Monday, October 10, 2011

The Points System, or How to Avoid Stealing the Souls of Innocent Retail Clerks Everywhere

Because stealing souls might SOUND fun, but it's EVIL. And you'll lose points. You don't want to lose points. The innocent customer next in line doesn't want you to lose points, either.

This post is brought to you because I haven't been posting enough lately, and I especially haven't been posting non-depressing material enough lately. Yes, complaining about customers I don't have to deal with anymore is my idea of fun. No really, it is. The following was SO MUCH FUN TO WRITE. [Yeah, I'm using a lot of caps lock. I blame Maureen Johnson. She does it (erm, on twitter, anyway), and she's funny. It's possible that I've read too many of her tweets recently, and she's rubbing off on me. You should follow her, too.]

This post is also brought to you because I feel like I keep hearing complaints about how customer service is getting worse and worse. This might be quite true, but there's another side of the coin that's very important to be aware of. Namely, customers are also getting worse and worse. Either that, or they have always been horrible. For proof, see the hilarious blog Not Always Right. (Caution: Best to consume in small doses.)

Please, don't be one of these horrible customers and then complain that customer service is getting worse and worse. And even if you're the most saintly of customers... be aware that everyone has a snapping point. Even when they're enormously grateful that they have a job. Even when they like helping people. Unfortunately for you, the person not helping you may have just reached that snapping point five minutes ago (or maybe last year...).

Last but not least, this post is brought to you because of Query Quagmire and Slushpile Hell. These are blogs from the publishing world, from a literary agent and an editor. They are about query FAILS. Epic fails. So bad. In some respects "Not Always Right" is their natural equivalent in the customer service world, but after working at a used bookstore and rejecting countless boxes of books brought in by hopeful sellers, I... feel a special camaraderie with these lovely anonymous human beings. So when I read last week's "Query Quagmire" post The Points System, or "What not to do in a query letter... ever" I was inspired. This post is roughly modeled after that one. Just... with more opening paragraphs of explanation, because this blog is not devoted to griping about customers.

(Getting published is a dream come true to a lot more people than selling used books is, so you'd think people would be less passionate about this. You'd think. Perhaps people aren't scouring teh Interwebs asking, "Why can't I sell my books at a bricks-and-mortar used bookstore? Oh, for the love of all that is good, why? Why will no one take them?!" Regardless, this was fun to write, and hopefully fun to read. Even if you would never do anything as awful as the things I will describe, I hope you can extrapolate some lessons for good customership. Yes, customership. It's a perfectly good word... now that I invented it.)

Here's how the points system works:

When you walk in the door, you start with some points. The amount you start with isn't important right now, what matters is how many points you lose from the moment you walk in the door to the moment... well, either the moment the employee decides which of your books to buy and how much money to give you for those books, or... any other Customer Interaction Moment.

I would now tell you, as "Query Quagmire" did, that "You can only lose points," but that's not completely true. I would allow you to gain points, but the ways you can do that are few and far between and vary widely from person to person. I refuse to tell you what they are. They're not important.

But wait: "Points?" you ask. "How can working retail be like reading a query letter? Aren't you selling things, not buying? Oh sure, so in your case you bought used books too, but even then, don't the books speak for themselves? And isn't the customer always right?"

There are three answers to those questions. Answer number one: See Not Always Right.

Answer number two: No, as I've already mentioned, used bookstore employees also buy books from customers (and/or from the homeless). It's true that there are certain objective measures that are used -- for example, a copy of Twilight would have to be in pretty bad condition not to buy it -- but it's also a rather subjective process. The rule of thumb is not to buy books if you're not completely sure they'll sell (and sell quickly), but... like I said, it's subjective. An employee might lean on the generous side or the harsh side, depending on how many points you've lost so far.

There's also the matter of money. Yes, there's an objective formula to follow: You get a set percentage of each book's store resale price. (As with everything else in this post, this may vary widely from used bookstore to used bookstore, but most of the principles behind it remain the same.) But... the buyer may not be the one who sets those prices. The buyer may estimate. If he's worked at the store very long, his estimates will be pretty good, but if you've lost a lot of points already, guess what? He's going to go with his lower estimates. Just for you. Because he loves you so much.

And the third answer? So you're not selling any books to the store, you're buying, and the employees have to be nice to you, right? No matter how much of a jerk you are? Meh. To some extent. With some employees, you can go pretty far and they'll still be nice to you. But everyone has a snapping point. It's only human. After enough customers in a row have lost a sufficient number of points, it's quite possible that the employee will lose their soul. And people without souls tend not to be as gracious in customer interactions. Just sayin'.

[Please note that none of the point losses listed below have anything to do with the actual quality of the books in question. That's a whole 'nother list. And even though these points, when lost in sufficient quantities to go negative and create black holes, can have repercussions for any Customer Interaction Moment, I limited myself to the Point Loss Methods you might fall prey to when selling your books to a secondhand store. That's my area of expertise. There are more ways to lose points in customer service (again, see Not Always Right), but I thought I'd start small, and with the list more similar to Query Quagmire's.]

So with no further ado, you can lose points in the following ways:

  • By telling me, "They're in really good condition" (For whatever reason, there's an inverse relationship between the number of times that phrase is used and the actual condition of the books.)
  • By calling the store for directions, proceeding not to follow them, and then blaming me for the results
  • By refusing to carry the books into the store yourself
  • By complaining about the parking in a tone that implies I should Do Something about it (News flash: I can't)
  • By demanding I look at your books right away, even if paying customers have to wait
  • By calling yourself a "really good customer" when you've never bought a book from the store once
  • By ever referring to one of my coworkers with the words, "But he said..."
  • By complaining about how long it's taking me to check your books
  • By rearranging my piles of rejected and accepted books, even if you're trying to be helpful 
  • By asking the reason for each rejection, and exclaiming "Oh, but it's so good! You won't have any trouble selling that one. It changed my life! I would totally keep it if I weren't moving/didn't need the money/weren't selling off my dead grandmother's estate (okay, so I haven't read her books, I don't even know how to read, but I'm sure it's Very Good, that's the only kind she had)."
  • By arguing that I HAVE to buy your book back, and my reasons against it Do Not Apply, because you bought it here
  • By telling me what will sell
  • By giving me the life story of every single book I pull out of your box (Ever heard the expression, "Don't judge a book by its cover"? I believe it became a common saying because customers Do. So unless you plan on sticking around and recommending your former books to everyone who walks in the door until they finally sell...)
  • By bringing me books to sell only after browsing the shelves for a while
  • By trying to sell a bunch of titles that recently went missing
  • By trying to sell a bunch of books I rejected earlier that day, that the last hopeful dumped in the trash can or on the sidewalk outside our store
  • By ever dumping the rejects in the trash can or on the sidewalk outside our store
  • By asking if I can throw away the rejects for you
  • By offering to "throw in" the rejects for only a dollar, when HELLO, I WOULDN'T TAKE THIS CRAP FOR FREE
  • By calling my coworker an f--ing __ (Assume I like my coworkers. Some of them are my good friends. You're better off assuming they all are.)
  • By hitting on me as crudely as possible
  • By insulting the store
  • By disparaging children's books, or fantasy, or Tolkien
  • By explaining to me who Tolkien was after I've already told you he's my favorite author
  • By asking my name and using it every five seconds (Hint: Over-friendliness is really, really annoying)
  • By telling me a sob story about why you have to get rid of all two of your bookshelves
  • By asking, "Are we having fun yet?" while I check which of your books are already in stock (Hint: If I wasn't, that question ain't gonna help)
  • By bringing a box of books straight from your garage, containing spiders and mouse droppings
  • By not apologizing when you see me flinch from the spider in the box you brought me
There are doubtless many more, and I could wait a few days to post this, to try to remember them all... but I won't. More posting! Less waiting! Huzzah!

It should be noted that losing points here and there doesn't necessarily mean I'll reject any more books than I would have otherwise, or give you any less money. It's not going to help you, though.

Also of import: This is my points system. Other clerks might have slightly different things that peeve or enrage them. Good luck!

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