Thursday, April 26, 2007

What is good service?

A long long time ago, in a kingdom far far away... well, anyway, in one of my previous jobs I dabbled in marketing and read marketing magazines (yes, so long ago that they were real paper magazines). Years later, I remember only one article (telling, isn’t it), about what makes good service.

In a research exercise, the authors of the article asked conference attendants what makes a good tea break in terms of service. The attendants listed the following:
· A variety of tea bags, including green, jasmine, herbal
· Freshly brewed coffee, preferably a choice of espresso, cappuccino, etc.
· Access to free telephone calls and a messaging service (as I said, this was a long time ago, in the pre- cell phone era)
· Smiling helpful conscientious staff
· Thick paper napkins
· Thin china cups
· Home-baked muffins and pastries
· ... and other luxuries.

Then the authors asked the tea-serving staff at the conference facilities what they considered good morning tea service. Their answers? See for yourself:
· Clean cups
· Hot water for tea must be really hot
· Clean tablecloths
· Tea served on time
· No flies.

What? No flies? No flies? And clean cups? Isn’t it so elementary that it doesn’t need to be mentioned?

Evidently not. Everywhere I go, I see examples of people delivering a service that leaves a lot to be desired: from insensitive airport staff to uncaring salespeople. For example, I bought a waterproof jacket at The Warehouse today. As I passed security, my bag beeped. I went back in, where a bored member of the staff gave my jacket a cursory glance before waving me through. “But won’t it beep again next time I come into the shop wearing the jacket?” I asked. She shrugged. I went back home, located the security tag and failed to detach it. So now I’ll have to waste more time going back to the shop, proving that I’ve already paid for the jacket and getting them to untag it. Grrr!

Fortunately, I also encounter (rarer) examples of great service. Imagine a panel-beating shop that not only gives you a courtesy car with a requested anchor point for a child car seat, but also returns your repaired car with a spotlessly vacuumed and dusted interior. I kid you not, and you can call http://www.birkdalepanel.co.nz/ if you don’t believe me.

I’ve just read somewhere else that if you like a service, you tell 3 people. If you don’t like it, you tell 33 people. Makes you think, no?

Do you have a favourite gripe or words of praise? Let’s hear them.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

George and Sam



First, two pieces of information about me:
· I hardly ever read non-fiction (give me stories above facts any day).
· I don’t like reading about depressing things, particularly not in reference to children.

And yet from the moment I saw an excerpt from “George and Sam” by Charlotte Moore - a collection of columns about her two autistic sons - I couldn’t wait to lay my hands on the book.

What could be (and probably is) a gloomy tale indeed, turns under Charlotte Moore’s touch into fascinating and humorous reading. I would have called it a light read because of the author’s style, except that the issues she discusses are serious: what it’s like to believe your child a genius only to be told he is autistic, living with someone who has a two-year old mentality in a teenager’s body, inadequacy of resources, the strength of parental love.

This is not a book about autism: it's a book about one very special and courageous family. The message of the book is simple: “Having an autistic child will always be a challenge; it does not need to be a tragedy.”

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Trash, Global Warming and the Brummets

Today we meet two unusual people: Dave and Lillian Brummet. Between the two of them, they are writers, poets, photographers and book reviewers. Their work has appeared in a variety of publications around the globe.

1. You share a surname and a website. Do you co-author books?

Dave and I met and married 17 years ago in Kelowna, BC – the southwestern province of Canada, located just North of the US State of Washington. We embarked on a freelance writing career in 1998, and began publishing our column “Trash Talk” in 1999. This column continued to the end of 2006 – a seven-year run. We also write articles dealing with gardening, yard, pets and outdoor adventures. Dave is the editor, proofreader, photographer, graphic and website half of our co-writing relationship. While I do the research, data entry (typing), office work and most of the marketing. We work very well as a team for live marketing endeavors from interviews to book events – with Dave being the speaker while I am the assistant, events go quite smoothly.

2. What types of books do you write?

We began our writing career soon after several life-changing incidents (including a fairly severe car accident I was involved in) that had us questioning the worth of our lives and the legacy we were leaving behind. Now when I say “legacy” I don’t mean having our name in print. What I mean is the impact our lives have had and the value of the work we do. We had several heart to heart discussions about what we wanted to do with our lives. I knew that with the injuries received from the car accident, I was not able to continue to run my business and having a full-time job elsewhere was not looking like a possibility due to chronic pain issues. We began taking a writing course that helped us learn the process of querying and our writing career went on from there.
We have written and published three non-fiction books to date: Trash Talk (2004), Towards Understanding (2005) and Purple Snowflake Marketing (June 30, 2007). The types of books we chose to write were based on several things: We recognized a real need for the information, the books were a way for us to show support for things we believe in (i.e. environment), and the subjects are ones we are both knowledgeable and passionate about.
Trash Talk – An Inspirational Guide To Saving Time & Money Through Better Waste & Resource Management, for instance, embarks on frugal and conscious living techniques for the individual concerned with the overwhelming volume of waste produced in society. Trash Talk is written to empower people to feel more positive about their worth in a hectic, expensive, environmentally stressed world. We make our point, not by pointing fingers at corporations and governments, but by showing readers they can make a real and measurable difference starting in their own homes, at their own desks. The cover design was conceived by Dave and created by Brian McAndrew of Beyond Graphix. Dave also created the diagrams and drawings in Trash Talk’s pages.

Towards Understanding – A Collection of 120 Poems brings awareness to the healing process abused children go through as they grow into themselves and find a purpose in life. This book is a collection of my poetry, written in chronological order and reveals experimentation with different writing styles and altering rhythms. The cover for this book uses Dave’s photograph of me during one of our vacations.

3. Sell me your upcoming book.

Our most recent project is an e-book entitled Purple Snowflake Marketing - How To Make Your Book Stand Out In A Crowd. The e-book is a reference guide for self-marketing authors who want to get noticed in a crowd. With well over 500 direct links to resources, a holiday/event calendar and images of sample promotion materials, this e-book offers a way for authors to design an effective marketing plan and utilize frugal promotional tools with the click of their mouse. Again, Dave’s photography will be used for the cover of this book. The expected release date for Purple Snowflake Marketing - How To Make Your Book Stand Out In A Crowd is June 30, 2007 (Twilight Times).

4. "How To Make Your Book Stand Out In A Crowd" - yes, I'll buy a copy. Now, to come back to "Trash Talk" for a moment: why the whole reusing and trash theme?

You have struck on our passion – a subject we can rarely speak enough about is reducing waste. Initially, I began writing the Trash Talk column soon after having several discussions with one of my old clients. You see; my cleaning business served the upper middle class. And one of these clients was also a friend of mine. She confided in me that she was afraid to be seen in second hand stores by her peers as she thought they may consider her a scrooge – you know: here is someone who can afford to buy anything she wants, and chooses to by a second hand Halloween Costume for the kids. She certainly didn’t want to be seen taking in returnable items (bottles/cans). Ironically, within a year of that conversation the city began Blue Box (recycling) pick up at the curb. As soon as this happened her neighbors were scrambling to get their box to the curb as it was seen as the thing to do. I realized then that we needed to get across to people that you don’t have to be poor to consider waste reduction. That reuse and reduce is not about false pride or ego – it is about the legacy we leave behind.
So few of us understand the value our daily actions have and the impact we can make on the world. In fact studies show that a large percentage of the population is depressed and consumed with feelings of inadequacy, yet 66% of us would become more proactive if we knew our actions had a measurable impact. Psychologists have long known that simply performing one small proactive step will aid in defining a positive outlook on life and will inspire further participation from the individual. As well, our financial advisor once told us that if individuals could set aside just seven dollars per day they would have enough to invest towards their retirement.
In our book, Trash Talk, we address all of these issues. We show the real and measurable impact of every single action suggested in the book. We list the fiscal value and money saved by the ideas in our book.

5. I used to live in South Africa, thus my next question. I see that one of your prizes is a poetry collection published in South Africa. What's the connection?

As a book reviewer for over 3 years, I am exposed to many different publishers, agents, publicists, authors and organizations. One of these organizations that I have worked with recently is called Whisper of Hope Poetry Club, which supports literacy in South Africa and encourages writers to express themselves with freedom, conviction and honesty. My connection with them began just a few months ago with their newsletter when included an article about our second book, Towards Understanding. They published a few of the poems from the book as well in this newsletter. Just recently, I completed a book review for one of their anthologies. I enjoy supporting literacy groups like these. In fact, as a book reviewer I also support the local literacy group “Boundary Family Read, Columbia Basin Alliance For Literacy” and the “Women's Support Center” by donating the books I have reviewed.
Anyway, Whisper of Hope Poetry Club has decided to donate several copies of their first anthology to the draw for prizes that we are offering listeners to the Earth Day Special – a 2-hour online talk radio show that Dave and I are hosting on April 22nd. We will be interviewing 8 guests and discussing the various ways the individual can make a real and measurable difference for the environment, themselves and their communities. The show airs at http://internetvoicesradio.com and will be archived on this site indefinitely, so listeners can visit at their leisure.
Coincidentally, the subjects that we focus on in our work has a global audience, and we have been supported by publications in Africa, the UK, the US and Canada over the years.

6. Do you think we're undergoing a climate change? If so, which theory to you subscribe to as far as the cause goes? What can be done, or is it too late?

There is no doubt that our planet has undergone some huge and drastic changes in the past. Science tells us we are in the beginning stages of another change. While there is controversy over the cause of this change, there is no doubt that mankind contributes to it. Science proves this fact. There is also no doubt that we can reduce our contributions dramatically.
One cannot change those who refuse to listen to reason, nor can we open the minds of those who are unable to learn new things. All that people can do is look after our own back yards, live consciously and embrace the opportunity to make a difference, no matter how small, where we can. Individuals can choose to live by example and do their best to explain things in a friendly light-hearted manor when possible. For us, because we are writers, we are able to take this effort one step further by educating with articles, websites and our books.
We are very positive and hopeful about the world today. We can see the positive changes all around us. By focusing on these changes and looking for things the individual can do starting right where they are now – we can all accelerate the positive change we would like to see. Did you know that simply by recycling and composting alone, individuals could reduce their contributions to the landfill by as much as 60%? Imagine the impact this can have if only a few people embraced these activities! A study done by National Polymers Inc. discovered that a 100-unit apartment building could save 21.93 30-foot trees, 8,389 kilowatts of electricity, 26.86 cubic yards of landfill space and 77.4 lbs of air pollution – simply by recycling and composting waste rather than sending it to the landfill.
Perhaps there is the illusion that the incentive and passion for the planet has dwindled but that is definitely not the case. Look at the public school programs that teach our children about recycling, waste, manufacturing processes, and global warming... we did not have any of this information in schools before. Take a look around your own community and witness the growing number of groups and individuals participating in clean up events or just picking up garbage during their walks. How many groups and organizations that work to aid the environment are based in your region? One look around the internet will provide information about thousands of groups, organizations and individuals involved in bettering the environment every day - as well as those that host and promote Earth Day events. Also manufactures are now creating earth-friendly products and are using social marketing (a new coined term for doing good things for the community) to survive today's discerning and educated consumer.

7. Which one would you save from extinction: a whale, a cat, an orangutan?

Well, honestly I would endeavor to save them all if I could. I do not differentiate between one species being greater or lesser value than man or any other species. Each has a distinct value, and therefore, each one is very necessary. I am one of those folks that cannot walk into a pet store or into an SPCA – I’d bring them all home with me. You may laugh, but my husband is nodding vehemently beside me. All our “pets”, or family members, are rescued animals: right now, we have two (indoor) spade female cats and one neutered male dog. They bring us hours of joy, exercise and laughter every single day. Rather than taking in more family members, we have opted to occasionally donate items or time to the local animal rescue center (SPCA).

8. Favorite book (other than your own and each other's).

Dave and I have never been able to pick just one favorite book when asked this question. If we absolutely had to pick one book that stood out for us throughout our life – this would be “Shibumi”, an outstanding epic novel. Two recently released books that we both absolutely loved are “Shadow of an Indian Star” and “Second Eden”. Self-help, non-fiction book released about three years ago entitled “Second Innocence” is exceptional. “Lucifer’s Hammer”, “Let The Drum Speak”, “On Stranger Tides”, “The Sea Of Trolls” are other favorites that come to mind. Tolkien and Agatha Christi are some of our favorite classic authors. As a writer, my favorite self-help book is “Pumping Your Muse”, by Donna Sundblad. These are just a few names and titles off the top of our heads, but really, we love so many books! We are both voracious readers and as reviewers we take on a minimum of 110 book review projects annually.

9. Where would you go on holiday, if money and time were no object?

If time and money were not an issue, we would likely stay right here in BC. Perhaps it sounds a bit corny to say we don’t have a desire to travel to distant lands – but really, there is just so much right here to explore. We love all the seasons, each bringing its own beauty and each season has something to enjoy from hiking to snowshoeing. In fact, every holiday we have taken has been spent touring our province. With unlimited finances, we would likely get a small, efficient motor home and visit all the wilderness areas we could.

Announcement:
Don't miss the Earth Day Special online radio talk show on April 22nd at http://internetvoicesradio.com hosted by authors Dave and Lillian Brummet (http://www.sunshinecable.com/~drumit).

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Melody Knight

Today, we're chatting to author Melody Knight who writes "romance with a difference". You can find her on http://www.melodyknight.com/.

Melody, please tell us about your latest release, "In Trysts".

"In Trysts" is about Camellia Mackintosh, who has worked for years to reinstate women to wealthy family trees. Their antecedents who were ignored, overlooked, or deliberately ousted from these powerful families. By virtue of careful research, and illegal hacking into corporate files, Camellia builds an inarguable case for them. She's helped a dozen women so far, but what draws in political consternation is the way her "work" upsets both corporate and political concerns. A spy, Jake Hastings, is set on her trail, only to find that Camellia has selected a descendant from his family for her next "restoration". The two clash, in all ways.

I've just finished the sequel, "In Flames". Marco is Jake's spy partner, and Sophie is one of the women she's helped. The two stir flames while attempting to deal with mysterious fiery assaults on Sophie's life.


What made you decide to write a spy story?

I've written quite a few spy stories, beginning with "Light Play". There's something about the relative freedom of being a spy, combined with the opportunity for intrigue, mystery, and of course, gadgetry, which fascinates me. It also offers the potential to bring in some of the latest scientific discoveries without boring your readers to tears. Put them in the context of a thriller, and you have non-stop action.


Tell me about the spy you once knew.

My Light Play Trilogy actually brought my work to the attention of a former spy. He contacted me, and was a content reader for me through the Light Play books, the Grave Images series, and some of my Trees Series novels. We lost touch three or four years ago when my computer died and my address book was lost. He was connected with weaponry experts, and he consulted with me regarding how to blow up coffins and such in my books. Given the anti-terrorist climate at the time, I didn't think it would be exactly "propitious" for him to have me continue consulting him on spy and weapons matters, so now I consult a Yahoo list, instead. Have to say I miss his jokes and input—he and his wife were really nice people.


What did he say about the book?

I don't know whether he's seen "In Trysts", because I wrote it under a pseudonym (Melody Knight). My other work was as N. D. Hansen-Hill (www.ndhansen-hill.com).



Any tips for writers trying to make it big?

Tips for writers? Yes: keep writing. Submit to larger publishers, but if rejected, review and rewrite, then submit to some of the independents. If you're published by independents, keep work in front of them as much as possible. The most successful "small time" writers I know are doing well financially because they have so much work out there, and people are actively seeking their books. They've created a readership, and expand it all the time. Write, write, write!