Good service as rare as angels 

Getting good service is one of life’s constant problems. I’m always amazed that businesses carry on, with seeming success, yet their service is terrible–and sometimes that is a generous adjective. So, it’s a boost to the system when I encounter the opposite.

A friend was booked to fly from Montego Bay to the US earlier this week. As luck would have it, I was in that city the day he was due to set off, so I called him when I was driving by the airport just after noon to wish him a safe flight. He told me he was just checking in. Great. His flight was  due out about 4pm. At about 4:15, he called me. “Mr. Jones, I got some wrong information and miss the flight.” What? Apparently, he’d been told at check-in to go to the wrong gate, even though the correct gate was printed on his boarding pass. He asked if I could call JetBlue to explain what had happened. I explained that I’d have to do that later. But, I suggested, that, whatever happened, he should plan to go back to the airport in the morning and get the agent to correct the problem it seemed she’d created. 

I was due to pick my wife up from the airport later. So, while waiting for her, I decided to try to contact JetBlue. I found them on Twitter and sent a direct message. Within minutes, I’d got a reply and after clarifying that I was in Jamaica so couldn’t call so easily, we then had an exchange on Twitter over about half an hour, giving details of the original booking. They found the record and said they’d look into it.

Meanwhile, my wife sent a message that her flight from Kingston was delayed and I sat waiting for more news. Some greeters were also there. They told me her flight had landed and was on the runway! I called my wife; she was still in town. I suggested to the greeters that they recheck their tracker app. 😊

By the time my wife arrived, after 7:30, instead of 6, I’d been told by JetBlue that they’d get back to me. We went straight for dinner. During that time JetBlue confirmed a new booking booking for my friend for the next morning, just so. “Amazing!” I said.How often do you get nothing but resolution of a problem? No questions. No grief. No attitude. No charge.

I asked about who had helped me. The reply came that 25 people ran the social media platform, but ‘Julia’ had helped me. Thank you, Julia! Thank you, JetBlue!
Now, can we get local companies to turn things around with customer service? 

Phase it in! 1.5 is here. Sing Hallelujah? 

Finance minister, Audley Shaw, kept us all in suspense yesterday as he dangled the electoral carrot of tax relief in front of our mouths. He knew that all people wanted to hear about was the ‘1.5’, the new shorthand for an election campaign promise to raise tax thresholds. When he eventually spilled the beans, it was an interesting dish.

He offered an across-the-board income increase in PAYE income tax threshold to $1,000,272, effective from July 1, 2016. That would cost $12.5 billion this fiscal year. He kept the promise to raise the tax threshold to $1.5 million, but it would be for all on PAYE, and would be delayed further to April 1, 2017. His catch phrase was “Phase it in!”

That was dessert, and it may be sweet for some: the increased threshold means that additional $8,489 per month for those on PAYE, and those ‘few’ who will benefit number 251,000. But, it has to be paid for by many more, i.e. all of us. 

So, Mr. Shaw also announced new revenue measures to raise $13.7 billion to pay for the tax relief and help fund the $580 billion budget:

  • Higher personal income tax on salaries over $6 million per year from 25 per cent to 30 per cent, from July 1, 2016
  • Increase in Special Consumption Tax on petrol by $7 per litre, from May 13, 2016 (expected revenue yield $6.5 billion)
  • Introduction of Special Consumption Tax on LNG and revision of heavy fuel oil regime, from May 13, 2016 (this will increase electricity bills as JPS did not pay tax on heavy fuel oil) [expected revenue yield $1.4 billion]
  • Increase in Special Consumption Tax on cigarettes from $12 per stick to $14 per stick, from May 13, 2016 (expected revenue yield $0.6 billion)
  • Increase in departure tax from US$14 to US$35, from June 1, 2016. (This tax will now be denoted in US dollars.) [expected revenue yield $5.3 billion]

The PAYE measures will mean losing revenue of $12.5 billion, but the offsetting taxes are expected to bring in $13.7 billion, so a net contribution to the budget of about $1.3 billion is expected overall from the first phase of measures.

See the table provided by the Ministry of Finance (@MOFPJA) on Twitter, yesterday: 


So, while those eligible for relief will have to wait a couple of months to start seeing the first benefit, they will begin to pay for it from today. That may not go down well with that group, as it may seem like giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Those who won’t get any direct benefit will feel even more aggrieved at that news.

The expected revenue will come largely from the travelling public, both motorists and those who take public transport. The higher fuel tax is likely to ripple through to costs on other goods and services. While some see the shift to consumption taxes as a good move, that’s not wholly clear to me. 

Although Mr. Shaw was touting the tax relief as growth-inducing–as some people have more to spend–that is not a clear outcome from the whole package, especially if people are forced to dip into their pockets to cover the higher costs. Whether that leads to widespread resentment amongst people we will have to wait and see.

Those Jamaicans who fly may feel hard the pinch of higher departure tax and possibly seek to adjust travel or other spending. Remember, many informal traders must travel abroad to buy their goods. Foreign tourists may feel as Jamaicans will.  Will this hurt our tourism? 

The realization of the downside will be immediate; the gains are not yet there for some and will never be for most. 

That part may bother a lot of people. But, so it is with various forms of tax relief. Those who are not on PAYE will now know that they will get nothing extra. Mr. Shaw’s suggesting that beneficiaries pay gardeners and helpers more may get a cut-eye glance. 

 

Jamaica, ready for growth prime time? Not in my ‘bly’ time

As usual, I don’t have to think hard to find reasons to be curious. How ready are we to take even one step forward, away from the ledge, over which we could fall and be consigned to worse than a footnote? Seems harsh? I’m pondering that, in the context of asking myself whether Jamaica is ready for ‘prime time’ in getting to be a much faster-growing country. You see, growing fast isn’t simply about producing more things. It also involves giving better service, across the board. It involves fixing things that are broken, quickly and durably: patch and mend won’t do. It’s about how you do everything so that you are much better than you were before and much better than your competitors. Part of getting to that point is the mindset, but another part is what we may want to cal ‘get up and go’. I won’t use terms like ‘lazy’ because they involve value judgements, and may confuse people into thinking that there is some racial undertone. The ‘get up and go’ idea is important because if you cannot get out of the blocks–to use a metaphor that seems to fit us as a so-called ‘sprint factory’–we cannot even fall on our faces, and that’s really sad.

People talk about ‘Jamaica time’, meaning being late and ignoring all the consequences of that. But, that’s just a specific instance of ‘bly time‘, ie everyone seems to think that life is full of second chances, so don’t get things right from the get-go. But, the honest truth is that no one likes people who’re habitually late (except perhaps philanderers, who can count on this to get up to their business and get away…in good time :)).  We take being late as a badge of honour. Wise up!

Let’s look quickly at one of the things that we constantly hear policy makers tell us matter to them–road accidents and deaths.

Motorcycles and their riders have been a growing scourge on the roads, with all manner of misdeeds, like permanent learner’s licences, and no helmets worn by riders or passengers. Result? More crashes and more deaths. The country pays the cost. But, over a year ago we heard of ‘concerns’ (Jamaica-speak for a long period of inaction on a problem). We were promised a ‘clampdown’. Where is it? The deaths keep mounting. More hand-wringing. Just go back in time and you’ll see that these concerns were expressed even earlier. Yet, we let the years pass and cobwebs grow, and wonder why we are lagging behind others.

Just last month we were promised another clampdown on general traffic violations. A three-month, six-days a week clampdown–‘Operation Zero Tolerance’ (oh, we love the fancy monikers). Why? Do we believe miscreanants need a day of rest? Do we believe the enforcers can’t keep at the task for a full week? Boredom? Attention deficit disorder? We need that extra day to do the paperwork that comes from a rapid increase in violators caught? The logic of the would-be enforcers escapes me. But wait!  The road transport operators said they weren’t properly consulted. You mean, after disregarding the rules constantly they felt they should have a say in how to curb the misbehaving? Wait there.

Sadly, our police force is amongst the habitual slow dancers: frequent late arrivals to the ball, then coming with some of the most colourful excuses: the dog ate my police car, Miss. Their resistance to adopt good practices and to get rid of those who seem to not get the concept of developing firm public trust in what you do and say leads them to make the same silly missteps again and again. Do they really think many will believe they were  committed to hold onto ‘Timmy’? Try to convince me that the police officers were fully committed to holding the suspect. The man surrendered himself, after allegations of his killing his young daughter. Why would he then try to escape? He had been free. Did he need to be committed to an asylum for doing the mad thing? Did he find so much to fear when he was being questioned? What could turn the man into a Ninja to rival Bruce Lee? But, did he really jump or was he ‘pushed’? Your people who are there to protect and serve should not leave you with these kinds of concerns.

Things like this are examples, in my mind, of the kind of blockages that exist and hamper our ability to be really very productive. We are only prepared to go so far, not the whole way. We come up with pathetic excuses for our bumbling and bungling. We love to talk loudly about what we plan to do. But, really! Like someone inside a house using their voice to try to frighten off the people outside who are about to beat down the doors. “I’m warning you! You really don’t know what I can do! I’m warning you!” Like the wolf and the three pigs, who then huffs and puffs and blows down our house. We are standing there looking at the broken sticks or strands of hay at our feet. Our bluff was called, and we’re there naked. Oh, if only we’d thought of being smarter and building a house (country) with strong foundations (values, work ethic).

Let’s not even talk about the slow and archaic workings of our legal system. Talking big about death sentence in a system where case take years to come to a conclusion, let alone go to court? Where judges can’t seem to value ruined lives more than stolen mangoes? Really!

But, this malaise is not restricted to our public sector. So-called bastions of the private sector seem to be as guilty. Take a recent experience with ATL Automotive. Their byline is ‘Unbeatable’. Well, the competition must be dead. I called them a couple of weekends ago, trying to arrange a service for my car. The service centre was closed, I was told, and the nice-sounding man took my number and promised someone would call me the following Monday to arrange the visit. That was two weeks ago and I have still not heard. Now, I ask you. This is supposedly our premier car dealer, opening up new, glitzy showrooms that ooze prosperity. But, they offer a poverty-filled service. Is it the people or is it the systems (or lack of them)? Notwithstanding Butch Stewart’s ability to have ideas to jump start our economy, one of his enterprises has stalled and left passengers waiting. So, if this is an example of unbeatable who can we truly beat?

So, my basic concern with moving forward is whether it’s remotely possible with the current squad of misfits and failures. We’re not Leicester City! We may be better off going into the transfer market and try to beef up the calibre of our ‘players’.

Our problem-solving skills are so low that we can barely survive in the less-than-complex mess of Jamaica, so chance do we have against the world’s brightest and best?

#AtoZChallenge Reflections

img_0553-3The tyranny of daily writing obligations 😊 Fortunately, I’ve gone long stretches when I’ve blogged daily, but wholly on my own terms. Being locked into the schedule of the alphabet added a twist to the tourniquet.

Staying with a theme. My blog is supposed to focus on things Jamaican–though, I stray, occasionally. Managing to honour that focus is more difficult when trying to stay current and topical and alphabetically pure. But, plenty of scope existed during the challenge for creativity.

Sharing the burden. I asked a fellow blogger to contribute a post, which she did for the final entry, Z, on a topic she’s followed closely, concerns with Zika virus. She relished it! 😊👍🏾 I liked that I had most of the entry for the day already taken care of, but still added a segment on a different topic to complete the post. Her experience made her a little more likely to try a future challenge, having thought the latest one daunting. Bravo, outsourcing!

I did not read as many other challenge blog posts as I wanted to. I searched posts, at random, and found some interesting ones, but never one blogger that captivated me. Perhaps, the opposite was true as others found my posts. But, again, opening doorways to other writers was an added enrichment.

I enjoyed the blog chat about the challenge in the first week.

Would I do it again? Yes! In fact, some local bloggers and I are thinking of a challenge based around our submissions shared over a coming month. Look out!