Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Customer No-Service

In the computer age, when even a really young kid can successfully surf the net, Barnes & Noble maybe ought to rethink its customer service procedures in its brick & mortar stores.

I heard about a book on Diane Rehm's show yesterday and I knew immediately that it was the gift I wanted for my friend L. The problem is that I've been kind of overworked lately; to compensate, I went nowhere near a computer all of yesterday through about 6 p.m. today. So I walked into B&N unprepared. I couldn't remember the name of the book, but I knew it was sort of like The Republican Dictionary. I waited quite some time for one of the very busy customer service people to get off the phone. When one did and I got my turn, she couldn't find anything in the computer based on my vague recollection.

Naturally, as soon as I stepped away from the customer service booth, I remembered the name: The Dictionary of Republicanisms. Alas, it was too late. "My" customer service rep was leading a pair of young men somewhere, presumably toward their desired purchase, and the other rep was continuing the conversation that the poor young man had been having for at least 10 minutes with someone about Narnia books. And four people were waiting in line.

I went home.

I ordered the book from Amazon and am having it shipped straight to L. I'll give her a printout of the webpage in a card tomorrow.

My point is this: almost all of us know how to quickly find books on websites. Why not revamp the system and scatter terminals around the store that would allow customers access to the B&N webpage? Why not link the webpage to the store's inventory and let customers know if the book is in stock and what section they'll find it in? (Most computer/electronics stores let online customers know if their desired purchase is in stock in the local brick & mortar store.) Why is the store's inventory a closely-guarded secret?

I somehow suspect that this wouldn't put the service reps out of work; people will always have questions. But why not let customers find the answers we're capable of finding on our own?


Waveflux said...

Your story reminds me of a commercial in which a guy is siting at a table in a restaurant. Poof! His waiter magically appears and asks what he wants. The poor guy stammers out an order, then tries to request something else but - poof! The server is gone again.

I think about this customer/bookstore thing sometimes as I toiled in a small indie store for thirteen years. The public is so much more educated about finding books on their own, and frankly accustomed to speedy service thanks to the Internet. The slow pace of service (the ordering process in particular) in bookstores must drive a fair number of folks into self-sufficiency - even me, and I'm fairly sympathetic to the bricks and mortar stores.

One good thing about the BookSense arrangement between ABA member stores is that their websites are hooked into the physical store's inventory, just like the electronics stores you mentioned: you look up a title and know whether or not the book is actually in stock, and the quantity. It really would provide value if the larger chains provided the kinds of info kiosks you suggest. Of course, you might still need a customer service rep to guide you to the physical location of the book...if you could flag a rep down!

Bitty said...

Maybe we'll see those kinds of kiosks later. It only seems logical.

After all, B&N lost a sale over the situation.

I think maybe they didn't have the book because when out of curiosity I went to and typed in my erroneous request, up came the very thing I wanted. Second choice was a book with a similar name. But she said she had nothing.

They could provide on the results listing the name of the section the book was in and a map of the store's layout. Heck, they could have the section light up on the map. This is doable. This would also free up the customer service rep to talk to that person on the phone who wanted a book on Narnia, but not any of the books the poor young man was pulling from the shelves.