Sunday, July 29, 2012

On copy editing

An unrelated picture of my cat.

Lately, I have been doing some freelance work as a copy editor. [Unrelated Note: D and I were talking recently about the origins of the phrase “freelance.” He was mostly right. See here.] I'm not a content editor; instead, I really only care about the basic tenets of language: grammar, punctuation, spelling. I point out when the author has used the wrong word (since vs. because, there/their/they're, etc.), I delete unnecessary commas, I fix words so that verb tenses are consistent throughout.

I add in semicolons where appropriate. My senior year high school English teacher made the point that using semicolons—correctly—makes you look smarter. And it's true, especially since most people don't know how. Add this to the list of important facts to know about me: I am a big fan of the semicolon.

In reality, most of these issues should have already been caught by the book's normal editor. But sometimes simple errors are overlooked; having a fresh pair of eyes look the material over can mean the difference between writing “bowl of pea soup” instead of “bowel of pea soup.” (Yes, I did see the latter in a published book once. It was a self-published book, but still.)

So here's something that's been sort of bugging me lately. I read a lot of blog posts. I used to be addicted to food blogs. (I still am, to a lesser extent.) Now, after the arrival of Little Bug, I spend a lot of time reading blogs about babies. I read about parenting issues, breastfeeding, politics related to parenting and reproductive rights, pregnancy, and birth stories. (Read mine here!) I read reviews of parenting and/or pregnancy books, editorials on the “mommy wars,” and the arguments for and against controversial topics like vaccinations or circumcision.

I read a lot. When I have time to, anyway; most of my reading is done in the hour or so at night after Little Bug has gone to sleep and before I decide to join him in slumber.

And you know what really gets to me about some of these blogs I read? The fact that many of them obviously haven't been edited beyond the spelling/grammar check that comes built into every word processing program.

Yes, yes, I know—this should not be a big issue. And it isn't. Run-on sentences and incorrectly used words don't take away from the overall message, so long as I can still understand what the writer is trying to say. But they do distract me.

Back when I was in high school, my mama and I would sometimes take a red pen to notices received in the mail, or even the newspaper, and correct any errors we could find in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. (My mama, when she gets to talking about this to others, fondly points out that my favorite thing to edit was the principal's bulletin from the school newsletters.)

Sometimes I'll be reading a blog post and get a similar urge. I want to print some of these posts out and take my red pen to them. Not because I don't respect what the author has to say. Not because I don't understand the post. Simply because bad grammar and punctuation bother me.

So this is just food for thought, I suppose. If you have a blog, you might consider taking a second look at what you write before you post it. Read it over again, keeping an eye out for rogue commas or simple misspellings that your word processor might have overlooked. It might not make a noticeable difference, but I believe it will reflect better on you as a writer.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Rant: Customer service, part one.

When did companies stop caring about good customer service?

It seems like in the past few months, D and I have dealt with a surprising number of companies that just don't seem to understand the concept of good customer service. My biggest complaint by far has been that the representatives we speak with say they'll follow up with us but then never do. When did it become okay to not return phone calls?


When I first moved from California to Illinois, back in May of 2011, I used PODS to transport our household belongings. It seemed like the best option at the time. I had to remove all of our stuff from our house, as we had tenants moving in immediately after I left, and I didn't yet have an apartment in Illinois for our stuff to be sent to.

My experience was great. It was a little pricey, but the box was dropped off at my house on time, picked up once I had it filled, and then delivered to our apartment in Illinois within three days of my move-in. Overall, I was very happy with the service PODS provided.

So when it came time to move to San Diego, again without a dwelling lined up ahead of time, it seemed only natural that we go back to PODS again.

Next time we move, I'll be going with a different moving company.

To start off, due to a minor misunderstanding with the paperwork, we did not receive our container until two days after we were supposed to. (Keep in mind that we only had two weeks total to get our belongings packed and on their way before we, too, were on our way.) Consequently, we had to request that they leave the box there an extra day before pick up; they basically wanted to drop it off one day and pick it up a little over a day later.

After arriving in San Diego and securing a new apartment, we had to wait over a week for our belongings to show up. Our container showed up on a Monday morning, thankfully after D was home from base for the day. Since this was a military move, we had paid extra for PODS to weigh the container, both empty before it was dropped off in Illinois and full before it was delivered to us in San Diego. Thankfully, D thought to ask about the weight ticket before we started unloading; the driver had NOT, in fact, had it weighed, and we had to wait an hour for him to go perform this task.

Our belongings were unloaded without a hitch, by the heroic efforts of D and with a little help from some friends of ours who had moved to California about a month or so before we did.

The issue with the full weight ticket brought up another question: why had we not received an empty weight ticket? Because PODS had not weighed the container in Illinois either, of course! Mind you, this was our first “real” military move together, and the military WOULD NOT reimburse us for the costs of the do-it-yourself move without these weight tickets. D put a call in to PODS to try to rectify this situation. After several calls on his part (because no one bothered to call him back), he found someone who would get a weight ticket put together, and would scan and email it to us. After a few more follow-up calls, D actually received this email.

The weight ticket we received had the date it was made, rather than the date we had received the container. It also was from San Diego, rather than our point of origin in Illinois.

Thankfully, this did not seem to be a problem for the Navy. (Maybe they didn't notice?) We sent it in anyway, since we were running out of time to get our paperwork together, and they came back asking for a different contract but with no questions regarding the weight tickets.

Next time we move, I think we'll try one of PODS' competitors.

Say what?

II. Carmax

In April, after we had received verbal orders for our move but before D had hard copies in his hand, we decided it was time to purchase a new car. Our POS Volvo, bought at a car auction shortly after I arrived in Illinois, had served us well, but there was simply no way it would be able to handle a drive across the country.

As with PODS, D and I had previously had a good experience with buying a car from Carmax. We bought a VW Golf from the Carmax dealership in Roseville, California, a number of years ago. (This car is currently living out a quiet retirement in the possession of one of my besties back up in the Bay Area.) The car worked great; we had no major problems with it so long as D continued to perform the routine maintenance on it. We financed it through Carmax (probably for too high of an interest rate) and paid it off on schedule.

So we thought it seemed like a good idea to look to Carmax for our next purchase. After all, we wanted something reliable that could handle our road trip. Something roomy, since we would be traveling with a baby and a cat. And, my biggest caveat, something with a manual transmission; I hate driving automatic, and after a year of the Volvo with its automatic transmission, I was ready to get back to stick.

Beyond that, I pretty much left the decision to D; after all, he is an ASE master technician, and he certainly knows cars better than I ever want to. He settled on a small SUV, a Mazda Tribute, which we had shipped to the Carmax in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The purchase went off without a hitch. It took a little longer than I might have liked, but we eventually headed home sans Volvo in our shiny new Mazda.

A little under a month later, on the first day of our road trip, the power window regulator went out. For the rest of the trip, I was unable to roll my window down (unless I wanted it all the way down), and we had folded maps jammed into the window frame to keep it closed. After getting settled into our apartment in San Diego, I contacted the Carmax in Kearny Mesa to see about repairs. Naturally, they wouldn't accept my husband's diagnosis of the problem; I had to first take the car in for them to figure it out on their own. (I don't blame them for this. They didn't know D probably knows more about cars than whatever poor tech they assigned to the task.) After a few hours of waiting, the service manager announced that, shockingly, was indeed the power window regulator that was out. No, they did not have the part in stock. It would arrive later that afternoon or on the next business day. Yes, someone would call me once it arrived to schedule a follow-up appointment.

About a week later, after no follow-up call was received, I called back on my own. I was informed that the part had arrived a few days ago. No explanation was offered for why no one had called me. I made the appointment and the part was installed with no further problems. To Carmax's credit, they accepted my explanation of the part being covered under the 30 Day Limited Warranty without question, and they did not try to charge me for any of it.

But this was only one of the problems we had with Carmax. The other concerned the license plate and vehicle registration. When we were originally discussing the purchase with our sales representative, it had been determined that we would transfer the plates from our Volvo to the Mazda. Then for whatever reason, after the paperwork was printed out but before we signed, that decision was changed: we would be receiving new license plates for the Mazda, and would be refunded the $25 transfer fee at some point in the near future. The representative wrote a note on the contract, we were given the old license plates for posterity, and we were told that once Carmax received the new plates they would be sent to us via FedEx.

Fast forward to a week before we left Illinois. No new plates had been received yet, so I called Carmax to find out what was going on. I was told that someone would “look into it,” and that I would receive a follow-up call shortly. Two days later, after no such call was received, I called again. After looking through the paperwork, the representative I spoke with announced that paperwork had been filed with the DMV for a transfer after all. Instead of new plates, Carmax was waiting on new registration stickers, which would be sent to us upon receipt. I was told to put the plates from the Volvo on the car for the time being.

We still had heard nothing by our move, and so I had to call again. Again I was told someone would “look into it,” and again no one bothered to call me back. My next call netted me a new set of temporary license plates, as it had apparently become unclear what paperwork had actually been submitted to the DMV. After a few more days without a return phone call, I had truly had enough. When I called back the next time, I requested a manager, who was thankfully able to get something done. Within three days, I had new plates for the Mazda, with registration stickers to match.

Of course, the registration we received was completely blank except for the license plate number.

One more phone call, directly to the manager this time (she had given me her extension), and I eventually learned that this was what the DMV sent when they were behind on paperwork. Still, D and I were reasonably sure the Navy would not accept this explanation when we went to get our window decals to access base. The manager agreed to try to send us something to help our cause. The scanned forms we received a few days later thankfully were sufficient for D to get permanent access to base.

We bought this car in early April. Three months later, I still have not received an updated registration paper. I suppose I should call again to ask about that...