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.