While on vacation this past week, I was reminded anew the importance of customer service, or lack thereof, and its effect on the customer. I was happily browsing and chatting, not loudly or about anything other than books, in the back of this store, when the sole worker approached me and my two friends and said pointedly, “Could you please keep it down.” This was punctuated with a withering look as he went to the store room.
I was stunned. Not only were we not being loud or inappropriate, we were in a bookstore, not the reading room of the Library of Congress. To be shushed in a store when I was hardly speaking above a whisper really chilled me. So much in fact, I put the book down I was thinking of buying and left, and I never went back the rest of the vacation, and this is a store that I always try to patronize when I’m on the Cape. This experience brought home to me that one bad experience can sour a customer on a store, sometimes forever. As a store owner, I got to thinking about the old adage I always hear about customer service: if someone has a great experience they tell three people about it, if they have a bad experience, they tell nine people. That’s a horrible ratio, which bore out with the shushing experience.
A good bookstore should be many things, but most of all it should be welcoming. Happy customers chatting about books makes the store seem vital and alive. A silent store makes people nervous. I’ve actually said, in a loud whisper, “You don’t have to whisper. It’s a bookstore, not a library, really it’s okay to speak.” Children usually laugh when I say this and parents visibly relax. Being able to have a conversation is HUGE in a bookstore. Bookstore inspire discussion and discussions should not be hushed. One of the things I love best about the Flying Pig is when customers join conversations and complete strangers are talking about why they loved, or hated, a particular book. It’s invigorating and I love to hear what everyone’s got to say.
A bookstore is a tiny community within its town. People come in expecting to be able to browse and to chat, and that’s how it should be. I can honestly say that in fourteen years of business, I’ve never shushed anyone, and if I ever do, it’s time for me to get a new job.