Category Archives: Rant?

Every Little Bit Counts

I  am often searching for a cause. I’m driven in part by my desire to give back, sometimes by thinking I can make a difference, and occasionally simply to prove to myself that I still have value beyond what I do at home. Causes have taken many forms over the years including supporting and volunteering for charities, helping local small businesses,  being an adjunct professor (certainly not a financial imperative), and helping friends and family where I can. My latest cause falls into the category of Sisyphean tasks that I, reluctantly, take on to remind myself (and the world) that we can all be better and smarter. On my hit list are companies that produce a product, that I as a caregiver depend on, where there is a lot of waste.

For example, I serve J a lot of yogurt, specifically, Chobani non-fat Greek yogurt (with fruit on the bottom) mixed with some granola — her go-to breakfast. We can go through about 20 cups of yogurt a month and at $1.10 to $1.80/cup, the cost adds up. What I noticed after opening and serving hundreds of these cups over the past two years is that I can’t get all of the yogurt out of the container. There are two ridges, one near the bottom and one at the top that thwart any attempt to clean the inside out with a spoon. I’ve tried a small rubber spatula but it just shouldn’t take that much effort. I’ve measured what remains in the cup over the past fifty cups or so and it averages 10 grams or about 7% of the contents. At an average $1.40/cup, the waste equals about $0.10/cup.

Chobani Cup Measurement

This might not seem like much, but if you extrapolate it out for a full year. it adds up. An easier way to grasp the magnitude of the issue is to consider the impact to Chobani’s bottom line if they could reduce the amount of yogurt in each package by 7% and still charge the same amount per cup! Anyway, I’ve made my concern know to Chobani thru their Facebook page and they responded with “Thanks for the feedback – we’ll pass it along, and send you some coupons.” Note: They quickly sent $2 worth of coupons — hmmm.

Now you might be asking what does any of this have to do with being a caregiver. The answer of course is money, with a bit of my passion for efficiency thrown in. We’re living on J’s long term disability insurance, much reduced from our pre-stroke earnings, and while I don’t want to cut us off from things we love for the sake of savings a few cents, I would like to maximize the value we get from our purchases. When you analyze what is the true cost of many of the products we use, these “few cents” really add up.

Next on my list is Mott’s Applesauce — we go through a lot of applesauce each month since I have to crush J’s pills. I buy the 48 oz. container which suffers from the same problem as the Chobani cup — too many ridges make getting every last drop out impossible. My measurements show that nearly 10% of the contents is left in the container. Interestingly, with some containers, you can usually just stand it upside down to get reluctant contents out, like with ketchup bottles, but for some unknown reason, the Mott’s cap is not one piece, so the liquid leaks out. I consider looking for other solutions to this problem to be too much effort — after all, a simple packaging change would solve the problem. Companies need to think first about product usage and waste, and than consider marketing gimmicks and packaging efficiencies within that context. I’ve posted my concern on their Facebook page but haven’t yet received a response.

Some of the other products I have problems with include Tranquility Premium Overnight Disposable Absorbent Underwear, Bonne Maman Preserves, Mini Babybel Cheese — the list keeps growing. Each of these products have different deficiencies. The underwear’s problem is that, in J’s size, they come in packages of 18 — not a number that makes any sense to me. Sure, I can (and do) order them by the case which just means I get multiple packages and waste more plastic. The preserves jar suffers from the same problem as the yogurt and applesauce — too many ridges. And the Mini Babybels …. well, what can I say … I haven’t done the measurements yet but I wonder how much the pretty wax wrapper weighs compared to the 20 grams of cheese. I know these cheeses are cute but I’d like a larger portion option.

Waste is a huge problem for the world, especially so in our consumer-oriented society. Companies are becoming increasingly aware of product and packaging waste issues, but it’s often in the context of lowering manufacturing or shipping costs, and not about how to make their customers happier. If we all become more sensitive to these issues and let the manufactures know our concerns, maybe we can make a difference. Do you have any products that you find are wasteful?

7 Tips For Male Caregivers (or Not)

Caregiver.com published a post titled “7 Emotional and Physical Well-Being Tips for Male Caregivers” in June 2017. I wouldn’t usually comment on something over a year old unless it was timeless, and I’m certainly not criticizing the author, but I was struck by the extended negative comment this post received written by “Paul”.

Here are the 7 tips quoted from the post:

  1. Participate in a support group.
  2. Vary the caregiving responsibilities among family members or friends.
  3. Exercise on the average of three times per week and maintain a healthy diet.
  4. Establish time for meditation.
  5. Practice time management.
  6. Prepare all necessary documents, i.e.: insurance policies, deeds, loans and funeral arrangements.
  7. Stay involved in hobbies.

I am regularly advised, as I am sure you are,  by friends, family, and medical practitioners to be sure to take care of myself. This “advice”, sometimes very generic, and sometimes very specific (meditate, take these supplements, become vegan, run marathons, and so on) has become my “Sword of Damocles” hanging over my head, always reminding me that my life is at risk, and so are the lives of those I care for.

What has become an admonition is growing tiresome. I know all of the perils I face — I know them all too well. What I need are not “tips” … what I need are solutions! And for this reason, I felt Paul’s pain and frustration.

I’d also like to note, and this is a bit of a critique of the post, that the seven tips are in no way specific to men regardless of the post’s title. This tips, which are all valuable, apply equally as well to female caregivers, and that may be part of Paul’s and my reaction.

Now, if you are expecting me to offer the answer to it all right now, you will be disappointed. Afterall, that I why I started this blog so that we can discover the answers together. If I knew how, or maybe more accurately, if I were able to take care of myself, then I wouldn’t feel so stressed, exhausted, anxious, frustrated, sad, overwhelmed, and achy. I would wake up everyday with a positive attitude, well rested, full of energy and enthusiasm, and looking forward to the next problem so I can develop the next solution — well, at least that’s how I think it would go.

All of the 7 tips are on my ToDo list, and I’ll get right on them after I deal with all the other things I was expecting my part-time aide to do this morning, who unexpectedly didn’t show up. Every day is a new adventure. What’s on your ToDo list for maintaining your physical and emotional well-being?

Navigating Customer Service

These days, customer service often seems like a dirty word. All of us consumers likely have an expectation of what constitutes good customer service, and, based on my experiences, many of are often disappointed.

What is good customer service, and why am I writing about it in a blog for caregivers? Good customer service is not the exclusive domain of any one type or size of company. I’ve dealt with large companies that are amazing and small companies what are awful, and the reverse. Having been in customer-facing roles most of my career, my definition of good customer service includes the following characteristics:

  • Monitored and responsive (and easily found) channels for reaching customer service representatives. I don’t care if it’s by phone, Twitter, Facebook, carrier pigeon, or shortwave radio. Companies need to make it easy to find their contact information, and they need to respond! (This is my biggest pet peeve!)
  • Customer service representatives who listen and empathize, not in a scripted, emotionless way, but in a sincere, “I feel your pain” kind of way.
  • Company customer service policies based on honesty and transparency. This means if the company is having a problem with quality or fulfillment or whatever, they should fess up and not try to make excuses.
  • Following through on commitments is a must. If the company promises to take care of a problem, or do something special, then they need to do it — no ifs, ands, or buts.
  • Representatives must be empowered to look for alternative solutions if required. They might have to recommend a different product, or even a different company, but in the end, they should be helpful and not obstructive.

What all these things have in common is that they demonstrate the company’s integrity, and integrity builds trust, and trust builds loyalty. I often read how loyality (either company or brand) is a thing of the past, but I don’t agree. I believe that while it is easier for consumers to switch, they would prefer to stay loyal if they are happy with the product, service or company.

So, back to “why am I writing about this in a caregiver’s blog?” The reason is that as a fulltime caregiver, and fulltime parent, experiencing good customer service is paramount to my efficiency and my sanity.

The Good, The Bad, and The “I’m going to scream!”

Here are a few heavily redacted examples to prove my point — I’ve changed the company names so no harm would come to the various customer service representatives.

When J first came home from short-term rehab, I bought a lightweight transport wheelchair from a well-known national medical equipment supplier. I loved the chair! After a few months, the brakes started to fail — I called customer service. After several attempts at explaining what the problem was, they routed me to Quality Assurance. As directed, I took photos and video and sent them to the QA rep who was nice but not so helpful. First they sent me replacement wheels, which turned out to be for a different model. Then, after I discovered that the problem was the brake assembly, they sent me an entire new chair and asked that I return the old one.

So I used the new chair, and after a few months, the problem reoccurred. Again, I had to go through the same process with customer service and then with QA. I explained why I thought they had a defect in their brake quality and specifically showed them what was wearing out. All I needed was that one little part. Then, after all of that, I heard nothing — for several weeks. No response to my emails, no response to voice mails. Then one day, a new chair showed up — a completely different transport chair that was certainly better build but much heavier.

This time, I called the QA manager listed on one of the last emails received, and he happened to pick up. I asked about the status of the complaint and about the new chair I received without notice. I asked if I needed to return the old chair which wasn’t that old. He said would look into it and get back to me. Now, four weeks later, I’ve heard nothing.

This example breaks many of the suggestions I offered above. There is no honestly or transparency, the reps and managers are not empowered, there is no honoring commitments, and in the end, I have no trust in the company or their products. And when you are transferring your wife from the chair to the car on a hill in the rain, you need to have trust in the chair!

As I mentioned earlier, the customer service problem that makes me crazy, is when companies don’t monitor and respond to their email, voicemail or social media inquiries. I used to get paid a lot to provide advice to businesses, but now I will offer some free advice:  If you don’t pay attention to your contact points, then don’t advise people to use them! In fact, don’t make them available at all. This holds true even for customer calls that you leave on hold. When I’ve called a company two or three times, I get the same “We apologize for the delay but we are experience a spike in customer calls” message, all it does is lead me to believe that either you have serious problems or you just aren’t staffing your call center adequately.

I have many more stories — I take pride in the customer service problems I’ve tackled on behalf of myself or my clients — but let’s stay positive and proactive.

What To Do When You Aren’t Satisfied

First, and most importantly, stay calm. Yes, there it is, I said it. I don’t always do it but I am a strong advocate of it. Stay calm! It’s likely that the person you’re screaming at has no control, no stake, and no authority. Treat bad customer service like a crime mystery and be patient and methodical about solving the problem.

Second, document everything and take names. It’s important that you keep track of what was said, what commitments were made, who you were talking to and when. This is useful as you escalate your case to the higher powers at the company, but especially useful if you end up suing or using an outside service like WNBC-TV New York’s “Better Get Baquero“.

Third, escalate, escalate, escalate! If you’re not getting satisfaction, ask for the manager. If the manager is not helpful, ask for the manager’s manager. Worst case, ask for the address of the CEO’s office so you can write a letter or call. I’ve written many letters throughout the years — some praising, most complaining — and for the most part, letters to the CEO do get a response. You might not get satisfaction, but you will get a response.

Finally, and maybe most importantly; companies — especially public companies — are especially sensitive to complaints voiced on social media. Post your problem, if you’re willing to be public about it, on Facebook or Twitter and be sure to tag the offending company. Be reasonable and thoughtful, and you might be surprised how quickly you get a response. TIP: this works great for getting the attention of your state elected officials.

I’m sure this topic will show up again in future posts, so I’d love to hear your stories and your solutions.

Amazon – Best Friend or Ultimate Evil?

I am very dependent on Amazon. I find myself increasingly ordering everything I need to run the household from them, and I feel guilty about it. I am an advocate for shopping locally. My town once had a thriving main street of small businesses but now it is nearly all large retail chain stores. Buying from Amazon is the worst act of killing off Main Street America!

But it’s convenient … and the selection is great … and items are typically in stock … and the price is right … and returns are easy … and with Amazon Prime, I get nearly everything in two days … and I can order things using one of my many Amazon Echo devices or my phone … and ARRRRRRRGHHH!

I get a little solace knowing that some of what I buy is actually from smaller companies that use Amazon for fulfillment but I still feel that pang of guilt when the Amazon boxes stack up at the doorway.

If I examine my buying habits, it becomes clear that the opportunities to buy local or more specifically, from small businesses are few and far between. I do get our prescription medications from a local non-chain pharmacy — though I have no idea how much money they make from that — but I rarely buy anything else from them unless it’s an emergency due to their high prices. I get groceries from a mix of local independent and large chain markets, though when Amazon Fresh was delivering to my area I was close to using them almost exclusively — when they bought Whole Foods which has a local store, they stopped deliveries. Items that I need for J’s care such as equipment, pull-ups, wipes, etc., I get exclusively from Amazon given the selection and pricing. If I need bulk paper goods such as paper towels and toilet paper or something else that I would buy large sizes of like laundry detergent, I might shop around for the best price and order from Amazon or Costco. The one exception tends to be clothing. I’m still buying more clothing online than I would expect but not so much from Amazon — more likely through a retailer’s own website such as the Gap, Skechers, PBTeen, etc. Oh, and then there’s alcohol; beer and spirits I buy from a variety of local retailers but lately my wine purchases have been made online.

So what is it that I’m feeling guilty about? Well, books for one, though there are no independent bookstores convenient to me. Music? Well, now that I’ve discovered Apple Music, I’m not even buying that much music, and again, there aren’t any music stores near here except Barnes & Noble. Gifts? For my daughter’s friend’s birthdays, I’ve started giving cash, and for most other gifts, I might order something online from a smaller retailer. Jewelry? Who has time to buy jewelry? What have I forgotten?

The point of this post is to say that desperate times call for desperate measures, and I consider my current situation as desperate. I need (we all need) to stop beating ourselves up about things like this and do what is best for our family, our pocketbook, and our sanity. I don’t mean to encourage you to abandon Main Street completely — if you have access to good local stores, by all means, patronize them — but if you live in a Main Street desert like I do, just do what you need to do.

Oh, I forgot my one big contribution to the local economy — I spend way too much money with local non-chain restaurants. I take great comfort in that even though my doctor probably wishes I ate less.

How do you feel about buying online?