Category Archives: The Good Ones

The Ragin’ Cajun

James Carville was my guest yesterday at my annual Thought Leadership Conference at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach. He is a fast-talking, straight-shooting guy who goes full bore, start to finish, and he joined us for dinner, as well.

I asked him why Barak Obama, elected amid speeches between Doric Columns and Greek Porticos, with a rock star excitement in the audience, is now shunned by members of his own party seeking reelection in states he originally carried. James said that most candidates promise that they’ll work within the system to create change, but Obama claimed he would change Washington and the way it worked. But no one is about to change Washington, so he failed in his primary promise.

Sometimes we all think there’s a better cosmos to superimpose on the current one. But I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes, from John Dewey, I believe: “Saints engage in lofty introspection while burly sinners run the world.” With our clients, we need to seek pragmatic change within their own reality, and not seek to implement an idealistic, theoretical new construct.



(Photo courtesy of Richard Citrin.)

© Alan Weiss 2014

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We Get Letters….

From Mike Siversten in response to my Monday Morning Memo on education, which can be found archived on this blog:


Good afternoon Alan,


John Taylor Gatto was an education reformer and revolutionary who was named New York City Teacher of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 1991, and New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991. His open resignation letter was printed in the WSJ in 1991. Have you heard of him? He wrote several influential books, recorded numerous podcasts and an Ultimate History Lesson weekend interview. The system cannot be reformed. It is producing exactly what it was designed to do.


Additional links on Gatto:


Final chapter from his online book “Underground History of American Education” on ‘what to do’ - good summary of his main points



Gatto quotes:


Quoting H.L. Mencken on the aim of American education: “The aim… is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.”


Schools intend “to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.”


“School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored.”




Mike Sivertsen



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Hightailing It Back

Here’s what gives you renewed faith (relative to a rude response from Hightail):

Hi Alan,

Nope.  I’m not proud that we made your blog, but after reading the dialog that you had with Lornel, I’m there deservedly.  I actually felt a little nauseous reading through the thread.  I’m taking action with that team to ensure I don’t make anyone else’s blog J

I see that Kelly has already followed up with you.  I double checked and it appears that the bug we’re fixing is targeted for our next release so will hopefully be in place before the end of the month.

We do work hard to deliver an exceptional customer support experience and actually we do pretty well in most cases, but boy we missed the mark in your case.  I just wanted to reach out and personally apologize for the crummy experience.

David Lang
Sr. Director, Customer Support and Services
o. 408.429.7126 | m. 510-861-7502
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John, Redux

We returned to one of our favorite restaurants in Naples (or anywhere else), Cafe Lurcat. I’ve taken groups of people here, and my wife and I decided on a private dinner. We asked for John, the best server I’ve ever known. I’ve written about him here before.

John takes an interest in every person with whom he works, while handling a variety of tables. He’s never rushed, but somehow coordinates more activity than I care to think about. His advice on food is spot-on, and he turns any meal into an experience. He’s constantly helpful, never cloying, and creates an atmosphere of dining and not merely “eating.”

Just one example: The main street outside was closed for an event, so John ordered a taxi for us to meet at the rear door of the restaurant. He walked us downstairs, through the back, couldn’t find the cab, called the cab company twice on his cell, and retrieved the cab from the wrong back door! I was telling him to return to his tables, but he made sure were were on our way, and I bet nothing missed a beat upstairs.

The food at Lurcat is to die for. I had fried rice with shrimp and sausage and an egg on top, and my wife a BLT salad, followed by, of all things, a delectable meatloaf for her, and sea bass in miso for me. I never order sea bass any more because it’s become “comfort food,” but here it’s an experience. The general manager happened by and bought us coffee and dessert because:

When we appeared at the restaurant, no less than three people at reception couldn’t find the reservation made by the concierge at the Ritz-Cartlon. “I remember your name I think,” said one unhelpful woman, “but it’s not here now.” Said another, “Well, we can accommodate you (as though this were my fault), what table would you like?”

“I’d like your best table,” I said without hesitating, given her offer.

“Oh, they’re all gone,” she said, batting her mascara.

“Give me any table in John’s section,” I suggested.

Normally, you turn away from hostesses so clueless that they don’t realize they’re in the customer business, not the “covers” or “tables” or “turns” business. But I knew John would save the evening, and he did.

Lurcat’s food is outstanding, and do ask for John. But I suggest you make three different reservations, to get by the fog at the front door. Restaurant hostesses and hotel doormen are the first impressions of such establishments. They are key hires and need to be monitored closely.

PS: Coincidence—The church we attended for vigil mass before dinner was Saint John the Evangelist!

© Alan Weiss 2012. All rights reserved.

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Chase Scores

Last week I noticed two small charges on my Chase MasterCard bill which didn’t look right. Sure enough, they were “pond scum” charges: Internet sites that trick you into a subscription, hoping to charge thousands of people a small sum for months until they catch on. (My wife sent someone a greeting card and now was charged $3.99 a month for the “benefit” do doing it again whenever she pleased.

The Chase system was awful. Dozens of prompts intended to prevent you from finding a living person. Then two people in succession who believed the priority was to get me off the line and have someone else deal with me. Neither had the inclination (or empowerment) to try to help, and when the second one put me on hold for the fraud protection unit, I waited five minutes and hung up.

I called the offenders myself, arranged to cancel the charges, cut my Chase card in two, and composed a letter to the president of Chase. I had been a customer for 25 years with a spotless record. It was over, I was happy.

This morning—Saturday morning—a woman called from fraud protection, told me she had listened to my conversations before I was “disconnected” and told me I was handled abominably. She said she would personally monitor my account and alert me to any future suspicious charges, and would take the recordings to management so that front line personnel could be better selected and trained. “I want to apologize for them, for myself, and for all of us here at Chase,” she said three times.

“Is there anything else at all I can do for you?” she asked.

“Well, you’d better send me a new card since I cut the old one in half,” I mumbled.

“I’ll get it out immediately,” she promised.

Credit where credit is due (no pun intended). That’s customer retention.

© Alan Weiss 2012. All rights reserved.

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The Good Guys and the Not So Good Guys

I picked up a client at a nearby hotel and he offered to treat us to a couple of lattés at Dunkin Donuts on the way to my house. When we reached the window, the woman handed me the two cups.

“Can I have a tray, please?” I asked.

“No, we’re all out,” she said.

“Well, why don’t you tell us that when we order? What if I were alone or needed four coffees?”

“I guess we’d find a box for you,” she said, never apologizing. What’s happening here is that the franchise owner in East Greenwich doesn’t want to drive business away and is too lazy or cheap to find trays at sister stores, which are within two miles. The employee wouldn’t kid about it, didn’t apologize, and I was wondering why I was there.

Last night, my wife and I stopped in another chain, P.F. Chang’s, in the Providence Mall. We were seated in a booth although we had no reservation (and the place soon filled), were offered drinks within a minute, and the staff took pains to explain the menu options and suggest choices based on our preferences. The food was hot, great, and on time. The manager stopped over twice—the first time to make sure we were happy, and the second time to offer to buy dessert for us, as our welcome to his restaurant. He gave me his card and said that if I ever wanted to take people to lunch or dinner, which are generally packed, he’d get me in, no worries, just call his number.

Leadership is everything. It informs employee behavior, for better or worse. At Dunkin it’s a crap shoot. Some people are terrific, some act as though you’re disturbing them, and that’s because the owner doesn’t set a tone or example, but leaves things to chance. That’s why I often go to Main Street Café and not Dunkin. But for Chinese food, I’m going back to P.F. Chang’s.

Postscript: I bought my wife a new iPhone for Valentine’s day, following her new laptop for Christmas. I’m a very good customer of the Apple store in that same Providence mall. But for the first time, we had mediocre service. The woman checking people in at the door was busy chatting up her boyfriend, and when someone finally showed up to help us and I told him it was a long wait, instead of saying, “Sorry about that, let me help you now,” his response was, “What can you do, we’re busy.”

I’m guessing he used to work in Dunkin Donuts. And I’m guessing the manager there isn’t going to last too long.

© Alan Weiss 2012. All rights reserved.

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Steve Jobs Leaves Apple CEO Role

With the announcement by Steve Jobs that’s he’s giving up the CEO role, Apple’s stock will probably take a hit today. The only real reason will be perceptual and emotional, since his successor is a proven talent and the Apple pipeline is full of new products. I doubt investors are reacting to something that they think happens five years or more from now.

Let’s hope I’m wrong, but after-hours trading had the stock down by several dollars last night.

The people who despise Steve Jobs and Apple strike me as the same ones who despise others’ success. They explain away the talent and innovation (luck, timing, theft) and they focus on what they perceive to be the weaknesses (autocratic, unemotional, ruthless).

Too often, like alligators, we tend to try to eat our own young.

Jobs has created one of the most valuable companies in the world through his visceral and intelligent identification of what customers need, whether the customers know it or not. (Most customers know what they want, but not what they need, or there would never have been a Walkman to begin with.) He creates trust and belief, and appeals to early adapters. His company creates more evangelists among customers than any I’ve ever seen that wasn’t actively in the evangelism business.

I’ve personally converted hundreds of people from PCs to Macs. I refused to listen earlier in my career when “experts” told me I had to be compatible with my clients and solely use PCs. I find it perfectly reasonable and efficient to be sitting here in Nantucket with my Mac lap top, iPad, and iPhone. (I’m typing this on my lap top and have written a dozen articles and columns, which I can’t do rapidly on the iPad. But I can read my books and play the latest level of Angry Birds and Fragger on my iPad. And I’m doing business occasionally from the beach on my iPhone.)

Steve Jobs is one of the latest American icons, like Hewlett and Packard starting out in their garage and creating “The HP Way” in their business (unfortunately lost in the past several years). He’s not going to be trotting out on stages in motivational rallies that dredge up ex-politicians, ex-quarterback, and ex-astronauts, along with vacuous “motivational speakers.” He’s the guy who did it his way, despite criticism, odds, larger competitors, and conventional wisdom.

We need more like him. Our kids should be studying him. He belongs in the news as an exemplar. But the media would rather focus on Bernie Madoff or the sexual escapades of still anther French politician.

One day, many of you will be telling your kids, “I watched Jobs build Apple. It was unbelievable.” I don’t’ think it’s unbelievable, but it certainly seems to be underappreciated.

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.

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Copy That

I’m totally revamping my den/office, and I’m finally off the card tables and into about 75% completed digs. On the way to dinner the other night, on a whim, I said to  my wife, “Let’s stop at Best Buy and see if they have a copier/fax/scanner gizmo that will work wirelessly.” My son-in-law urged me to look at these and get rid of the three huge pieces of equipment taking up so much room (copier/scanner/fax, color printer, laser printer) in the old setup.

The people in Best Buy are very nice and knowledgeable, and a one of the guys took 10 minutes to describe what I needed but told me, “You’re not our demographic, and that level of machine isn’t here. But if you go onto you’ll find it and can order it.”

Well, I was in the mood for immediate gratification, and would prefer to see it and watch it work, so I thanked him, disappointed, and left. On the way to the restaurant, we stopped at the Staples where we usually purchase office supplies. I didn’t think they’d have a machine like this, but it was on the way. The store manager intercepted me, found out what I needed, and sent over the resident printer expert, who was about 12 years old.

He took me through a few machines that would meet my objectives, narrowed it to one and demonstrated it for me, answered every question, told me it was $50 off, and then fetched a hand truck to personally take it out to my car and shocked wife. (Good thing it was a great evening, the box fit in the back seat, barely, with the top down.) And, of course, I get Staples reward points. (And this is an HP machine, I’m a devotee of HP, they were a fabulous client for ten years and I own their stock.)

The machine took 15 minutes to set up the next day, 10 of which were devoted to getting it out of the box and removing a pound of packing protection. The only wires it has are the fax jack and power cord. It works perfectly and has given me a ton of additional room. It is smaller than any one of the three machines it replaces.

Maybe Best Buy would draw a more affluent demographic if they stocked more sophisticated machines. They sell some expensive stuff in there, and they are a quality operation. Why would you send me down the road? Next time, my first stop will be Staples. That’s how delicate the retail business can be.

Try not to send me packing.

© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.

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Why Apple Is So Good

I had a minor quality problem with my Apple TV downloads. I sent an email to Apple. They refunded all my money for both series I had purchased (which can still be watched, the color is just a tad off), and when I thanked them for their responsiveness and generosity, they sent me this:

Dear Alan,
You’re very welcome. I’m glad to hear that the issue has been successfully resolved.
Nothing makes Apple happier than to hear that we have pleased our customers. I hope that you continue to enjoy the iTunes Store.
Remember, we’re just an email away should you need any assistance in future.
Thank you for being valued Apple Customer. Have a great day ahead!
iTunes Store/Mac App Store Customer Support

How can you not love these people?

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Amica Rules

We’re insured (house, cars, personal property, liability, etc.) by Amica, a Rhode Island-based firm that I think is the best in the business.

Today they sent a letter explaining that an error in the rate created a lower insurance premium on my homeowner’s policy than should have been the case. I braced for the added amount due. The letter went on:

“We understand you trust us to provide you with timely and accurate policy information and we value your loyalty. Therefore, we are taking the unprecedented steps necessary to honor the lower premium stated in your renewal for the remainder of this policy period. However, we must correct the rates upon your renewal policy which may contribute to an increase in the cost of your insurance. As we embark on our 104th year of providing insurance coverage, Amica’s philosophy remains the same—courteous, professional service that exceeds your expectations. Without our valued, loyal policyholders, we would not be the company we are today.”

My policy doesn’t renew until September, 2011. I don’t think I need to say another word.

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