The Mail

February 1 1999

The Mail

February 1 1999

The Mail

Service shortcomings

I read with great interest your article on the decline of good customer service (“Dishing out rudeness,” Special Report, Jan. 11). In the past few years, my experience has been encountering not so much rudeness as ineptitude: the seeming inability of utility companies to transfer account information correctly without a series of follow-up phone calls involving much hair-pulling and restrained tempers, delivery persons who “don’t do stairs,” insurance companies that invariably bill a different amount than quoted, days spent at home waiting in vain for contractors to show up, and charity organizations that refuse to take furniture with the slightest imperfections. My favourite incident, though, involved my desire to purchase an item from the furniture department at a large department store in downtown Toronto. I picked out the desired item, but was unable to locate a salesperson. After 25 minutes, a friendly salesperson from the next department called over to me, asking if I was waiting for someone. Yes, I replied, explaining that I just wanted to buy that particular item. She said, bent in half at the waist, arms akimbo: “But there’s no one in that department!” No kidding. So I left.

Joanne Kearney, Toronto

I am 25 years old and have worked in a major department store for seven years. For the most part, I have excellent customer service skills, but the problem in my store is that new staff, regardless of age, are not trained in anything other than how to take money, k They have little ability to han§ die people. Management seems I to enjoy it this way—obviously £ they do not want to waste time 5 or money in training. But cusg tomers themselves are not I blameless. Little things like ripS ping open packages and having no patience do not make them a pleasure to serve. Anyone who comes complaining to me about poor service and too few staff covering the floor will always receive sympathy, but my suggestion, if they want improvement, is to fill out a comment card in the store and back it up with letters to the district and regional managers. Until these people are hit over the head repeatedly, things will not improve. Just please don’t take it out on me. I am honestly doing my best.

Roslyn Dulmage, Spencerville, Ont.

You make important points about the erosion of what were once common manners. I can offer a number of possible explanations. We live in an era of instant gratification and the idea of waiting for anything is difficult for most citizens of Western societies. From the consumer standpoint, we demand more, more quickly and for less. Retailers are frustrated with competing with socalled superstores like Wal-Mart, and are unable to meet increased consumer demands for speed and quality. Many have yet to realize that service is more, not less, important than it once was, and the unfortunate result is an attitude of “take it or leave it.” We must start expecting less in terms of speediness, but continue to demand more in service and honesty.

Greg W. Jack, Kingston, Ont.

Your issue on rudeness arrived just after the New Year’s weekend fiasco at Toronto’s Pearson airport. My daughter was here for the holidays in Regina, scheduled to fly to England via Toronto on Air Canada. I called repeatedly over a two-hour period, each time getting the message: “All circuits are busy. Please call again.” We pulled up the Air Canada Web page, and learned that the


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Bid.Com's reply

I wish to correct certain inaccuracies that appeared in connection with Bid.Com International Inc. in your Jan. 18 article “A web of gold" (Business). Our 1997 total revenues were $2,671,000, and in 1998 through the third quarter had grown dramatically to $13,700,000, not from $32 million to $60 million as printed. In addition, the story left the impression that I believe we are viewed as undercapitalized. In fact, I wanted to leave the impression that some investors view us as undervalued when compared with a number of much higher-priced U.S.-listed Internet stocks. We continue to be pleased with our business performance and it should be noted that in the fourth quarter of 1998 Bid.Com was the Toronto Stock Exchange’s largest percentage gainer with an increase of about 285 per cent, as well as being its most active issue, so visibility and support in the Canadian context has been exceptionally high.

Jeff Lymburner, President, Bid.Com International Inc., Mississauga, Ont.

flight was cancelled. For people without access to the Internet, it appeared that the only way to get this information was to go out to the airport and check the monitors. Since Regina airport serves all of southern Saskatchewan, many passengers would have to drive for up to four hours, only to find the flight cancelled. In “Battered by a PR storm” (Business Notes, Jan. 18), John Hamilton from Air Canada is quoted as saying: “Our customers’ biggest frustration was not being able to understand if flights were going.” I think he was referring to the lineups at the airport, but how about the inability to communicate via the telephone?

Kay Antrobus, Regina

'Economic priorities'

Before the country goes into a panic over Canada’s supposed lack of productivity and competitiveness (“Catching up,” Canada, Jan. 18), we should remember that a bigger cheque and global economic superiority do not equal a better quality of life. The United States may offer its exceptional individuals a heftier wage and lower taxation, but are they happier? We should definitely try to be as efficient and productive as we can be, but not at the expense of a social structure we know to be the envy of the world. If the in-

tellects and innovators of Canada see life as the quest for the supreme income, let them go. Let us not reform our economic priorities for the sake of these greed-mongers.

D. J. Hanson, Saskatoon

Literary land mines

Barbara Amiel’s understanding of things Third World are, to adopt her use of Shaw, a “torment” to the imagination (“Lloyd Axworthy: a profile in stubbornness,” Column, Jan. 18). Let us take the question of anti-personnel land mines. If Amiel can explain how one uses land mines “safely” and how they “save lives,” then I would suggest she go whole hog and explain how we can use nuclear weapons safely. But this misses the more central part of her argument, which is based on the international leadership of the United States on the question of land mines. The United States, which has not signed the anti-land mines treaty, is joined by other non-signatory human rights luminaries such as Nigeria, Russia, China, North Korea, Burma, Iran and Iraq. Meanwhile, Canada has played the central role in convincing 132 nation-states to sign the Ottawa Treaty banning the production, stockpiling and use of land mines. If Canada is on the wrong side of this issue, in Amiel’s estimation, acting in cahoots with 132 other rogue nations in non-democratic unison, then I say bring on the revolution.

OlafJuergensen, Johannesburg

Wheat board changes

As an Alberta grain farmer of more than 20 years, I read the Willard Estey report on the Canadian Wheat Board. Your own report (“Overhauling the wheat board,” Business Notes, Jan. 11) needs a bit of background. Poor railroad performance hurt export grain sales. As the agent of grain

farmers, the wheat board lodged a poor service complaint against CN Railways and CP Rail before the Canadian Transportation Agency. CN settled out of court and, as a grain farmer, I will share in that settlement. The wheat board is suing CP Rail for $45 million and if it wins, all export grain farmers will share in that settlement, too. If implemented, Estey’s recommendations will prevent farmers from ever using the Canadian Wheat Board against the railways again. It’s not the wheat board that needs sweeping changes, it is Estey’s report.

Ken Larsen, Benalto, Alta.

Fat controversy

«/"'anada’s obesity epidemic” (Cover, V-^Jan. 11) is misleading. This isn’t a pull yourself up by your bootstraps issue. You don’t just lose the weight. You have to keep it off. Eating normally is not an option. For those of us whose daily life includes fending off the insults heaped upon us, acceptance is a goal. Fat people are no different than other people and neither self-loathing nor public harassment will make us thin. We will continue to band together and work towards acceptance. For those who are thin, I say it’s none of your business how fat I am and if we all stopped being distracted by the superficial, then all our lives would be improved.

Deb Noah, Salinas, Calif.

As you highlighted, physical activity and healthy eating play significant roles in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight and lifestyle. While more than half of Canadians may be overweight, two-thirds of adults and children are at serious risk for premature death, chronic disease and disability because of sedentary lifestyles. Today, the majority of our children are bused or driven to school, sit at their desks all day, and return home to sit in front of a television

or computer. Too many adults work in a sedentary position, only to spend their evenings channel or Web surfing, too. Federal, provincial and territorial ministers have joined together in acknowledging the significant health risks of physical inactivity. In 1997, they announced a target of reducing the number of inactive Canadians by 10 per cent by the year 2003. Canadians need to better understand the risks to their health of being inactive, and the benefits of regular physical activity, and to act on this information. A daily walk, opting for the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to the store instead of driving, and sitting less for long periods of time will not only help shed unwanted pounds but ultimately may serve as lifesaving choices.

Dr. Ira Jacobs, President, Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology, Ottawa

A bank replies

Had Peter C. Newman ventured beyond a few yellowed newspaper clips for his piece about the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, he would have found that under CEO AÍ Flood’s leadership, CIBC shares have outperformed the Toronto Stock Exchange bank and trust index in four of the past five years (“Corporate leaders also should face the music,” The Nation’s Business, Jan. 18). He would also have learned that while the exceptionally volatile market conditions in 1998 hurt earnings in CIBC world markets—as they did in every other global investment bank—the personal and commercial bank had record earnings of more than $1 billion. And in spite of market volatility, the investment portfolio of CIBC’s merchant bank increased in value by more than $2 billion in 1998, better than twice that of all other Canadian banks combined.

John Ferguson, Senior vice-president, corporate communications and public affairs,