Wednesday, February 15, 2012

All Together Now: WHAT ABOUT THE FEES?!

A clever chap’s blog just fired me up. Andy T. Le Peau, associate publisher for editorial at InterVarsity Press, posted a tongue-in-cheek speculation as to how it might look if publishers “look to the airline industry for inspiration.” Since I’m an author and a traveler, his topic nabbed my attention. Odds are you’re a reader with an astute business head, so please take a moment right here and now to read his thoughts before you move forward. His post is short.

[Pause, you're reading ... and, YOU'RE BACK!]

Oh, boy, Mr. LePeau, and AMEN!  I sure do resonate with the preposterousness of it all.

For instance, some book stores don’t allow exchanges, but they will issue store credit for a returned book, barring a few circumstances. Otherwise someone could buy a book, take it home, read it, bring it back and exchange it for another one. (Local book store as lending library. It happens.) But when they do offer an exchange or store credit, how nuts would they be to charge a fee for that type of service? If they did, who’d shop at their store, ever again? Whereas with the airlines, you don’t want to sneakily use the seat you need to exchange. You just want … a different one. Something better for your circumstances, or your body. Yet, the airlines charge a service fee PLUS the upcharge, and we shell out. And fly them again and again. [Southwest Airlines, I do believe you are among the teensy few who still treat passengers with respect, charging only for the difference in current fares at the time of the exchange, even if a live person helps. I seal your mention with a big kiss! ] 

Whether we're talking about an exchanged book or an airline seat, the “product” we leave behind can and likely will be resold to another chap or chapette. It’s not like we consumed it.

Yes, I understand there is employee time involved in scheduling changes. Someone has to pay said employee to do these things. Although shipping and handling fees on Internet and catalog purchases are annoying and sometimes exorbitant, it does take manpower to accomplish the task. People need to earn a living. 

But in the end, doesn't that still circle back to us? We’re often the ones facilitating such online changes. At the very least, airlines could consider our time a fair exchange (pay us instead of themselves), which might look something like this: airlines trade at least one of their scurrilousness surcharges for the time we spend buying upgrades or making our own scheduling adjustments. I'm sure someone could invent a handy app for that.

You know, I feel suddenly compelled to do some tricky math involving OUR TIME: We pay for the seat, the difference in fares if we change the seat, do all the work AND pay an additional   fee for the privilege to give the airlines even more money for the more expensive seat, perhaps even the seat we already earned with hard earned airlines miles?

Okay, now I’m mad.

This past weekend, I watched an awe inspiring segment, video here, on the CBS Sunday Morning Show about the digital revolution. It included an interview with the vibrant Molly Katchpole, the young woman who posted the original effort to revolt against banks (read Bank of America, the first villain) inexplicably deciding to charge us fees to access our own money. (Note, when the banks tried to charge us the way the airlines do, a revolt ignited!) The CBS segment highlighted and affirmed the power we wield when we turn our collective efforts toward determination.

So, is there no way we can put a stop to these blood sucking airline fees?

Seriously, imagine what would happen if the publishing industry—if any industry (keep the banking industry in mind here, aside, of course, from Freddie and Fannie and … the imagination can only stretch so far)—followed the airlines’ lead by so dishonoring its customers. What say ye, road warriors? Is there something we can do to launch change, rather than continue counting on the government or the airlines themselves to stop the insanity? What do you think?

Or are we just doomed to suck it up and pay, no matter how dumb it looks when we see such a comparison lined out by someone in the publishing business.

I think I need a stress tab now. Thanks for that, Mr. Le Peau! :)

In the process of full disclosure, I know Mr. Le Peau. He's a really smart and likable guy. I published my first book with InterVarsity Press, way back in 1991. DON'T MISS YOUR KIDS, they'll be gone before you know it. It is (subliminal message) still in print and available through InterVarsity Press and via other resources. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

When Small Things Matter (or should they?)

Last week, we purchased a new car for hubby. Well, new to us. It had 15,000 miles on it, which put the make, model and year we at long last narrowed our choices down to, in a range we could afford. We felt good about the deal. 

Today, I'll spare you most of the sordid shopping details, aside from the One Thing I really want to talk about, which I shall do later. Suffice it to say that on numerous occasions, our (hubby and I together, to use the word loosely) car buying experiences have been so horrendous, and so funny (in hindsight), that I've sold several stories about the hysterics and drama, the wars and compromises, the song that might best be titled I Left My Spouse at the Car Dealer Blues. If one of us likes it, the other doesn't. Exasperating is the word that comes to mind. I'm told couples can relate.

Having said all of that, we drove happily home in a 2011 Toyota Avalon Limited. (Factoid: the average age buyer for the Avalon is 64.) For two people who qualify for all senior discounts, not just some, we found the Sizzling Crimson Mica color quite exotic. It goes well with our cement driveway and the earrings I wore the day we signed the papers. Su-weet!

We traded in George's 2001 Buick LeSabre with 122,000+ miles. He loved that car; it served us well. My car, a 2003 Lexus RX300, has nearly 120,000 miles on it. We bought it used in 2003 with 5000 miles. I'm still in a love affair with my black comfy beauty. Both the LeSabre and the Lexus ran well, but we decided it was just time to up one, especially since we have a couple long trips in front of us, so we picked the oldest vehicle for our farewells.

I'm sure the Avalon's tricked out Navigation System will come in handy since we love to travel back roads. We adore the hands'-free functions, as well as the bazillion other fancy things the car offers, including reclining back seats and a back-up camera. It's HUGELY roomy. Whatever you need, we have a button for that. As soon as we figure them out and stop turning on our windshield wipers instead, life will be grand. The Avalon's ride is amazing. Street noise is missing. (Nice!) The same day we picked it up, we drove to Minnesota and averaged nearly 31 miles per gallon. YES!

But none of that is what I really want to talk about today. When we were signing the papers—literally—something struck in my craw, and I can't seem to get over it. Perhaps it's because I'm a seasoned traveler. But before I deliver the craw-sticker, let us recap: we dropped a bucketload of money on a new-to-us car, purchased at a Toyota dealer so large, it has access to a test track. (Yes, we used it. Perhaps I'll post about that another time.) Their service department waiting area is pleasant and well lit; the ladies' room is regal. The ginormous overall facility is spotless. But when we went to sign the papers, back in the secret bowels of the building, the gentleman handed us each a very familiar ballpoint pen with Hilton HHonors  printed on it. One was slightly chewed and missing the cap clip.

"Seriously? These are the pens you give people to sign contracts?" I said this out loud, volume slightly up, without a trace of humor in my voice because I felt none. I didn't sound angry, mind you, but … serious.

"Hey, they were free," the guy said with a smile, thinking this was all in good fun.

"This is pretty tacky." Again, no smile from me. "It's just wrong to hand these to your Toyota buying customers."

"What kind of pen do you want?" he asked, now sounding confused, perhaps slightly offended himself, which I'm sure I sounded by now.

"One that doesn't say Hilton HHnors™  on it. Maybe one that says Toyota and includes your dealer name?" I refrained from adding, One that hasn't been chewed.

"Those disappear," the guy said.

"You mean the same way these pens disappeared from your hotel room? They're advertising. They're supposed to disappear."

By now, the guy figured out I was not kidding, about any of this. He commandeered the Hilton pens and swapped them out for what he called the "plain Bic pens with no character."

"Good," I said. "That's much better." At last, I smiled.

For the record, I am a proud Hilton HHonors™  member, and likely already have a bunch of said pens here and there and everywhere in my travel bags. And my husband and I didn't keep the plain Bic pens, which we weren't offered to keep anyway. To be honest, I don't need another pen and likely wouldn't have taken it unless the person handing us the pens would have said, "By the way, keep the pen, maybe in your car. It has our phone number on it in case you ever need to call."

Since this episode, my husband has brought up the topic with every friend we've visited. "And she didn't have a trace of humor in her voice," he says. "She wasn't kidding." I can never decide whether he's more amazed by the Hilton pens, or my strong objection to them.

(Pause two minutes here while I ask. I can't believe I haven't asked before this!)

I called a quick kitchen-table meeting and made my query. George's response, "I was surprised this bothered you so much. I mean, I'll admit it was strange to be handed Hilton pens, and you could have mentioned it. But maybe you didn't need to sound so … demeaning about it."

In all honesty, since he said that, I feel a little embarrassed. It was surely not my intent to demean the guy! Talk about tacky and disrespectful, Charlene! But I did want to make a point: in business, small things matter. Toyota makes a good product. The sales' team (and of course their managers) had worked hard to give us a quality experience and seal the deal. Why ruin it with a final tacky action? Come to think of it, I guess it felt kind of demeaning, to use George's word of the day, to be handed some guy's chewed pen from one of his hotel rooms, a feeling which is perhaps what set me off. I mean, go ahead, collect the hotel room pens, dude. Just don't hand them to your Toyota customers.

But now, I'm curious: am I the odd one here? Barring my apparently insensitive response to the guy's tacky chewed pen offering (okay, it still grinds me), what do you think? Should this kind of traveling business detail matter? Say if American Airlines handed you a pen with Fairfield Inn and Suites printed on it to sign your credit card purchase for first-class tickets, would you even take notice?

Please weigh in with a comment. Help save a marriage. (Just kidding. Seriously.)