Lollipop Moment

25 Jan

I was listening to a podcast the other day, TED Radio Hour.  The topic was Disruptive Leadership, but the one talk that stood out for me was a discussion by Drew Dudley entitled “Have You Changed Someone’s Life Without Realizing It?”

In this talk, Mr. Dudley relates a story of how HE changed someone’s life. It is a GREAT story.  A lollipop figures into the story ( you can google ‘lollipop moment’ and get to the same talk).

This got me thinking about my own “lollipop moments”.  In the 6th grade, I was having difficulty seeing the blackboard at school.  My parents took  me to the eye doctor and had me fitted with glasses.  Now, at Bentley School in Manchester, CT, there were only two male teachers.  One of these teachers was my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Ewald.  When I went to school my first day with glasses, he stopped me in the playground, looked down at me and said, “Richard, you look handsome in those glasses”.

Friends, I’ve seen pictures of myself in 6th grade, and let me tell you, I looked DORKY in those glasses….  But to this day, I can see him. towering over me, almost as tall as the basketball pole behind him.  I’ve rarely considered contact lenses, and never thought seriously about laser eye surgery.   Five decades out of 6th grade, I still wear those glasses.

Even in my adult life, I can remember an executive at a company I worked for back in the 80’s telling me “You’d make a great salesperson!”  I followed his advice, though I had always been an engineer, and never felt that sales was for me.

On the giving end of ‘lollipop moments, my daughter, on more than one occasion, has said,  “You know, Dad.  I always remember you telling me ______”  and the ‘fill in the blank’ is something wise and thoughtful that I have no recollection of ever saying to her.

Keep in mind this cuts both ways.  A careless derogatory comment has as long a life as a quick compliment.  So, be nice.  You never know when what you say will be that ‘lollipop moment’ for someone else.




Customer Service – Unintended Consequences Part Deux

25 Jul

My wife loves to shop….  However, she does not like ‘returns’.  That’s my job.  It works quite well, actually.  When the clerk at the service counter asks what the reason was for the return, I just shrug my shoulders and say “I’m just doing what I’m told”…

Before my wife left to spend some time with her sisters, she left me with three returns, Target, Payless Shoes and some little boutique place called “White House/Black Market”.

In all three cases, these were recent purchases and I had the receipt….

Here were my experiences:


White House/Black Market :

WH/BM:  “Do you have the credit card that was used for this purchase”

RTR: “I’m sorry, no.  It was my wife’s card”

WH/BM: “Well, we can’t do a refund without that exact card.”

RTR: “What are my choices?”

WH/BM: “We can give you store credit, or you can come back with the card”

Not knowing whether or not my wife wanted store credit, I left.


Payless Shoes:

PS:  “Do you have the credit card that was used for this purchase”

RTR: “I’m sorry, no.  It was my wife’s card”

PS: “Well, do you have another card that you and your wife both use?”

RTR: “Yes” (handed her the card)

Not ‘optimal’, but the clerk was thinking on her feet and I was able to complete the return.



T:  “Thank you, sir.  The refund was processed to your wife’s card”

Done and done.  Took maybe 5 seconds.


Question for you, loyal readers.  Which store will I continue to frequent, and to which store will I NEVER RETURN!


Final note.  Adjacent to the Service Counter at Target, there are trash cans, and a recycling bin for the shopping bag that I used to bring in the return.

It’s the little things that make or break customer service…




Imagine How Many Lives You Have Touched?

31 May

Do you remember that elementary school teacher?  The one that gave you that little extra push, that encouragement that you remember to this day?

Back in 1979, I started dating a young woman, an elementary school teacher.  She taught in what was called a ‘Resource Room’ at an elementary school Agawam, Massachusetts, working with students that needed that little extra help.

On occasion, I would pick her up from school and I would get to see her in action.

She had this smile, you see.  This special smile saved for her kids.. and they knew it.  They responded to it.  There was a connection there with every single child.  She would crouch down so that they were eye-to-eye.  She made them feel special.

You can’t teach that.  You have it or you don’t.

That young woman made a career out of education, her own, her children, her students.  Her Doctoral dissertation was on improving the social skills of students with special needs.

I never saw her cross or critical when it came to children.  She was masterful at drawing them out, getting to the heart of the matter.  Teaching them to use their words, to think for themselves.

Now, on June 1, 2013, she’ll retire, after decades of teaching, a career that covered teaching in preschool through college, from students with special needs to “gifted and talented”,  from teaching students to teaching teachers.

So, as my wife moves on to the next phase of her life, all I can say is,

Honey, do you have any idea how many lives you’ve improved and enriched?  How many people you have made feel special? How, in your own way, you’ve made the world a better place?

God Bless You.


Patriot’s Day

16 Apr

Boston is my home.  Though I grew up 100 miles Southwest most of my 20 Aunts & Uncles and scores of cousins were in Boston.  Every April, I was green with envy as they would get this holiday off, Patriot’s Day, the anniversary of the revolutionary war battles in Lexington and Concord.  My cousins would flock to Boston to watch the end of the Boston Marathon and then attend the Red Sox Patriot’s day double-header, while I sat in school.

In my 30’s, I took up running, joining a couple dozen co-workers at UTC every lunch time for 5-7 miles.   In the locker room afterward, someone would ask the question, “You doin’ Boston this year?”.    That question separated the great runners from us not-so-great.  You see, you have to qualify for Boston.  You have to have run a ‘qualifying marathon’ at below a certain time, based on your age.  There is an exemption if you are a medical doctor, I’m told.  One of the ‘elite’ runners at UTC jokingly suggested my best route to qualifying would be medical school.

The Boston Marathon is special, iconic, quirky.  Just like the city and the people.  The events of April 15, 2013 hit hard.  In the first hours, I was checking Twitter, my wife was emailing her sisters.  Everyone we know back home is ‘fine’.

…. but, Patriot’s Day will never be the same.  And that’s a sad thing.  Boston, I cry for you.


It’s The Product, Stupid – Unintended Consequences

4 Mar

So I’m in the shower at the Rec Center this morning, using yet another brand of body wash.  Why, you ask?  Well, it’s not that I don’t have a favorite; I do.  I am a fan of Axe, even though their ad campaigns and product graphics are, well, juvenile.  I think they have a great body wash and I would use it every day, but I don’t.

Why not?  No, it’s not because young women were starting to pester me, it’s much more mundane than that.

It has to do with the bottle design.  The bottle ‘opens’ by pushing down on the back of the lid, which works like a rocker switch to open the front of the lid.  Clever design until the day when, jostled around in my travel bag, the lid opens, spilling Axe all over the inside of the bag.  It only had to happen a couple of times to make me realize that Axe was not for travel, only for home.   So now, I switch from brand to brand looking for an alternative.  The initial criteria is, the bottle can’t be opened accidentally, after that, I consider the actual contents of the bottle.

The moral of the story?  the ‘product’ is not just what’s inside the container, it is the entire experience.  Axe failed to provide the ‘product’ that I could safely bring to the rec center every morning, and now they are relegated to twice a week use.

Do you know if this is happening with your product?  Are there ‘un-intended consequences’ to your design?  You better find out!


MY Uncle Pep

9 Feb

I want to talk today about Joe (Guiseppe) Piro.  He was my uncle.  MY uncle Pep.  He was born in 1910, married my Dad’s older sister Ida.  Pep’s sister Mary was married to my Dad’s older brother Phil.  That’s how it was done in those large Italian-American neighborhoods.

My Dad was the youngest of eight, and before he was a teenager, he lost both of his parents.  Ida raised my dad and the other young Franzosa sibs, so she and Pep waited to get married. They had one child, Theresa, when Pep was in his forties.

Let me tell you a little bit about Pep & Ida.  Neither of them ever learned to drive a car.  Living in Somerville, Massachusetts, there was no need.  You could take a bus, train or trolley anywhere you needed to go.  If the weather was good, Pepe would walk the 6 miles to John Hancock in Boston, where he worked as a printer.

Pep was a mercurial Red Sox fan.  Long suffering, like the rest of us.  Attending a Red Sox game with Pep, that was a treat!  He would fill shopping bags with homemade popcorn.  We also used to bring our own drinks, until Fenway no longer allowed it.

Pep’s LARGEST role in our lives was a family ritual.  He and Ida and ‘Tree’ (as he called Theresa) would take the bus down to Manchester, Connecticut to visit us every 4th of July weekend.  Whichever one of us was the ‘appropriate’ age would be taught how to ride a 2-wheel bike by Pep.  No one else would do.  His endless patience and good humor did the trick.  Every one of us learned at his hand.  It was his ‘thing’.  He would also take the bunch of us for a walk to Friendly’s for ice cream (my parents thought 35 cents for an ice cream cone was outrageous).

Ida passed away in 2000, but somehow, Pep never aged,  I went to see him a few years after Ida was gone.  He was probably about 93.  He had a new girlfriend.  I asked him if he was still walking everywhere.  He said “30 minutes a day”.  He had me drop him at his girlfriend’s house, I asked how he was going to get home, he winked and said, “It’s just a 15 minute walk”.

The last time I saw Pep was at his 100th birthday party.  He was as bright, cheerful and strong as ever. He shouted out, “Ricky” and gave me a bone crushing handshake.  He had outlived his girlfriend, but told me he was still lookin’.  I asked him if he was still walking everywhere.  He said he had slowed down, but he still walked to the Arlington Public Library every day to read the Boston Globe, “because it ain’t worth payin’ for”.   When he was asked how one lives to be 100, he said, “Eat healthy, get plenty of exercise and go to bed happy.”  I thought about that.  I may have seen him annoyed at the Sox once in a while, but never angry.  As my cousin Bill said, Pep didn’t have a mean bone in his body.

Two summers ago, I saw an article about a 101 year old man throwing out the first pitch at a minor league ball game.  Yup, MY Uncle Pep.

On December 24, 2012.  “Tree” succumbed to cancer after battling the disease for many years.  Like her Dad, she never complained.

Last Friday, at 102 years of age, Joe ‘Pepe’ Piro joined Ida and Theresa.  I suppose that the loss of his only child was the one thing that finally slowed him down.  I hope he didn’t think that Theresa’s passing was the end of the line, because it certainly was not.  Here’s why:

When I was working at Computervision in the 1980’s, I met a woman named Susan Piro.  I didn’t make the connection, but eventually found out that her husband Jim was Pep’s nephew.  I said, “So you’re relate to MY Uncle Pep?”, she said, “No, you’re related to MY Uncle Pep!”

So you see, Pep.  When you look down from heaven, there are dozens and dozens of us that will always remember you as ‘MY Uncle Pep’…

and we all miss you.


Dreaming and Doing

5 Jan

Maybe Mikey has it right….

There was an interesting blog over at HBR this week; Instead of Making Resolutions, Dream.  It puts forth the idea that, perhaps rather than working on “what’s wrong” and making New Years resolutions to exercise, lose weight, perhaps you should look at what your objective is?  What is your dream?


“While resolutions are about “shoulds,” dreaming is about hope — and who we may become.Dreaming is at the heart of disruption — it is only when we dream that we can hope to create something truly new, something that will overtake old habits, old customs, and old ways of thinking and being. And we all know by now that a disruptive path leads to a greater measure of success.”

Which brings me back to Mike.  Mike is my 23 year-old son.  He has a dream.  He just graduated college with degrees in Computer Science and Music Performance, and, like many in his generation, a load of college loan debt.  He would love to try his hand a the music profession, but has enough sense (from his Mom, I think) to know that paying off his loans comes first.  Luckily he also really enjoys computer science and has an excellent job at a local software company.

This past fall, he came home with a new tattoo on his right arm…  we had a tongue-in-cheek text session on the subject:

Mike: “I told you once before [about the tatoo].  You may have thought I wasn’t serious though – haha”

Me: “Insert lecture on best use of your money here”

Mike: “Insert my personal beliefs/artistry here”

When I read the blog “Instead of Making Resolutions, Dream“, I immediately thought of Mike.  He wanted that reminder, telling him several times a day what he wants to be.

As I head to the gym in the morning and fight the crowds that will be non-existent a month from now, as I go back to counting points via the iPhone Weightwatchers app, I realize that Mike was right.  It’s not about resolving to make improvements yet again … It’s about striving toward that goal, that objective.

The tattoo reads “DREAM ON”


We Are All Permanent Beta… or we SHOULD be

5 Oct

Back in May, we hired a new Client Support Specialist.  He is a very bright individual, but new to our technology and our line of business.  Now, four months later, he and I were having a discussion about a few customer issues, and I was struck by how, well, comfortable, he looked.

I commented on this, and he told me that while he is more comfortable, he considers himself “Permanent Beta”.  I had never heard that term before (a phrase I believe coined by Reid Hoffman earlier this year).  I love the term, much more high tech than ‘work in progress’

I did a bit of googling and found numerous references to ‘Permanent Beta’.  Ironically, this term has both positive and negative connotations.  The positives being continuous improvement, self improvement, etc.  The negatives were in articles about products that are never finished (example: Google Apps End Their State of Permanent Beta).

Frankly, I like the idea!  Is ‘never finished’ a bad thing?

When I joined the iPhone set, I thought it was really cool that Apps are updated continuously, with no requirement for me to go somewhere to get the update.

I am happy to see technology that brings me along.  I don’t have time to look for version or whatever.

So, who would complain about ‘Permanent Beta’?

– People and organizations that are rigid.

– People and organizations using products or technology that require ‘big-bang’ implementations.

– People and organizations that want things ‘the way they used to be’

Not me, I’m loving this idea.

I just joined the local rec center, I’m there every morning, huffing and puffing on the treadmill, lifting embarrassingly small amounts of weight on the machines.  No matter.  I feel better, I have more energy.  I’m permanent beta.

Let’s talk eProcurement.  A year ago I didn’t know what it was.  today I’m creating punch-out supplier connections, loading local catalogs.  I’m permanent beta.

Y’all better get on this band wagon.  The Permanent Beta train is leaving the station and it NEVER STOPS.

The alternative?  You get left behind.



Attitude – Livin’ The Dream with a nod to Jack Nicholson

23 Aug

Had a visit from Tom the Plumber yesterday.  I’ve known Tom for years, we were both involved with youth football years ago.  He asked me, “How’s it going?”  … I had been online with work when he arrived, and I was a bit preoccupied, so I hesitated in my response.  After a pause he said “Living the dream, huh?”

Later in the day, I had a long convo with a friend, talking about college loans that he may never be able to completely pay off.   I had a less than fulfilling webmeeting with a customer.  I had a long father/son chat with my youngest when he got home around 11:00, I finished the day online with our support organization in Bangalore, and a customer in Australia at about 12:30 AM.

There was a time when I would think of the seminal moment in Jack Nicholson’s movie, “As Good As It Gets” where his character, the OCD Melvin Udall,  says to a group of depressed patients in the waiting room of  his psychiatrist “What if this is as good as it gets?”  I used to love that line, especially when I was feeling sorry for myself ….

… but you know what?  I AM LIVING THE DREAM.

As I said to my son last night, It IS all about attitude.  It is about how you deal with what you can’t control.

Is my job challenging, even overwhelming at times?  Hell, yeah!

Are the weeds threatening to take over my lawn? most definitely!

Are the everyday challenges of  life and relationships sometimes daunting? sure thing.

Do I get everything right the first time?  puh-leeeze!

Does the upstairs toilet still leak? Uh, no (thanks, Tom)

This IS living the dream, gainfully employed, challenged, winning some, losing some, with a loving family, in a great country.

Can’t complain.


The Customer Is What?

15 Aug

Just don’t have ANY TIME for blogging lately.  Too busy, too busy, TOO BUSY!!

So, by way of apology, this blog is commenting on a two-week old blog from Harvard Business Review, with the grabber title “If the Customer is Always Right, You’re in Trouble”.  Being in the Client Support Biz, I had to check it out, because, well, my customers ARE always right, aren’t they?

Turns out, the blog is not about customer service at all, it is about “the death of Solution Selling”.  Well, having spent the better part of 20 years selling (if you can call that better) I not only have had Solution Selling training, but also smatterings of Gitomer, Sandler, and, of course, both learning and teaching Dale Carnegie Sales Advantage.  NOW you’ve got my attention, HBR!

So what is this “death of Solution Selling” all about?  This blog describes, in gory detail, how the tenets of Solution Selling just don’t apply anymore:

“Across the last five years, however, we’ve observed both in our data and our conversations with sales leaders around the world a dramatic drop in the efficacy of this [solution selling] approach. In a survey of several thousand B2B customers conducted by our company, CEB, we found that B2B customers were nearly 60% of the way through a typical purchase before they reached out to a sales rep for input. More often than not, the hard reality is that customers have begun the buying long before suppliers have begun the selling. So by the time a supplier is called in, there’s no need to discover needs at all. By and large, customers (believe they) have figured everything out…

… For most companies, the biggest competitor today isn’t the competition, it’s customers’ ability to learn on their own.”

So, what is the answer?

According to HBR, there are two questions that most suppliers overlook:

“First, where do your customers learn? Is it on the Internet? In online communities? From third parties (and if so, where do those third parties themselves learn)?

Second, do you teach customers something new and important about their business that they cannot learn on their own? Because if your biggest competitor is the customer’s ability to learn, then that’s what you’ll need to do to win.”

So there you have it.  It’s not good enough to ask the right questions and get to the ‘C’ suite.  If you are not a Subject Matter Expert that can, in fact, become a Trusted Advisor and “teach your customer something new and important”, you may as well  just sharpen your pencil, because in the sea of look-alikes, it always comes down to price.