Sunday, March 21, 2010

American Nuns and the Health Care Bill

In her column in today’s New York Times, Maureen Dowd points out why American nuns have distanced themselves from the Catholic Church hierarchy in supporting the health care bill.

In an earlier blog (July 2, 2009), I wrote about my reaction to the Church hierarchy’s plan to investigate orders of nuns. According to the Dowd column today, “The witch hunt has sparked the nuns to have a voice at last. Vulnerable children were not protected by the male hierarchy of the church, which treated sexual abuse as a failure of character rather than a crime……..Now the bishops think that it’s better to deprive poor people of good health care than to let the church look like it’s going soft on abortion.”

It's not difficult to see why so many “good Catholics” are disappearing. The hypocrisy of priests, bishops, cardinals and the pope have driven people away, leaving more pews empty each Sunday.

It’s not easy to cut the cord. Having been taught by nuns in grammar school and high school, I received a solid education and also the basis of a belief in the power of good. So I cannot abide the utterly despicable actions of the Church hierarchy.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pleasing the Customer = Top Priority

"Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it.
It is what the client or customer gets out of it."

....Peter Drucker

You don’t need an M.B.A. to know that good customer service - or the lack thereof - can affect a company’s success. Call it common courtesy or a smart public relations tactic; exceptional customer service can impact the bottom line.

There’s an electronics retail store in Manhattan called B&H. It’s on Ninth Avenue at West 34th Street. I had never heard of the place, but then I’m seldom shopping for electronics. But my cousin, who was visiting from Ireland, had seen their prices online and was on a mission to pick up a couple of things for her son and her daughter.

Customer service? B&H gets an A+++. To begin, it was pouring rain that December afternoon but the store provided plastic bags into which you could put your wet umbrella while you shopped. A nice gesture. The lines to speak with a salesperson were short and organized, and the counter sales people were extremely knowledgeable and helpful. Our salesman’s expertise prompted me to say that we were getting quite an education in video cameras. As it turned out, he had been a school teacher once in Brooklyn.

After you make your selection, your purchases are put on a conveyor belt below the counter and make their way through a Rube Goldberg mechanism to the front of the store. By the time you have paid for your articles, your purchases have been retrieved from the conveyor belt, have been bagged and are ready at the counter for pick up.

I plan to buy a webcam soon. Guess where I am heading.

Another example of good customer service that I’ve experienced is Cablevision. If I have a question or a problem, I know that when I call, I’ll hear a human voice. The person will always make sure I am completely satisfied before I hang up.

Like a fool, I was persuaded by advertising to leave Cablevision about a year ago, despite the fact that I’d heard people complain about Verizon FIOS. But I switched.. The promise of more HD channels led me away from Cablevision. It took me less than six weeks, however, to realize my mistake. Calls to Verizon for clarification on certain features left me frustrated and increasingly angry. The recorded voice advised me to go to the web for all answers. When I did that, I became even angrier when all the answers to FAQ did not fit my situation or directed me to further sites. I learned a good lesson and returned to Cablevision shortly thereafter.

I keep track of incidents where I’ve been served well. I’ve been taking the New Jersey Transit buses a lot lately and have noticed that most, not all, of the drivers are friendly, helpful, and courteous. I applaud them and all the companies and individuals who know you really cannot put a specific monetary value on good customer service. But it’s there, resting on the bottom line.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The face is familiar.....

When I skim the “birthdays” column in the morning newspaper, I start at the top where the names are familiar. Mmm, Andy Williams is 82, Elizabeth Taylor is 78, Ozzy Osbourne is 61. As I scan down the column the names become less and less recognizable. Actor Royale Watkins is 40. Who? Bruno Campos is 36. Is that the guy on Dancing with the Stars? And Michael Angarano is 22. I doubt even my adult children know who he is.

The other day I saw that Conrad Janis turned 82. If you know the name at all, it’s probably from his role on “Mork and Mindy.”
(His website contains a long list of credits on stage, television and the movies.) But Carolyn and I don’t care about that. We remember Conrad Janis long before he hit the big time.

(I’ve mentioned Carolyn several times before. She was my best friend and to this day, we can still laugh about some of our adventures growing up in Brooklyn way back when. On Saturdays in the 1950s, you’d often find us in Manhattan, exploring different neighborhoods, sometimes hanging around the theatre district.)

To us, Conrad Janis will always be the great jazz trombone player. One time, when we found out that his band was playing at Childs Restaurant in Times Square, we were tempted to venture down the stairs to hear him. But we knew we were too young at the age of 15, just as we knew we were too young to enter the famous Sardi’s or to follow Ralph Meeker into a bar between the matinee and evening performances of Picnic at the Music Box Theatre.

I cannot imagine allowing 15-year-old girls today to go some of the places Carolyn and I went. Like taking the elevator in the Brill Building to see if our favorite singer, Guy Mitchell, was at his agent’s office. Instead, the Four Lads, a singing group famous at the time, thought we were members of their fan club and asked us if we wanted to help with their fan mail. Or the time the two of us went to the premiere of On the Waterfront at the Astor Theatre and sat near Eva Marie Saint and her husband and got a nod and a wink from Karl Malden.

Often, we’d head for Cromwell’s Drug Store in the lobby of the RCA Building (now the GE Building or whatever corporation owns it). In the so-called “golden age of television,” many live TV dramas were aired from the NBC studios upstairs. So it wasn’t unusual to see some of the actors having lunch at Cromwell’s.

One afternoon after the lunch crowd had gone, Carolyn and I sat at the soda fountain and ordered cokes. The place was empty except for two guys sitting at the end of the counter. Oh, my gosh! It was James Dean and Nick Adams. And they were smiling at us! We tried to act cool but we couldn’t help giggling, especially when James Dean took out his camera and started to (or pretended to) take our picture!

Around that time a singer named Julius Larose was a big hit on the Arthur Godfrey Show. One night, Carolyn and I walked to the corner drug store, closed the door of the phone booth and called Julius LaRosa at his home in Ridgewood. When his father answered, he was pleased to put his son on the phone for two giggling girls. Just a few years ago when I was living in Albany, I read that Julius LaRosa would be making an appearance at the Colonie Center Mall. It seems he was friends with the owner of the new Boscov’s Department Store and had agreed to be part of the opening celebration.

My sister Nan and I decided to go. As we were headed toward Boscov’s auditorium, passing displays of towels and sheets, I spotted a short, white-haired man coming toward us. “That’s Julius LaRosa,” I said to Nan. Sure enough, he had aged just as we had.

When I read the birthdays column or see the obituary of some famous person from the past, I cannot help but remember the innocent days when a trip on a subway to Manhattan was not only safe but to Carolyn and me, quite an adventure.