Friday, April 12, 2013

Something Extra

Yesterday, I had a facial. I realize this seems to have nothing to do with writing, but give me a couple of paragraphs to explain. It's been years since I had a facial, and I had one yesterday only because my hair stylist, who is also the owner of the salon, had given me coupons for two free facials at Christmas. She requested that I "use them this year." Last year and the year before I didn't. Having been nudged and feeling guilty about not using my gift, I booked my facial during my hair appointment.

Relaxing music, comfortable table to recline on, I settled in to have my face scrubbed, steamed, and exfoliated. When she'd finished applying my "hydrating mask," the skin therapist turned to my hands . . . my neglected hands that had survived a cold winter when I seldom remembered to wear gloves. My hands that never receive a professional manicure, that are plunged into hot dishwater, and take whatever I do to them without complaining. But, yesterday, my hands had a treat -- a deep, finger-stretching massage before being slipped into warm mittens.   

I went in not too interested in having a facial. I came out more than ready to listen when the skin therapist  offered me a leaflet describing a special offered on a three- or four-package of facials. The four facial package was "a bargain" because it included an additional skin treatment. I went out to have my hair washed and trimmed, and by the time my stylist saw me out at the reception desk, I was debating out loud whether to go with the three or four. As my stylist pointed out, and I agreed, the package of four was a better deal and I could schedule my facials in conjunction with my hair appointments. I forked over my money then and there. 

That brings me to what I've been pondering since yesterday. When I thought about it, I realized that all of the people I return to for service offer "something extra". Not an inexpensive giveaway -- although that's always nice -- but more a quality of service. The hand massage is undoubtedly standard practice with facials, and I had simply forgotten. But it was the hand massage delivered with expertise and commitment to making me feel pampered that made it not only a pleasant surprise, but the something extra of the service. My skin therapist had this in common with the contractor who I've been with since I bought my house a few years ago. I wasn't thrilled when I had to replace my roof, but he and his crew found a problem with an electrical wire leading to my house. They built a room divider that I saw on HGTV based on the photo. They not only do repairs in my basement, they remove my heavy air conditioners from my windows. My contractor provided me with the name of a reliable and reasonably priced tree cutter when a giant pine tree in my backyard -- towering over my garage -- became diseased and needed to be cut down. He invites me to his house for his annual party. Now, clearly -- as he jokingly tells me -- since my house is almost a hundred years old, he expects to have me as a customer for a long time. But he, like the skin therapist yesterday, delivers his services in a way that makes me feel I am valued. 

It happens in other places -- for example, the waiter (a.k.a. "server") in a restaurant who knows the details about the preparation of every item on the menu, brings a sample so that you can try the dessert you're debating, has the take-home box ready before you ask. These are the people who offer us a rewarding experience even when we seek out their services reluctantly. The question is how we as writers offer that kind of experience to our readers. Of course, the obvious, and perhaps best, answer is to write a good book. If we're are professionals, we try to deliver on that contract with our readers.

But what about the readers who haven't discovered our books? How do we draw them in? We have the equivalent of coupons for facials -- excerpts from our books, short stories offered for free or almost, or, in one case that I read about yesterday, a self-published author who offered the first book in her series for free to attract readers who would continue with the series (and it was said to have worked).

Still, there seems to be more to this than simply marketing our valuable services as authors who write books that are entertaining and enthralling. What I would like to know is how I provide the kind of "customer service" that extends beyond the book a reader is holding in his or her hand and becomes a relationship. Some writers seem to have the ability to do that with ease. Perhaps that's what social media is all about -- a 21st century way of forging that relationship by being accessible. But I think that it should be more than writing a great book and being friendly and accessible. I think it should be bringing expertise and professionalism and style to the relationship between writer and reader.

In one of her early books, Dr. Joyce Brothers made the argument that to be successful in a career, one should develop a unique cluster of skills and/or knowledge. She had applied the principle to getting on a television game show -- a psychologist who was an expert on boxing. I have applied the concept to my academic career. I'm wondering if I also could do it in my approach to readers. What is that something extra based on knowledge and expertise that I can offer? Surely, I already try to do that in my books. But what can I do in my marketing that gives a potential reader a valuable "sample" of what it is about my writing that will be special? My own equivalent of a promise that neglected hands will be tucked into warm mittens -- that service will be offered with style and expertise and no pressure.

Still pondering -- and this may sound a bit befuddled because I'm thinking out loud -- but that was how I got from a facial to thinking about the relationship between writers and readers. Thoughts?


Donis Casey said...

I am as baffled as you about effective ways to offer extra value to readers, apart from writing the best book I can. However, I do wish I could borrow your contractor.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Donis, yes, I've been told finding a good contractor is a challenge. Luckily, mine came with the house (the previous owner hired him to do some work for them). Let me know if you figure out the extra value dilemma.