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Feline adoration April 30, 2009

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I have, as long as I can remember, always loved cats.  I like animals of all sorts, but felines are certainly my favorite out of the bunch.  Perhaps it’s because much of my behavior is like theirs, so I feel a connection.  Last night I ran into a plump kitty lounging around outside on my walk home.  Being the first time that I had come across a cat and I wasn’t headed anywhere or with anyone, I decided to stop to pet it.  I couldn’t tell if it was a boy or a girl, but it certainly enjoyed my stroking and scratching.  I was reaching out pretty far, so I tried to shift to move closer, but that scared it a few feet away.  I considered trying to approach it again, but it takes some time for cats to trust you, so I decided that was enough for the night and headed back.  As I made my way back to Marylin’s, I thought of my beloved cats and how sad I am to not have them anymore.

The first cat I ever had got some sort of disease and had up to 90% of her lungs filling up with fluid before we found out and put her down.  That was the first time my dad and I cried together.  Actually, that’s the only time I can remember.  The second one we got had the longest life of them all and got sick recently, dying just on or past Christmas day 2008.  He was in China and my parents and I were in Cancun for the break.  I wish he could have held out for my dad to get back to him.  Then the third one we had just disappeared one day almost six years ago.  My mom is convinced that the coyotes or owls in the neighborhood caught him.  He was always a rambunctious one, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he ventured too far.  We’ll never really know what happened to him, but I can always hope that someone took him in and he’s happily squeezing himself into their sinks for his naps now.

This is Jerriey, our second kitty, curled up on my favorite blanket.

Lately cats have been on my mind a lot because one of Panda and my friends got herself a little kitten that was found on site for a Habitat for Humanity project.  That reminded me of the three other times I have come across cats that I really wanted to adopt.  First was a little black kitten we found at a club in the Echo Park area.  It was my first day on site for the filming of Wristcutters: A Love Story and this little guy was found hanging out in the back area where the crew hung out as we waited through shots.  I named her Echo (I think the club was named that too) and gave her a lot of attention.  In fact, I even managed to convince the club owner to adopt her, since I couldn’t.  Next was a pair of kittens, brought to us on Wilshire Boulevard.  Katana and I were just walking along in Westwood when this kid comes running up to us and asks if we’d like to adopt kittens.  We looked at each other with those yearning eyes.  In our hearts, we really wanted to.  In our minds, we knew we couldn’t.  So, we only glimpsed the kittens he held in his hands, swaddled in his clothing before we sadly had to say no.  We watched as he ran down Westwood Boulevard and talked about how we could make it work.  Then, in the spur of a moment, we decided to go with our hearts and take them.  We went after the boy, but didn’t know where he had gone.  I looked to my left and noticed a pet store, so we went in.  The boy had just handed over the pair and when we tried to take them now, the store owner said she’d have to take them in for various shots and clean them up before we could come back to adopt them.  Sigh.  In the weeks after, we thought long and hard about how we could do this, even thinking we’d name them Boba and Udon (one was black and one was grey).  Unfortunately, practicality won out in the end and we never did go back for them.  Finally, the third came when I was volunteering at a cat home.  A tiny grey kitten was confined in a box with a plastic facing so we could see.  She was held there because she was still being treated after being rescued from Hurricane Katrina and, consequently she was named Katrina.  I loved that little cat from the seconds we got to spend with her before turning our attention to the cats we could interact with.  Just the way she cocked her head when she looked at us was adorable enough for me to want her.  Unfortunately, I was still in school at the time and my dad had left the country, so it was just my mom taking care of the one cat we still had.  But I wanted a kitten to raise myself.

This is a dream I’ve held for years and years, ever since I got to carry little Jerriey home from the shelter, so cute and loveable.  He spent the whole time purring, which is what won me over.  I have mentioned this desire many a time and though he started off first not comfortable with the idea, he is now more open to it.  Granted, we had to have a whole hullabaloo of a… discussion over it, but he’s willing to consider it at least.  To me, having a cat is almost more important than having kids.  Not only are they nice to cuddle up with, their purring is good for your health.  They are very independent and don’t require much attention or care, which is how I live my life.  They train very easily, from going to use the litter box when nature calls to coming to eat dinner with the banging out a plate.  I also like to crawl into small spaces and squeeze myself into strange positions to sleep.  And come on, there’s a reason we call it the "catwalk" – they’re beautiful and graceful creatures!  Cats are highly misunderstood animals.  People take their independence for aloofness, much as they do with me.  And I think that is why I defend and adore them so much.  I’m misunderstood too.

Well, my dream of owning a cat is still very far off, sadly.  I have to wait until I’m settled enough to keep one with me.  I have to make sure I have the funds to buy all the food, litter, and catsitting services I would need to take care of it.  Thankfully, they love very simple little toys, so just a little catnip and some string or crumpled newspaper can do the trick.  Once I feel like I have the resources and capabilities to finally care for a cat of my own, I hope Panda will be ready to have one too (or maybe more).  He doesn’t even need to do a thing.  I’ll buy everything, scoop the kitty litter, feed them, play with them, and arrange for their care when/if we are away.  All he has to do is let me have one.  For now, he has agreed to catsit our friend’s kitten if she ever needs us to and we will go visit her after I get back.  I hope he likes that experience so he’ll be willing to have one of our own.

Back in high school Katana and I would joke about how we’d grow old and have properties next to each other, each with certain natural formations that we want (like a waterfall for me), and we’d both have houses full of cats.  (This was back when we imagined ourselves as old maids, never having been able to truly settle down.  I guess it could still work with men in our lives, as long as they allowed all the cats.)  At night, we’d both go out and sit on our rocking chairs on our porches to enjoy the nightfall, either knitting or petting a cat.  We’d have our houses close enough that we could see each other, but our property large enough for ponds and creeks and forests and whatnot.  I think it’d be great if we do end up that way.  Yup, we have all the makings ofbecoming crazy cat ladies.


Viral/grassroots marketing: spreading like wildfire April 28, 2009

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Since there’s all this talk about the swine flu and worries if it possibly spreading to epidemic proportions, I thought it was appropriate to address this idea of viral spread.  After all, the concept of viral marketing is based in how things spread like diseases.  You can have widespread influence without having to be a hot shot nowadays, much like one little mutant germ multiplying can cause havoc.  The tools on the internet allow you to share with complete strangers, so now it’s all about how you work the system to get your ideas out.  Play your numbers right and you can go far.

I don’t know if it’s just my interest or if grassroots marketing really is as hot a topic as I think it is.  I personally believe it is a powerful way to get your message across, but it certainly does come with its downside.  So let’s explore the pros and cons of this type of marketing strategy.  Traditionally, marketing has been all about reach through huge audiences via mass media – newspapers, magazines, television ads.  With the advent of "social media" or what have you, individuals are empowered to connect with each other on a scale never possible before.  Along with this comes a lot of unforeseen opportunities.

First of all, social media has a much lower upfront cost as compared to established media.  However, the trade-off is a lot more time spent to maintain it – after all, it’s all about creating and sustaining conversations and relationships.  You can spend a lot of money on a marketing campaign or you can spend a lot of time building your brand and reputation via social media.

Secondly, social media has a far reach.  It basically operates on the word of mouth spread that can function much like compound interest, multiplying in power over time (or in this case, people).  Everyone’s got their own personal and professional networks that they can tap into.  Then each of those people in turn have others who they know outside of the original person’s network, people they can tell the news to and continue with this branching out.  Much like a tree, one original trunk can yield so many more branches!

Similarly, being able to get to so many people and gain this level of visibility is one of the main benefits.  And this can all be done with little planning in terms of marketing strategy.  In fact, it can’t really be controlled.  Instead, this acts as a sort of quality control, ensuring that the product, service, or information must be good and valid for it to get the kind of spread it wants.  Of course, there will always be those bad apples that get through, the spam of the social media world, but the value of viral spread far outweighs the drawbacks of those and smart consumers can easily spot and filter out the useless stuff.

Yet, because it is nearly impossible to control what people choose to say or do, especially with a certain level of anonymity in nearly all sites, it can be dangerous tool too.  When people hide behind a facade, they get bolder with their actions and do some harmful things.  It’s hard enough to track who did it, much less prosecute them for misbehavior.  The difficulty in regulation can breach upon a lot of rights yet also be defended by the freedom of speech.  This is definitely something that the lawmakers of each country should be looking at, to protect people from abuse of the system.

Finally, everything that goes up at any point, even if only for a few seconds, may leave a permanent mark.  Between tracking and the immediate spread of sensational news, even if you slip just once, it’s hard to ensure that that won’t be following you for a long time to come.  Even things sent in private or confidentially can be leaked, so tread carefully in everything you do.  Things in digital form can be permanent in ways that you never want.

Social media can be a robust medium for grassroots marketing, if used carefully and well.  There’s a lot to explore still and I’m sure people’s mindsets will change along with this new way of reaching out to them.  Now it’s a matter of keeping up with the new forms of media, but also not forgetting about some of the old methods.  A good mixture can be achieved and it will vary depending on the aim, industry, and target audience.  Nonetheless, social media is sure to be a key new part to a revamped recipe.  It offers the personalized attention that people have been lacking!

Needless inefficiencies and a sense of powerlessness April 27, 2009

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A week or two ago, my EZLink card (which is your ticket to public transportation in Singapore) stopped working, for no rhyme or reason.  Thankfully, I had another one that was given to me in my welcome package from the Work Holiday Programme pass I’m here on.  I’ve been using that ever since and a few days ago I decided it was time to take care of the malfunctioning one.  First I went to the service booth, telling the guy that my card wasn’t scanning.  He scanned it, looked at it curiously, scanned his own card, and handed it back to me telling me he couldn’t read it.  I should have known that this was going to set the tone for a frustrating experience.  Obviously he was not paying attention to me, far too used to working like a zombie, just topping cards up for people.

Well, now that I had finally caught his attention, he informed me that only the ticketing office took care of the cards themselves.  Ok, fine.  I headed over to that line and told the lady in the window the same thing.  Apparently this happens rather frequently, judging by the stack of cards they had accumulated already.  I was handed a form and told that I would have to wait three weeks to get a check in the mail.  Wait, what?!  I expected a quick and easy transfer to a new card (or the one that I am using now).  Why waste the time and effort of mailing a check to me?  I don’t even have a bank account to deposit it in!  When I complained of the inefficiencies of it, they just gave me a number to call.  Great.

Well, now I’m at this point where it’s not even worth the money to call them up to wait around to talk to someone who can’t even do anything.  This is my major problem with all organizations that have problems like this.  You can never reach someone who can actually do something about it!  I’ve tried this before and just got led on a wild goosechase of transfers that never actually brought me to anyone in charge enough to be able to set the gears in motion.  Meanwhile, I was difficult to these poor people who have to answer customer service calls, wasting my time and their time while probably putting them in a bad mood.  Part of my desire to be someone with power and influence is really just to be able to actually contact the right person in this scenario, because upsetting me would be very bad for business, so they’d take care of it.  I’d just like to be successful and respected enough to make a difference in these situations.

Apparently this new card (they’re switching systems or something) is too new and they don’t have a way to transfer the existing balance.  I find it irresponsible for them to change if they’re not ready to do such a basic service.  Either you do enough beta testing to be able to make transfers or ensure the cards won’t malfunction!  I did absolutely nothing to tamper with the card, yet I get punished with having to spend my time trying to get a new one (that they were going to make me pay for!) AND waiting for nearly a month before getting my money back.  If time is money, what kind of compensation am I getting for this inconvenience of waiting so long?  They should at least give me a new card with a fresh balance of say, $5 or something simple like that.  Now that would be great customer service.

Instead, I’m left here fuming at them, yet helpless to do anything.  I can’t exactly stop taking public transport around the city and I’m certainly not about to pay the higher fees for individual fares rather than use an EZLink card.  However, I’m not at all pleased with this level of service and I really wish I could call them up and actually have them listen to me.  But more than likely, I will just listen to elevator music for half an hour, get transferred around a few times, and then ultimately end up getting a voicemail from someone who won’t bother to reply.  A lot of our security in life is feeling like we have a certain level of control.  First over ourselves and our lives, but next over the things that happen to us.  In this case, there was absolutely nothing I could have done and nothing I can do to prevent this.  So why do I get the short end of the stick?

I’m sure that soon enough I’ll have forgotten all about this particular situation, but I will be left with a sense of a loss of power from large organizations.  I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I never dreamed of growing my business into a huge corporation.  Perhaps that is because I dislike what large conglomerates are like.  I promise myself I will never let something in my hands get to that point.  I’ll find a way to fix all the problems and make the small voices heard.

Obama, from a non-political perspective April 22, 2009

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I’m not one to really delve into politics, but what I’ve been hearing/reading about President Obama over the past few months has been all about his forward-thinking and modernness in terms of his campaign.  He’s definitely breaking boundaries with his approach and I’d like to delve into how social media is impacting his presidency.  To start off with, he is the first Generation X president, bringing an entirely new philosophy as compared to the Baby Boomers.  As such, he has embraced a lot of social media outlets and is really quite on top of things – no longer do we have the outdated leader of the past.  It’s really refreshing to finally see the leader of our country making himself available to the masses in the way that he does, from having a Twitter account to keep people abreast of things (although that has definitely dwindled) to posting videos so the masses can listen to his speeches.  Now that’s what transparency is all about.

I like that the image and expectations of what a president is can be changed with him.  After all, he is all about change!  And it certainly is past due for the states to revamp our national leader’s role in interacting with his contituents.  We should no longer expect frumpy old white men hiding behind their desk in the Oval Office, but men (hopefully women, soon) of all backgrounds with doors thrown open and information shared.  Granted, there will be plenty we will not know due to the sensitivity of the information, but at least this allows us as a nation to have a better idea of what is going on.  People never really have a very good idea of what the presidency entails, so if President Obama and his staff can update his blog, Twitter, facebook, and other such accounts, we can feel like this man is actually doing something for this nation.  There is great potential here to reach out to the United States as a person and not a figure or a title.

I would like to see him reminding people of why we celebrate certain holidays as they come along, to encourage the community to understand what all those days off are for.  I would like to see updates on his social media accounts, telling us when he’s traveling to another country to meet their leader for talks, or an ambassador is visiting him to talk.  I would like to see him bringing attention to the importance of also voting in your local elections.  I would like to see him talking about all the issues he’s looking at, from the ongoing war to environmental issues to educational problems, and the like.  Most of all, I want to see him involving the people, engaging the people, and continuing to reach out to each of us, as individuals.  That’s what I think a great leader would do.

I’ve got high hopes for this man and what he can do not only for the country, but also the presidency.

The ones who blast their music April 21, 2009

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On the way to work this morning, I had the unfortunate experience of standing next to a guy with his music blasting into his ears.  I don’t know what it is about people out there, but they all seem to need their music played at exorbitant volumes.  It’s completely unnecessary and rather harmful too, yet they either don’t know or don’t care and go on with their deafening habits.  It has long been proven that prolonged exposure to loud noises is damaging to our ears.  Is it just that people have not gotten the memo?  Besides the point that is it deafening, literally, it’s also disruptive and inconsiderate to the people around, most who just want a peaceful start to their day.  For those who are trying to drown out ambient noise, get those noise-canceling headphones or learn how to focus on the sound right by your ears, rather than the ones slipping through!

Perhaps it is because of my background studying psychology, which in turn includes biology and physiology, that creates a bias in my knowledge about this subject.  But surely any lay man who goes from an extremely loud environment to a quiet one can tell that the ringing in their ears is not a good thing.  Note to the wise: ringing ears means auditory damage!  You are killing off nerves in those ears!  Now a bit of exposure here and there is hardly noticeable, but when you’re subjecting yourself to that for hours each week, it will result in permanent damage that cannot be reversed.  So are these people just looking to incapacitate themselves this way?  This will always be a mystery to me.  Do people think they’re somehow "cool" by doing this?  Maybe it’s just me, but I find it an annoying and rude behavior.

Listening to music loudly is often used as a means to ignore the rest of the world.  After all, if your eyes are averted and your ears are plugged, how do we get your attention?  This is a phenomenon you’ll find common on college campuses are students bustle around campus, rushing to get places.  The main thoroughfare through UCLA, Bruinwalk, is abound with students ignoring each other and the people frantically trying to give them fliers as they pass by.  It’s notorious amongst all students that earphones in means everyone out.  Sure, sometimes you need to focus on yourself and where you’re headed or what you need to do, but really, do you need to act like you’re the only one left on the planet?  Playing music at a reasonable level allows you to filter through things that you don’t want to hear, but also catch important ones like someone chasing after you, calling your name.  Since when did we become so antisocial?

I have always listened to my music at a level that is just enough to hear, but not enough to drown out what is going on around me.  I like to be aware of my surroundings and if I can’t hear the sirens approaching that I should give way to or the people behind me who are excusing themselves while trying to dodge me to get off the train, I’m far more likely to be a nuisance and get in the way.  So what do you say?  How about turning down the volume a little and not shutting yourself off in your own world, oblivious to your surroundings.  We as humans are not meant to function that way.  That is why we are social and why we form societies.  So, next time you have the urge to blast your music at the max volume, turn it down halfway and allow yourself time to enjoy the world you’re in.

TV’s lack of appeal April 19, 2009

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I can’t recall where our household TVs were in most of the places I grew up.  In fact, my first memory of really consistently watching TV was back in middle school, around 7th grade.  That was when we had moved to New York and I remember coming back from school to watch trash shows like Ricki Lake and then classics like Fresh Prince of Bel Air as I ate my way through a few bags of instant chicken ramen.  I never really cared for cartoons and other animated shows, so I pretty much just stuck towhatever was on when I got home from school.  Prior to that, I had always read books for fun.  I think the change began when I started to come out of my shell and be more sociable at school.  Coming out of my own world and integrating into the larger one introduced me to this phenomenon that seems inescapable in the American culture.

Well, by the time I left New York three and a half years later, I had given up TV other than whatever was on that my dad was watching during dinner, which was usually 60 Minutes or 20/20.  The internet was booming and I could entertain myself far more with that than any TV show could ever provide.  Plus, I had much more control over what I would be exposed to, versus being at the mercy of some channel’s scheduling choices.  I can’t even remember what I used to watch, other than Gilmore Girls and Charmed.  I never really got into the whole TV or movie thing.  I’m not sure why, but I guess it was something about how unenlightening they seem and how they tend to encourage vanity.

Unfortunately, it’s gotten worse, from what I know, what with shows like Damages that I’ve seen commercials for and Gossip Girls that I’ve heard about.  Why would you spend hours of your life watching people be terrible to each other?  I hope this doesn’t produce a pathological society intent on revenge, greed, and other traits that will pick at our morals.  Entertainment is widely influential and the messages being sent these days are often questionable.  I’m not sure I want to know how this is affecting the younger generation as they grow up with their role models watching that kind of junk.

At the same time, there are some shows cropping up that I don’t mind, such as House and Lie to Me.  Initially my obsession with House started when I was moving in my second year of college and my friend was watching the season one DVDs.  The abrasive humor, fast-paced discourse, and insightful tidbits into the human body and mind attracted me.  Enough for me to decide to buy the first four seasons on DVD when I joined Columbia House.  As I spent the tail end of last year watching episode after episode, I started to notice the trends and patterns and slowly my interest waned.  I am still fond of the show, despite all its peculiarities (or maybe because of them) and I find it interesting because Dr. House is just so odd.

As for Lie to Me, I saw bus stop ads for it all over Westwood in the early parts of this year, as I was enjoying life with no schedule.  I decided to go check it out online once the show started airing and found it to be quite intriguing.  The entire thing is based on research done on microexpressions and body language, and how they can tell us when people are lying.  I have heard of this type of thing before, and having studied psychology as one of my majors, I find this fascinating.  There were a lot of facts in the show about how it all works, plus audiences get to see how what our behavior tells you is just the what, but not the why.  A lot of unexpected motives for lying are unveiled throughout the episodes, which makes you think before you assume.

I am also glad that the newer reality shows I’ve seen are getting more positive, rather than taking the dramatic approach by throwing a bunch of strangers to live together just to watch them fight.  I mentioned beforewatching some of the episodes of The Biggest Loser, which encourages people to take charge of their lives and finally get around to losing the unhealthy weight they’ve been bearing for years.  It’s not that I don’t have gripes about certain details of the show, but overall they are trying to send a good message.  I also like this one show I saw five minutes of, which pairs up children with their dads in a competition.  Done right, it encourages the parent-child relationship to be stronger and allows them to outperform by doing teamwork activities.  Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader? can be positive too, by making being smart look cooler.  What kid doesn’t want bragging rights to knowing the answer that the adult didn’t and "saving" them in the show?  Though the show makes some adults look like fools, it also encourages kids to do well in their academics.

Even the good shows out there have their flaws, but I guess that is expected, since they can’t be perfect or they’d be uninteresting.  The main problem with TV shows for me, however, is that I bore of them easily.  For both House and Gilmore Girls, which are the only two shows I own on DVD and the only two shows I have ever watched every episode for, there came a point when I started to tire of the plot or the characters.  When you see a pattern or things become predictable, it’s just not fun anymore.  I like to be challenged to never expect things at face value, to have to think about things that are going on in the plot.  Perhaps that is why I also quite enjoy watching CSI with Marylin on the weekends, whenever she has it on.  There’s always mysteries and twists to look out for.  Yet, whatever draws most of the population to their television sets each day baffles me, for I could live perfectly well without it.  Actually, I can’t even remember the last time I turned on a TV; in the past few years I’ve only ever turned them off after people around me have finished watching and I am still left sitting there.  To me, TV is just unappealing.

Appearances April 16, 2009

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I’m making my way through Blink, which talks about how powerful our unconscious minds are.  One of the things it mentions is how height, gender, and other physical traits can really influence us, even if on a subconscious level.  It’s going to take us a long time to ever overcome (or even come close to that) initial impressions based on a person’s appearance.  Those who are taller exude more power; those who are well-shaped exemplify better health; and those who are good-looking are expected to be better people at everything they do.  It takes a lot of training and exposure to lessen the effects of the unconscious feelings we get from our split-second judgment of a person.  It’s a sad truth of evolution that we tend to have these immediate reactions.  It’s how we size people up at a glance.

Our views of others continues to be molded by the way they look, among other factors, even after we get to spend some time getting to know them.  A lot of societal constraints force us to still dress in business attire when we’re doing things related to work, or wear certain clothes to fit a certain "type" of image, such as punk or preppy.  It’s because of this that there are dress codes and categories of people based on what they choose to wear.  Perhaps this is why I feel very sharp when I dress up in formal clothing and more casual when I’m in my sweats.  What you choose to wear really does send a message.  You’d certainly never find me tottering around in high fashion clothes, not only because I don’t care to pay the money for those things, but also because I find that look to be silly.  It’s just something I don’t get.  What I do wear either tells people that I am a business woman and I take my work seriously, or that I am a low-maintenance girl who just wants to enjoy herself and not worry about looking stellar.  (Wow, even my language reflects the impression I am presenting, with woman being a more serious noun and girl being a more relaxed one.)

It’s funny how every choice you make can be so reflective of your nature.  But, that is always to be taken with a grain of salt, as there are certainly people who don’t "look the part."  On a very broad scale though, how a person looks in just a fraction of second of seeing them is actually quite a decent measure of their personalities and preferences.  That’s what Blink is telling us.  This is generally not easily accepted, since we value getting more information.  More is not always good and in certain cases, less can be more accurate!  Mind-boggling, isn’t it?  I am constantly amazed at all the previously counter-intuitive things that have been proven true in research.  Even our intuitions are being molded differently now!

So in the end, I will still conform a bit to society’s expectations of me, much as I may disagree with it sometimes.  After all, it will help get me further in my goals.  A bit of resistance and change is good.  I want to run an unconventional office one day, but until then, there are certain things I must still do for others to accept me as capable, reliable, and trustworthy.  Not that I mind wearing business clothes!  It’s just other things that I don’t care for.

Treat your customers well April 14, 2009

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Right before I left LA, I had two very different experiences with customer service that brought to the forefront the idea that how you provide your service is very important for your image.  Then, as I mentioned yesterday, I just recently had another experience that emphasizes how great customer service can make up somebody’s mind about the quality of your work!  Even if the quality of your product or service is not related to the quality of your customer service, people will tend to go for people and companies they like and trust rather than ones that have no personal connection, but are mavens at what they do.  And that is the influence of word of mouth, which powers viral marketing.  Nothing is more reliable than the opinions of your closest friends, family, and colleagues.  So, a word to the wise, outstanding customer service can trump many marketing schemes.  And in this day and age, it probably costs a lot less to train employees to interact with your clients considerately than to put out a campaign.  Now let me describe my experiences.

So first of all, I had an excellent time getting my nails done at this little salon in Westwood across from the B of A.  When I went in, I kept asking how much time it would be and they could tell I was in a bit of a rush, so they sat me down and keep reassuring me they would get to me soon.  As soon as they could, they started to work on my nails and even brought a little fan over to speed up the drying of each layer as they painted.  Every now and then, they would say a few words to me to check on how I was doing and start some chitchat.  It was nice that they didn’t ignore me and just work away, but also didn’t pursue talking if I wasn’t being as responsive.  As I was sitting there, grateful that they sensed my urgency and did something about it, I decided to get more services done.  Thus, I asked about their eyebrow waxing and got that done as well.  When it was all done, they gave me these cute little foam slippers to wear since I had closed-toed shoes and put my shoes in a bag for me to carry.  The manner in which they presented themselves was very personable and inviting.  Plus, they offered their services at the best rates I’ve seen nearby!  I definitely plan on going back to that place for all future needs once I’m back in the area!

Now for the bad experience.  Panda and I went to get dinner at Yamato’s as one of the last things we did before I left.  It was also an unofficial belated birthday celebration for him.  The pricing at that place is great and the inside is very elegant-looking.  We were escorted upstairs to a couple’s table and ordered.  One of my items was a seaweed salad – classic for me at a Japanese restaurant.  So our huge bento box came and then our hand rolls arrived and there was still no word on the salad.  One of the waitresses came by to ask about the salad and went to check on it – three times.  You would think that after the first time they could throw it together in a few minutes’ time.  It’s just seaweed after all.  Meanwhile, our actual waiter acted like this was a perfectly normal wait time for a salad.  Huh???  I’m nearly done with my meal!  So, after I had pretty much had everything else, a manager-looking lady came along with it and I munched at it, slightly disgruntled.  It didn’t even taste that great, if I remember correctly.  Panda didn’t want me getting all upset and being difficult, but I was firm about not being walked over.  I wasn’t mean or unreasonable, but I was less than amicable and rather stern.  That’s what they get for poor service!  Later, I told my friend Koala about it and he agreed that they don’t have very good service there.  I guess that’s the price you pay for getting cheap food in a pretty, fancy place!

Finally, I opened up an IRA account with Fidelity yesterday, a bit apprehensive about them, but choosing them in part because I think I heard Panda said he used them and in part because they were the first ones listed.  I hadn’t really heard anything about them, how reliable they are, how their quality of service is, etc.  Upon setting up the account, I had some questions about certain procedures.  I e-mailed them and got a timely response soon after the start of their work day.  The reply not only addressed the issue I was contacting them for, but also followed up with questions about what I knew about the transaction and its implications.  I felt pleased that they actually cared that I knew what my decision meant for my finances.  After giving them the information they needed, I got another lengthy reply, fully outlining all the questions I had about what I was doing.  And to top it off, they turned crazy complicated financial jargon into easy to understand plain English terms.  Amazing!  You know what’s best?  This is all FREE!  Yaaay!  But because I feel so good about them now, I wouldn’t mind paying for their other services when I do need it.  Now that’s how you should do business.

Now it’s time to take this and evaluate how I approach clients and prospective clients.  In Blink, they mention how people won’t sue a doctor because they are bad as much as they will because they don’t like them.  Those doctors who spend the time and care to explain to their patients what’s going on and involve them don’t make less mistakes than other doctors who just go and do their exams.  Yet, they don’t get nearly as many lawsuits as the cold, heartless doctors who ignore their patients as they work.  So it’s time to work on my repertoire with the people I meet.  Sales is often about the relationship you build with people, rather than your ability to sell the product to people.  A certain level of trust is key to getting your foot in the door to close the deal.

The opening of a roth IRA April 13, 2009

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Today, I got an e-mail from my mother asking if I had set up an IRA yet.  I had joined Mint.com a few weeks ago, which sent me a couple of e-mails since then, reminding me that if I opened up an Individual Retirement Account before Tax Day, I could save thousands!  Thrice I went, filled out all my info to see what I qualified for, and decided that I should go for a Roth IRA.  Thrice I left it at that, not daring to click on the links below to Fidelity, Scottrade, E*Trade, or Charles Schwab to actually set up an account.  So today, I decided it was now or never.  With only two and a half days left before the big deadline, I went ahead and tried out Fidelity.

After filling out some basic info, I was in and they had not only my Roth IRA info, but also the other retirement accounts I had from previous jobs.  The money I chose to transfer was due to show up in the account in a mere day or two, which is quite speedy for banking transactions.  I’ve got to say, setting up an account was never so easy!  In fact, a little part of me started to get paranoid that if it was that easy, perhaps it was a fake site I had somehow stumbled upon.  However, the little lock symbol at the bottom corner of my browser reassured me that this site was safe and legit.  I hope I’m not too dependent on that little thing!  Plus, Firefox has been amazing at finding phishing scams and redirecting me before I get to that site.  So all in all, it checked out and I was pleased.

Now I had just closed down my 401(k) from the University of California, since I stopped working there a few months ago, and my mom remembered hearing something about how I could still put that money into my brand new Roth IRA if I had not cashed the check.  Well, the check is still there and just a few weeks old, so I e-mailed in a question about how to take care of that.  Quite early into their work day, I got a very nice reply, complete with caring questions to make sure I knew what I was getting into before I chose to move my money like that.  I have always slightly feared having to take charge of my own money and figure out what to do with it, between stocks, bonds, mutual funds, CDs, and the myriad of investment options out there.  But with a message like that, I felt taken care of and it put me at ease.  Now that’ssome great customer service.

So, just before my taxes are due, I have taken care of something that makes me feel good about my future.  Yeah, sure, things aren’t looking up in the economy right now, but hey, that means the deals now should be the best as companies vie for your business through higher quality or better deals.  Plus, having the deadline extended four and a half months definitely encourages us to save!  Normally what happens in 2008 would have stayed in 2008 for this season’s tax reporting, but to push national savings, we were given the new deadline of April 15th.  Lucky me!  It’s about time I finally got around to it; I’ve been meaning to do something about a retirement fund for a couple of years now, but while in college, you don’t really feel it as much.  Now that I’ve entered the working world, it’s time to be responsible for what happens to my money and do what I can to maximize my returns while preparing for the future.

I’m feeling a lot better about my finances and I’m no longer so scared about not knowing what to do with my money.  It’s great to know there are knowledgeable people out there who can help me.  Thinking about this reminds of my ex-bosses from Smith Barney, who were financial advisers for people in the aerospace industry.  Maybe someday they (or their proteges) will be able to handle Panda’s finances for him.  😛  Ultimately, I would like to be well-off enough to hire someone to help invest our money for us.  Otherwise, it’s just too stressful to keep up with the changing markets and understand the latest benefits of putting your money in so-and-so.  For now, I’ll just keep putting as much money away as I can manage and try to reap the benefits of compound interest.

Creating a signature you: a lesson in personal branding April 8, 2009

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Nowadays with the market being so competitive, personal branding extremely important to stay on top of things.  It’s no longer just an issue of how your company is imaged, what your logo looks like, how your stores are presented, and what type of packaging you use.  As social media is on the rise, so is the need for personal branding.  It has become more and more about the individual and as such, it is paramount to present yourself with the image you desire.

Basically, you need to have a consistency in how you look, act, speak, write, dress, and live, among other things.  A top executive must looked well-groomed, act professionally, speak eloquently, write lucidly, dress in business attire, and live in a respectable community.  It would not make sense if they looked shabby, acted improperly, slurred their words, used poor grammar, wore sweats, and lived in the slums.  Granted, this does depend on the organization you are meant to represent.  Perhaps part of the image is someone who is from your local impoverished neighborhood or is promoting casual, comfortable clothing.  But you should get the idea.

Generally it’s just a matter of making sure you maintain a congruency about yourself.  Anything you do that doesn’t match who you say you are can be hugely detrimental to the message you are trying to convey.  Especially in this day and age, there are eyes everywhere, so in all parts of your life you should live and breath your mantra, whatever that may be.  As soon as you make one error, it makes it infinitely harder for you to garner a good enough reputation to project yourself in the way you meant to.  So, it’s also about knowing who you are, what you value, what you want, and where you want to go with it.  Understanding yourself is a key journey in formulating an effective and accurate public image.

If your image is more specific and you want to focus on just one aspect of your life and interests, it’s definitely easier for people to understand what you are about, so you can work in that niche market.  Otherwise, it’s often hard to consolidate any single person’s multitude of hobbies, interests, and experiences, so it’s more of a matter of what your personal beliefs and outlook on life are.  That will in turn affect you view and interpret everything that you experience, which can create a framework for your personal brand.  Sometimes it even means deciding between using your real name or a pseudonym, depending on the nature of your intended image.

This is all stuff I have been considering (and occasionally struggling with) over the past couple of months, as I have delved deeper and deeper into the world of social media.  As I try to create a name for myself, I want to make sure that that process is going in the right direction and I can end up in a position where I will be respected as an authority in my chosen fields.  I think it’s great to have a vision, purpose, goal, or something similar written down somewhere that is visible and accessible so you can always remind yourself of what you’re striving towards (and if you need to revise it).  That is why I have written my philosophy in my description box – so I can always reread it to make sure it is still relevant, but also to make it something others will learn to expect from me.  That is a form of quality control to also keep me along the right tracks.

Of course, there are many more layers of me that can be peeled away to reveal so much more, but my position in life and the way I think about and handle things is largely influenced by my belief in the power of change and the need for it.