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Friday, August 29, 2014

An Easy Way To Help


I love photography. I consider myself to be better than average, but a long way from being professional. I enjoy the challenge of capturing a scene and of always trying to improve my photography skills.

Friends and acquaintances have told me for many years how much they enjoy seeing my
photographs from trips throughout the U.S. and around the world. So I have decided to make my best photographs available for sale, with 50 percent of profits being given to the non-profit organization of the purchaser's choice. All images are copyrighted and may not be reproduced or downloaded without prior consent.

Although I support a wide variety of non-profit organizations, I have chosen four to be the recipients of this endeavor. Buyers can chose one or more of the following:

  • David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which runs a nursery for orphaned elephants and rhinos in Kenya and prepares them to return to the wild; 
  • Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue; 
  • Memphis Area Golden Retriever Rescue; or 
        • New Mexico Pets Alive!, an Albuquerque group advancing the no-kill movement in New Mexico. 
My photos can be viewed, and ordered, at http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/1-ann-sullivan.html They are available in a variety of sizes as high-quality photographic prints, on canvas or metal, or as note cards.

Featured images include animals, landscapes, architecture, cars and trucks, sunrises and sunsets, and people.

Please visit http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/1-ann-sullivan.html  and check out this opportunity to get a great photograph and support a non-profit organization doing life-saving work at the same time, at no extra cost to you. New photos are added frequently.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Going ... Going ... Gone

What has happened to customer service in the U.S.?

If my recent experiences are any indication, it appears that customer service has gone the way of the dodo bird and the dinosaurs. Customer service, if it exists at all, appears to be a mere afterthought for many businesses. Once the company gets our money, it loses interest in dealing with mistakes, billing errors, broken promises, shoddy merchandise or defective workmanship. And sometimes, the companies don't seem the least bit interested in even doing business with potential customers.

I have a lot of complaints about today's customer service, or lack thereof.  Here are some of my suggestions for what companies should be doing to treat their customers right.
  • If you promise to call me back, call me back in a timely manner!
  • If you must have your phone answered by a phone tree with 'press 1 for English,' 'press 2 for sales;' etc., include all the options. Don't tell me to press the number to connect to my doctor's office when I don't yet know the name of the doctor I will be seeing because I was referred to a given medical practice but not to a specific physician.
  • And businesses, if I purchase (and pay for) a service you offer through Angie's List, and I am told that someone will contact me within two business days to schedule the service, contact me within two business days! This problem has become so bad that I am canceling my Angie's List membership and getting refunds for the services I purchased and never got. I don't care if your company is busy; I don't care if I have to wait a week or two to get onto your schedule. Just call me and communicate with me!
  • Don't change what I have already paid for. Earlier this year, I reserved an aisle seat on a British Airways flight from London to Chicago. At the London airport, as I handed the gate agent my boarding pass, I was told that my seat had been changed so family members could sit together. So their wishes are more important than my pre-reserved seat? The airline arbitrarily decided to move me from my reserved aisle seat to a middle seat right next to the lavatory, which began to stink after a couple of hours in the air. I e-mailed a complaint to the airline and waited for a response. Three weeks later, after hearing nothing, I e-mailed again. I finally got a response that started by thanking me "for all [my] e-mails." If someone had responded to my initial complaint, it would not have been necessary to send a second e-mail. And was the sarcasm really necessary?
To be sure, there are some companies that appear to value their customers and provide great customer service. Nordstrom, Target and Kohl's come to mind. Their return policy is easy and straight forward. Do businesses not understand that people will tell everyone they know about poor customer service? Especially with the proliferation of social media such as Facebook, Yelp and other on-line sites, the word will get out very quickly.

I have used social media to my advantage when I come up against a particularly recalcitrant company. When my requests to representatives of two banks to stop hounding me about past-due bills that belonged to some guy who was giving out my phone number as his own got no results, I posted on the banks' Facebook pages. I was contacted almost immediately, and the calls stopped.

I think a large part of the problem is that so-called customer service people are not empowered to do much, if anything, to resolve customer complaints. One of the car rental companies used to run a TV ad campaign that emphasized that all front-line employees have the authority to resolve problems and complaints. That's the way businesses should be run. Customers don't like being put on hold endlessly, waiting for a return call that never comes, or being transferred from person to person.

With the American economy still struggling, businesses need to wake up and start to emphasize customer service. I'm betting that word will get out and business will pick up once consumers know that a given company stands behind its products and services and will do what it takes to make things right. On the other hand, I refuse to beg a business to take my money. There are lots of competitors out there offering the same products and services. So businesses, take note.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Shoes

Shoes.

Such simple things are shoes, things we have in our closet and wear every day. I must admit that my favorite shoes are my ASICS running shoes. I have four pairs in different colors, and I wear them every day.

Shoes are humble. They protect our feet from things on the ground that might hurt us, such as rocks, broken glass and hot pavement. They support our arches and help keep our knees and backs happy. Shoes also can be a fashion statement for those who care about such things. But really, who among us gives much thought to our shoes? I don't think about my shoes unless they hurt my feet.

I recently watched a program about Hermann Goring and his role in the Nazi atrocities of World War II. Two scenes in the program really struck home:  a shot of shoes from victims of the Holocaust in the concentration camp at Auschwitz, and a scene showing dolls and other toys from the child victims of the camp.

Earlier this year, I visited the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland. Among the artifacts at Auschwitz was a large glass-front display case of piles and piles of shoes taken from people who were murdered there. More than the suitcases, kitchen items and brushes displayed nearby, more even than the room filled with eyeglasses and the room piled high with the hair of 40,000 murdered souls, the room of shoes really brought home the horror of the death camps. The shoes made it personal. Most of the shoes are brown or gray, but notice in the picture above the two red shoes. Those red shoes are the final testament to somebody who wanted to stand out in a sea of brown and gray shoes. I once bought a pair of glittery red shoes just because they were so different from what I usually wear.

Each pair of shoes had been worn by somebody, a living, breathing person, each with dreams and aspirations, who was killed at Auschwitz. When I look at these photographs of the shoes, I can imagine the people who once wore them, people living in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Perhaps they wore these shoes every day as they went about their business, working and shopping. Most of the shoes look well worn. Although most of the people who wore these shoes were killed because they were Jewish, others, including  homosexuals, Gypsies and the disabled, were subject to the gas chambers as well.

It doesn't matter to whom the thousands of shoes on display had belonged. It doesn't matter whether the shoes had been worn by a wealthy person or by a poor person. It matters not whether the wearers of the shoes were Jewish or from some other 'undesirable' (to the Nazis) group. What matters is that the wearers of these shoes were murdered because of who they were. Chances are, the victims wore these shoes until they were ordered to undress for the promised 'shower' in the gas chambers that took their lives.

Shoes are personal.The shoes that fill the display case at Auschwitz are the final reminder of people who once lived, who loved and were loved, who mattered. We will, of course, never know who owned these shoes. We will never know the details of their lives. But perhaps they always will serve to remind us of the horrors that humans once visited upon other humans just because they were 'different'.