Let’s take a writing road trip

Writing is like a road trip, with maps and guides, the thrill of the open road, plus skill and confidence that improve with experience.

Revising is like taking the return trip again, even better because of your 20/20 hindsight.

More coming soon in the interactive e-book Write like you talk—only better. 3 steps to turn good talkers into great writers.

Serenity now! And what I learned about customer service from my computer guy, plumber and hairdresser

This was supposed to be a post about how serene I am after a weekend retreat at a Jesuit monastery. Instead, it’s about how I arrived home to a malware attack, evidence of a clandestine teen party, the hot water tap on our only bath/shower dying, my daughter losing her wallet on the bus… You get the picture.

Had I not spent a weekend in pastoral tranquility my reaction would have been much worse. The rationale part of my brain could have shut down, my eye lids could have twitched wildly and I could have resorted to emptying the cookie jar into my stomach while yelling at my kids.

Instead I stood up to the evil claims of Alpha Antivirus, which insisted my computer was under a trojan assault that could be defeated only by purchasing this misnamed software.

I ran trusty old Norton through my computer, thinking it would identify and fix the problem. Not at all. At least my suspicions about the malware were confirmed. Sadly, my computer continued to cry out in pain, with frequent crashes, surprise setting changes and more.

Unfortunately, my computer guy Antonio does not work Mondays so I decided to tackle the problem myself. I did not consider going elsewhere because good computer guys, like hairdressers and plumbers, deserve absolute loyalty.

I tried two programs, that helped but didn’t solve the problem. So I’ve switched computers and plan to take the sick one to Antonio later.

I know I’m in good hands. In addition to fixing the problem, he will give me some free advice on preventing a recurrence and chat about his mother in Peru.

I had called my plumber, but he wasn’t available till next week. I have been very loyal ever since he replaced my leaking toilet tank with a gently used one (aqua, not easy to find) after I had burst into tears when I was going through a painful divorce made worse by vulture lawyers draining my finances.

Fortunately, the kind plumber recommended another plumber, so I didn’t feel I was cheating.

My horoscope had told me I was in for major expenses today, so I was braced for the worst, the need to lavishly renovate both bathrooms and not bathe until sometime in 2010. What a relief.

The repair was quick and reasonable and the sweat from yesterday’s workout has finally been scraped off.

The tides had started to turn earlier, with my daughter no longer in tears about the lost wallet when she got up this morning. After belting out I Will Survive, she had segued into some cheery popular tunes. I should explain that she’s at a performing arts school so our home often looks like the stage of a broadway musical.

I expect her wallet will turn up at the transit lost and found, probably with no money but with her transit pass and health insurance card. When she gets home with the news, we will burst into a nicely harmonized duet.

Or maybe not. I still have to figure out how to prevent unsupervised parties and too-frequent losses of valuables.

Thanks to reality, I’m not in a serene state of mind. I feel like George’s father on Seinfeld, yelling “Serenity now,” as if stress can be commanded to leave any more than a quick free download is going to fix my computer or the bandaid solution a contractor had made to my tap during one of my endless renovations would keep it functioning forever.

With my hair now air drying after that luxurious shower, I’m remembering that I’m due for a cut and highlights. Hope my stylist isn’t booked up. I really can’t go anywhere else, without feeling guilty about the times he’s squeezed me in or made me feel good when I think I look old and fluffy, as I like to call it.

Which brings me to today’s lesson. Like my computer guy, plumber and hairdresser, I need to do great work for my clients. But, I also need to throw in a few favors, ask about each their families and make them feel good about themselves.

Follow their examples and your customers will not stray. They’ll know they can count on you, even when they are pulling out their hair screaming “Serenity now!”

Unplugged and inspired

Before I left for vacation, I was grappling with the question: what’s the difference between writing to persuade and writing to inspire?

Maybe it was the mountain air, the time away from the computer and telephone or the decline in data for my little brain to process, but the answer suddenly seemed so clear.

Writing to persuade is based on pointing out specific benefits. Very self-centered, usually focusing on immediate, concrete rewards. It’s all about me.

Writing to inspire transcends the individual, appealing to a greater cause or higher values. It’s all about us.

This distinction explains why Barack Obama can be so successful at inspiring, but have difficulty persuading many American to support health care reform.

Talk your way to employee engagement

In researching employee engagement for a client this week, I came to the conclusion that engagement starts in the heart. Although improvements can be measured, strategies and tactics to encourage people to identify strongly with their work have to be as individual and varied as the people in the organization. And they have to penetrate deep into the soul.

I read a lot of literature from consulting firms selling tools for measuring employee engagement. But my big insight was that people do their best, not because of the financial rewards, but because their job is who they are.

Of course, employee engagement communication has to be driven by actions to fix problems and create a culture of engagement, where people feel valued and comfortable in speaking out. Toby Ward of Prescient Digital Media has written some good posts on this.

We hear a lot about how social media tools promote engagement by offering channels for feedback, input and user content.

But what about a client where computer-based engagement communication strategies are of limited use? In my case, the client is a hospital where most employees are too busy taking care of patients to spend much time on a computer. Like most healthcare organizations in Ontario, they have not yet embraced mobile media.

They talk. In person. One-on-one or in small groups.

The obvious solution is to strengthen supervisor/manager communication. In study after study, this has proven to be the most popular and credible channel with employees. What’s more, it solves the problem of communicating with employees who work different shifts.

Although I love the way computers have created such a wealth of communication tools, we all need to be reminded that people talking to other people is the basic, and most effective, communication.

Sure, far-flung organizations have to rely on virtual communication. But even the most tech-savvy companies are trying to personalize their online communication through videos, web cams and other means.

People who work in hospitals, construction crews, farms and many other places rely on two-way communication with their supervisors and managers. So should anyone who wants to touch hearts and souls.

It’s ironic that there’s so much emphasis on measuring levels of employee engagement and the results on organizational performance. Yes, there’s lots to measure. But the true measure of engagement can be seen only in real life. The nurse listening with compassion to the patient’s complaints… the electrical worker caring enough to make sure the job is done safely… the call centre employee who actually talks to a customer instead of reading a script.

Social media gurus talk a lot about conversations, though the conversations on Facebook and Twitter tend to be pretty superficial. So let’s not forget that the best conversations take place in person, between people who already know and like each other.

How sticky is that?

Rescue me from cell hell

All I want is a new cell phone. Everyone wants to sell me one, so why is Bell Mobility making it so difficult?


Being without a phone is a growing problem because I can’t find the charger for my old one. A new one costs almost as much as a new phone.


Fortunately, I have a home office and a quiet life so I figured I could  manage for a little while with only the landline and the internet. Though I would have felt safer driving through last Saturday’s blizzard if I had had a cell phone to call 9-1-1 or impart my dying wishes.


I first tried to buy a new phone a few weeks ago in a Bell Mobility store. I shopped in a store instead of online so I could have a better look and feel. Love at first sight with the Purple LG Reveal.


Unfortunately, the store people would not let me buy the phone because I had not yet paid my bill.  I offered to pay, but they accept only cheques and money orders, which I didn’t have. Silly me.


So I went home, paid the bill online and decided I would order the phone that way, as I had the last time. Delivery in three to five business days, they promised. Billed to my account. Brilliant.


Seven business days later and still no phone. I went the web site and click ‘track your order’ and it sent me to Canada Post, which required an order number. The trouble is I had never received one.


So I emailed Bell. Days later I received an email that told me I had emailed them twice (shame on me) and reminded me about all their great online features. Only it did not answer my question: where is my phone?


So I called the number listed on the web site. After many minutes listening to canned music and being transferred, a nice young man told me  he could not track my order because it had been done on the internet. He was sending the online folks a note and they should get back to me. I thanked him for not helping me.


When I have technology problems, I often blame myself. Queasy pit of the stomach feeling. A sprinkling of sweat. Temple tom tom. Gender, age and self-esteem issues no doubt. So I figured I had made a mistaken in ordering and would simply have to order again.



But the next day, I got an email, saying the phone was out of stock, on back order. Why had they not told me before? Maybe a phonebot tried my dead cell phone, but not the landline or email address I had so obediently entered into my account profile.


My spirits lifted that evening when I spied the coveted phone at a Bell kiosk at my local shopping centre. The trouble was, they couldn’t sell it to me on my existing plan. Try a corporate store, kiosk guy suggested.


So I did, the next day. Although the store had plenty of the phones, they couldn’t sell one to me until I cancelled my order, which they couldn’t do. The yawning sales person suggested I do that by telephone, but she did not know the number and did not offer to help.


Back at the office, I called the main number on the site for Bell Mobility. The pleasant agent said she could not help me without the order number. I again sifted through my email, even the deletes. Not there. She confided that she had spoken with many other people who had the same problem. Perhaps the order number email had gone astray. Only she couldn’t blame my internet service provider, because it’s Bell.


So I sent an email with the information the pleasant agent suggested to the address she suggested. This morning I received a reply, saying it was the wrong address, but they would forward it to the right one and get back to me in 72 hours. Sigh.


Some of you are probably asking why I don’t just switch to Rogers, Bell’s main competitor here in Canada. Even after this hassle, the fact is I hate Rogers more.


Several years ago, I used Rogers for internet services and it kept going down, for days at a time, which is a real problem if that’s how you conduct much of your business. Sometimes they’d make me drive my modem up to some obscure suburban location, so they could check it and tell me there was nothing wrong.


Other times they would tell me to call the TV cable department and lie, pretend my cable wasn’t working. A few days later, usually after the eight-hour service window I’d been assigned, a cable guy would come out and jiggle something and it would work again.


I still hold a grudge. And now I also despise those Rogers telemarketers who seem to call me several times a day. I’m convinced that switching would only encourage them.


I could try other competitors, but I have this great long-distance plan, vital to my business, that I would lose if I change anything in my service bundle, or so I was told by my last account rep. Besides, I like these reps, who call every now and then and make practical suggestions without any sales pressure. If I knew who my rep is now– they keep changing—I would call and he or she would be there for me.


If upgrading my phone is this difficult, I’m filled with terror about trying to cancel my contracts and account. What’s more, my heart is heavy. Bell is like a long-time boyfriend. I’ve had a few flings with other guys, but had worse experiences and ultimately returned. But finally, divorce is starting to look good.


This reminds me of the old days, when Bell was in the phone business only, when I had to go to the Bell store, not over the telephone, to change my service when I moved.


It also reminds me of Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine the phone operator on Laugh In. Today that character would be combine Ernestine’s officious nature with the hollow cheer of a robot and a polite yet unhelpful Indian call centre rep, who cannot communicate with the other Bell mutants.


Then there’s Stephen Leacock story about the frustration of trying to open a bank account. This must be some universal experience lesson that I should learn. Enlightenment, maybe later. For now, I’m just pissed.


I know that big companies like Bell trawl the blogosphere. Bell, if your bots find me, please tell my account rep to get in touch and solve my problem, including canceling my charges for the time I have been without a cell phone. A few perks for all this hassle would also be appreciated.


You can even write an apology feedback. Of course all those other people who feel like me about Bell can write too.