Work proceeds, apace even. Mathematical magic and alphabetic abilities and the shocking ability to listen to NPR and read the NYT Book review have led me to be praised, perhaps even unduly. I guess it’s a surprise to find someone literate working in a bookstore, not that we don’t have people like that working with me– it’s just … a big store, and everyone has their genres, and I happened to have read all the Greek comedies and tragedies for a class I took in college. (What? My Dad was a classics geek who thought I should read all of Aeschylus and Euripides and Sophocles and Aristophanes, and it was better than reading Milton and Dante again. AP English and Humanities at our HS were truly AP.)
The past two days were a bookended lesson in “customer service,” if that’s what you call it. I tend to think of it as more of an ongoing psychological study– but then, I would, I’m nerdy like that and need to justify the way I overthink things.
So anyway. On to the story.
We keep the special orders and reservations and call-to-holds and all of that ilk behind the register– over time, things get purged, since the books are marked with an order sheet and a “hold until” date. The things that our store doesn’t normally carry (we’re smaller than average, no music or DVDs and we predate the superstore model, so yeah, I work in a bookstore that sells mostly books, how wacky is that?) go back to the publisher or the corporate warehouse(s), and the things we do stock get put on the shelves– then the computer record of the order gets canceled out, and it’s like it never existed unless you’ve got ten minutes to dig into order histories after chasing too many screens and click-throughs. There’s a warren of shelves in the basement for returns, although the obscure academic presses get a big scary box that gets shoved under a table.
Cue the customer who came in Thursday– heavy and pale and red-eyed and looking Unhappy with a Very Capital U. She wanted her book and it just wasn’t there. Said she’d special ordered it, and yes, she had to have, because it was a divinity-school level textbook and nothing we’d carry in normal course. It wasn’t in the return cart that still hadn’t gone down, it wasn’t on the order shelves, it wasn’t in the “wait” area– it was just nowhere. She got increasingly upset even as I explained where we would look next, irate and practically crying because she was handicapped and had to use the Ride (long story short, it’s a pain in the ass, almost unusable van service for the handicapped run by the MBTA through incompetent subcontractors) and she’d had to pay money to come here and it was coming back in twenty minutes and … and … and …. She said she’d called and asked for it to be held past the expiry period, but the damned thing was … nowhere. We finally found it in the Academic Press Return Box of Doom, after enlisting three people to search all over the store, then got it to her and got her a coffee to drink while she waited for the Ride to return.
Not one “thank you,” not one acknowledgment that we’d busted our humps, blah blah blah blah. She was inconsolate and angry, no doubt from whatever her disability was (she looked not just depressed but in pain) and nothing we did was going to make her happy ever again. (I found out, because I brought it up at the AM pre-opening meeting yesterday, that she had in fact called and someone forgot to bring the note down to the desk from the info desk upstairs.) I’d be upset, too, but … well, it was a reminder that some people simply cannot be anything besides unhappy, whether they’re crazy or not. I felt badly about the fact that the book had been mistakenly purged, but I was peeved, underneath, that there was no acknowledgment that we were trying our asses off to fix things for her.
Yesterday was a different matter. We’ve got a lot of repeat customers who come in a few times a week– some crazy, some retired, some simply bibliophiles, some all three and more. I answered some questions from a repeater, retiree, maybe a little bit crazy in an OCD, talks to everyone kind of way, let him look at one of the Mondo-Expensive medical books we keep behind the register, pointed out where something was in the store, and in between customers made small talk, which he seemed to need– and he was cognizant that he was taking my time and always went off to do something else while I was checking people out. I had other stuff to do, but the guy’s in all the time (even in my two and a half weeks working there) and he’s nice enough, even if he’s a bit wacky. He bought some books, I tallied them up and took his money, and then he wandered the store again while I dealt with some customers, checkouts, and a few smaller customer service-type tangles– then he came back with more books and I tallied them up for him and again checked him out.
“Do they care if you’re doing a good job?” he asked, after I put the new books in his old bag.
“Oh, I think that they like to hear things like that,” I answered. So he asked me to write down my name and our store number and said he was going to send in an email through the website, etc.
There wasn’t more to do than say thank you and that it was kind of him and I’d see him again soon, I was sure, but it was a contrast and a reminder at once to the experience we’d all had the day before. I mean– I didn’t do anything except make a bit of small talk and bring out the Harrison’s from behind the desk for him to page through.
So, psychosocial lesson for the week: the only thing we can do is try to be patient and polite– even kind, if we can swing it. People will either accept it or not, and there’s not much you can do about that except try to keep your temper in check, because their predispositions have nothing to do with you and you’re banging your head on the wall past a certain point. Also– little things count. You never know when small talk about Jerome Groopman’s most recent book will make a difference to some lonely person.
God. I hope all these bloggish reflections don’t end up sounding so trite. But … there it is. Stories about this creepy-stalkery holiday item we’re supposed to be pushing to come.