Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Doing My Homework #9: Questions Answered, Brain (Semi) Functioning

Meant to answer your questions last night, but it became necessary to go out for medicinal sushi to treat the holiday aches and pains from my Manic Monday*. Mmmm, tuna and avocado…in a roll…together.


But anyway, on to the questions:

For Beth, who asks, “What is the worst kind of customer in a book store?” I think that Jen pretty much answered that in the comments when she presented this list:

“There's a variety of bad customers, but the ones that really made us upset and angry, and led to meltdowns in the break room were those who yelled at us or chastized us for something we had no control over - a coupon we couldn't accept, a special order that wasn't there, a sale that didn't work in the manner they thought it would. The worst of those lot were those who wouldn't let us get the manager to see if they could fix the situation. I'd be very surprised if you were one of those, and they aren't specific to book retail.

The specifically book retail baddies also come in a variety, but they mostly boil down to people who don't have enough information about what they're looking for:

- It's got a blue cover, and the word love in the title, and came out recently - sometime in the past 6 months.
- My grandson is 11, he lives far away, I don't know anything about what he's interested in, but he's a good reader."Is he into sports at all?"I really don't know, I don't get to see him often.
- I need a book set in the 1920's for school. (the programs I used to look stuff up didn't deal at all well with this kind of thing)”

Most of us don’t go out of our way to find things wrong with customers (be amused by them, yes, but not dissatisfied with them) because we were probably hired in the first place because our customer service skills were considered above average. So when someone takes us to task for something beyond our control, insults our intelligence, or is a general all-around jerk then they win the worst customer award (and you are definitely not one of those people, Beth). I’ve had customers get all revved up that we didn’t have their special order only for us to later find out that it was really at our sister store a couple of blocks away. I’ve been yelled at for not reading a customer’s mind and grabbing the paperback version of the book despite the fact that she’d specifically ordered the hardcover. I’ve had countless customers get huffy and stare down their noses at me because the book classification system that the store used didn’t match up to what they thought it should be called.

My personal customer pet peeves come down to people who are just plain rude:

-People who don’t get how amusing, weird, and just plain vague it is to ask for that mysterious blue book/novel they saw on TV that one time/thing their friend told them about that was really good and maybe about bunnies/etc. Most people realize they’re not giving us a lot go on and are willing to try anyway, which is great. I love a good mystery and trying to find one book among millions with a customer who has a sense of humor goes a long way towards making me smile for the rest of the day. People who don’t get the inanity, however, and who choose to get pissed because I cannot ordain their book needs immediately get on my nerves.

-People who openly use my bookstore to find what they are going to buy elsewhere, but leave a huge mess for me to clean up anyway. I have nothing against people searching for the best deals and with all the chains trying to cut each other off at the knees with deep discounts and Costco and Wal*Mart beating us all, I can’t blame them. But the people who come into my store, tear apart displays, leave book piles in their wake, and take up valuable foot traffic space by standing around and laughing at whatever they are reading only to exclaim—loudly—“let’s go buy this at Store X,” before leaving make me want to do damage. I’ve seen it a lot this holiday, especially by people who should know better and I have to say that the spiteful part of me hopes that they get a karmic head smack and don’t find what they are looking for at the other store.

-People who refuse my help and then loudly proclaim that they cannot find what they are looking for to their friends. This always seems to happen with groups of women. I know that the joke is that men won’t stop and ask for directions, but in bookstores I’m much more likely to get a man asking for my help (after he does at least one lap around the store) than a woman. Women in groups tend to completely ignore my question or just brush it off only to say to one of their friends a minute to later, “I don’t see Book X. This store obviously doesn’t have it. I don’t know why we bothered,” when I can still hear them. More often than not we do have the book and they just weren’t looking for it in the right place, or it was on display, etc, but instead of then asking for help they just go to leave aggravated that we “didn’t have what they were looking for.” What’s worse is that these people aren’t they “blue book” types, they know the title or the author or at least enough for us to guess.

-People who talk on their cell phones when I’m trying to ring them up. It’s just rude.

-People who work manage to get all the sales representatives on the floor to run around helping them in the hopes of finagling the best deal. I didn’t even know this happened until I experienced it first hand, and there are some people who are better at it than others (a.k.a. they don’t insult you at the end of the experience so you don’t go then talk to your coworkers only to find out that everyone worked with—and was insulted by—evil customer looking for Books X, Y and Z). The monopolization of my sales people isn’t really that bad because I understand that some people really are that disorganized that they don’t remember to ask all their questions to the same person (besides, these people are usually nice about it), but usually that isn’t how the game is played.

For example, I had a woman come in a month or three ago who I greeted at the door. She asked about our discounts for bestsellers and the like (which I told her) and wanted to know if I could find out about this little Yiddish book from ten years ago that just made the best gift. Since she didn’t know the name of the author, the title, or anything beyond it being Yiddish and small (and no, it was not Yiddish with Dick and Jane and she was insulted by that offering as an alternative), I told her that it was beyond my system’s capacity to find what she was looking for given so little information. She was beyond put out when she found out that I didn’t have the internet access to search the net for her book. She then moved through the store where she was approached by several other coworkers to see if she needed help. By the end, she had two coworkers searching for one copy of Confessions of a Beauty Editor (that the computer indicated that we may or may not have), and another researching what kind of discounts we give to nonprofits, business and teachers. When one of the searching coworkers came back to announce that Confessions was nowhere to be found she snarked, “Well I guess it’s obvious that people here don’t care what they look like then,” and then was insulted when the coworker who was looking into the discounts mentioned it was not for personal use nor could it be applied to the one magazine the woman had picked up and flipped through while we were all running around.

Wow, look at me with the bitterness and run-on sentences. Yikes. Most people aren’t bad customers, and if you are worried about being a bad customer then chances are you never will be one. As a bookseller I go days without running into bad customers and the ones I do have usually don’t bother me that much (unless there is yelling involved, I really hate getting yelled at).

Anonymous asked, “What, as an author, can I do to make the bookseller's job selling my book easier?” (S/he also suggested the downward facing dog position which has saved my life more than once. Yoga in the stock room on collapsed boxes is the norm during some points of the year.)

I’ve covered a lot of this at different points (marketing, approaching a bookseller, etc) which can be found under “Columns of Note” and the “Doing My Homework” sections in the sidebar. The biggest thing you can do as an author—if you can’t meet me personally—is lay out the selling points or your book when you send me your marketing material. Telling me that people who like Book A will also like your Book B or having some kind of quotable hook will make you stick in my head when I’m talking to customers. I know it costs a whole heck of a lot to contact every bookseller out there, and really, that’s what you need to do because most of the booksellers I know (who can sell a book real well) don’t go home and do tons of internet research on their chosen field of interest. You banding together with a bunch of other authors to create a nice glossy or news letter that is fast and informative and can be left on the lunch room table will get you a lot more attention than writing up a short marketing letter on your own (who don’t tend to share those unless they are awful).

Well, that took a lot longer than I thought it would (not to mention I’m sure it is full of mistakes), and now I have to go make with the last of the last of the shopping. Have a great day!

Anymore questions and comments welcome.

*Lady J, do you find it as amusing as I do that all the Bangles combined have a range of expression that only slightly exceeds a mannequin in that music video. Maybe they were trying to say that Mondays zombie-fi you.


I Buy Books said...

I last worked in a bookstore 12 years ago (for 2 1/2 years) and I still remember some of my bad customers: the woman who thought it was cute for her toddler to run around behind the cash wrap (where there were sharp box cutters and precarious piles of books) and then got upset when I asked her to make sure her daughter was careful; the woman who yelled at me and ordered me to call her bank to figure out why they didn't cash her check.

It's too bad I don't remember the good customers as well, because there were lots of them too. Bookseller Chick, you have my sympathies; this time of the year is really rough for you. Hang in there!

Robin Brande said...

BSC, remember that picture you posted a few months ago of you and your pals lying around (slightly toasted) with books over your faces? Mean customers don't get to have cool parties like that because they don't attract nice, fun friends. So no matter how rude someone is to you, just remember that overall your life is probably WAY happier than that person's is.

Ho, ho, ho.

Rob Gregory Browne said...

I remember when bookstores and libraries used to be a place I could get away for some peace and quiet and check out what's going on the world of fiction. As a kid I spent a lot of time in both.

But these days it seems many people forget where they are, have no respect for those who are trying to read or, at least, browse. I suspect they're the same people who treat the movie theater as their own personal living room.

Maybe I'm old fashioned, but book stores are my church. It would be nice if people conducted themselves accordingly...

Karen W. said...

I'm a bookseller and boy, do I relate! Some of our horror stories include people literally peeing and pooping on our sales floor (and I'm not talking little kids!), people who have left HUGE, disgusting messes in our bathroom, and the mom who let her child literally rip apart the children's section (while she was there) and proudly marched me back there to show me the mess afterwards while telling me, "Well, I spend enough in this store that it's O.K. that someone has to clean this up." We also get some genuine crazies (police have been called more than once) as well as people who use you as a psychologist and tell you a LOT of personal details about their lives and relationships one would rather not know! I'm with you that being yelled at for things out of your control is the worst, though. We booksellers should put together a book of our experiences -- it would be quite interesting! :-) Luckily, MOST customers are nice, normal people or all our heads would explode! LOL!

Buffy said...

Eek. Gotta admit, I've been guilty of the 'it has a blue cover' one.

Shameful but true.

Jen said...

By the way, the blue cover thing is acceptable in rare cases. I offer a very small pop quiz:

1. It's got a blue cover and it's about everything.
2. It's got a red cover and it's about a dog.

lady t said...

It's a post like this that makes me feel not so bad about not working at the moment:) Hang in there,BSC,the horrordays will soon be over!

And yes,I do believe the Bangles were conveying a Monday zombie message;those girls were so ahead of their time!

Beth said...

Thanks for responding to my question. As stated in a previous commment, I certainly hit a nerve. And I also feel quite good about myself. I am such a good customer! So well-behaved.
But why are some people so rude? Ignorance, poor unbringing, never taught good manners and consideration for others? I happen to believe it's much easier to be nice - for all concerned. Guess it just doesn't come naturally to some people. What a shame.

Ms. Librarian said...

Libraries get the "I'm looking for a red book about so tall" question, too.

In fact, a couple of my library school professors (reference profs, not cataloging profs) said that books in a library should be arranged by color and size, rather than call number.

Then there was the professor who was looking for the small blue book about medicine. We finally figured out that he wanted the Merck Index - a large, gray book ... sigh

Anonymous said...

My friends and I like to hang out in bookstores. I like to look for books I've heard about that sound interesting and then decide if I want to buy it then, later, put it on my library list or forget the whole thing. I can't always find these books (or sometimes fall victim to blue cover syndrome) and one of my friends always insists on fetching a staff member to help me find the book. I have no problem asking for help if I know I am going to buy the book but when I'm not sure I feel like I'm wasting their time. Is that silly of me? Do you mind helping customers find a book that they might not actually purchase?

Sean Carter said...

books are man's best friend! for me book and coffee makes my day and thats how i relax.books and romance also go in hand in hand.you can check out my blog and get back to me if u like it!

Jazz said...

-People who talk on their cell phones when I’m trying to ring them up. It’s just rude.

I know this is one of the rudest things, cause people do it all the time in my store and I hate it. But I am soooo guilty of doing it, mostly when in a fast food place or a bookstore. Don't know why.

PersonaNonData said...

Luckily when I worked in a bookstore - and it wasn't that long ago - cell phones hadn't been invented. Having read this post a few days ago I immediagtely thought you would find this post (Seth Godin) and attached photo amuzing (or not). http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2006/12/its_so_easy.html