Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Ethical Toolbox

It's my first national trade article. This month's edition of Quill Magazine is the all-ethics edition. Quill, of course, is the trade mag for the Society of Professional Journalists. I was asked to write the Toolbox article, in which I distilled my one-hour lecture on developing a personal ethics code for journalists down to 600 words.

Here it is.

I was honored to be asked, considering my relative youth and slight credentials compared to the rest of the ethics commission. I was especially honored since I have publicly disagreed with some of the national organization's decisions this year, authoring two position papers on behalf of the St. Louis chapter, and still they let me hang around and talk. I am always proud to be part of this organization.

Oh, and speaking of which: I gave that same speech at the regional conference this past weekend in Kansas City, and got a better reception than I ever have. They listened, they took notes, they laughed at my lame jokes, and at the end they had intelligent questions and lively discussion. It was one of the better sessions I've had.

The last time I spoke was to a group of college students in which I challenged the public perception that newspapers were dying, and it was like speaking to a bunch of statues. Not a single question, and one young gentleman was sleeping. It was therefore quite refreshing to have such a lively group at the regional.

Next up: Mass Comm Week at the local university, in which I will speaking again about a personal code of ethics. And I will continue to say it over and over until they do as I say. In the meantime, a couple of professors asked if I would make my ethics speech available online, and as soon as I figure out the best way to do that, I will.

101 ways to lose a customer

You know, I don't mind when businesses screw up. I understand more than most how things can go kablooey.

For us at the Literary Underworld, it's the peril of doing business with the U.S. Postal Service. Yes, they do the best they can. But I stopped using book rate after roughly one half of our orders went missing over the course of three months. Now I use Priority Mail only, and still sometimes I hear from a customer that a shipment never arrived.

It doesn't matter how long it's been since the order was placed. It doesn't matter whether the customer has proof or paid for delivery confirmation. I replace the order at our expense. Why? Because that customer will buy from us again someday, and if I stomp my foot and whine about the replacement cost, that customer will never come back.

For example, once I ordered take-out, and it arrived without the salad. We didn't notice until after the delivery man was gone, so I called. All I wanted was for them to remove the cost of the salad from my credit card. Instead, the man on the phone ARGUED with me. Not whether the salad had been delivered; he insisted it didn't come with a salad. I was staring at the menu that said, "personal-size pizza and salad," and the receipt that listed the damn salad on my bill. I got disgusted and hung up.

Then there was the time I was on the road and arrived at my hotel, only to find they did not have a room for me. I had my confirmation number for the reservation and the fee had already been charged to my credit card. Yet their hotel was full, and they did not offer me a room at another hotel in their chain or assist me in any way in finding accommodations. I ended up on a friend's couch and counted myself lucky that I had a friend in that town.

But I sent a nastygram and the hotel chain refunded my money quickly, with an apology. I might book with them someday, though it will be a while before I trust them again.

On the other hand... recently I ordered business cards from a print company I have used for many years. I shudder to think how much money I have given them over the years, ordering everything from postcards to bookmarks to business cards to signs. They always delivered good stuff on time.

So on Feb. 15, I looked at their shipping options for my order. The "slow" option listed an approximate delivery date of Feb. 25. I had an event on March 4-6 and figured that would be plenty of leeway, so I chose that option.

By March 3, I still hadn't gotten my cards, so I contacted the company. They informed me my cards would arrive by March 9, which they said was "the promised date." That's not what the screen said when I ordered, I told them. If it had said March 9, I would have used a faster shipping method. Now it's too late, I won't have my cards by the event.

I got a very polite and apologetic email about "this misunderstanding." They asked, "What would you prefer we do for you at this time due to the fact that your event is this weekend?"

I figured they'd just offer me a coupon, or rebate my shipping cost on this order. But fine, since I've got more events coming up. I replied that a free shipping voucher on my next order would be perfectly sufficient. After all, I like their products, and this is the first time we've had a glitch like this.

This is what I got in response.

"We cannot guarantee a free shipping offer at this time, if you do not have a promotion at the time you are placing your order. Please note that your order was not late. The order was printed and shipped within the delivery time that was selected at the end of your order. We take great pride in our commitment to your satisfaction. However, certain circumstances are beyond our control. For greater satisfaction, please preview your shipping option carefully prior to placing your order."

Really? So it's not "a misunderstanding," it's just that I'm an idiot to trust what your web site says about shipping times? Wow. That might be the rudest and most short-sighted communication I've received since the pizza guy insisted there is no salad, and in direct contradiction to the previous email. For the cost of free shipping on a future order, you'd have retained an extremely active customer.

Because that pizza place? They sent me a five-dollar gift certificate in the mail apologizing for the salad mix-up. Therefore I will order from them again.

The printer can go stuff it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday

As demonstrated by my good friend Angelia Sparrow, here's six sentence from the upcoming King of Swords. (I cheated. It's slightly over six sentences.)

Gently Coleen turned the yoke, caressing the handles between her fingers. The ship danced under her touch, nimbly ducking beneath the docking ring and soaring away from the station. She loved this part, the way the ship responded to her touch, a natural symbiosis as she flew around the border patrols and between the satellites toward open space. The lightness of the yoke in her hands made it an extension of herself, and she could feel the energy vibrating through the ship up from its pumping engines to the very lights in the ceiling above her.
She realized that Hancock was watching her.
“I love to watch you fly,” Hancock said.
Coleen grinned. “Better than sex.” She reconsidered. “Almost.”