Tag Archives: customer service

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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REPRINT: Overheard in the Little Bookstore at Christmastime

They said WHAT?!

We take pleasure in reprinting here a seasonal blog from 2013. Read it and laugh. Us, we drink heavily….

Here, in random order, is a list of our favorite customer sayings complied from Christmases past and present (hee hee, get it, present? Oh, never mind):

A woman asks: “Do you have any books about how to be a good husband? Maybe two or three.”

Extended family, browsing, grandmother says to daughter: “Books for the kids? I dunno. Shouldn’t we get them something they’d really like?”

“I’m looking for a book, it’s about a small town, and the people are kinda sweet and backwards.” Against our better judgment, we tried Adriana’s Big Stone Gap series, Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, and Jan Karon’s Mitford books. The customer wanted “Winesburg, Ohio.”

Customer points to a shelf: “You had a book somewhere around here last week; it had a red cover, something about a bird, or maybe it was a dog? I thought my sister would like it. I think the title started with ‘A Day’ or maybe it was ‘My Dog’ or ‘The Day.’ You know, something like that.”

After child rips page out of a picture book while mother browses nearby: “I’m not going to pay for that. You shouldn’t have the children’s books lying about where children can reach them.”

“Do y’all sell Christmas presents here?”

Christmas Eve Day, noon: “So the Christmas books are half off now, right?”

Christmas Eve Day, 3 pm, man enters with little girl, takes her straight to children’s room: “That’s right, honey, anything you want. Mommy said we can’t come home until 5.” Closes children’s room door with daughter inside, turns to staff: “Got any coffee?”

Christmas Eve Day, 4 pm: “…and I wouldn’t normally think of shopping at a bookstore for him, but y’all are right near the house and still open.”

Christmas Eve Day, 5 pm: “I need a gift for my mother-in-law. I don’t care what it is. Just make sure it’s big and heavy. And wrap it for me.”

Christmas Eve Day, 5:50 pm: “Excuse me, do you know a lot about books? OK, pick me out something a 14-year-old will like. Quick, I’m in a hurry.”

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, Downton Abbey, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

Remember Customer Service? We do.

Little Bookstore is one of several on a list of second-hand bookslingers who trade ideas and share knowledge–including that there’s such a thing as being TOO local. People can take the approach that you must be in this small town because you couldn’t make it in the big city; I’ve just come back from an economic summit where rural town managers discussed this problem.

Being too local is a problem anytime of year, but at Christmas, people can also eschew specialty businesses because they believe making a mad dash through the discount warehouses will be “cheaper and more convenient.”

(Yeah, and the shortcut is always faster….)

Small Business Saturday and the Christmas season tend to be a special challenge for bookstores because much of our unique charm lies in our handselling technique; a proprietor knows his or her customers, and has developed a relationship of trust, of not trying to just sell, sell, sell but to match. We take pride in matching the correct book to the right person. Trust is the foundation of customer service, trying to help the customer rather than meet an imposed quota.

Everybody sells books at Christmas, but who can greet you by name, ask how your niece liked Divergent, suggest a new detective series because they know you like mysteries themed around food? Or, who can meet you for the first time, listen to a list of the last five books your dad read and what he thought of them, and then suggest the perfect present based on that information? How much time will you save with that kind of service?

That’s what we do, and what our friends in the bookselling business do. Because we are our businesses; we don’t just work for them. We believe in selling you what you want, not what you’ve been told you need. And we believe you are your own person.

Visit your local bookseller this holiday season–be it Paperback Book Exhange in Neenah, Wisconsin; Al’s Books out in Kansas; maybe that sweet little Country Bookshop in North Carolina; or one of the other 2,500-or-so used book shops across America. The coffee will be hot, the chairs comfy, the kittens purring, and the proprietors ready to listen, serve, and smile.

 

 

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, book reviews, bookstore management, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, VA, Wendy Welch

The Fastest Way to Piss Off a Community Business Owner

When a first-time customer walks in, Jack and I  smile and say hi in confidence that this is the start of a beautiful relationship. We’re proud of our bookstore, and its reputation for dealing honestly with people who bring in “old” books for free evaluations. We keep the store cheerfully clean, cozy and welcoming (as opposed to fully alphabetized and sterile, Jack says) whether you’re buying, browsing, or just in for some kitten cuddling.

And yeah, we have a reputation for being cuckoo for cats. It’s a fair cop.

But every once per 300 or so encounters, instead of returning this welcoming smile, the person looks back through squinted eyes and says something like, “You charge $3 for a Western? That’s too much. I can get them at the Goodwill for $1.”

Uh, no, you can’t because our Goodwill NEVER has Westerns, as you well know as a fan of the genre. Goodwill has romances ten for a penny, but no Westerns. Or desirable science fiction.

Once someone picked up a value paperback ($1 each, 6 for $5) and sniffed. “I see you changed your pricing. These books used to be 4 for $1.” (Hmm, you’d think I’d remember that, but I don’t.) “Everybody’s in it for the money these days.”

Or even, “Tell me exactly the value of each book I traded in, because that doesn’t seem like enough credit” when we’ve just given them $20 for a box that includes 27 battered children’s books and 3 Norton anthologies we’ll be selling for a quarter each.

Ask a small business owner if she’s in it for the money, and she will pee herself laughing. Let me tell you, there are HUNDREDS of dollars to be made in used book sales!

No, mom-n-pops tend to be in business as family tradition, or to be our own bosses, or because we literally love and are happy around what we sell or do. We just want a graceful sufficiency existence off the rat race treadmill. Had we wanted to make money, we’d have gone into health insurance.

Sometimes it’s evident that customers consider statements like those above preludes to haggling, but Jack and I see them as flat disrespect for local businesses.  When haggling is done with mutual respect on both sides, it’s actually fun. It is not fun to deal with people who walk in saying they expect us to join the rest of life in ripping them off. Rather kills the kindness instinct, don’t you know.

Still, sir or madam, you have our deepest sympathies, and let us make you a cuppa–or show you the door, as you prefer. ‘Cause we’re not a corporation–no matter what the federal government says, they’re not people until they have feelings. We are real people, with real feelings, and real pride in our work. We respect out customers.

Which is why we don’t take no shit off them, should the occasion arise. Thank you.

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized

Raffle THIS!

It takes quite a bit to make me angry. Really. Jack and I have developed an even-keeled, let it flow quality of life that we enjoy.

But if you DO want to make me mad, take some decent, kind-hearted people seeking to do good in their community, pit them against a corporation in the same community sucking the economic lifeblood out of it, and throw in some condescending rudeness.

That’s pretty much guaranteed to work.

elissa kissing dachshundMy friend Elissa (yeah, the one who shoots kittens and paraplegic puppies) is spearheading a raffle for IN HIS HANDS SMALL ANIMAL RESCUE. Elissa currently has several fosters for IHH, including Hope, a dachshund who needs a cart because her back legs are paralyzed.

Unsuspecting, good-hearted Elissa went to Walmart the other day, and–crivens jings–left her door unlocked. When she returned, her glove box had been rifled, her seats moved, and the bag containing $40 and the stubs of raffle tickets she’d sold were missing.

She called Walmart and asked to see the video tape of the cameras they have in the parking lot, and told us the manager on the phone informed her that they didn’t want their customers alarmed with rumors of parking lot thefts, and why hadn’t she locked her car, rather than invite this type of crime?

So customer-minded. One can see clearly how much Walmart cares. They don’t want to upset anyone. Except the lady on the phone whose car was burgled. the bag

The bag was turned in to the front desk of Walmart, sans money. The money has been made up by local people who hate that this happened–and who don’t plan on shopping at the Norton, VA Walmart any more. The security tape has been appropriated by the police, who are investigating the theft.

And the raffle is going forward. This is Buddy, our cleaning lady Heather’s dog. Buddy is from IHH, and Elissa found him for Heather. He’s really quite something, as you can see. Buddy

If you’re not in the area but would like to participate in the raffle, send a $5 check per ticket and the name and contact details for the person you want the ticket for. The iPad will be raffled once 450 tickets are sold. I think they were at 220 when the theft occurred. You can send raffle purchases here to the bookstore, and we’ll hold your half of the stub here. We’ll notify everyone of the winner by blog, and Hope will get her cart. And, hopefully, Walmart will get a clue.

The address is Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used Books, 404 Clinton Ave E, Big Stone Gap, VA 24219. Thanks, y’all.

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Filed under small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

Questions and Answers (you will never hear in a bookstore)

We apologize for the delay in this weekend’s blog. Wendy was away writing, and Jack forgot!

Questions bookstore customers ask and the answers bookslingers long to give, but never do.

“Where do you get your books from?”

The book fairy brings them. At night. And we also get together with other bookstore owners and dance naked around the book conjuring cauldron on James Patterson’s birthday.

Gullible people like you who don’t know there are hundreds of pennies to be made on the sale of each and every hardback work of fiction ever published.

Oh, we just go to the library and search the dumpster.

Yard sales. And then we mark them up 400%. And spray them with Lysol if they smell like cat pee. What can I help you find today?

“So have you read all these books? Heh heh heh.”

Duh. You think I’d sell a book I hadn’t read?

Just the red ones. Heh heh heh.

Who, me? I’m sorry; I thought you were asking the shop cat. Yes, she has.

“Do you sell books?”

No. This is a drug front. Say the password so I know you’re not an undercover cop.

Only if we can’t talk you into a Nook or Kindle.

Sometimes, if we’re very lucky.

“So how’s this work, like a library, you borrow the books and bring them back?”

No. You buy the books and bring them back. Then if we like you we’ll sell them to you for another two weeks.

Yes, that’s how it works, but you have to give us your Social Security Number so we can sign you up.

Oh, is THAT how a library works?! I’ve always been afraid to try one, since I saw that HBO film as a child, where the librarian looks all sweet and kindly but is actually a soul-sucking demon from Hell.

“Is this the adult bookstore?”

That depends on how you’re using the word “adult.”

Get out. And wash that raincoat.

Why? Can you read?

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Filed under book reviews, bookstore management, humor, publishing, Uncategorized

Six o’clock and —AH, CRAP!

Inevitably, when Jack and I hatch an after-the-shop-closes plan, we get last-minute browsers. It’s part of the business of being a business owner and we accept that, Zen-like as two Quakers can be. . . .

We got addicted to a French TV series called “Spirals.” After squeezing in an episode here and there after Needlework Nights and choir practices, we had a clear evening and planned to watch the final three episodes in a oner—a veritable orgy of big-screen viewing for two souls who struggled to get an hour in per week.

And we were really, non-grownupishly looking forward to it.

Picture it now: two college-educated adults debating the merits of turning off the phone. I made a veggie pizza at 4 pm and set up the hot air corn popper. The last customer disappeared at 5 pm and we sat, twiddling our thumbs in a dawdle of anticipation, useless for any project save waiting. At 5:45 Jack got out our screen and projector (all the benefits of a big-screen TV, plus economy and portability.) I checked the oven upstairs – pizza just going nicely golden at the edges – and started the salad.

And the shop bell rang.

We have an electric bell rigged to the door’s opening so we’ll know when customers come in. At 5:54, a teen-ager in a hoodie bopped into the shop, smiling. “Got any books on meditation?”

Yes, dear. Several. We use them to find inner peace at moments like this.

Baring my teeth in what I hoped would look like a smile, I led the child to Comparative Religion. She had questions; late browsers always do. Eastern or Native American? Dream therapy or transcendence? I took off my party hat, donned my bookselling beret, and swung into action.

Twenty-five minutes passed before she seemed satisfied that we’d found the single published book that met all her criteria. She arose from the puddle of rejects pulled from the shelves, stretched languorously, and said, “OK, then, I’ll guess I’ll take this one.”

$1.05 later, she meandered out the door, stopping to idle in the local book section as I resisted the urge to give an un-Zen-like push from the rear. It’s not her fault she bought a cheap book. She’s a teen. I should be grateful she’s reading. And that she shops local. That I got a chance to talk to her about what she likes to read. She didn’t know we had a “big” (pathetic) night planned. We should be thankful that we have customers at all in this bad economy. We have friends who run bookshops that close at 9 pm and then they still have to drive or walk home.

These things I chant to myself as I bolt the door and turn out all the shop lights. Munching burnt, cold pizza as the opening credits roll, Jack said, “Most of the time, it’s good to be our own bosses.”

Yes. Just perhaps a bit harder to find inner peace.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA