Sunday, December 11, 2005

It's Customer (and Blogger) Appreciation Day!

I hereby dub this day to be Customer Appreciation Day!* So cue the fanfare and the music! Bring out the dancing elephants!

Because really, what’s an appreciation day without dancing Pacaderms? Puh-leeeze.

I know, you’re thinking shouldn’t everyday be Customer Appreciation Day? Isn’t that part of customer service?

If I said no, would you be mad at me?

(…and somewhere deep in the heart of the Midwest my company’s customer service hotline lights up.)

What I mean by this decree is that it’s time that I talk about customers that don’t drive me to the edge of insanity, the ones that make coming to work fun and exciting. You know, the ones that get pushed aside when I rant about someone accusing me of political bias or yelling because I can’t find a book or lecturing me because I tell them a book is out of print.



Will not get off track.

Today is about happy thoughts. Today is about optimism. Today is also about me drinking too much at holiday parties and fighting the war of all ornament wars, but that’s another story entirely, and meant for some drunken blogging at a later date.

There are thousands of little things people do to make them memorable or special customers, whether it’s telling a funny joke, building some kind of running rapport with a bookseller over the addicting qualities of white chocolate Lindor Truffles (I really do think they are laced with crack), or just taking the time to ask, really ask “How are you?”

Note: It really doesn’t take much effort to edge yourself away from the cell-phone talking gimme-gimme customers of the world. Just takes a dash of common courtesy.

There are those customers who go above and beyond, those who not only listen but manage to give back in some way.

I had a customer give me a book once. This older gentleman—nice suit, tie, slightly graying hair—and I had this great conversation when he first came in. He was on a business trip/conference and that day was his only free day. His work was done, he had no meals with associates, no phone conferences, just some free time to himself. We briefly talked books, and he finally settled on Sleeping with Schubert (a lovely book that suffered from a very unfortunate cover design and marketing package). I told him that we were all fascinated by the concept (woman wakes up sharing her body with the soul of the composer Schubert), but we hadn’t had time to read it. I really wanted to buy it myself, but it was a hardback, something that even with my employee discount I have to stop and really consider if it is worth spending my money on. Our whole conversation lasted maybe five minutes (which included me ringing up) and he left with the book and the directions to the local music store so he could pick up a CD of Schubert’s music.

And that’s the last I saw of him right? Even at that point he’d made me smile, carried on an intelligent conversation and proven he had a genuine love of books. Mucho bonus points.

Imagine my surprise when my coworker popped his head into the backroom several hours later and said, “You have a gentleman caller?”

I have a who-sit? Wha—? Huh?

I walked out to the store expecting to find a friend, only to see a man in a suit standing in front of me. I didn’t recognize him at first—I really have no short term memory anymore and facial recognition is beyond me—until he held up a copy of Sleeping with Schubert. He handed the book to me, gushing about how good it was, how much he was enjoying it, how he was already halfway through, but he needed to get some food and wanted to let me know that I’d chosen well.

“Well, thanks,” I said and tried to hand the book back to him.

“Oh, no. That’s your copy,” he said, “You really have to read it. I recommend reading it while listening to his music.”

And before I could really formulate a coherent response he was gone. It wasn’t some elaborate pick-up, his number wasn’t hidden in the margin somewhere (as one of my friends suggested), it was just a genuine moment of giving back.

And it just happened to involve a wonderful book.

He is not my all-time favorite customer, although he’s pretty damn high up there. My affection doesn’t need to be bought (of course, it doesn’t hurt, but…). There are other ways to show someone you are genuinely paying attention.

No, my all-time favorite customer was a woman named Mary. Mary was a grandma (first time) who’d moved up from California to help her son and daughter-in-law with the baby.

“That girl was just feeling a little overwhelmed,” she’d tell us when talking about her daughter-in-law. “Being with a baby all day can do that to you. I’m there so she can get out and move.”

And when her daughter-in-law wasn’t out and about, Mary was: she worked at a local See’s Candy (“because I’m there to help, not to be supported”) part-time, and got involved with some local organizations.

Mary was a mover and shaker as my mother would say.

Between said moving and shaking, Mary liked to curl up with a Harlequin Presents and a cup of tea. She bought those books from me.

Once, sometimes twice, a week she would come in with her coupons and her list (she kept careful track of what she’d read and what she wanted to read), and I started pulling the books for her ahead of time, trying to guess which one she would ask for. She treated us like family, and it was her job to keep us entertained.

“Oh my God,” she’d exclaim to my boss when she got to the counter, “that last one was sooo good. Why all the time he thought she was in love with his brother she was actually in love with him, but couldn’t tell him until the night they slept together. And girl, let me tell you that even though he was drunk it didn’t diminish anything—if you know what I’m saying. She felt guilty that he didn’t love her and ran away even though she was pregnant! Pregnant! But he did love her and tracked her down…”

And on it would go, ‘til my boss and I were in hysterics. We started trading tidbits of our lives: my Boss throwing out her back, how Mary had been taking care of her mother in California until the woman had died, my allergy to cats. Random stuff, important stuff, and everything in between. Mary would chide my Boss for picking up heavy boxes while she was there (“Girl, you put that down. That’s no good for your back.”), hold the ladder while I went into overstock (“Last thing I need is you falling while getting me a romance novel. You’d break yourself into itty-bitty pieces.”), and tell us to go home when we were sick (“Go home. Make her go home. If you need someone I’ll put on a nametag but you just make sure you get that girl into bed.”).

A Mary visit could make my day no matter how bad it might have been. Missing one was a disappointment. She was always happy, always moving, and always talking. And she knew how to make an exit.

Which she did. Came in one day to tell us she was going back to California. The daughter-in-law had a handle on the baby, and she needed to take care of her life there. Gave us all hugs, told us she’d miss us, and said goodbye.

That was several months ago. There are still days where the Boss and I turn to each other, sometimes after a really bad customer or just in a dull moment, and say, “I miss Mary.”

California, you don’t know what a gem you have.

There are other great customers, or examples I have of how people made themselves standout. These two were just superstar examples. All it takes really is a little conversation, some attention, and a smile, so I charge you, readers new and old, to go out and be nice to the next person who serves you. I’m not asking you to marry them or buy them anything (although chocolate is always appreciated), just show another human being that they have importance on this earth.

And maybe you’ll live on forever in the blog-o-sphere like Mary and the Schubert guy, or maybe just in someone’s mind as a distant, fuzzy memory of feeling good while at work.

*This Customer Appreciation Day was brought to you by Jason Evans of Clarity of Night, a thoughtful and intelligent man (even though he does not get the appeal of zombies). He’s under the mistaken impression that I’m thoughtful and witty, a sign of infinite kindness and patience on his part. Go check him out if you haven’t already. I’m particularly in love with the old tombstones. I’d also like to send a big ol’ heart to the spunky Kate Rothwell, and all of my other readers who leave comments. Y’all make me smile…and make me feel so guilty because I’m such a lurker by nature when it comes to other people’s blogs. Lo siento.


Beth said...

Man, I love Mary. I'm in stitches, and I never even met her. Sorry you don't get to see her anymore.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! And I can't be convinced my impressions of you (thoughtful and witty) are mistaken at all. ;)

Mary Louisa said...

Jason sent me. Loved reading your reminiscences about the great customers (who have set the bar WAY high). I'm afraid I'm your everyday "looking for this book can you help me find it then I'm outa here" kinda girl. Fortunately, I tend to have more bibliographic info than just the color of the cover. :)

Kate R said...

thank you. I'm honored to be in the same post with Jason, Mary and the guy who bought you the book.

Bookseller Chick said...

Beth--she was a hoot and a half. Everyone should have a Mary, I think, if only to know what it could be like. Lordy, I miss that woman.

Jason--aw, thanks.

Mary Louisa--they did set the bar high, but both were an example of the pinnacle (sp?), there is a whole spectrum in between. The fact that you go in knowing what you want and with the information to get it makes you a good customer. No worries.

Kate--the honor is all mine. Your posts are always provocative and thoughtful.

Have a great day all!

Terri said...

Lovely post, you reminded me that there is some good stuff in this mad world of ours. And I think Jason is quite right in his opinions :-)

Kate R said...


though in my life "provocative" means the kid who pokes you and says does this hurt, and when you say no, pokes a little harder and says does *this* hurt? and when you say no, pokes a little harder . . .


the one who puts his hand over the invisible dividing line between the back seats of the car.

Bookseller Chick said...

Terri, Why thank you! There really are some great people out there and it doesn't take much to pass on some good karma (or feelings or love or whatever).

Kate, wait, you're saying it's wrong to be that kid? But I was that kid! Provocative is a bad thing? Wow, that puts a whole different spin on what my momma's been calling me for years ;) I'll continue to believe it means nothing but good. Everyone needs an agitator.

Nicole said...

Just saw that Sleeping With Schubert got a new cover with the trade release. Thought you'd like to know (well, if you didn't already).