>Interesting Times

>You don’t always get what you want… but sometimes, you get exceptional customer service coupled with savvy marketing. I called the New York Times on Friday to cancel our Sunday delivery. Just making some budget cuts, and as much as I enjoy the Magazine, Book Review, and Arts & Leisure sections, I don’t always make time for them. So, I decided to pocket the $30/month or maybe subscribe to another literary journal instead.

But then I spoke with “Angela.” (not her real name, but then they never are, are they?) I told her what I was doing and she very politely asked, “Do you mind if I ask why you’re cancelling?”

“Oh, it’s just personal budget cuts, and also a little bit of choosing to read other things.”

She didn’t miss a beat. “Mrs. Cushman, I see that you are a long-term, valued customer of The Times. I can offer you a 50% reduced rate for the next six months, with the possibility of an ever better discount when that time is up.”

“Really? $15/month for the Sunday Times?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I could see the smile on her face. And her tone was genuine.

“Sold.” Now I was smiling.

“Is there anything else I can help you with?”

“Well, yes. We’re going to be out of the country for a couple of weeks, so I’d like the paper stopped for the two Sundays we’ll be gone.”

After she got the dates from me, she asked, “Would you like the refund for those two Sundays applied to your account or donated to [can’t remember the name of the cause]?”

“Seriously? You mean I won’t be charged for those Sundays?”

“Of course not.”

I opted to apply them to our account, since the whole encounter began with budget-cutting in mind, and we already support a number of humanitarian organizations.

This experience got me to thinking, with the economy still struggling to get on its feet, maybe I should call up AT&T and threaten to cancel our cable, phone, and internet service and see what they offer? Wonder what the customer service folks in India would say if I threaten to get rid of my HP printer? Probably wouldn’t work out so well.

And so this morning I opened my Sunday Times and was immediately pleased with my decision not to cancel my subscription. A terrific op-ed piece by one of my favorite authors, Michael Cunningham (“The Hours,” “By Nightfall”) was worth the $3.75 all by itself. “Found in Translation” is about much more than what happens when a book is translated into other languages. It’s about what happens when the book is “translated” by each revision the author makes during its creation, and again by the heart and soul of each person who reads the finished work.

This article is a must read for people writing fiction—because we need to learn that, as Cunningham says, “Language in fiction is made up of equal parts meaning and music.” (Read the article to learn how!) But it’s also an insightful essay for the reader, because, again, as Cunningham says, “… writing is not only an exercise in self-expression it is also, more important, a gift we as writers are trying to give to readers.”

As I move from the “Week in Review” to the “Arts and Leisure,” “Book Review,” and “New York Times Magazine” next, I think about my phone call to the Times on Friday and my intention to cancel my subscription, and all I can say is, “What was I thinking?” Thank you, Angela.

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