Monday, February 22, 2010

Are You Ready to be Judged on Twitter?

Last weekend, I took my five-year-old to the Royal Ontario Museum for the afternoon. On the way home, we caught the subway at the Yonge/Bloor station and had the pleasure of interacting with a wonderful ticket-taker. She playfully flirted with my son, talking to him about Valentine's Day, let him turn the ticket lever and even gave him a heart-shaped chocolate. He was thrilled and my faith in TTC customer service was renewed a little. I immediately pulled out my Blackberry and tweeted about my positive customer service experience.

If you live in Toronto, you'll know that our public transportation system (TTC) has taken a beating lately for shoddy customer service. While the organization's approach to service has never been stellar, riders frustrated with a recent fare hike, have taken matters into their own hands by posting photos/videos of napping ticket takers and drivers taking seven-minute coffee breaks while riders steam on idling buses. These photos have ended up on the front pages and home pages of media outlets.

By and large, these public "outings" have been supported by Toronto taxpayers, many of whom have grown weary with years of indifference and rudeness on the part of TTC employees. Protests from the union and its members fell on deaf ears because for the most part, TTC ticket takers and drivers have done little over the years to endear themselves to the people they serve and so, when they most needed support, it just wasn't there.

Many TTC employees complained that they were being held to a higher standard because they are public employees and that riders don't know the story behind their rudeness or apathy. Their union decried the nastiness of riders snapping photos and sharing them with the world. The general reaction was basically - if you do a good job and you're pleasant you won't have anything to worry about.

Personally, I don't think it's unreasonable for public employees to be scrutinized by the public. People who work in the private sector are scrutinized by the clients who pay their salaries so why should it be any different in the public sector? While the government jobs may not be glamorous (although some are) they are secure positions with decent pay and good benefits and don't seem to be tied to the ups and downs of the economy. There just doesn't seem to be any reason for them to be so unpleasant.

My experience with the pleasant ticket-taker got me thinking, what if we were all judged on Twitter? What if we all did our jobs knowing that, at any point, someone might tweet about our poor attitude or our great service. Would we complain that it wasn't fair or would we relish the opportunity to be publicly praised for our good works? If I knew that my clients were going to tweet about my company's level of service on Twitter, I might be inspired and encourage my staff to go above and beyond and see who could generate the most positive buzz. We all have off-days and we would hope those wouldn't be the ones that would be profiled but if they were, we would just have to try harder to gain back the trust of our publics.

Are you ready to be judged on Twitter?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tweeting the not-so-friendly skies

Many of your have heard about director Kevin Smith's ejection from a Southwest Airlines flight. As it happens, I follow Kevin Smith on Twitter and, on Saturday night, during half an hour with nothing to do, I witnessed live, as did many others, Mr. Smith's colourful and vitriolic immediate reaction to this situation. He was obviously enraged and showed no mercy in his expletive-ridden criticism of Southwest Airlines cheered on by his adoring fans/followers.

As an etiquette afficionado, I'm all about customer service and from what I can ascertain, Mr. Smith did not receive the service to which he was entitled. But, while I believe that everyone deserves respect from the organizations with which they deal and I support initiatives which challenge poor treatment of customers, I wonder if immediately taking your frustration viral and saying whatever comes into your head, profanity and all, is the best way of dealing with it.

I always, always follow up on poor service and I strongly urge everyone to do it. As a customer, I feel an obligation to report if a company representative is not living up to an organization's promise and as a business owner, I know how valuable this kind of feedback is to maintaining and nurturuing a positive relationship with my clients.

However, because we live in a society that does not put a premium on human interaction, there are many moments when I have been so insenced by shabby service that my first instinct has been to pull out my Blackberry and start tweeting and, although I'm not a movie director with 1.5 million followers, I do have several hundred followers, most of whom are very engaged in the Twittersphere. In other words, I might be able to do a tiny bit of damage.

But shouldn't we be trying to resolve our issues on a higher level than the ones on which they were created? The service offender in question may have behaved like a cretin but responding in kind just sets off a war of words where the initial issue is forgotten and people take sides withouth having the facts.

So, I usually recommend a complaint hierarchy, if you will, that goes something like this:

Step 1 - Try to resolve the issue with the person who is directly responsible for it
Step 2 - If this doesn't work, think about what you need to resolve the issue (e.g. an apology, a refund) and speak with whoever is in charge of customer service
Step 3 - If you are still not satisfied, go as high in the organization as you can until the situation is resolved to your satisfaction
Step 4 - If you still don't get anywhere, go online for help. Blog about the situation or ask for help on Twitter but be professional and keep it factual.
Step 5 - When the situation is fixed, say thank you

Sadly, this strategy requires patience in the face of mounting anger. Conflicts are usually never resolved with the person who caused them (Step 1) and often, the only time anyone shows any real interest in helping is after Step 4 - when I've asked for it on Twitter. Kevin Smith knows this and Southwest has learned the hard way. But I still think a measured approach is more constructive than everyone just tweeting their rage and naming names.

On a final note, I'll say that the way this situation has spiralled in favour of Kevin Smith is a good reason why a) companies should always treat clients with respect and b) watch some movies guys. He's very recognizable!

Friday, February 5, 2010

You're As Big As A House and Other Things You Should Never Say to a Pregnant Woman

I gained very little weight during my pregnancies.  No, I'm not one of those lucky people who never puts on weight.  It was due to prolongued morning sickness that lasted well into
the ninth month and reared its head at all hours of the
day and night. So, no one told me I was as large as a
house (thankfully) but I was subjected to all manner
 of etiquette violations because, an impending birth,
like all of lives monumentous occasions, brings out
the crazy in people. I could write an entire blog about
 the dos and don'ts of maternity etiquette but I've distilled
my pet peeves and advice to ten tips that will help whether
you are the expectant mother, the doting partner, family,
friends, colleagues, or a complete stranger. As a disclaimer,
I have to admit that I've written these from the point of view
of a woman who has carried two babies. I'm sure if my husband wrote this post, he would have different things to say but he didn't go through it now did he?

1. Things You Should Never Say to a Pregnant Woman

Are you pregnant? - If you have to ask, don't! All sorts of things can go wrong here. If the woman in question is not indeed pregnant then she does not need the implication that she has gained weight. Perhaps she is pregnant but has not yet shared her good news, in which case you've put her on the spot. Often times she has already delivered the baby but is still working on shedding the baby weight (no easy feat). Obviously, as women get farther on in the pregnancy, it becomes more obvious but I would say this is after the six month mark.

You're huge - Take it from me, if a pregnant woman has reached the point where her appearance elicits that kind of comment, she doesn't want to be reminded of it. She's large, uncomfortable and starting to wonder if she'll ever get her pre-pregnancy body back.

Are you planning to breastfeed? - Until I had my own kids, I didn't realize what a politicized issue this had become. How a mother will choose to nourish her offspring is a personal decision based on a host of factors. She should not have to disclose this to strangers or even well-meaning friends and colleagues. And, once the decision has been made, she should not have to defend it to anyone.  Try to resist the urge to preach or change her mind.

2. Things You Should Try Not To Say To A Pregnant Woman

Are you getting an epidural? - This question is often asked with the best of intentions and in the spirit of sharing your own experiences or giving advice. But pregnancy, especially with the first child is so overwhelming and unknown that it's really hard to make this decision until the moment arrives. If someone asks for your advice, feel free to share but if they don't, let them make up their own mind. And don't judge them if they change it when they're in labour.

Your whole life is going to change - Duh, no kidding! As anyone who has gone from childless to parent in 24 hours knows, this is true. But that doesn't mean that an expectant mother (or her spouse) needs to hear it over and over for nine months. If possible, share the joy of parenthood more than you talk about the lack of sleep.

3. Etiquette tips

Put comfort first - Just as you would with any friend or colleague who is not in their normal state of health, try to remember that a woman in the latter stages of pregnancy may not be able to stand for a long period of time, might need more water or more bathroom breaks. If you're having a gathering in your home, let the pregnant woman have the comfy chair. She'll love you for it.

Give up your seat - I was disappointed during both my pregnancies to see that the old rule of giving your subway seat to a pregnant woman was not followed by everyone. While people did occasionally offer me their seat, they were almost all females and elderly people. I don't want to tar everyone with the same brush but many able-bodied men looked right through me even when I was very obviously ready to give birth. I don't know if this was a lack of etiquette or a misguided fear of offending me in a post-feminist world but you should make the offer. If the person says "no" then at least you've done the right thing.

Keep your labour war stories to yourself - Many parents feel that someone else's pregnancy is an opportunity for them to talk about themselves. Sentences that start with "when I was pregnant" or "I hope you aren't as sick as I was" or 'I had the longest labour ever" are not helpful to someone who is already nervous about an unfamiliar stage of life.

Don't offload your junk - In the early years of parenting you amass hordes of stuff as you go through the stages of newborn, crawler, toddler, etc. until your home is filled to the brim with jolly jumpers, strollers, exersaucers, mobiles, sheets and clothes that no longer fit. Once your last child has used these acoutriments, the urge to rid yourself of them becomes an obsession and the temptation to dump it on an unsuspecting pregnant couple is almost too good to resist. But resist you must. Let them know you would be pleased to pass on your nearly-new items if and when they are interested. While some will appreciate it, others may want to buy their own baby things for varioius reasons and that's their decision.

4. For Spouses

Please don't complain about your pregnant spouse - I have a friend who's about to give birth and over dinner recently, her husband was kvetching about how she's become irritable. Maybe she has. She's probably exhausted, uncomfortable and anxious to bring a close to a tough nine months. Cut her some slack. I know that sometimes pregnant women can seem cranky and unreasonable. There is a famous story in my household from my second pregnancy when I asked my husband to bring me a Dairy Queen Skor blizzard and instead he went to Loblaws and bought a carton of vanilla ice cream and a jar of chocolate sauce, thinking it would be cheaper if we made our own blizzards. Apparently I went ballistic although my memory is foggy. Was I irrational? Absolutely! Did I have a right to be? Damn right.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Couple of Things About Avatar

There was never any question that I would go to see Avatar. My husband and I love science fiction and, as fans of James Cameron's work, we followed the progress of his latest offering long before the title moved into the public consciousness. Film snobs we are not. Our life is already jam-packed with gritty realism so, on the rare occasion the stars align to give us a date night, we tend to favour escapism. While I'm happy to be challenged, provoked, or broadened by film, it's not necessary. In fact, sometimes, it's just too much work after I've put in a day at work and then tucked two rambunctious kids into bed. It is not important for me to be on the cutting edge, but it is important that I fill my precious leisure time with things I will truly enjoy.

So we have seen Avatar...twice...and we loved it. We've heard all of the arguments against it - it's all special effects and no story, the dialogue is leaden, the themes are cliche. Some of this criticism is warranted. It's clear that James Cameron has a viewpoint on war and climate change and he often uses a sledgehammer to drive home a point which could be made with a thumbtack. But that is immaterial. Avatar is a beautiful movie and more importantly, it's a movie event, the likes of which we haven't seen for many years.

From an etiquette point of view, Avatar has also renewed my faith in the movie-going public. Although I love going to the movie theatre, I am always dismayed by the lack of respect and manners displayed by my fellow attendees - feet on the back of seats, talking through the movie, constantly leaving the theatre to answer a ringing cell phone or worse still, answering it during the movie, texting with abandon, etc. At both showings of Avatar I attended, people of all ages behaved themselves. They were quiet, they were transfixed, they turned off their electronic devices and they stayed in their seats, not wanting to miss a thing. Whether or not you like Avatar, any movie that can do that has my vote.

While we're on the subject of etiquette, I generally argue against the excessive tooting of one's own horn, believing that if there is anything worth tooting, someone else will do it for you. Much ado has been made of James Cameron's overzealous acceptance speeches with such phrases as, "I'm the king of the world" (for Titanic) and now "I see you" (for Avatar). I get it, but I'm willing to make a teeny exception for James Cameron. Whether or not you enjoy his particular brand of entertainment, the man has a stellar track record, three blockbuster franchises (Terminator, Titanic and Avatar), the current #1 movie for ten weeks with a box office take that is rivaled only by another of his own movies. In his career he has contributed to the creation and perfection of film-making techniques and technologies that many of his peers have used to great effect. And, this is a guy who, over a 20 year time-frame has turned down many opportunities, preferring to retreat after each success, honing his craft and slowly working on his next project, determined to "do it right" even if it means being out of the limelight for years. Very few people in this world deserve to sing their own praises but I think, in his case, he's allowed.