“Just Do What I Say”

Josie Leavitt - September 23, 2011

Yesterday, I had a very interesting and disturbing encounter with a customer service rep of a large distributor I do business with every day. As can happen, I inadvertently received a box intended for a Vermont library from my brand new Fed Ex driver. My co-worker called the distributor’s customer service number and asked that they send a call tag so the books could find their rightful home at the library.
I did not think this was a tough request. Apparently, I was wrong. Poor JP was so befuddled by the procedure that the distributor was recommending, she handed me the phone. I spoke with the rep, Christine, who was very pleasant, and she told me to either destroy or donate the books. I was confused. Destroy or donate perfectly good books? Why not just send them to the right place? Well, because these were library books, and had been prepared for that particular library, I was told it would be more cost-effective to just reprocess them than pay for the shipping.
So, now I’ve got a box of books intended for a specific library that the distributor will not help me get to them. So I took matters into my own hands. I called the librarian and explained the situation. Dave was really sweet and appreciative when I told him I would send him the books if he would reimburse me for shipping. He agreed, and I got the books ready to ship. I thought I was done.
Well, two hours later I got a call from Christine. She said they were sending a call tag for the books. I told her I’d already taken care of it and was getting the books to the librarian. She sounded mad when she said, “Just do I what I say. You should have waited.”
Waited for what? I was told to dispense with the books. I did. I got them back in the hands of the right person. She was furious. I’m still not sure why she was so mad. I did exactly what I was told to do, I got rid of the books. I have no idea if the library then called to cancel their order, but if the books were going to be free, did she have any right to be that mad?
Since when is a mis-ship something that I have to deal with by donating or destroying it? Especially when an electronic pick-up tag is a few keystrokes away. And, when is being yelled at by a customer service rep, for doing exactly what they said, considered good customer service? I am confused by the blatant destruction of books (see my post about stripped covers) that is occurring in this lean publishing time. I wish everyone who told me to donate books spent time at stores trying to donate them. While I love the idea of donating books, it’s costly to prepare them, both in shipping expense and staff time.
So, I guess it’s true that no good deed goes unpunished. But I’m loathe to see what comes in on Monday for fear of needing to call customer service.

9 thoughts on ““Just Do What I Say”

  1. virginia

    Josie … I don’t know whether to laugh or cry about this story. I think, though, I would have asked to speak with a supervisor. The really scary thought is wondering how often something like this happens, and what, if anything, I order from WHEREVER … gets “lost” or destroyed. The idea of destroying books? OMGoodness!

  2. Ellen R

    Josie, I agree that it’s crazy. My own recent example of customer service craziness isn’t quite as bad, but…. I received a book with a torn paper jacket and called to request that the publisher send me a replacement jacket. I got the “Donate or destroy the book”…..they’re going to send a “no charge replacement.” Seriously???

  3. braak

    She was mad because, in the interim, she talked to her supervisor and realized that she’d told you to do the wrong thing. She was hoping that when she called you back, you wouldn’t have done anything with the books yet, but because you *had*, she got upset and, rather than admit her mistake, got angry and tried to foist the blame for the error onto you.
    Of course, all things considered, there was no reason for her to get upset — everything worked out fine. But embarrassment is a weird thing, you know? The knowledge of your failure is always there, glaring at you, regardless of the consequences (or lack thereof) of that failure.

  4. Ellie Miller

    A resounding I AGREE! anent the horror of stripping and trashing GOOD books! Especially the ‘trashing’ part when there are so many places (retirement homes, senior centers, etc.) desprate for donations…not to mention marvelous Operation Paperback which sends PBs to the Near East for our book-starved service men and women, but can only accept fully ‘covered’ books. Donating, though, becomes a hardship for someone like myself, a senior who lives alone and is trying very hard currently to downsize my rather massive library of both HBs and PBs. Since I had quite a number of boxes to offer, my local library system WAS willing to send their truck ’round to do a pick up…with many thanks on both ends, but that’s the exception. Most libraries as well as other orgnizations require you to bring the books to them, a physical impossibility in my case. Pity!

  5. Doug Cochrane

    I’m reminded of the old notice in the Hancock NH town clerks office, ” Lack of planning on your part does not represent a crisis on my part”

  6. Susie Wilmer

    We face this every day in the number of damaged new books in so many of the shipments from the publishers that we are told to donate or destroy. In many cases the book was badly published and it should have been caught when the book was put in the box to ship to us. The publishers are just pushing the quality control off onto the last step-the store. We are lucky in that we can donate to a book sale for scholarships with little work (they pick up). but it takes a lot of time to call the publishers, wait on hold to get to customer service and then re-do the inventory work to keep our system accurate.

    1. Tint

      I was wondering the very same thing. Unless the publisher had accidentally addressed the box incorrectly the responsibility falls with the shipping company to correct the situation as it was their error and not the publishers.

  7. Theresa M. Moore

    One of the reasons I went with print on demand with no returns for bulk is the idea of a book’s cover being stripped off and rendered unusable just because it is being returned. It costs me less to print one at a time and when an order is filled, quality control becomes 100%. As for the clerk being clueless, that happens more times than not nowadays. Telepathy should not be a requisite.
    The call tag error points out too much reliance on sticky labels rather than common sense.


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