Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Survey Says....??

We're being surveyed to death but do you notice any appreciable uptick in customer service?

You can't buy a taco anymore without being inundated with requests to take surveys. You can't conduct any business on the phone, hardly, without being asked to take "a quick, three-question survey on the quality of my service."

Granted, many survey requests, from JC Penney to Del Taco, are accompanied by a chance to win something. Your name will get tossed into a cyber hat to win cash and prizes. Or so they say.

This increase in requests for survey taking has been going on for several years. Yet I am still seeing the same level of crappy service. Or, at the very least, there doesn't seem to be any noticeable difference in service, other than being asked to take a survey about said service.

I don't want to broad stroke brush the service industry, as I have been a part of it and continue to be in an indirect way. But what is happening with all the feedback that we're doling out these days? Is it being read? Investigated? Acted upon?

No way to prove it, I suppose. I guess we are just left with taking it on faith that when we fill out the surveys and punch the numbers on our phone, the data is disseminated and analyzed.

I am not adverse to taking the short phone surveys, mainly because they're short. I'm not much of a phone person, especially when it comes to transacting business with the utility companies or the like. I just want to finish my business and be done. Not a big fan of extending the phone call. But I'll do a quickie survey that takes 15-20 seconds.

And while I'm at it, how come I am asked to type in account numbers and account passwords into the automated phone system, and the first question the rep asks me when he/she comes on the line is, "May I have your account number and password, please?"

Is anyone listening?

The latest thing is something they're doing at K-Mart and elsewhere: asking you if you'd like your receipt e-mailed to you, instead of a paper version from the register. This is for anything from a gallon of milk to a big screen TV.

Now, why I'd want to have a receipt e-mailed to me when I am standing right in front of a machine that can spit one out in a matter of moments at the point of purchase, I'll never know. But at K-Mart they make you answer this question, using the stylus and machine used for debit card transactions.

But back to my original query.

Is the quality of service increasing? And if so, do you attribute it to all the survey taking we've been doing in recent years?

Who the hell knows?

By the way, now that this blog post has ended, if you could stick around and answer a few questions, I'd appreciate it. On a five-point scale:

1) How was my writing? With 5 being Very Satisfactory and 1 being Very Dissatisfied
2) Will you recommend this blog to a friend? With 5 being Very Likely and 1 being Very Unlikely
3) Do you agree with this post? With 5 being Agree Highly and 1 being Highly Disagree

Thank you. You are now entered to win a year's supply of Rice-A-Roni.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Hillary 2016? 2020?

Will she or won't she?

Rest assured that there will be a time when Hillary Clinton isn't so much in the public consciousness during President Obama's second term, but it's hard to imagine that time right now.

As if Hillary needed another vehicle with which to prove her moxie, reaffirm her popularity and look presidential, shes doing so right now as she handles the batting practice pitches that Republican Senators are tossing her during the Benghazi hearings.

Will she or won't she?

That's the question on everyone's lips right now---supporters and detractors. It's no longer a question of If Hillary Clinton, former First Lady, former Senator and outgoing Secretary of State, would make a good president. That query has long ago been answered (to recap: YES she would). It's now a matter of whether she chooses to pursue the world's highest office in her bid to become the United States' first female Commander-in-Chief.

The Benghazi hearings aren't hurting her stature. They're not poking holes in her mystique. They're not making anyone fear that, should she be president, we'd be led by a screaming meemie, or a shaky head of state.

It's all there for Hillary, should she toss her hat into the ring: money, popularity, opportunity, timing.

So will she or won't she?

My gut tells me that she won't. Something tells me that, once she realizes that a run for POTUS in 2016 is, essentially, also a run again in 2020, and that should she win two terms she's not looking at any retirement relaxation until January 20, 2025...well, that's just too damn long. She'd be 77 at that point. Her shoulder rubbing with the presidency will have gone on for over 30 years (save the time between now and a campaign run three years hence).

I say that's just too many years, too much stress, too little enjoyment of life.

But that's just me.

Personally, I would be quite comfortable with a female president, period---and Hillary Clinton especially.

On Capitol Hillary, the SOS is swatting away the best the GOP Senators can pelt her with, and in the process she's coming off looking smarter and more together than they are---not to mention living in this century.

The Republicans are afraid of Hillary, and as well they should. They're also light between the ears, because you have to have a screw loose if you're going to attack the most popular political figure in the US today, which Hillary Clinton is, by far. Even President Obama is looking up at her in the poll numbers.

Nothing that has transpired over the past couple of days, with Hillary outwitting her opponents, has changed the notion that she would make a fine president.

But also has nothing happened which has answered the question of will she or won't she?

I don't think she will. I hope I'm wrong.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Give 'em an Inch...

McDonald's has been covering its, ahem, bases for years.

The fast food chain's second most famous signature sandwich (after the Big Mac), the Quarter Pounder, has been tightly covered with a disclaimer ever since it hit the market.

The beef patty, McDonald's has long put into tiny print, weighs the requisite four ounces "before cooking." After it hits the grill, it's anyone's guess. But a Quarter Pounder can be called a quarter pound, using the "before cooking" caveat.

I wonder how Subway is going to put the toothpaste back into the tube.

The sandwich chain has been called out, big time. Already they're calling it a "scamwich."

A photo hit the Internet the other day, visual evidence that a Subway Foot Long sub comes up a tad short. A full inch, in fact.

The poster of the pic, a customer from Australia of all places, captioned the photo of the Foot Long with a tape measure on top of it, with "Subway pls respond." The sandwich extended to the 11-inch mark on the measuring tape.

Just call it a Tall Tale of the Tape.


It's hard to see how Subway can wiggle its way out of this, although the chain has already offered up explanations that include hot and cold subs measuring differently at times due to shrinkage of the bread by the hot ingredients. For what it's worth.

But just as a Quarter Pounder is a quarter pounder, so should a Foot Long be a foot long...right?

McDonald's played it right. They understood that for a Quarter Pounder beef patty to weigh four ounces AFTER cooking, it would have to weigh considerably more before it was tossed onto the grill. And that would mean higher overhead and lower profit.

At first blush, the Subway thing might appear to be a little silly and much ado about nothing. I mean, who wants to quibble about an inch? (get your mind out of the gutter!)

But it's not about the inch, per se. I would imagine a lot of consumers would throw that last inch into the trash anyway---either because they're full, or because the last inch is usually just bread.

It's the principle. It's the American consumer tired of corporations erring on the side of the corporations instead of the customer. Notice how the Subway sandwiches didn't measure out to be 13 inches, right?

Maybe that's how long they should be, going forward. Thirteen inches.*

A baker's dozen worth of inches, to make up for years of sticking it to us, an inch at a time.

“I won't be going back to Subway until you either drop the words ‘foot long’ in your advertising or add the inch to the sandwich,” wrote Facebook user David Moran on the company’s profile. “False advertising.”

Mr. Moran is right, and he's right to make such a demand. It's not frivolous.

The Subway flap isn't about an inch. It's about that inch being given, and corporations taking a foot.

A WHOLE foot.

*before shrinkage

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Case That Cried Wolf

Unless you're a member of Jimmy Hoffa's immediate family, do you really care what happened to his body? I mean, anymore?

The former Teamsters boss, who vanished on July 30, 1975 outside the Machus Red Fox restaurant at Telegraph and Maple, has been rumored to be buried, ground up, etc. in a variety of locales, from Michigan to New Jersey. In the 37+ years since Hoffa's disappearance, there has been no shortage of theories as to his final resting place, nor a shortage of "insiders" who purport to know the real deal.

The latest tipster is 85-year-old Tony Zerilli, son of reputed Detroit mob boss Joseph Zerilli. The younger Zerilli says that Hoffa was buried under a field in northern Oakland County, and that investigators could find Hoffa there right now, should they choose to look. Zerilli unveiled his story to WNBC-TV.

Zerilli has some credibility, apparently.

He was in a position to know secrets---including the fate of Hoffa, who was the former president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters---said John Anthony, who worked the case as an FBI agent and later served as an FBI spokesman.

"The source of the information is the most credible I've seen in 30 years," Anthony said Monday. "(Zerilli) is high enough up the food chain."

We'll see.

But even if Zerilli is right, even if he, after all these years, is the guy who finally provides closure as to what Hoffa's killers did with the body, how much of an impact does that have for you?

Frankly, I think I might respond to the news with little more than, "Huh!"

Then I'd go back to my regularly scheduled day.

Hoffa is dead. That much is clear. Same with Amelia Earhart, the doomed pilot whose fate has been another of America's great mysteries. But, like Earhart, Hoffa's final location doesn't really change anything. It's nice to know, but it's not Earth-shattering news. Not to me, anyhow.

If Zerilli is right about Hoffa's body (east of Adams Road off  Buell Road), then yes, we could all cross that off our "must know" list. But it's hardly a bucket-type list. I could go to my grave peacefully not knowing what ultimately happened to Jimmy Hoffa. 

How about you?

Tony Zerilli, circa 1996

I just think that the Hoffa thing has a certain "Boy who cried wolf" aspect to it. 

Three higher profile examples, as cited by the Free Press, of Hoffa theories:

May 28, 2004: Oakland County detectives remove floorboards from a house in northwest Detroit after a Fox News Channel team finds indications of blood. Frank (the Irishman) Sheeran, who claims in a biography by Charles Brandt that he killed Hoffa in the house, told the news team how to find it. The FBI crime lab later says the blood found in the boards is human, but it is not Hoffa’s.

• May 17, 2006: FBI agents begin digging at the 89-acre Hidden Dreams Farm near Milford after a convict told them Hoffa was buried there when the property was owned by Rolland McMaster, a former metro Detroit Teamster official and early suspect in Hoffa’s disappearance. Agents describe the tip as the best lead to date, but the 14-day search — which was estimated to cost around $250,000 and included razing a horse barn — finds no trace of Hoffa.

• Sept. 28, 2012: Authorities bore under the driveway of a Roseville home after an outstate Michigan man says a previous homeowner — whom he describes as a bookmaker for the late Anthony (Tony Jack) Giacalone, a Detroit Mafia captain and suspect in Hoffa’s disappearance — was up all night pouring concrete the day Hoffa disappeared. But an anthropologist at Michigan State University looks at 4-inch samples of mud and clay and says no human remains are present.

Tony Zerilli has some connections. He knew certain people who knew certain people, who knew certain things. Or so he says. Plans are already in the works to flesh Zerilli's story out, including properly vetting the man.

The FBI has always thought that reputed mobster and Teamster official Tony Provenzano and Detroit mob captain Anthony Giacalone had Hoffa killed to prevent him from regaining the Teamsters presidency, ending the mob's influence over the union and its easy access to Teamster pension funds. Hoffa ran the union in 1957-71.

What the Bureau hasn't been so quick to determine is what happened to Hoffa's remains.

After over 37 years, do we really care anymore?

I don't.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Unseasonable, Insatiable

It doesn't take much to give us Spring Fever in Michigan.

It's cold and flu season, but some of us will be coming down with an incurable case of Spring Fever as the temps are expected to hit and surpass 50 degrees on Friday and Saturday. That's all it takes, you know---a day or two of 40+ degree weather to make us think of baseball, Easter and flowers.

Get ready to see folks in shorts and flip flops this weekend. I only partially exaggerate. Flip flops, maybe not, but certainly shorts. I have joked with out-of-towners who live in warm weather climates that while they may think of temps in the low-60s as being "cool" this time of year, people in Michigan would be walking around naked if the mercury touched that mark in the dead of winter.

Just a day or two, that's all we need, of unseasonable warmth and you can get a new lease on life. Your countenance changes. You become more optimistic. You wonder whether Punxsutawney Phil will need shades and a glass of iced tea when he pops his head out on February 2.

Even though we know the balminess won't last long---maybe 48 hours, tops---it doesn't matter. All things are possible. You wonder if the tulips will be popping out before MLK Day.

We starve for anything above 40 degrees right about now. The holidays are over, there's a hangover about that, and a whole winter is still ahead of us. Bone-chilling cold is certain to get us, sooner or later. So a forecast like this weekend's, when 50 degrees looks like 80, is a great elixir. The snow will melt before our eyes but we won't see it actually happening, much like how a clock or watch's minute hands move as if by magic. All of a sudden the grass will reappear.

We see these temps coming a mile away, once they appear on the 5-day forecast. There's a buzz created.

"It's going to be 50 on Friday!" we say on Monday.

"50 degrees on Friday," we say again on Wednesday, to which someone says, "55 on Saturday," as the 5-day is updated.

We say it with excitement. We say it with amazement.

It's bound to be fleeting but that's OK; we would be happy with just an hour of it, truth be told.

Yes, it's just the second week of January and no matter how warm it gets this weekend, the whole winter, just about, is staring us in the face.

We'll worry about that come Monday.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Late Freeze

How long before video stores go the way of travel agencies?

Remember the local travel agent? They'd advertise on local TV and they had tiny offices with globes on the signs and maps on the walls. You'd ring them up if you wanted a surrogate to get you the best deal on a hotel in Chicago or a rental car in Boston.

Then the Internet struck, with its multitude of websites, and the American traveler became his or her own travel agent. The middle man, as so often has happened after the Internet, was cut out, like a tumor.

Why pay someone to do something that we could do for free, and still get discounts to boot?

So I wonder about the fate of the corner video store.

Actually, you may have to drive past quite a few corners before you find a video store these days.

NetFlix, the Red Box kiosks, the Internet (of course) and more people owning BluRay discs than DVDs, are all contributing to the slow death of the local video store, I'm afraid.

But some of it is the video store's own doing.

Take late fees. Please.

One of the allures to the above alternatives to renting movies is that none of them will charge you a late fee. And late fees, if we're just talking between us, is surely a big revenue gainer in the video rental business.

One of the reasons why late fees are so common is that the due dates for the movies are all over the map.

This one's due in two days. That one's due in three days. You have a full week on that other one. Oops, better get THIS one back TOMORROW. Or else.

We used to run a late fee balance at one of the local stores like a drunk would a bar tab.

Even asking for a printout of the due dates, which the store gladly provided, didn't always prevent Video A, B or C frome being brought back tardy.

But here's the deal: video stores must be feeling the heat from their competitors. So why not back off on the late fees? And I have just the idea to make that happen, and make the video store more attractive.

If I ran a video store, I'd advertise that every movie in the joint, from A to Z, was a one-week rental. Every single one.

Doesn't matter if it's a "new release." Doesn't matter if it came out on Tuesday, or 12 years ago. Every one of my films, you can have for a week.

Simple. Easy to remember.

Will people still be tardy, even under that arrangement? Sure. But that's on them.

I'd even call my place One Week Video. Seriously.

Think of it. You come in, browse, grab a bunch of movies, pay me and know that everything is due one week from today. Simple. No muss, no fuss.

I'd even have seven different types of bags, each with a day of the week on it. You come in on a Monday, you get a Monday Bag. And so on.

"Honey, when are these movies due back?"

"What does the bag say?"


Of course, you go beyond the seven-day limit, and we have a problem. But I won't tag you for very much. Promise.

It's an idea that makes far too much sense, which is why it won't be adopted.

Which is part of why the video store will join the travel agent, the drive-in movie and mini-golf in the Dungeon of the Forgotten.

Sooner, rather than later.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Location, Location, Location

Well, that didn't take long.

The year 2013, the year of the next Detroit mayoral election, was hours old when the first salvo was fired by a candidate at another, and---surprise---it had the tinges of race baiting to it.

Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon, by all indications a pretty smart guy, said something un-smart that was clearly aimed at presumed candidate Mike Duggan.

Napoleon told a reporter that Palmer Woods, one of the city's jewels when it comes to neighborhoods, wasn't really a part of Detroit.

Come again?

Palmer Woods is where Duggan has recently taken up residence as he presumably prepares for a run at Dave Bing's job---whether Bing runs for re-election or not. Duggan, as we all know, is white.

The day after saying flat out that Palmer Woods is not Detroit, Napoleon backpedaled.

"Palmer Woods is not Detroit? Nothing is further from the truth," Napoleon wrote on Facebook. "It is one of our prized neighborhoods. However, the Palmer Woods experience is far different from that of the average Detroiter’s neighborhood experience. Most Detroiters, including those in Palmer Woods, understand that without clarification. But to set the record straight, I believe Palmer Woods is not only Detroit, it is what we want Detroit neighborhoods to aspire to be. And our city won’t be transformed until the Palmer Woods experience is one that is shared by all Detroiters."

Nicely played. For now.

It didn't figure to take long before Duggan, aiming to become Detroit's first white mayor since Roman Gribbs left office on December 31, 1973, was taken a shot at by the (so far) rather small field of fellow candidates. And it wasn't surprising that the shot taken focused on Duggan's choice of residence.

Duggan lived for years in Livonia, which is as white as salt, for the most part. He moved to Palmer Woods last year.

Wayne County Sheriff and Detroit mayoral candidate Benny Napoleon

Napoleon recovered nicely, for the most part, from his gaffe. But it still displayed, within him, the old refrain.

You're not a Detroiter unless your trash doesn't get picked up. You're not a Detroiter unless your street lights are out for months. You're not a Detroiter unless you live among abandoned homes and crack houses. You're not a Detroiter unless you are out of work and are bereft of hope.

Is that how we want the next mayor to look at things?

We'd rather have him (or her) look at the city the way Napoleon did in his backpedaling statement on Facebook. To wit: "But to set the record straight, I believe Palmer Woods is not only Detroit, it is what we want Detroit neighborhoods to aspire to be. And our city won’t be transformed until the Palmer Woods experience is one that is shared by all Detroiters."

Too bad that's not what Benny Napoleon said the first time around. Then again, political candidates often need two tries to get it right. At least.