Thursday, May 28, 2009

Doing What You Say You Will

As our economy deteriorated, I posited that one factor might be poor customer service. Shoppers are likely to spend less money at and might stop patronizing businesses that provide unsatisfactory assistance. (You'd think vendors would ensure that their employees were well-trained, especially in these difficult times when customer rentention is even more essential.)

IMO a related problem that's frustrating and inhibiting consumers is people who don't do what they say they will. I just hired a name brand cleaning service to do a move out clean, and specifically requested that they wipe down the kitchen cabinets. But visible fingerprints remain, plus you can clearly see swoop marks where they stopped wiping 6 inches from the top of the doors. And it's clear they didn't even touch the inside of the freezer. Yuck.

Because I respected their brand, expected them to do what they said and do it right, I didn't stay and hover over them. Now I have to call and complain. They didn't do good work and I have to pay someone else to clean. Not only will I not hire this company again, I won't recommend them.

Another recent example: a salon offered 20% off certain services. But they charged me the full amount. I wasn't as diligent as usual, being in a pleasant fog from a most relaxing facial, and forgot about the discount. Now I have to call them back to get it. Has it become the consumer's job to remind businesses of their pricing? Or do they hope we won't notice mistakes?

It seems that doing a great job the first time around and providing satisfactory follow up have become the exception, not the norm. Maybe sales and service people don't think they're paid enough to care. Maybe some companies are so huge that bottom-of-the-food-chain employees think what they do doesn't matter. Maybe they're demoralized because their managers don't do what they say they will.

Think how good you feel when a transaction goes smoothly and on time. When it exceeds your expectations. Or when someone makes a mistake, but accepts responsibility and goes out of his way to compensate.

Perhaps this is a "pay it forward" issue. If I do what I say I will, then you will, then he will...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Roller Coaster Audition Thoughts

My cell rings. Caller ID tells me it's one of my talent agencies.

Yes. Always get a little zap of excitement when I see a talent agent on caller ID. So many possibilities. Could they be calling to say I booked the DVD job?

No. They're calling about a TV commercial that will shoot out of town on dates I am available. Good. The audition is at one of Chicago's big casting directors. Very nice, would be a coup to book something through her. Details to be emailed this afternoon. Ok.

At this point all is well. The day goes on with no info. Now it's 5:15. I have to leave for chorus rehearsal that goes until 8:45. What if they sent info, but left me off the list? What if there's a script to memorize, will I have time? Should I call and find out? No. Yes.

I call and learn they haven't sent the info. It arrives minutes later, when I'm on the bus. I start to read and am caught up in roller coaster thoughts. Because the first thing I see is that the shoot date has the day I'm returning from my NY trip.

Hmm. Wouldn't you know, I leave town and the chance of a good job pops up, just like when I went to Puerto Rico. Could I make it to the location AND see Billy Elliot? Unlikely. I really want to see that show. Would the friend I'm going with find someone to use my ticket? How much would it cost to change my flight?

I keep reading. The spot is MOS, which means without sound, so I won't have to worry about sounding real/believable.

Nice. I'm working on sounding real and a VO friend thinks I'm doing much better--for VO at least--but this casting director has told me before to sound more believable.

I''m supposed to be a grandma in her 50s. Hmm. Do I look like a grandma, do I look like I'm in my 50s? Usually people think I'm in my late 30s. But I know agents/casting directors don't have time to waste sending/seeing people they don't want, so there's a reason I'm on the list. Or DO I look like I'm a grandma in my 50s? Hmmm.

The pay is great, and there's additional money for print. Yes. I would really like to book this. I wish I looked like I was in my 50s. No, I don't.

Do I overthink, or is this the thought process other actors go through? I'll find out. Stay tuned...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Domain Debacle

Don't let what happened to me happen to you.

A week or so ago, the VO friend giving me private coaching wanted to listen to one of my demos again. He went to But my demos wouldn't play, though he could download them. I emailed my Web site designer. She had trouble accessing the files and couldn't figure out what was wrong. She suggested I call GoDaddy, who hosts my site.

Lo and behold: my domain name had expired. My fault: GoDaddy didn't have a current email address so I didn't get expiration notices. It never occurred to me to check myself.

My site wasn't working right because a guy named Andrey in St. Petersburg, Russia had snatched up for 3 years. Apparently bottom feeders like him lurk on the Internet, waiting for domain names to expire and then buying them...not to use themselves but hoping the original owners will buy them back. This is legal, though I and everyone I've told think there's something slightly distasteful/unpleasant about it. remained semi-functional, I learned after a lot of time on the phone with customer service, because he somehow hijacked my content (no one I talked to knew how that could happen). Apparently this is illegal, a copyright law violation. And he inserted odd little tidbits like "Russian company Vodohod organizes russia cruises to see all the sights of Ribinsk," "We better bus charters good for you " and "Wedding dresses London look here" on some of the pages.

What to do? Change the domain I'd used for three years, to deprive Andrey of the satisfaction of me buying it back? Or purchase another domain name? Many voiceover talents use, or But isn't available. And I like ruthtalks because it covers more than VO; I also do on camera work and give writing and voiceover business workshops.

I decided to use GoDaddy's Domain Buy service ($59.99 + a 10% commission) instead of having to contact Andrey (who I've since learned doesn't speak much English) directly. This is the process: GoDaddy appraises the value of the domain name. Then the buyer sets an opening bid and maximum bid. GoDaddy deals with the seller while the buyer waits. A very helpful customer service guy handled the transaction, using Google Translate to communicate with Andrey.

I hemmed and hawed over how much I was willing to pay and guessing how much Andrey would accept, assuming he was willing to sell. Fortunately I succeeded in buying my domain back, and for less then my maximum bid and far less than the GoDaddy appraised value of my site. Take that, Andrey.

But my simple oversight of not ensuring that GoDaddy had a current email address cost me hours on the phone with customer service; $215 dollars; and initial shock, frustration, and the uncomfortable sensation of somehow being violated, though I know this was just business.

If you have a domain name you want to keep, make sure you--not your designer or anyone else--owns your domain name. Make sure you know when it will expire, or set up auto renewal. Don't let Andrey in Russia or anyone else snatch your domain.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

New York, New York?

When was the last time you considered moving to another city?

Faithful readers know I'm at a writing crossroads, wondering if I should continue to pursue publication. Wondering if it's still a question of the right manuscript on the right desk at the right time, or if I should find another way to stay involved with writing. I've often thought about working as an editor at a publishing house or getting a job at a literary agency. I subscribe to the Publisher's Lunch e-newlestter and have looked wistfully at some of the jobs posted. I've never applied for any...because almost all of these jobs are in New York.

Meanwhile, authors I critique for can't say enough great things about how helpful my comments multi-published, award-winning author recently told her editor that I make her books much better. Several authors suggest ad nauseum that I'd be a great literary agent because of my legal background, years of award-winning sales and negotiation experience and knowledge of writing and romance publishing. Could I be a better editor or agent than an author? Hmmm.

The Pros:
--I've lived in Chicago almost all of my life. Maybe it's time for a change.
--I really enjoy editing/critiquing, finding problem areas and offering suggested fixes. The list of published authors I critique for has grown. Maybe it's time to get paid (instead of getting return critiques) for what I do.
--I have friends in the NYC area, so I wouldn't be completely alone.
--The life of a freelancer has upsides, but so does getting a regular paycheck and paid vacation days. I miss those.

The Cons:
--I've visited NYC many times and prefer Chicago, which is what has stopped me from moving ahead (pun intended) with this idea before. NYC is just that much more congested and expensive.
They have Broadway and the Met, but we have fabulous theatre and opera, and these days some musicals and plays headed for Broadway start here (including August: Osage County, and recently Brian Dennehey in Desire Under the Elms. Manhattan is great, but I love Lincoln Park. We don't, however, have anything like The Cloisters!
--Starting over is scary, stressful and a lot of work. It gets harder the older you get because you've put down roots and have established yourself in various communities.
--Moving is a pain, with all the packing and unpacking, the decisions and arrangements to make...would I sell or rent my condo, furnished or unfurnished? What to do with my car and accumulated stuff?
--Here's the biggie: I don't know if I'd enjoy selling/promoting/working on others' books full time instead of my own.

First step: I'm going to NYC for a few days with a friend and have set up informational interviews. I'll get to spend most of a day working with an editor at a major publisher! And, of course, I'll catch a couple of shows.

Passing fancy or probable plan? Stay tuned...