Photo: business insider
News of two incidents fell into my lap at once involving agents, one travel, and the other real estate. Both could have caused costly inconveniences.
- The first customer immediately discovered the omission made by the travel agent yet the agent fought tooth and nail not to fix it.
- Luckily, in the second instance, the customer found the alarming basic oversights of the real estate agent before damage was done.
Up, Up and Away–Almost
A well travelled friend, Mary Joyce Smith–not her real name–has used the same travel agent for decades but the semi-retired expert was out of town when she needed to book a flight to Japan via LA. So instead Smith used a nationally known agency and was dismayed by the lackadaisical, inadequate service.
The tickets and itinerary came back with the name “Mary Smith.” Her middle name was missing. She asked for the addition of Joyce. She wanted her documents to match the name on her passport and official documents, especially important when travelling internationally in an age of hacking and stringent Homeland Security measures.
The agent told her, “I called Japan Airlines and they say it doesn’t matter.” [In the time this took, if she really called the airlines, she could have done what had to be done to add “Joyce.”]
More important: it mattered to Mary Joyce Smith, the kind of customer you want to have because she flies thousands of miles a year. She didn’t want the omission to delay her at airport security but really, she was the customer and the reason should not have mattered to the agent..
After numerous calls through “press one, press two” hell—she reached a supervisor who asked, “Why would they have left off Joyce? Of course it should be on the documents.” Nevertheless she received yet another email from the original agent who clearly has a hearing problem when it comes to customer requests. “The missing middle name doesn’t matter,” she repeated.
I was with Smith when she got this message and knew something was up as her lips tightened, her cheeks became slightly red and she rolled her eyes in irritation.
Open and Shut Case
Another friend is selling his weekend house. On his return after a Sunday showing by a substitute real estate agent, he discovered one of the doors was left wide open to the elements, uninvited wild creatures great and small as well as humans. She also left lights on all over the house. What if he hadn’t returned until Friday?
The usual agent said she’d given strict instructions to the substitute—such as that the owners aren’t there during the week. But did she have to also tell the woman to close doors and turn out the lights? You wouldn’t need to go to real estate school to know this.
Why would someone in a service business fight a customer so hard when a fix is simple? How could an agency put a flake in charge of the security of a person’s home? As for both agents, is their approach due to laziness, stupidity or are they disengaged and in the wrong jobs? Can you share examples of fabulous agents?
A recent weekly conference call began with many admitting that they were often called by other names, Roberta for Ramona; Maxine for Francine and for me, a mispronunciation: Gee-Anne for gene. I’ve previously written that some call my husband Homer, Horace.
But some change their names on purpose–my aunt, for example. She had been known as Lili until she was in her 70s when out of the blue she insisted on Elisabeth, also a nice name, but hard for friends and family to get used to. I never learned why the change.
Maybe the itch has grown up as 70 seems to be the magic number. Coach, at 76, is Tapestry now. Execs at the company that began as a high end handbag manufacturer [vintage bag at right] said it wanted to change its corporate image to reflect the luxury brands it had acquired–Stuart Weitzman and Kate Spade.
According to a Reuters feature I read in the New York Post, Coach chief exec Victor Luis responded to criticism of the change and choice of name on social media by saying: “At the end of the day some of the social media reaction is misplaced because people think we are changing the name of the Coach brand, which we are not doing. It’s really about creating a new corporate identity for Coach as a house of brands.”
The Reuters article continued: “Coach, however, lost some shine in recent years in part due to the financial recession and increased online shopping. The company is trying to regain its former glory by buying new brands, keeping a tight lid on discounting and pulling back from department stores.”
As for that tight lid on discounters, I just bought a classic pair of Coach-brand loafers at T.J. Maxx at a very comfortable price.
I kept thinking of the $millions spent over decades to make the Coach brand familiar and admired by many. It, Spade and Weitzman will still appear on shoes and fashion as Tapestry is the corporate umbrella. Wise minds in the C-suite had clearly lost faith in the power of the Coach name. Some reporters covering the Coach story reminded their audiences that Google’s new corporate name is Alphabet. Have you heard anyone call it that?
Reminds me of some of the bridges around NYC—I think “59th Street” and “Triborough” not “Koch” or “Kennedy.” I adapted well to the Met Life Building taking over for what once was the Pan Am building, no doubt because of the Met Life’s Snoopy dog connection. [That they deep sixed the spokesdog is another matter.] Met Life no longer owns the building but is a major tenant so its name remains.
What do you do when people call you by the wrong name? Do you know adults who have changed their names [and I don’t mean through marriage]. Do you think a venerable name in fashion should change its corporate name—does it show lack of faith in the brand—or that it doesn’t matter as the public’s memory is short? How long will it take for New Yorkers to remember the changed names of buildings and bridges?
Alexandra & Michael Miller, Everyman Works, Brooklyn
Americans’ insecurities about decorating their homes is well documented. Google the subject: you’ll see. I know this first hand from interviewing retailers and interior designers over years, starting with a stint eons ago at Art & Antiques Magazine. Fine antique shop owners had a heck of a time fighting a fear of being different. For starters, people dread unsolicited feedback from friends and mothers-in-law, as in “Why did you choose THAT style, color or pattern?” on walls and upholstery to china. Frame shops thrive when called in to fill a new house with art because a homeowner doesn’t know where to start [and perhaps would like someone else to blame?]
Renee Weiss Chase, Cloth2Clay, Collingswood, N.J.
The good news: According to Newton’s third law, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” I maintain that there are those who bend over backwards to achieve a special look in their homes filled with visual surprises that they love—that are the decorative equivalent of a squeeze of lemon or lime to perfect a dish or drink. And these people are in luck: American-made decorative accents, photography, sculpture and furniture will be exhibited this weekend at the Brooklyn Museum at my client’s American Fine Craft Show Brooklyn. [The Eastern Parkway subway stop is literally steps from the museum door and there’s a large parking lot.]
Lori Kaplan, NY jeweler
Does the same self-doubt apply to fashion? I’ve not studied the industry so I can rely only on my own experience and observations: A remarkable accent—scarf, jewelry, hat or jacket–on a classic ensemble brightens the wearer whose posture and expression beam with joy and confidence. Imagine giving such a bonus with your holiday presents this season. One Brooklyn Museum member, a loyal craft show visitor and successful business owner told me: “My whole wardrobe this year was from [last year’s] show. ”
Why do you think so many fear decorating their homes? Do you? What is one of your favorite fashion accessories? Where did you find it or was it a gift? Do you explore fine craft shows as a resource for unusual, handsome gifts and additions to your home and wardrobe?
Milliner Karen Morris, Minneapolis, Minn.
Catherine Joseph, C Joseph NY, Huntington
Furniture maker Bok Read, Media, Pa.
I wonder if I live on a different planet sometimes. To illustrate what I mean, I’ve photographed a few signs and a sales pitch that I’ve recently noticed or received. I cover communications—mostly poor–in many of my posts.
On a bus at night this week I looked up from what I was reading to see where I was. I admired the new lit street sign [photo above], but from where I sat, I could only see the Avenue—the street number, which is what I needed to know, was hidden. Did the designer think of that?
I know why real estate people do it, because the avenue may have more cachet as an address to the building owner, but it has always confounded me when a door that opens many paces up a NYC street has an address referencing an Avenue. I’m surprised that it’s allowed. The photo, right, shows 350 Lexington Ave. quite a bit up on 40th Street facing west.
I got a letter from Stig Abell, whom I don’t know, asking me to subscribe to the TLS with not a hint of what it was anywhere. I bet every reader of this blog knows what TLS is but on arrival home late one night, I didn’t. Because I was planning to write this column, instead of tossing the letter immediately, I looked it up: The Times Literary Supplement. I guess it was one of those “If you have to ask, you’re not worthy of it,” sales pitches.
I didn’t snap a shot of a poster that was at bus stops all over town a few months ago—and I couldn’t find an image of it on the Internet either so you’ll have to believe me. It told the reader to fly out of EWR because of convenience etc. I’ve lived in NYC most of my life and had no idea where EWR was so the poster was wasted on me—I’ve never been good at acronyms anyway. I later learned in a Facebook conversation that it refers to Newark Airport as well as why the airport uses the letters EWR. Because the letter N is reserved for all things Navy, it cannot be used to identify airports. EWR refers to some of the other letters in the word nEWaRk.
Have you been left in the dark due to confusing signs or mysterious sales pitches?
I increasingly admire Bard College. We have enjoyed concerts at The Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, and outdoors in summer before that, for some 20+ years and most recently, during parent’s weekend. We attended a concert at which the students played. [We have most often heard the American Symphony Orchestra replaced by The Orchestra Now, but the student performances are always a treat.] Leon Botstein, conductor, music director and president, reminded the audience made up, I suspect, of many music lovers like us who had no undergrads in the game, that while each of the students major in music, they all have a second major. So smart for a college known for its outstanding creative offerings. So practical. So necessary today.
Bard president Leon Botstein confers associate degree to member of prison college initiative. Photo: dailyfreeman.com
The college is innovative in more than the arts. Its college program for prisoners made headlines in 2015 when the prison debating team beat Harvard’s. And now Bard has launched a “microcollege,” at the Prospect Heights public library. Leslie Brody wrote about it in The Wall Street Journal in “Bard Launches Free ‘Microcollege,’ in Brooklyn.” The free two year college is for “low-income applicants who haven’t sought degrees due to the price tag or personal hardships.”
The director of both programs–prison and library–is Max Kenner, VP for institutional initiatives at Bard. He calls access to college in this country “a catastrophic failure.” The “intellectual power of prison inmates,” that surprises many and frustrates Kenner, inspired the idea for the microcollege. Kenner mentioned never-ending jokes about his beloved prison initiative with “a punch line something about a captive audience.”
As in the prison program, Bard instructors will teach small seminars. Graduates will receive a liberal arts associate degree. The students will all be from Brooklyn, the program starts in January, 2018 and the goals: To grow to 64 students and that the graduates continue their studies to earn a four year degree elsewhere.
Do you also admire pioneering programs like this? Should it work, do you think it will become a template for other colleges to begin to chip away at one of the many closed doors to education?
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