In Which Jack Pontificates on Customer Service

Jack’s weekly guest blog traces the odd path from management guru to bookseller

It’s funny the things that come into your mind!

Way back when, I was working in my college in Scotland at a time when ‘Heid Bummers’ (Principal and Depute Principal) were under pressure to flatten the rather hefty management hierarchy and make things more dynamic. They set out to radically restructure the staffing, and for some reason they had been watching me and decided that I had a much more ‘collegiate’ model for working with my colleagues than the rest of the staff in my department. Thus I was appointed Head of Department and told to “make them more collegiate.” After a couple of rocky years, things settled down and I’m proud to say that I eventually won everyone round to my way of working.

Some years later I wound up teaching management courses and ultimately studied for, and gained my MBA from Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. As part of those studies, of course, I did a lot of research into organizational structures, management styles, team dynamics, marketing and motivational theories.

Now, anyone who has read ‘The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap’ will be wondering how on earth I could think of getting involved in starting our bookstore and even more how we could have made a success of it, given what I’ve described above. But there were some insights I could bring and that we have put into practice. Probably the main one is that the customer is absolutely the first priority, come what may.

I was pondering this today for some reason and found myself picturing a continuum with high staff convenience at one end and high customer convenience at the other and contemplated where we might fit along that line.

Wendy and I had noticed, when we first came here, that businesses in small towns sometimes open and close very randomly on a whim; they might have opening hours posted but you could never be sure until you tried the door. We could never understand this when we visited such places, as it seemed crazy to us. When our chef par-excellence Kelley had to close the café this week to go to Chicago to help her sister recover from surgery, she made sure that all her customers and potential customers knew well ahead of time, and I’m very pleased to say that so far there have been no disappointed regulars.

It’s important to make sure that we are open when we say we will be, so we have both short term and long term ‘shop-sitters’ to ensure that. Everyone who comes through the door is treated with value and respect; we order books for customers when they aren’t in stock, repair battered family Bibles that are family heirlooms and don’t mind if folk just come in for a chat.

So where would be positioned along the line? Of course we’d like to think we’re at the customer focused end, but it’s really difficult to know. There are lots of different factors that can affect the continuing success of a small business in this part of the world – people move in and out of town, the economy takes a dip, a local clique decides to attack, etc.

But one thing I’m certain of – it’s all about the customers!

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