Note from last week’s column, it was about the great service I got at Borders bookstore that included sending me to Barnes & Noble to purchase an out-of-stock item.
In last week’s article, we also established the customer service axiom: The more you do for the customer, the harder it is on you BUT, the more pleasing and memorable it will be to the customer. AND the more loyal the customer is likely to be. AND the more they are likely to tell positive stories (word-of-mouth advertising) about you.
That’s the Way We’ve Always Done it, and Other Dumb Acts.
I walk into Barnes & Noble, say my name, and the cashier handed me the audio book that Ms. McCarter from Borders had ordered for me. Cool.
At once, I thought about the new loft I was moving into, and asked if they had a book with photographs of lofts. The guy behind the counter massaged his computer, announced they had a book but it was out of stock, did I want to order it? (Interesting that Borders was willing to do all kinds of stuff to help me and this guy was only offering to order it.) “OK.” I said. “Just call me when it comes in.”
Monday morning some fellow named Patrick from Barnes & Noble calls and leaves a message that the loft book I ordered is out of print, gives me the ISBN number, and says to try a used bookstore. Rats.
Now I ask you, did my need for the book diminish with Patrick’s approach? NO. Did he employ the Borders approach of finding me the book? NO. He gives me the ISBN number, no book title, no author, no publisher and tells me to take my money and go spend it elsewhere, if I can find it. (You’d think with all the great customer service books on sale at Barnes & Noble that they’d buy one for Patrick, so he could get a clue.)
I call Patrick back, he’s at lunch, so I ask for the manager. Delores gets on the phone. I’m as nice as pie, tell her my situation but before I ask for a response, I establish friendly rapport. I tell her how I came to the store at the direction of (Borders) their competition. I tell her I’m an author, tell her my book is in her store, ask her to look up how many books I’ve sold so far this year, and we laugh at the low sales.
Then I tell her my order for the loft book, and ask her about Patrick’s response, “Do you think I’m satisfied?” I asked. “Do you think my need went away? Why can’t you do the same thing your competitor did – find one someplace else?”
Delores, the store manager, had a reason (excuse) for everything. “That’s the way we always do it… Once a book is out of print, there’s nothing we can do… Patrick didn’t give you the author, title or publisher because the ISBN number is the best way to track…” STOP! ENOUGH!
I don’t give a rat’s butt how you do things. I WANT MY BOOK! This woman has just spent five minutes telling me how she can’t or won’t help. She has no earthly clue what I want, and figures if she gives me enough baloney, that I’ll go someplace else with my $25.00 and make my purchase, she’ll have no work to do, and all will be fine.
What she failed to understand (or was not trained to understand) is that customers do not want excuses, and that an unsolved (or unresolved) problem does not go away just because you refuse to handle it and that you do whatever it takes to solve problems.
Now it’s not just this purchase at Barnes & Noble that hangs in the balance, it’s every purchase for the rest of time as far as I’m concerned. I explain that I’m going to write a column about the comparison between Borders and Barnes & Noble. I ask for her bosses name and tell her that she has been absolutely zero help. She gives me the bosses name, but now enters the “back-peddlers hall of fame,” trying to be of some form of lame assistance but I assure her that her boss will probably be more likely to be of some help.
I call the boss, Mark Seidman, tell him my experience leaving no stone unturned, he tells me that that’s not the way they do business. Duh. He is obviously not in touch with their stores because as far as I’m concerned that is the way they do do (no pun here) business.
He assured me the book I wanted is out of print. He asks for a chance at redemption, I say OK.
They hunt and hunt and they find three more books on lofts. They order them, they come in, they have no photos, they’re about history and other reconstructive stuff not about decorating. They are no good. The district manager assures me they have looked at every Barnes & Noble store in the U.S., and called several competitors in the area – zero books on lofts, and no trace of the “out-of-print” book I wanted.
Now the local manager gets back into the act. She calls me with the same information – got three loft books, no pictures, other book out of print, searched everywhere, we’ll keep trying. OK.
Meanwhile the Barnes & Noble store people are doing their best to salvage the incident. Calls once a day. Free coupons for books. But I believe in my heart they are somewhat motivated by this article, and not just by their desire to help me.
EPILOG: I went to NYC last weekend three days after their exhaustive search through all the Barnes & Noble stores inventory. I walked into the huge Barnes & Noble store on the corner of 12th and Astor. A most unfriendly person at the information counter (in NYC, “information counters” should be titled, “What the hell do you want.”) looked up what I wanted (lofts) like he was doing me a favor and told me where to go (to find it). Three more directional “asks” later I somehow get there, and a friendly person says, “Lofts? We have one book that I know of, let me get it for you.”
She walks over to the book that their Charlotte staff said was “out-of-print” and hands me one of four copies (on display full face out) from the shelf. I just shook my head. I guess their exhaustive search forgot to include New York City, loft capital of the world.
IMPORTANT EDITORS NOTE: This story is an isolated incident, not a commentary on one business over another. I have reported the facts as they happened and have given all parties the opportunity to read and edit the comments before printing. Please do NOT judge either Borders or Barnes & Noble by this one story.
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