Monthly Archives: May 2012

Episode 69: Cerebral vs. Visceral or Ouch, You’re Hurting My Brain

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Railroading I

The car picked us up at 9:30 this morning, and we arrived at Boston’s South Station at 11. A kiosk immediately disgorged our tickets to Chicago and then to LA, and a 35-year Amtrak redcap, Tom, took us to the lounge and stowed our luggage.

Twenty minutes later, he retrieved us and, pushing the traditional baggage cart, took us to the front of the Lakeshore Limited and handed us over to Bob, the sleeping car steward. Bob is 6’7″ and clears the car roof by a scant inch. He has worked for the railroad for 39 years of Amtrak’s 41-year existence, and has grandchildren.

Bob escorts us to compartment A and explains the room and the drill (lunch reservation, dinner reservation, making up the beds, fresh linen, etc.). There is one car on the train for sleeping rooms, and only two of those are really rooms—the rest are “roomettes” which are ingeniously versatile but basically two seats and a table with fold-down beds and sink. We have a private toilet, shower, two large beds that fold down, storage, and so on. Nevertheless, our room is the size of one of our house’s guest bathrooms. And we’re living in it!

The Lakeshore Limited, train 449, is actually two trains that meet in Albany. One comes from New  York and meets ours, out of Boston. Several cars are attached and detached, making a much larger train for the overnight trip from there to Chicago (we’ll arrive tomorrow, Friday, at 9:45 am Central Time).

For lunch at our assigned time, Mark, the café car steward, puts out a tablecloth and silverware (everyone else just lines up at the counter and takes a table or goes back to their seat). My burger is very good, as is Maria’s Caesar Salad. All food is included with the ticket price with the exception of alcohol.

At dinner, the formal dining car will have joined us, and we’ll walk seven cars back to get there! Our assigned time, which includes all of our sleeping car, is precisely 7:05 pm. We’re told the food is great, and includes steak, chicken, fish, and pasta.

These are old railroad cars, from about 1996. They cram an amazing amount into a confined space, and are surprisingly comfortable. But the really wonderful aspect is the service. Every Amtrak employee we’ve met has been personable, professional, and proactively helpful. You don’t worry about a thing, they anticipate your questions and needs. There’s a real value to long-time railroad men, who have preserved the service memory of the once-glorious trains.

I can’t help thinking of Atlas Shrugged.

Our "prom car" and regular driver, Sam

The Amtrak first class lounge in Boston. Note the ceiling detail.

South Station, Boston

Tom, following the lovely Maria

The corridor in the sleeping car

Maria doing the safety card instructions

The train makes 24 stops and notes scenic views we'll pass

Another perspective of our compartment

© Alan Weiss 2012. All rights reserved.

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Choo Choo

Maria and I are about to start our cross-country train trip. Her recent knee operation prohibits her from flying for 90 days (we are able to fly home in 10 days). So we’ve created an adventure on Amtrak, and I’ll be blogging throughout, beginning later today, with photos.

Meanwhile, our latest adventure is below, the 2013 BMW X5 5.0 we picked up yesterday which has 7 miles on it and will have to wait until we return!

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Alan’s Monday Morning Memo – 5/28/12

May 28, 2012—Issue #140

This week’s focus point: Let’s take a moment to thank all the men and women who have served and are serving in the defense of our nation, sacrificing to protect us all. And with special thoughts, let us honor those who Lincoln so eloquently referred to as “giving their last full measure of devotion.” Rest in peace.

Monday Morning Perspective: Men who take up arms against one another in public war do not cease on this account to be moral beings, responsible to one another and to God. — U.S. Army Regulations, 1863

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© Alan Weiss 2012. All rights reserved

I remember a meeting with a boutique consulting firm that had fallen on hard times. The debate was whether or not to sell their magnificent conference table. “Where would clients sit?” asked one partner. “We have no clients,” stated the advocate of selling. You can’t cut your way to renewal or success. Top line growth is the key to bottom line achievement, for you and for your clients. Today is the time to invest in the future. Once you cut muscle, you’re powerless.
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May We Never Forget

Normandy

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DASM: Dumb-Ass Stupid Management at Citizens Bank

Citizens Bank is owned by Royal Bank of Scotland, which very nearly disappeared in the financial crisis. I’ve been a customer for almost 30 years, when they acquired Old Stone Bank in East Greenwich, RI. Their local branch always had (and still has) courteous, helpful people, and their major competitor, Bank of America (which had taken over the local Fleet Bank), has had very erratic service.

Citizens is a classic case of the back room not caring about customers and the executives implementing a deliberate strategy to hide from customers. You simply cannot reach a local Citizens executive. No one in the bank knows (or will give you) their phone or email contacts, and letters are returned weeks later by minor functionaries.

I have seven figures in the bank’s investment area, which has performed well for me and has an eminently reachable senior person on that side of the house. I have mid-six figures sitting around in various accounts to be used during the year, personally and professionally. I’m called a “trust customer.” I’m not treated like a “trust customer,” but I’m called one.

Aside from the vastly annoying two dollar and ten dollar charges the bank finagles whenever it can on my various accounts, and the lousy rates it gives me on every exchange transaction, it often commits breathtaking departures from intelligent customer service.

I recently received a $13,500 check from a client drawn on the Royal Bank of Toronto. It was printed “US Funds” on the check stock, drawn on a US funds account in that bank. I have deposited such checks before without problem, albeit at lower amounts.

Knowing the perversity of Citizens’ approach to its customers (“please remove your hat and sunglasses” is one friendly sign that hits you as you walk in), I specifically asked the teller if there would be any delay or problem in crediting the check. “Not at all,” she said, and I deposited it and took off for London. On arriving home a week later, guess what? Citizens deposited it, then deducted it, and told me it was sent for collection which would take about three weeks. This was a form letter, with no signature.

When I went to the branch, the assistant manager called a senior teller and both told me they had never seen this happen “in 20 years.” I asked for the contact information for Citizens’ Rhode Island president. No one could provide it. “I’ll take the officer in charge of retail banking,” I said, figuring they all reported to him or her. But, no such information was available.

I made a total of six calls and sent six emails over three weeks. I was told by a woman who handles my retirement investment deposits to call a help line, which resulted in a woman telling me she couldn’t help me, and when I asked for a supervisor so that I could get an officer’s contact number, I was placed on hold and left there (I consider ten minutes to be abandonment). When I was given a special number for a “high priority, rapid response” executive, I got his voice mail, and a call back the next day from his administrative assistant, who couldn’t help me. He actually delegated the call, and when I told her I wanted to speak to him, he never called at all! That’s Citizens Bank’s high priority, rapid response, to a trust customer! He never bothered to call me back.

When you send a wire transfer from Citizens (I pay overseas meeting sites this way) you have to sit in a manager’s office for 15 minutes while he fills out a laborious computer form, and then—I am NOT making this up—sit for another ten minutes while he calls a number in their back room somewhere and reads the exact same information to some shadowy figure on the other end of the line! They at least ought to serve you breakfast. They duplicate the transaction while the customer waits.

This kind of arrant stupidity, with executives systematically dodging their own customers and creating serpentine filters to prevent contact, is something out of the 50s, when banks thought you were lucky to be allowed in the door of the institution. For those of you in consulting, never be intimidated by a title or position. People who run banks and manage our money have shown dramatically over the past few years that Las Vegas is often better run and a more prudent risk by comparison.

I have tried long and hard to make my case with Citizens powers-that-be. Since they have gone to great lengths to ensure they do not interact with the rabble who are customers, I’m making my case here. We see this all too often: good, competent, front-line people completely unsupported by a rigid, sclerotic hierarchy.

If I told them the bank was on fire, they’d take 30 days to process the information. If someone knows the chair of the Royal Bank of Scotland, would you direct him to this article? I’ll leave it up for 30 days.

© Alan Weiss 2012. All rights reserved.

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The Adventures of Koufax and Buddy Beagle

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Implementation Workshop

At the Implementation Workshop at the fabulous W Hotel in Hoboken, New Jersey:

Cruise ship coming up river.

New York City fireboat

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Raining in New York (and Hoboken)

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The Dog Star: Beagle Lessons

(The Dog Star is a symbol of power, will, and steadfastness of purpose, and exemplifies the One who has succeeded in bridging the lower and higher consciousness. – Astrological Definition)

The other night I came home at about 7 from dinner by myself, and found Buddy Beagle sitting by his bowl waiting for dinner. His dog food can was on the counter, so I figured Maria had left it out for me while she went to her board meeting. Buddy went through his usual jumping and running while I prepared his dinner, then he wolfed down his food and I let him out in the back yard.

Two hours later I heard my wife come back and I yelled downstairs, knowing how shifty the beagle is, that she shouldn’t feed him,because I already had. She came upstairs to tell me that she had fed Buddy before she left. So he cadged two dinners from us, acting for all the world as if he were starving awaiting his second meal in two hours.

Buddy is eight years old, tries this all the time, and finally got away with it. He never gives up, figuring he’s going to be successful at some point. Defeats don’t get him down, he doesn’t complain about the rules, and he never bemoans his fate, as far as I can see. Instead, he maintains a steady, sunny, assertive disposition and simply does his best. He doesn’t worry about “hit rates” or being embarrassed by lack of success. He simply keeps doing what he believes will work.

Why can’t everyone in this business be as smart as a beagle?

© Alan Weiss 2012. All rights reserved.

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