Kevin's Insight on Products, Service and Information – Analytical & Reflective Thinking – Sifting through the News, Business Propaganda & Rhetoric – What's Really Happening
PARIS AND GNATS
Some time ago, I spent about a week in Paris. A wonderful city and one that I viewed was more beautiful in person than in pictures, if that is possible. Besides the occasional communication challenges, the only issue I confronted were some of these pesky and obnoxious street vendors who would congregate around the touristy areas: Eiffel Tower, Sacré-Cœur, Champs-Élysées, Notre-Dame, and the Louvre. Often, they would pester and harass gullible tourist to buy mini Eiffel Tour trinkets, carved wooden elephants or other mementos from Paris.
Many of these pesky vendors I would consider gnats, those who get close too close to your face (and violate your personal space without realizing it) and would not take ‘no’ for an answer, determined to sell any of their wares to tourists for a few euros.
You hear stories or experience these African men approach you quite aggressively at the base of the Sacre Coeur and want to trade bracelets or trinkets for money – frustration may set in as you just want to enjoy the sights and sounds of the area and take in its Roman and Byzantine architecture. Often, they would surround you and offer you a bracelet for free as they slyly tie it to your wrist only to demand money once it’s part of you.
These hagglers and pesky merchants often pounce on prospective tourists and consumers like flies on horse dung from a romantic horse and buggy ride around the Place de la Concorde. Kind of like Pavlov’s Dogs, as soon as unsuspecting tourists arrive, some of these pesky merchants often do most anything to get a sale.
If you hang around the Champs-Élysées, you can see them in action. The observant visitor could quickly catch on to their game, especially around the world’s most popular street. It appears a well organized business – some work in a group, one or two may be on lookout while a few may violate your personal space in order to get you to notice their inventory. These gnats certainly can distinguish tourists from Parisians so they zoom in on their target like mosquitoes searching for blood. I’ve read many of them display their wares (or do you prefer junk) on a blanket or sheet without the necessary permits and visas and when they’re about to be confronted by un agent de police, they grab their cord that collapses the blanket, including their wares and flee. Once un agent de police leave, they reappear like roaches with an absence of light. After seeing their game, I was quite skeptical about patronizing many of these street vendors.
Standing in line to visit the Eiffel Tower, I’m approached by a young women who is dressed like a gypsy who asks me if I speak English. Her approach is of desperation as she sticks a clipboard in my face so I can quickly relate to her apparent plight. She conveys a situation where she’s destitute and unable to support herself. This is not the Declaration of Independence or a Living Will, just enough copy to produce pity, but more important, your euros (I bet they’d take American dollars or the English Pound for that matter). There are many of these women around such a beautiful area. A newbie might show pity for them and give them some money – especially a tourist who realizes how fortunate they are to visit such a beautiful city. In my mind, there’s only one thing worst than a charity that spends most, if not all their donations on administrative costs without considerable results. It’s people who fake a plight in an attempt to swindle money from tourists.
Unfortunately, our family arrived at the Eiffel Tower late morning and by that time, the lines up to the top of Paris’ famous landmarks was about two hours. So what do tourists do besides purchase water and snacks at the local kiosks while slowly shuffling their feet towards the entrance? Act as sitting ducks for these young women with clipboards and a penchant for trying to swindle some of your money?
Do un agent de police turn a blind eye to such behavior? Having spent almost a week in France’s capital, not once did I see any police question these street vendors or ask for their permits. I’d assume these gypsy women who harassed me at the Eiffel Tower make it a regular task of harassing other tourists on when the opportunity presents itself – would it be too difficult infiltrate the area with plain clothes officers who could arrest and interrogate such individuals?
I read over the last few years that Paris receives 60 to 70 million visitors annually. That trend has steadily increased over the years. If so, are these issues too trivial and insignificant for the police to worry about? Perhaps they turn a blind eye to such a thing unless it becomes a major issue?
During the World Cup of 2014, France made it to the quarterfinals before losing to Germany, 1-0. Using tongue and cheek with my wife, I mentioned that we might have a good time to visit some of the touristy spots in Paris, while these street vendors or gnats on the Champs-Élysées and Sacré-Cœur take a break from such behavior and catch the game I know they love.
10 Reason Why I Would Not Buy Junk from Street Vendors…
It is junk
The street vendors are too aggressive and dress badly
It is junk
I don’t like gnats figuratively or literally
It is junk
It is overpriced
It is junk
Memories of Paris will be in the digital and personal memory form
It is junk
I’m afraid custom’s officials in the United States might target my bag for review and harass me for buying such junk in Paris from those aggressive street vendors
Over the last year or two, Scott’s Lawn Care company has hired Phil McKee of Glasgow, Scotland to help pitch their products to those lawn owners who perhaps want a lawn of envy. Phil is from Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city and indeed Phil has the perfect Scottish accent to help sell this fertilizer stuff by connecting a Scot named Scott to Scott’s. He’s helping to convince those newbie suburban dads who may not know the difference between a drop spreader and a rotating one, what it takes to have a beautiful lawn.
Having this approach by Scott’s appears to be new, some of their ads in the past were quite plain, less personable and homogenous. Having their new spunky spokesman, Scott, definitely adds more personality to the brand. He’s smart, gregarious, honest looking and a great partner to improve the beauty of your greenscape up a few notches. With the cutest accent, red hair and a fair complexion, is he not perfect for the job? If so, with his fair complexion, he may recommend you do the majority of your yard work early in the morning to help protect your skin.
Will your neighbors not love you if you don’t use chemical fertilizer on your lawn? I guess it doesn’t matter which chemicals are dumped from which chemical provider as the reliance of lawn fertilizer is quite typical in suburbia. If you don’t, there may be love lost between you and your neighbors as those dandelions that are supposed to shrivel up and go away after some applications may remain and a wind from any direction will spread those nasty seeds onto those lawns that could be easily treated by the 4 Step program. Scott has an important question about your grass. You don’t want to be the only neighbor on your street with an inferior lawn so take my advice and follow the Four Step program by Scott’s. You know, first you address crabgrass in Step 1, and other weeds (although difficult to find on various Scott’s websites what those other weeds are) in the early spring. In late spring or early summer, the focus should be on eliminating dandelions and other broadleaf weeds – Step 2. Step 3 occurs late summer and Step 4 might be late fall. If you look at the chemical compositions of Step 3 and 4 (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium), there’s very little difference.I’ll be the first to admit I sometimes watch too much sports. That means I’ve seen these more times than I care to count. So, once you have consistently eliminated all crabgrass, dandelions and broadleaf weeds and have a lush and thick lawn, when will they have an honest dialogue about the potential damage to our water supply and ultimately, our drinking water?
I will give this company all the four leaf clovers that I find in my lawn in between my crabgrass for developing the 4 Step Lawn Care. They are keeping it simple for consumers. As the winter winds down and the last of the snow goes away, you begin with Step 1. Add each additional step as summer flashing before our eyes and then don’t forget the last application before winter is upon us for too many months to count. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, 4. You’re only responsibility is to feed that green monster every so often once the snow melts.
Thinking critically, having said the 4 Step program to promote a million dollar lawn, what credibility does Scott contain, seeing how he’s from Scotland. Being from Minnesota, Wisconsin or Illinois, does Scott really know what’s best for our lawns? If you’re from Georgia or Tennessee, how different is that climate from the rainy and cool climate of Glasgow? Should that come into play? You’re dealing with different growing seasons and different types of grass and soil conditions so there are several things to consider.
Is it merely because of his wonderful accent and poised demeanor that we automatically buy in to what he’s selling?
Getting back to different regions and soil types, perhaps Scott’s should customize and develop a specific fertilizer for specific regions and soil types?
A few other questions that might come into play when it comes to caring for your lawn. Do you mow? High or low in summer? Do you aerate every year or other year? Do you bag or mulch your grass clippings, thereby adding nitrogen back into the soil, reducing the need to fertilize so frequently.
One last thing…So I do an Internet search on “should I fertilize my lawn?” and the first thing that appears is Scott’s website not answering my question so it’s not a question of ‘it’ but ‘when’ one should fertilize your lawn. It’s not even an ad. Perhaps there’s a lot of $$$ in pedaling chemicals to those consumers who will merely bite the bullet and fork over a lot of dough – this may mean Scott’s can hire expensive SEO kings and champions will know how to get the best rating even without advertising.
One more thing: Another search was listed as ‘Is it necessary to fertilize your lawn’? Guess which website was on the top of the list of about 4,780,000 results (0.52 seconds).
Good news, if I search ‘fertilize lawn’ there Scotts website is second on the list but the first non-ad. The top on the list is an ad for good lawns using Scott’s fertilizer.
Isn’t it cute when you hear the expression on sports TV about “playing Switzerland?” To some not terribly familiar with the country, the term and image of Switzerland conveys a land of neutrality, prosperity and idyllic place to live (militarily neutral and won’t join other armies even though they have an army and will defend themselves).
Isn’t it cute to hear about the special land of Geneva, Bern and the Matterhorn and the only country portrayed as a neutral land in American media even though their neighbor, Austria, is also neutral but apparently does not get the same kind of love. Why not love for Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg too? Why just love Suisse? Perhaps Austria is neglected because of the absence of kangaroos and perhaps the Swiss have a better PR department and more influential lobbyists.
Decades ago, I lived in this beautiful place for one year where at least four languages are spoken: Romansh, French, Italian & German. I still follow the ‘goings on’ from many kilometers away as I still find this land compelling. From my past experience, my perspective or take on this idyllic country is typically quite different from the American bus traveler who visits 20 European countries in 21 days.
It goes without saying that living in any country for an extended period may provide a unique “snapshot” of their culture.
In my mind, even though Switzerland is considered a neutral land, one might be prudent not to project much beyond that point. First, as mentioned earlier, military neutral means they have an army — and they’ll defend themselves tooth and nail. Military neutral doesn’t mean it doesn’t have social problems to deal with especially significant drug issues in their largest cities. Military neutral doesn’t mean it’s not ethnocentric in its thinking where any foreign worker or Gastarbeiter does much of the manual labor and is often looked down upon by the wealthy Swiss. Military neutral doesn’t mean there are many economists and business people who question their banking policies.
Perhaps this is overshadowed by the entire wonderful PR done by travelers who fall in love with pictures of Switzerland. Many of whom can’t wait to walk down those quaint and uber clean village streets, eat scrumptious chocolate, see snow-capped Alps, and hear the Brown Swiss cows casually ringing their bells while grazing in the mountainous regions.
Look, I don’t hate Switzerland and at the same time, I can’t love it either. Perhaps I hold a neutral position? It offers a tremendous amount of beauty and many things to see and experience. However, it’s quite expensive so that experience may take a sizeable chunk from one’s wallet. Maybe in my mind, that’s the Achilles heel with Switzerland. If you’re extremely wealthy, they will welcome you with open arms. If you’re not, it might present many challenges. Of course, one might associate these conditions with many other countries and that might be true although, I’d argue, this is more acute with Switzerland.
Hearing references to ‘playing Switzerland’ during sports’ TV compelled me to provide another perspective about Switzerland – contrary to the common stereotype. Perhaps it’s only human nature to project “the grass is greener on the other side” about a foreign land. A place some may inspire to visit sometime.
The perception that Switzerland is a fairly tale place to live will be further reinforced by travelers who spend less than 36 hours there. One’s perception of the fairy tale land may be shattered by those outsiders who actually get a first- hand experience of how the Swiss actually think and feel.
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There is a busy Subway restaurant a few hundred feet from Highway 441/27 in The Villages, Florida. Nothing remarkable about the interior or exterior – most consumers looking for a quick sandwich are typically not concerned about the lack of ambiance as it’s all about the food.
While down here for my parent’s wedding anniversary, a few of my siblings had a taste for sub sandwiches so this Subway restaurant quickly came to mind. Being just outside of this Friendliest Retirement Hometown and beautiful retirement community and a good seventy minute drive north of Orlando, the location was ideal. The weather was cooperative for early February and and our family wanted to enjoy these sandwiches at a nearby park on this sunny Sunday afternoon.
As we arrived, there were about 12 people in queue to be served. No need to worry, these employees appeared to be working hard. In lieu of the restaurant’s location and the fact it was Sunday afternoon, I was surprised only two women were serving customers – one was fairly young and quite talkative and the older women, while working the register, did not appear to be emotionally engaged. Perhaps with limited management support, both employees and customers potentially might experience the brunt of questionable scheduling during such a busy time.
With all the options and combinations of building a sandwich, it took about 10 minutes before we received our order (even though the first woman had initially skipped over me). For a moment, I thought I was a potted plant! As I paid and because the woman working the cash register appeared to be somewhat agitated, I engaged in small talk to let her know her work mattered to me. I complimented her on how hard she was working on a Sunday afternoon. That touched a nerve or two as she begin to tell me management wanted to cut expenses so they only had 2 employees during the Sunday afternoon shift. She also voiced her frustration at not knowing how long she was going to work. Was it Noon or 3 pm? She could never rely on a schedule as her manager had a penchant for changing her hours without advanced notice. Piecing things together, it would not take a labor relation’s attorney to ascertain there was some history and friction between her and her manager about scheduling and working conditions.
If what she said was true I could certainly understand her frustration at the working conditions and lack of empowerment at this restaurant. Some critics of the harsh variety might say she should just quit if she’s unhappy but that’s not really a nuanced approach. My only comment was she needs to focus on what she says at a given time and who she says it to.
Even though customers might feel her frustration, it’s certainly not professional to complain to those ordering a sandwich about her inadequate pay or lack of control with her work schedule. Most Subway sandwich lovers or patrons want to quickly stop in to get a sandwich, a soda and bag of chips and want to enjoy their day without feeling guilty that they helped contribute to this one employee who’s being overworked and perhaps under paid.
I chuckle at how many celebrities promote the Subway sandwiches and restaurant. This includes Michael Strahan, Michael Phelps, RGIII and Apollo Ono among others. I wonder what their reaction might be if they had a similar situation with this overworked and frustrated Subway employee? Would it be support? Kindness? Understanding? Or would they merely smile, ignore her work situation and go about their business.
Subway, eat fresh but ignore the disgruntled employee!
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DON’T GET TOO CLOSE TO THE FOOD AT THE LIBERTYVILLE CHIPOTLE
So I got yelled at the other day by the kitchen manager because I leaned over the counter and pointed at the food in the Chipotle restaurant in downtown Libertyville. Mind you, I was still a few feet away from the actual food although without any ingredient labels, what was a Chipotle Burrito lover to do in creating the ultimate sandwich?
You see, even though I enjoy Chipotle, for whatever reason, I’m not a regular so when it comes to determining what I want on my tacos or burritos, somehow, I need ingredient labels for assistance. Without signage, I revert to pointing which is contrary to restaurant policy especially if you lean over towards the food as you point. And the way the Chipotle Grill is designed in Libertyville with a lack of a barrier between the customers and how the ingredients are displayed, customers who are not vertically challenged may sometimes accidentally lean over and point at the food. Again, I learned, a big “no no.”
I’m all for hygiene and adhering to restaurant guidelines so for future visits to this Chipotle, I will certainly be cognizant about not getting close to the food and pointing. Oh yeah, and using my words (including adjectives) to specify what ingredients will comprise my ultimate sandwich.
Having said that, I’m wondering if this interaction could have been handled differently. The kitchen manager loudly told me not to reach over and point at the food. It was the first time I was ever scolded for pointing at restaurant food. I was more shocked than embarrassed as my intent was really benign, just trying to customize my burrito. Perhaps she could have taken me aside and mentioned this to me? Customer centric?
After the verbal reprimand, I constructively asked her if it was possible to include an ingredient list so I would not have to point. Seconds later, she just walked away as she was not interested in my suggestions. Perhaps she was not interested in addressing the issue, but rather just do her job by ensuring the food stay pure with proper hygiene. I understand she has a job to do, however, being a representative of the restaurant, she could have “heard me out” and told me she’d submit my suggestion to the store manager for consideration.
As I was leaving, I met a woman who had heard the interaction who quietly told me her boyfriend had been yelled at two nights ago because he too pointed at the food. I’m sure others have been scolded over the first years of the restaurant’s existence. At some point will she or other employees talk about this issue and decide to take some action to help mitigate this issue from occurring again?
REACTIVE VERSUS REACTIONARY
As I was listening to the Dan Patrick podcast the other day a term caught my attention as I heard it was improperly used. The host, Dan Patrick was talking about the upcoming 2014 NFL draft and the fickle sports media when it came to the flavor of the month and suggested the NFL media are so reactionary.
After hearing this, I rolled my eyes regarding Dan’s misuse of this term. According to Wikipedia, reactionary refers to a person who holds political viewpoints that favor a return to a previous state in a society. I believe he should have said ‘reactive’ instead.
According to Bing, the term reactive relates to a response to events or situations rather than initiating or instigating. This dictionary also suggests it’s something caused by stimuli or events.
That’s not the first time I’ve heard Dan misuse that term. The last time it was used, I reached out to the Dan Patrick show pointing out the misuse of the term without ever receiving a response. Regardless, I won’t just call out Dan Patrick. I’ve heard other sports’ talk show hosts use ‘reactionary’ when in fact they should say ‘reactive’ instead.
Whenever the term ‘reactionary’ is improperly used, it raises my ire in a number of ways. First, reactive and proactive go hand and hand — especially in a corporate environment or dealing with customer service. Do you react to events or are you proactive or anticipate new events or possible problem areas? If I hear reactionary, the last association would not have anything to do with proactive behavior. Two, the term ‘reactionary’ suggests having political views in favor or going back to a previous state of society – not something I would necessary endorse.
Dan, in the future, please consider using reactive instead of reactionary when describing a response to events.
SUBWAY There is a busy Subway restaurant a few hundred feet from Highway 441/27 in The Villages, Florida. Nothing remarkable about the interior or exterior...
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So my mother and father were a day away from celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary which meant last minute errands to help make the party a success. Being residents of Florida’s Friendliest Retirement Hometown (The Villages) in Central Florida, my parents appeared to pick the right venue in which to celebrate this wonderful event.
My brother and I had some literal and figurative running to do before the party – our last stop for that day, a Publix grocery store just south of The Villages Spanish Springs Town Square to get our party balloons inflated. We initially went to customer service who steered us to the balloon inflation area quite close to the produce department.
We waited there for about 3 minutes until one employee came by and asked us who we were waiting for. Our reply was, “waiting to get our balloons filled.” A few minutes later, a different employee inquired about our needs and we basically had the same response. Finally, the manager, Alfred, came by after about 10 minutes of waiting and he said he’d take care of us. Alfred inflated all 9 balloons for us – having a nice chat as we streamlined this process together to get these done and over to the party hall ASAP. In the back of my mind, I felt like asking him for a discount for our inconvenience but decided against it. I was just happy to get this done.
After Alfred finished, he told us the service was no cost – he apologized for our wait and stipulated that we should not be charged anything at checkout. What a pleasant surprise! Look, with no service for 10 minutes, he did his best to rectify the situation. By doing this, he made us more determined to come back and shop – it was an expense of $10 or so although that “good will gesture” had a lasting impression on us and to others as we felt compelled to tell this story a number of times.
In October of last year, while doing some preliminary planning for the February party, my two sisters and parents had visited the same store to get some ideas about the 65th Anniversary cake options. They had worked with Karen, a bakery specialist, to learn about pricing and the types of cakes available for our parent’s anniversary.
When it was time to make the cake in February, Karen made the wedding cake top as her gift to my parents. She also had her bakery staff sign the anniversary card for them. Talk about going above and beyond!
Karen also had the idea of adding the wedding photo be placed on their cake. Because she added everything up and forgot to add the charge for the photo, she decided otherwise about adding that extra fee to the order. She duplicated the color and design from the invitation on both cakes – totally unexpected but incredible, as you can see by the photos.
Her attitude toward this very special event indicated to my sisters that she takes her work very seriously and is all about service. She acted as though she was making these cakes for someone in her family for a very special event. Having the cakes just right was a big deal for our family and Karen did the necessary “leg work” to make it a big deal for her.
You don’t always know what impact the little things employees do that can impact the reputation of a business. Because my father was so impressed by Karen’s leadership, he mentioned her caring attitude and excellent customer service to about 75 attendees at his anniversary party. In addition, because my father is an extrovert, hundreds of others he meets during his active lifestyle in The Villages may hear the same positive story about Karen and her employer, Publix. One can’t forget the customer centric approach by Publix motivated me to write about this encouraging experience and share with hundreds through my customer service blog.
During special events, you hope things fall into place and when they don’t, you hope that you’re working with the type of service provider who will do what it takes to help ensure your event is special. This is what took place.
One more thing, some consumer advocates say customers are more likely to distribute bad press after a negative situation than a positive experience. I understand that logic as it’s sometimes easier to disseminate bad news but this isn’t always the case. After being wowed by Publix’s commitment to service, many members of my large family have told these positive stories to others – in addition to what positive things my mother and father will say about Publix around The Villages. And again, when I see and experience a good product or service, there are several channels I will utilize to ensure other consumers are aware of the positive experiences my family had at Publix La Plaza Grande West.
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What’s this product???
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On a Sunday morning in July and not familiar with breakfast restaurants in Hudson, Wisconsin, and the surrounding areas, I drove along the beautiful St. Croix valley to find somewhere that served breakfast. The only restaurant that appeared to come through in the clutch was McDonald’s – I don’t typically eat breakfast at Mickey D’s but thought, “why not?”
Trying to start my day healthy, I ordered coffee and oatmeal. As I had surveyed the menu, I saw oatmeal priced at $1.99 so I thought I’d give this relatively new item (to me) a try.
While I’m enjoying my oatmeal and allowing my coffee to cool to a manageable temperature, I notice the paper that typically covers the brown serving trays. It says this is printed on 100% recycled paper, great, I thought. For some of their packaging, they are using 100% recycled paper. Then I thought about this restaurant and McDonald’s corporation located in Oak Brook, if you’re trying to be eco-conscious, why not have recycling containers in restaurants? Would it be bad for business to help coax some customers to recycle most of their trash after a meal? Is it presumptuous to think McDonald’s only signed up for the part-time eco-conscious platform?
Anyway, back to the oatmeal. The $1.99 variety did not eliminate my hunger pangs – even after waiting 20 minutes to allow my stomach to send that signal to my brain. Less than 2 greenbacks is quite reasonable for a container of oatmeal until you realize we’re dealing with oats…I’m not a huge eater but I needed a second container of oatmeal to feel slightly satiated.
The first container of oatmeal was good except it was too sweet for my tastes so before ordering a second one, I asked the friendly cashier if they are allowed to serve it plain – allowing customers to add items to suit their taste but this was not allowed. Their oatmeal came prepackaged so no deviation could be done for those oatmeal lovers who like their oatmeal a certain way.
So McDonald’s advertises this oatmeal is made with 100% whole grain (whole, sliced oats) but there are no ingredients listed on the side of the container but I do see the Monopoly game advertised on the side. I’m reminded that when I purchase a similar product in a grocery store, I’d see the ingredient list with nutritional information.
If my online research is correct, there are 290 calories per serving. If you need two servings to feel full, that’s close to 600 calories. Mind you, you’re dealing with oatmeal. There are almost as many grams of fat as protein (4g versus 5g), but plenty of carbohydrates (58g). If you’re lucky, you can eliminate 30 calories by opting out of the brown sugar although my restaurant didn’t provide that option. I won’t get into any other details about the oatmeal besides including there are a number of preservatives contained in the light cream and cranberry raisin blend.
My perfect McDonald’s breakfast would include at least two things, the ability to flavor the oatmeal to my personal tastes and include a larger size perhaps at $2.99 so only one container of oatmeal may suffice. Perhaps, if I could add a third, it would include free coffee refills.
One other thing, why a tax on oatmeal in Wisconsin? Oatmeal of all things! Isn’t that a basic necessity regardless of where it’s eaten?
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