May 4, 2017


By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

I have no doubt that OnStar services not only empower you but keep you safe, but a recent encounter that a customer shared with me was more than a concern. A long-time customer had locked their keys in the trunk of their car. They quickly called the OnStar service, which they have faithfully used for years and had been truly satisfied with, to have their doors unlocked. After being told, "Don't touch your car, it would be only 8 to 10 minutes," they patiently waited for the locks to click open. It never happened. 

OnStar called back and said the system had not been updated so the operation did not perform as had been expected. The truth was the update had been done only a month earlier and it should have work as was explained to the OnStar person on the phone. The OnStar CSR came back and said that it needed to be reset and asked the customer to get in the car and press the OnStar button so it could do so. There was silence… The customer soon realized the CSR was serious and had not given any thought as to why the customer had called in the first place which was their keys were locked in the trunk and they couldn't get in the car.

Even the greatest of systems has to figure in human error. Extensive training, mental focus and problem solving may not come when following a script when a customer calls. No doubt the CSR bounced from one problem solving page for unlocking the car by remote to another that was for resetting the system. Each problem on its own was easily handled. But apparently the author of the manual had yet to connect the two should one precede the other and prevent the other from happening. This is a novel idea that was yet to be thought of.

Believe it or not we as writers sometimes fall into the same pattern. We have events lined up in our story but may fail to think about the order in which they occur. Not that we may have them in the wrong order but a different order may cause an event which is more interesting, dangerous or memorable. As memorable as the OnStar customer's event was due to the order of resetting the system it was not a pleasant memory.

Once your story is complete ask yourself is there anything I could do to make this series of events, if placed in a different order, more impactive on the story. Think how uneventful this OnStar encounter would have been if the doors had unlocked, the key was retrieved and the customer drove away, only later to reset the system as suggested. Not much of a story here.

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