Posted: Friday, January 03, 2003

COMPANY PLANS: Your plans for 2003 might involve losing weight and debt, but sage employers also put together some corporate resolutions.

January is a great time to make a list of resolutions that will improve company morale and increase employee productivity, according to Maritz Brand Alignment, a unit of Maritz Inc., a Missouri-based market research and consulting firm.

Among the goals Maritz suggests: building more trust among the ranks, developing greater clarity for company directions, supporting employees better, seeking more input from employees and sharing success.

''New Year's resolutions should be a must for all company leaders,'' said Rodger Stotz, a Maritz vice president. ''This is a great opportunity for company leaders to build trust, loyalty and increase productivity among employees.''

GRIPING EFFECTIVELY: You're either pressing 5 for a ''customer care representative'' or snaking through a line longer than the airport check-in at Thanksgiving. It's you versus monolithic Corporate America and your puny quest for help is going nowhere fast.

But check your fury and, with a little patience and planning, you can get satisfaction from customer service departments. The Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals offers a checklist for how to complain constructively.

Before calling or stomping into a business, have all your relevant documents. Also, be aware of what you bought and have a realistic view about what you're going to get as a result of your trouble -- a store isn't inclined to replace a bum Seiko with a Rolex.

Be firm, yet polite and respectful, when speaking with the customer service person. State the problem and your expected outcome concisely. Don't muddle the issue with irrelevant asides, such as the horror of your previous encounter with the company in 1993.

Give the person time to speak, and listen. If they correct the problem, thank them. If not, ask for the name and contact information of a higher-level manager so you can press your issue.

Most companies want to hear your issues and fix them, so you'll give them more business.

''A good customer lets companies know when he or she has questions or concerns,'' said Jan Guifarro, director of consumer affairs for Colgate North America. ''A silent consumer is the one who is not giving us the opportunity to help.''

SORRY STOCKHOLDERS: Regret, fear, anger, bitterness, pessimism. These are the descriptions people offered for the tone of conversations they've had about the stock market, according to a survey.

When the subject of investing arises, 47 percent of investors said the tone of the talk was pessimistic, 44 percent said it's laden with regret and 35 percent said there is a tinge of fear among the participants. Only 22 percent of people said there was any sense of optimism about the market.

The data were culled from an online survey of 1,009 people this fall for Harrisdirect, a brokerage that is part of Harris Investors Services LLC.

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