Archive for ‘Writing’

April 13, 2010

Underpromise? OK. Underwhelm? Not So Good.

One of my children recently developed appendicitis. The surgery went smoothly and the recovery was uneventful, but I will never return to that hospital again.

As we waited in our cubicle in the emergency room, I killed time by reading anything I could see from my seat. The emergency evacuation procedures. The hand washing instructions. The packaging for the latex gloves. And the framed customer service pledge posted underneath the TV. It read:

We strive to give you very good service.

Really? Just very good? I was shocked. In ANY customer service setting, but none more so than a hospital, I should think the goal would be excellent. To be told that the people caring for my acutely ill child are only shooting for “very good” was very disconcerting.

We’ve all heard the adage,  “Underpromise. Overdeliver.” It’s good business sense. You don’t want to set unrealistic expectations for your customers if you know you are only going to disappoint them; however, you also need to be careful that you don’t undermine your own reputation by setting your standards too low. If you don’t sound confident in your product and services and staff, how is that going to influence potential customers?

I’m guessing there was some legal team involved in the wording of that sign in the ER room, but I would hope that the HR and Marketing departments would have pushed back a little bit. From a marketing stand point, if you tell your customers that you aren’t even going to try for excellence, why wouldn’t they go looking for someone who will? And from an HR standpoint, if you have your employees working around that kind of motto, how much incentive do they have to do their best?

“Strive” and “very good” don’t go together. I wonder how much damage those poorly chosen words have done to that hospital’s brand–their reputation.

June 10, 2009

The Devil’s in the Details

Yesterday morning I attended a networking breakfast for small business owners. The speaker was good and I made a few promising connections, but I was left with a bad taste in my mouth . . . and it wasn’t because of the meal.

As I perused the brochures and other materials displayed on the exhibit tables, I was struck by the number of times I very quickly found inconsistencies in their content. I’ll highlight just one example.

At the table for a well-known health tonic, which I’ll call DrinkME, the product name was written three different ways in two different mediums. On the tabletop display, it was written as DrinkME—their proper, trademarked style. However, in their pamphlet, it was written as Drink ME and also Drink Me.

When I mentioned it to the sales rep, her response was, “Oh, well, you’re a writer. You’re probably the only one who would notice that.”

Hmmm . . .

Now, maybe she was right. Maybe I was the only person there that noticed, but consider for a moment how this “DrinkME, Drink ME, Drink Me” conflict affected me:

While the DrinkME rep enthusiastically shared facts about her product—the specific percentages of the key ingredients, global environment changes affecting our access to nutrients—I found myself feeling quite skeptical. I listened politely, but in my mind I was questioning not only the accuracy of her claims, but also the trustworthiness of the entire franchise.

Why? Because her flippant response to the inconsistent presentation of her product’s name—along with the fact that the inconsistency was present at all—hurt her credibility and left me with a poor overall impression of the DrinkME organization.

Remember, the devil’s in the details. When the details of your marketing materials are inconsistent, it’s a big deal. It’s unprofessional and could be damaging to your brand and your business.

April 9, 2009

Public Proofreading: Compulsion or Compassion?

It’s happened again. That uncontrollable urge to unsheathe my red pen. My daughter brought home a letter from her karate instructor inviting her to join the Black Belt class. I was thrilled. I was proud. And then, I was editing.

The spacing between sentences was inconsistent. A word was missing in one sentence. There was an incorrectly hyphenated word in another. I was just going to let it go, but then, there it was, the infraction that I just couldn’t overlook. An its that should have been an it’s. By the time I was done, I’d left over a dozen marks on a one-page letter. My husband didn’t want me to give it to the karate teacher. You see, he wants to be in the Black Belt class, too, and doesn’t want my pushy proofreading ways to hurt his chances.

My husband—like many other non-writers—does not understand my compulsion. Why must I point to the menu and tell the waiter that flatiron (as in the steak) should be one word, not two. Why do I beg baristas to change chocalate to chocolate on their chalkboard? Why would an otherwise sane person run a red felt tip marker through the alot printed on a sign dangling by the soda dispenser at a convenience store in Yuma, in front of the children no less?

He thinks what I’m doing is crazy. No, I tell him, what I’m doing is correcting—and it’s for the greater good. It takes a village to maintain the standards of proper grammar, punctuation, and spelling. It’s compassion, not compulsion, which drives me to point out these errors.

Yes, public proofreading is an unsolicited act of kindness, albeit one that may elicit a twinge of shame if you’re on the receiving end . . . like when someone tells you your zipper’s down or that you have a piece of toilet paper stuck to your shoe. You blush, but you’re glad they told you.