing house built on a steeply sloping street, up a flight of stairs from the concrete sidewalk, with only a tiny garden at one side, and the constant background noise and bustle of the city all around, not the quiet wilderness of the hills, which JP and I were more used to. But there was one thing we had in common with Paulie and his brothers— an immigrant grandparent with a curious accent and a long career in domestic service in Southern California.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Customer Service, Film, History, Personal Narrative | 7 Comments »

    The Right Hand Side of the Menu

    Posted by Ginny on 20th January 2017 (All posts by )

    I’ve never understood people who don’t notice costs. Maybe it was because we didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, maybe it was bicycling around to deliver papers in the snow . . . but I don’t think so. My life wasn’t all that rough. I think it is good old Scottish common sense. It is sensible to assess price in terms of worth. Or as Franklin would see it – is the value of the time I spent earning that money a good exchange for the use or pleasure it provides. From different perspectives, this was what I thought when I set prices in my business and when I wander around a store, touching and thinking about that dress or dish.

    I’ve long wondered about D.C.’s ability to spend money. As a Kelly girl, I found state and federal offices squandered time in ways private businesses never did. We know the stories of lottery winners whose money is gone in half a year. I suspect someone who considers the lottery a good investment probably isn’t all that good at assessing worth, though they may be misled by winning.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Current Events, Customer Service, Trump | 12 Comments »

    Espresso Update

    Posted by Jonathan on 12th September 2016 (All posts by )

    I’ve updated my review of the DeLonghi EC155 espresso maker. I still like the machine because it makes great coffee and there’s nothing comparable for the price, but mine just conked out after five months (DeLonghi will replace it under warranty).

    Posted in Customer Service, Product Reviews/Endorsements | 6 Comments »

    Supermarket Parable

    Posted by Jonathan on 5th August 2016 (All posts by )

    At the store they offer plain, vanilla and chocolate soy milk. Chocolate is the only flavor that’s any good IMO. Other customers seem to agree as chocolate is always in short supply and sometimes sold out by the time I get to the store. It seems obvious they should stock more chocolate but they never do.

    I complained a couple of times to guys in the dairy department and once to a manager. They didn’t understand what the problem was so I stopped complaining. When they have chocolate on the shelf I load up.

    Today I took two cartons of chocolate and couldn’t reach a third. One of the stock guys climbed up on the shelf and got it for me. He good-naturedly said that it’s great stuff, it flies off the shelves. I thanked him and mildly suggested the store should stock more chocolate because it’s the most popular flavor. He said that, on the contrary, people who like chocolate should be more considerate and leave some for the other customers. He added that there is a God upstairs and He is watching. I believe this man missed his calling. He could have been a successful bioethicist.

    Posted in Bioethics, Business, Customer Service, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Medicine, Personal Narrative | 31 Comments »

    Broken-Windows Software

    Posted by Jonathan on 11th May 2016 (All posts by )

    In broken-windows policing the cops go after guys who jump subway turnstiles and commit other minor crimes. This is because the policing of low-level crimes tends to lead to reductions in serious crimes. Not only are minor criminals disproportionately responsible for felonies as compared to the general population, the fact that the police are seen not to ignore the small stuff creates a virtuous cycle by deterring other crimes and increasing the public’s confidence in civic authority.

    I thought of this issue when I noticed that a sophisticated Java program that I use on my PC has serious bugs that are never corrected. For example, opening an Excel tie-in in the Java program kills all of the open Excel processes on my PC. I’ve complained several times but nothing gets fixed. Meanwhile there are simple apps on my phone that get updated frequently so that annoying little problems disappear over time. The fancy Java software has many more features but which software would I rather use?

    Another Chicagoboy adds: The problem is that many companies view software updates as a cost rather than a feature. Software upgrades in response to customer complaints should be a trumpeted feature, because they are a way of convincingly communicating that the company shares its customers’ values about what matters, and therefore that it’s safe for the customers to invest their time in the company’s products as opposed to competing products.

    Posted in Business, Customer Service, Deep Thoughts, Tech | 6 Comments »

    A Tale of H1B Workers in Dallas‏

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 25th January 2016 (All posts by )

    This H1B American worker replacement program for multi-national megacorporations is getting real. It isn’t limited to the IT industry workers and Disney actors training their own H1B visa replacements any more. It is now hitting the American health care industry in the skilled medical technician level, many of whom are college educated American citizen minorities, at least here in Dallas.

    I just saw the local CVS pharmacy I use replace several college educated, Black Female, Hispanic female and Hispanic male Pharmacists, with Indian H1B workers last week.

    The reason this sticks out in my wife went to pick up a changed 30-to-90 day prescription of mine for which the CVS Pharmacy has insufficient meds. A typical case of Indian “IT help desk hell” occurred with two people with incomplete knowledge of the issues of my meds, with the H1B worker trying to get 90 days of prescription price from my wife for 30 days of meds. No transaction happened.

    I can only wonder what a seventy something retired senior trying to get his or her meds are dealing with this corporate H1B visa imposed communication problem?

    And I also wonder about all those minority med-techs I see replaced here in Dallas are dealing with this?

    The same way white male 40-to-50 something White male electrical engineers have in Silicon Valley for the last 15 years? The corporate versus middle class politics of this are poisonous in this Presidential season.

    Consider the implications for the Black vote for Trump in Nov 2016. Trump’s Florida polls show him with _40_%_ of the below $25,000 a year black males over his plan to close the Mexican border with a wall. If Trump gets the same 1-in-5 vote that Richard Nixon got in 1972 with Obama’s 2008 and 2012 turn out percentages, he will take at least 45 states in the electoral college.

    This is the electoral power of a real “closed borders” Presidential candidate.

    And the corporate K-Street political contributor class behind both political parties still doesn’t see it coming.

    Posted in Civil Society, Customer Service, Health Care, India, Politics, Polls | 28 Comments »

    Passing It On – I – The Pedagogical

    Posted by Ginny on 2nd July 2015 (All posts by )

    Some comments here criticized lectures. I doubt that medium is as central as the comments imply. Few who teach skills depend only or even mainly on lectures. Lecturing itself has been marginalized. The passion for “critical thinking” is a theoretic good, but, naturally, pedagogical studies emphasize method over content, new & theoretical over traditional. But, I would argue, lectures are designed to clarify content & connections, to model critical thinking. They are useful. (I’m not getting into content – the understandable complaints about that are topics for another day.)

    Not surprisingly, my defense is defensive. I lectured. Apparently I conveyed passion but could also elicit boredom. For some, that love made a bad class bearable, for others, it was meaningful. Most bubbled in positive but not extraordinary evaluations. Probably some felt I was nattering on, then socked it to them on the test. And lectures let minds drift. But I lectured.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Customer Service, Education, Lit Crit | 10 Comments »

    Technology and Mass Transit

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 29th March 2015 (All posts by )

    I have not seen a formal study of the impact of technology on mass transit but I believe that it has made it profoundly more valuable and useful. And I accidentally participated in an experiment that partially proved this statement in the inverse.

    In Chicago they have a CTA “bus tracker” that tells you when a particular bus will arrive at your stop. Or you can program it so that you can see all the buses from various routes that are coming past your stop (this is useful because in Chicago you can often take many different routes that go to the same place over shorter distances). It works on your phone and many of the newer stops have the bus tracker programmed into the canopy so you don’t even need to look it up on your phone.

    Sadly enough most days rather than looking up the street for buses I check the bus tracker. I can usually get from my condo down the elevator and past the lobby in 2-3 minutes so 4 minutes is the cut off time. One morning I looked and I thought I had missed the bus entirely because the next one was ten minutes away on my phone. However, instead of just trudging off, I looked up, and a bus was right there!

    I got on the bus and it was completely empty! Not a soul was on the bus. While it was a nice day, usually this bus line was crowded during rush hour, often so crowded that I don’t even bother getting on because I have to stand right in the front past the yellow line where you aren’t supposed to stand and then get on and off with every stop (to let people on and off) until the crowd thins out.

    The driver was totally bewildered too. I sat with her up front and I guess they had changed the bus she was driving to this route (from another route) and they hadn’t updated bus tracker. I said that because she didn’t show up on my bus tracker. Thus no one was on the bus – because if it wasn’t on bus tracker, it didn’t exist.

    I am sure that the River North area is one of the most technologically sophisticated areas of the city and probably in other parts of town people just wait at the bus stop for the bus to show up. But in River North – everyone has been trained to use bus tracker and rely on it and they wouldn’t contemplate a bus existing that wasn’t on bus tracker.

    For me, the bus tracker has made the Chicago bus go from something marginally useful to a highly useful way to get around town. When I lived in Bucktown we used to wait for the #50 Damen bus and 3 of 4 times we’d give up and grab a cab after waiting 15-20 minutes and the 4th time 2-3 buses would show up in a big bunch full of angry riders. If you took the bus you weren’t happy about it; it was an unreliable and slow way to get around.

    However, bus tracker is very reliable and now you have visibility of what is coming and you can plan ahead so that you are whiling away your day standing outside in the rain or snow waiting in vain for a bus that seems like it will never come. I don’t have statistics but I would bet that bus tracker increases utilization of assets for the CTA and has become a known and reliable method of transportation for those that give it a chance.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Business, Chicagoania, Customer Service, Tech, Transportation | 24 Comments »

    The Question at Hand

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 3rd March 2015 (All posts by )

    I read of this particular school-administered survey the other morning on one of the news websites which form my morning reading, in lieu of the local newspaper – which I gave up some years ago upon realizing two things; practically every non-local story they printed I had already read on-line through various sources some days before appearing on the (rapidly diminishing) pages of the San Antonio Express News, and when it came to opinion columnists and cartoonists, most of the local offerings were … pathetic. Seriously – when I could read the best and most incisive opinion bloggers like Wretchard at Belmont Club and Victor Davis Hanson – why would I bother to read a dead-tree version of whatever lame establishment national columnist had offered a cheap rate to the SA Express-News?
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Customer Service | 9 Comments »

    Dear Microsoft, Google and Other Retail Software Developers…

    Posted by Jonathan on 9th January 2015 (All posts by )

    [Update: These ideas apply to Web pages as well.]

    A few suggestions from a mere user:

    -Stop using script-based popup menus. Go back to old-style Microsoft-standard (c. 2003) clickable nested menus emanating from a static menu bar, with standard headings (FILE, EDIT, etc.) plus the unique headings needed for each piece of software. If you are using script menus as a workaround for complexity you should redesign your user interface. If you are using script menus for any other reason you should stop.

    -Knock it off with the icons. Use text buttons instead. The point of software it to economize on human effort, not to appear stylish. A trash-can icon is probably OK, but much more than that and users are forced to waste time mouse-hovering over your icons or (worse) looking things up in the online help.

    -Hire focus groups of 75-85 year-old occasional computer users and turn them loose on your products. They may not understand the fine points but they will tell you quickly if your products have any gross UI deficiencies that people like you who use software all day may be overlooking.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Customer Service, Deep Thoughts, Systems Analysis, Tech | 14 Comments »

    Proof Positive

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 25th October 2014 (All posts by )

    Below the fold, pictorial proof that everything IS bigger in Texas…

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Customer Service, Humor, Photos | 12 Comments »

    Retail Therapy ‘n’ Woes

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 20th October 2014 (All posts by )

    With so many other bad and dangerous things hanging over us like a Damocles sword – an Ebola epidemic in the US, ISIS setting up a new and brutal caliphate in the middle east, the final two lame duck years of the Obama administration, and the anointing of a minimally-talented yet well-connected legacy child like Lena Dunham as the media voice of a generation – and the upcoming marathon of holiday markets and book events in front of me like so many hurdles to be gotten over in a frantic two-month-long dash – where was I?
    Oh, yes – amidst all the impending gloom, doom, and Bakersfield (that’s a California joke, son) my daughter and I are coping with the rather minor tragedy of a friend of ours loosing her job. Minor to us, of course – but not to our friend, a vivaciously charming English lady of certain years whom I shall call Kay, whom we met when she managed a thrift shop to benefit a certain well-established local charity, in a preposterously wealthy outlaying town within driving distance from San Antonio.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Customer Service, Diversions, Personal Narrative, USA | 5 Comments »