Mean Customers and How They Make Us Feel

Josie Leavitt - January 13, 2015

We’ve all had this happen: sometimes customers are mean. They don’t set out to be angry or cranky, but sometimes they are. Recently, two of my youngest staffers shared a few funny interactions with me, proving what we all already knew: being able to share the misery, as it were, makes it easier to deal with mean people.
She had been helping a customer and it wasn’t going well, and rather than say anything out loud, rightpostshe let me know she needed help by slipping me a note, that quite simply said, “This woman doesn’t like me.” Almost heartbreaking in its simplicity, the note was a tiny cry for help borne out of frustration. Once I stopped chuckling (it was funny, after all) I traded spots with Laura and asked her to help me ring up someone while I worked with the woman. After I helped the customer, who didn’t really like me much either, Laura and I had a good laugh about it. But this brings up the joy of having other booksellers to be able to help out when things get a little difficult.
Sunday I left work early because I wasn’t feeling well and the store was quite slow on a frigid Sunday. PJ is quite capable and I retreated to my couch with a hot cup of tea and promptly fell textasleep – only to awakened by my phone alerting me I had a text from one of my co-workers. I’ve given all of them the same text tone of an old-fashioned teletype machine, it’s very loud. I read the text. I felt horrible. I texted back and asked if she needed help. She said she was okay, but someone actually yelled at her because we closed the store for a week to take our annual break. I really wish I had been there for that. Sometimes you just need help and someone who can handle the situation.
My turn for cranky customers came yesterday. I’m not sure if it’s the weather or just a wacky planetary lineup. But I was working with Laura and we had three in a row. And one on the phone. All smallflwounhappy about things I couldn’t totally fix. But we did reach good agreements and everything ended well.
Here’s the thing, though. The number of cranky or mean customers is literally dwarfed (by a factor of 100) by the number of customers who come in and share their kindness with us. I got to work Sunday and noticed fresh flowers. I asked who they were from and was told, “A customer saw the article in the Wall Street Journal about the bookstore and wanted to say congratulations.”
Luckily for me, this is the environment I have the pleasure of working in almost every day.

3 thoughts on “Mean Customers and How They Make Us Feel

  1. Kathy Magruder

    You can do everything possible to help customers but sometimes you just run across the crazy ones. I once had a family in the Saturday before Christmas. Two out of three of our staff were helping them when the third staffer noticed the family’s toddler standing in the street outside the store and ran out to retrieve her. Later that afternoon the mother called to the store to complain. In her version of the visit no one would help her or her family and when they couldn’t find their daughter, no one would help them look. I might have believed her if I hadn’t been helping her and seen the entire thing. She yelled at me on the phone for a good five minutes and I apologized to her for not enjoying her visit. Then I made sure to tell my staff that they were doing a great job.

  2. Shirley Mullin

    Yesterday it wasn’t cranky customers but cranky self-published authors. I had three in a row who were quite angry that I wouldn’t stock their books. I did look at each book carefully, etc One was a picture book that apparently retails somewhere for 27.00. I told the gentleman that we couldn’t sell a picture book at that price point. I didn’t add “even if it’s good.” He then asked me what most picture books cost. I find it so amazing that he would pay for printing 2000 books (1000 of which, he told me proudly, are at Amazon), but not even be aware of picture books in general.


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