A friend of mine was in a Borders yesterday looking for a couple of books. She sat down on the carpeted floor in the travel section so she could comfortably pull out a few titles from a low shelf and check them out. A clerk came up and said, “Ma’am, customers are not allowed to sit on the floor.” She asked if he had a chair, and he said she would have to go to the cafe if she wanted to sit down.
They haven’t invented the right profanity for this situation yet, but let me express why it deserves one most sour: These are the days in which bookstores are going down. Amazon, ebooks, self-distribution, shortened attention spans—there are a raft of reasons. In this time when bookstores are at least on the threatened, if not endangered species list, you tell a customer they can’t sit in the store when they are looking at books? Greatgodalmighty!
When I was a kid, one of my greatest delights was to go to the library and surround myself with books I pulled off the shelves. I sat in the aisles for hours sometimes, lost in the world of words. Many years later (and the jobs years apart), I managed a couple of bookstores, even one owned by a corporation. There was no stiff-backed rule about sitting in the aisles—I couldn’t imagine shooing a customer away like that unless they were putting ice-cream cones in the books, or taking Magic Markers to them. Of course, of course, you don’t want your customers literally blocking the aisle, but this wasn’t the case.
Howl of Customer Cruelty
The kicker is that besides looking for a travel book, my friend was looking to buy a copy of Howl, the seminal Allen Ginsberg work. Why Howl? Because one of her clients is a poet. The client is moving to New Orleans, and she wanted to give him a gift. THAT’S customer service. Her customer is leaving, yet she is making him a generous gesture. That’s rising above—not practicing rule-making folly.
Don’t treat your customers like trash in your aisles. Find a connection, not a stiff-stick-up-the-rear rule. Share life’s poetry with them instead.
And for surviving my rant, you get a bonus treat: here is the last paragraph of Sunflower Sutra, one of the selections from Howl. Let’s be sunflowers instead of automaton clerks at bloodless corporations.
--We're not our skin of grime, we're not our dread
bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we're all
beautiful golden sunflowers inside, we're blessed
by our own seed & golden hairy naked
accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black
formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our
eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive
riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening