• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Monday, December 15, 2014

2014

The circumstances of life sometime make it necessary to ride the bike and patch the tire at the same time. A tricky balancing act, to be sure.

I'm one of those people who have always felt self-satisfaction in taking on a variety of challenges -- usually several at a time -- be it in business or personal matters. For me, 2014 will always stand as a year of great personal challenge, far more than I knew on January 1. I will start 2015 with most of those challenges yet to be brought to conclusion. But I continue to remember the examples of some special people I am blessed to call "friend." Alex Zanardi, Jack Beckman, Bob Margolis, among others.

Even though we are here at a time of great divisiveness, I think we all agree one of motorsports' great allures is the absolute need to overcome challenge in order to succeed. That applies to drivers, owners, designers, engineers, mechanics, marketers, publicists, track operators, sanction officials and even the fans. For me, it has and continues to be, a source of strength.

I think the sport and the industry, in generally, have asked too much of its fans too often -- the best examples are in the IndyCar and sports car series -- and I make a direct connection between "fan" and what he/she really is.

Our customer.

Customer service, and consumer relations, are two of the hottest of hot-button issues for me. It's sad that there has been such a fall-off -- no where else more obvious than the airline travel experience -- that the paying customers have been so beaten-down that much of the time they just accept the unacceptable as "they way it is." No. I refuse to do so.

It's our money that keeps these enterprises in business, that make jobs possible for their employees. Never, ever, forget that. Reputations can be made or lost (ask Bill Cosby) in an instant given the instant communications possible with social media and other non-traditional communications tools. 

I believe customer service is at an all-time low. I personally discovered this this year with Mayo Clinic. Despite its Big reputation (and I have no doubt many have benefitted from care there), what my experience here in Scottsdale was that, unless you are prepared to help them maximize revenue (no matter what your insurance coverage and I'm not talking about outright declining a test), there is a second-class level of attention. Almost nine months after an important diagnostic test, the results still have not been formally reported to me, but, hey, I'm only the patient/customer. The person charged with reviewing how my case was handled, Jon Nordrum,  apparently conveniently skipped-over this important detail. At least as he reported his findings to me. Mountainside Fitness is the worst business of the year and CEO Tom Hatten gets my award as the year's worst CEO since in my Constitutionally-protected opinion he seemingly has zero grasp about the bad customer service happening in his Scottsdale location (at least.) Core Concepts' Dylan King deserves the "honor" as the year's worst sales person because his attitude as experienced by me is he's doing a customer a favor by being there, not that the customer is doing him a favor by spending his/her money with Mountainside. Danielle Hawks is the year's worst location manager because of her unprofessional and insensitive demeanor and because she doesn't know the first thing in business is to get the money out of a willing customer's hand ASAP. By her own actions as demonstrated to me she's proven she has no qualification for such a job. Mountainside Fitness' Robyn Klawitter is the year's worst VP because she reversed a professional promise to a customer (me) less than 72 hours after making it. 

Because of their own actions, none deserve a penny of my business.

Mayo and Mountainside Fitness certainly weren't the only entities to fall into decline. Sears and McDonald's are others on that list. I think chances of Sprint renewing its Cup series entitlement aren't too favorable given management changes and telecom industry market conditions. Government lost standing, too, at least in general, as did a certain segment of the public's ability to thumb-its-nose at the established legal process by breaking the law with impunity. The PRI show, apparently ignorant of CART history, invited Andrew Craig to be a panelist at an industry seminar. And just how many ESPN hosts were suspended in the last 12 months?

At least regarding a story that came out of sports competition, the year's best/worst example of media-in-decline was Tony Stewart's involvement in a fatal sprint car accident. I'm convinced, at least in the early hours, some media mouths reacted not knowing the difference between sprint car and Sprint Cup. We saw, again, that too often in the media, opinion, ego and agenda are more important than the FACTS.

It's all part of the dehumanization of American society, where wonderous technical innovations and machines have led to a new generation -- and an older generation reprogrammed -- to not bother to actually TALK to others. At least in motorsports, there is no worse offender than the Global Warming-esque PR theory and bureauracy that is NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications. At least for the two Phoenix International Raceway events, NIMC came into the market without knowing or bothering to find out what was going on with the local media. I don't think NIMC realizes yet how much coverage of the November PIR races declined, at least in terms of quantity, compared to previous race weeks. No one, it seems, is paying attention. What could be more fundamental? What say you, Brian France?

Elsewhere, at least in sports, the paying customers did get their money's worth. No single athlete in a team sport is alone responsible for victory, but San Francisco Giants' pitcher Madison Bumgarner came as close as you can get in the World Series. Kevin Harvick was a worthy NASCAR Cup champion because he was fast all season, led a ton of laps and poles, and won the last two races. And Derek Jeter capped what Bob Costas called "a charmed baseball life" with a game-winning bottom-of-the-ninth RBI single in his last Yankee Stadium game. "It wasn't just what he did. It was the way he did it. From the beginning to the very end,"  said Costas. What a wonderful role model for bad-behavior players that, these days, infect even high-school sports. I can't wait to hear the excuse from whoever doesn't vote for Jeter for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Whoever that is will embarrass himself.

Finally: I'm not comfortable asking for help because I figure I should be capable enough to handle things myself. Necessity forced me to do otherwise in 2014, however, so I owe some special thank yous to some who provided that help when needed. The list includes: Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles, and his assistant, Lisa Brown. The IMS infield medical center staff. Media center staffer Tim Sullivan. U.S. Air. Jennifer Jepson, previously of Phoenix International Raceway, now with the Fiesta Bowl. And to PIR for the honor of including me on its list of 50 storied legends and being asked to write three stories for Phoenix at 50: A Half-Century of Racing commemorative book.

And, as always, thanks to you, loyal readers, for using some of your valuable time to consume the information presented in this spec of cyberspace. 

[ more a week or so before the Rolex 24 . . . ]