Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Customer is Always

My friend and cow-worker, the Medieval One, is a serious guy who writes serious shit. He thinks I should write more serious stuff and that I'll run out of things to blog about if I limit myself to the type of stuff one would expect on a blog called "Disgruntled Bookseller." He could NOT be more wrong. I've got a list a mile long of things I want to write about. Every couple of days I add to the list. Hell, every time I go to work, I add to the list. My backlog of Disgruntled Bookseller topics is as long as my backlog of books purchased and not yet read. Off the top of my head, these are some of the things I could be blogging about right now: the Vortex of Evil Otherwise Known as the Kid's Section, Customers Who Are Flunking Out of the School of Obviosity, the Disgruntled Bookseller Index of Random Statistics, the World of Bizarre and Inane Periodicals, and Com-Poo-Tors and the People Who Read Books About Them. Oh! And Fucked Up Things People Do at the Cash Registers! Definitely need to write about that.

But I'm not going to blog about any of those things tonight. For those of you looking for a laugh, I don't think this post is going to provide one, because tonight I feel like writing about customers and their sense of entitlement.

Margaret Webb Pressler writes a great weekly column for the Washington Post called "Selling Us." It's one of the first things I turn to every Sunday. She writes about retailers and the retail environment, as well as consumers and what motivates them. As much as I like her columns, I don't always agree with them. She wrote a column recently about what she perceived to be a general lack of customer service - an unwillingness on the part of retail employees to go out of their way to meet customer needs. She essentially laid the responsibility for lack of customer service at the feet of the front-line retail employees, saying that they are undertrained and underprepared. She didn't use the word "lazy", but it was lurking in there, between the lines.

She did say one thing in this column with which I partially agreed. She said there was "a disconnect" between the folks in the corporate offices and front-line employees. However, she implied that the disconnect was a failure on the part of the front-liners to understand the corporate desire to drives sales with customer satisfaction. There's definitely a disconnect, but at Big Bookstore, it's not a failure to understand what corporate wants us to do. We know what constitutes good customer service. We just don't always have the tools to provide it. And even when we do, "good customer service" has become like Zeno's Paradox - an asymptotic retail equation where no matter what we do, it is never quite enough.

I chalk this inability to satisfy (some, not all) customers to the sense of entitlement that so many seem to feel. Some of this is societal. We're the richest and most powerful country in the world, and by God, we know it. My Baby Boom peers seem particularly guilty of thinking this way. But a lot of this attitude is the Frankenstein creation of retailers themselves. In the haste to outsell the competition, retailers have created an environment where the customer feels he can do no wrong. Return used and damaged merchandise? Sure! No problem! Let your kids run wild and destroy merchandise without paying for it? Why not! You want a discount for no good reason? Do it angrily and insistently enough, and threaten to make a scene, and we'll probably cave in.

The bottom line? If you're a customer, the sky's the limit! Be shameless! Be bold! Threaten to take your business elsewhere! When all else fails, demand to see a manager.

I can provide the customer with fabulous customer service. I can find every book the customer wants, make recommendations, giftwrap his selections, give discounts, and do it all with a smile -and after all that, some customers will still walk away feeling like they should have gotten more.

This is why there are websites like this. Whenever I'm feeling especially disgruntled and cranky, I read some of the latest entries there to remind myself that it could always be worse.


Blogger Ministry of Cats said...

I started to write a comment but decided to post about it on my blog instead :)

1:00 PM  
Blogger ereshkigal said...

Great post, David. (I tried to comment on your blog, but couldn't log in.) I totally agree with everything you said. If I didn't have another job, I could never afford to work at Big Bookstore - and this is true of many of my cow-workers. But Big Bookstore shouldn't be relying on my love of books to maintain a motivated workforce. As I've said in my disclaimer, for a retail corporation, Big Bookstore does provide some decent benefits. It's certainly no Wal-Mart. But there is definitely a disconnect between the headquarters and the frontline, and a basic failure to understand just how hard we work for our starting wage of 7.50 an hour. Often when I'm ranting about the latest idiocy from HQ, I say that there should be a requirement that everyone who gets hired at Big Bookstore HQ should be required to work as a bookseller in a store for the first month, so that they truly understand the business.

2:27 PM  
Blogger Ministry of Cats said...

"Often when I'm ranting about the latest idiocy from HQ, I say that there should be a requirement that everyone who gets hired at Big Bookstore HQ should be required to work as a bookseller in a store for the first month, so that they truly understand the business."

Testify, sistah!

4:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Long before I worked at Big Bookstore, back in high school days, I worked at a hardware store. People often came in with the same entitled attitude, not realizing that no amount of sense of entitlement will overcome the basic laws of biology, chemistry, and physics that govern hardware. I revelled in telling them so. "You can't do that, Mr. Weekend Warrior. No, not because I have an attitude problem, but because doing what you propose doing will cause water to bubble out of your stove and fire to shoot out of your toilet." "...because your whole family will die choking in clouds of insecticide." "...because plants just don't grow on concrete."

I wish I could say the same sort of thing about books. "Because, if you buy the latest Oprah's Book Club selection, your whole family will die choking in clouds of gratuitous sentimentality." But bad books, sadly, don't have quite the same immediate effect.


2:05 AM  

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