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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Icky

Here in the Northeast (New York to be precise) we’ve just had our first big winter storm. It wasn’t as bad as predictions threatened, but it’s still made a mess of things. Ice and snow are now part of our daily lives, along with puddles of slush and people who seem to forget (or to never have learned) how to drive, walk, or operate a thermostat when the weather turns ugly.

As with most big cities, we rely heavily on public services, and even more so when it’s time to dig out from under a snow storm. Unfortunately, those services are among the last strongholds of people who don’t know how to listen to or care about customers. Make no mistake: Citizens are customers of their municipalities, and we’re not always served appropriately.

To be fair, bad weather makes life harder for everybody, including plow drivers and the transit workers who keep the subway stations free of ice. We’re also short on funds to pay for emergency crews. Still, I’ve been noticing an attitude of “I don’t care” this year, and because of the situation it’s hard to provide feedback in a timely and effective manner.

Some of our subways stops are above ground (crazy, isn’t it?) so they receive a heavier load of snow and ice. The steps leading up to the platforms are metal clad, which makes them incredibly slippery when wet. In my travels these past few days I’ve seen a number of stairwells at busy and not-so-busy stops that haven’t been shoveled, swept, salted, or even sanded. Slippery stairs plus impatient people plus city property equals hundreds of potential personal injury claims against a town that can’t really afford to pay. But nobody’s saying a thing, because if we’re using those stairs then we’re on the way to or from someplace, and it’s too cold and miserable to stop.

Yesterday afternoon I watched a snow plow try to make a right turn while a woman pushing a stroller was trying to cross the street. The plow (which had to start from a dead stop) essentially chased the woman out into the middle of the intersection in order to make the turn. But nobody said anything, because it’s cold, and everybody’s on the way to someplace else, and there isn’t a good way to chase down a snow plow on foot.

In both cases, and many more, the incidents get pushed to the back of one’s mind after a while because there’s something else to think about, and no lasting proof, and ultimately nothing gets done. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If you’ve been keeping up on this whole social CRM thing, you’ll have seen the powerful effect that a photo or a short video can have in motivating corrective behavior when a company screws up. We need to remember that city services are a business, and we’re its customers, and we should hold the city to the same standards of responsibility with the same threat of ridicule. We’ve all got cameras on our mobile phones nowadays (at least many of us do, and the rest are expecting one this Hanukkah-Christmas-Kwanzaa-Solstice-Festivus). So just do what you’d do if your local big box merchant drops the ball on safety and service: Take picture, shoot a video, get it online ASAP. Tweet the incident to your friends and family. Blog about it. Be responsible customers, so that the city can be a responsible entity—or be held responsible.

I’m not advocating playing gotcha with city governments. We’re already far too prone to try and squeeze money out of government in this overly litigious society of ours. This is not about blackmail. This is about making those who watch out for us do what’s right.

Other than that, things are pretty good, and I hope all of you can say the same. Have a happy, healthy, safe holiday (whichever one it is for you), and try not to get too stressed out.