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Customer service defines your business and ultimately determines its level of success. You may have a rare item that someone would like to purchase, however, because of a poor experience, or the poor experience of a friend, that customer may decide to purchase online instead of through your venue. Not sure how you can offer world-class customer service? TopShelf Magazine is here to help.

NEVER STALK - Don't act like a car salesman and stalk your customers the moment they walk into your business or follow them around like they are a thief. A known thief loitering about your store is one thing, however, don’t watch every move a customer makes if there's no reason to believe they are trouble. Your customers will most likely leave and never come back, and advise everyone they know to do the same.

MEMBERSHIPS - Offer customer’s free memberships. Memberships make people feel connected, engages them more in what you are doing and discounts encourage members to shop more at your store. However, beware, customers hate being charged for memberships and will often opt out.

KNOWLEDGABLE STAFF - Knowledgeable and friendly employees are one of the benefits of bookstores. Use them wisely. Have an “Employee Corner” in your monthly newsletter, have employees make a list of their favorite books and print them on bookmarks, have shelf hangers under employees favorite books with the reason why it is a favorite. Also, meet with your employees often and brainstorm ideas and feedback regarding marketing campaigns, or use Survey Monkey as a tool for staff to offer ideas or to give feedback. Visit stores for business ideas, not only bookstores, and take pictures and notes of what the other establishments are doing right or wrong. Engage your employees with specific responsibilities to implement your ideas in the store.

LOCAL EXPERTS - Engage your community’s local experts for book suggestions. Ask a therapist for their favorite self-help books, business owners for the business section, veterinarians for pet books, local chefs for the cookbook section, and so on, and post the lists in the relevant sections of the store. Also, ask local teachers and professors to recommend books to help your bookstore become a better curator for student customers. Most public school teachers have yearly “summer book lists” where students are encouraged to read two books from that list during the summer.

SMARTPHONES - Bookstores that have a “no smartphone” policy are hurting themselves. By not allowing customers to use their phone to look up books and reviews, even if they could use the information they find to shop elsewhere, you are succeeding at only one thing––giving customers a bad feeling about your store. You can not stop customers from purchasing a book on Amazon, however, giving them a reason to buy from them, and likely never return to your store, is just bad business. 

EASIER THE BETTER - Many customers come to your store because they want to support a local business rather than a big box store; however, the first sight of difficulty and they will almost certainly run to the big box store. Customers want their questions answered quickly, so computerize your inventory and have someone on-hand who understands the computer system or smartphone app, so that customers have their questions answered instantly. Also, no one enjoys waiting in line to make a purchase. Speed up the checkout process by ringing up purchases without having to go to a register by using a square reader or smartphone.

CUSTOM ORDERS - It is important to make customer’s orders simple. If all you are doing is placing an order on Amazon and having it ready to be picked up in a week, a customer will appreciate that service, and if you can order books at wholesale and have them available quickly, offer that as a service to your customers. Hang large signs that tell customers the service is available. Wave the shipping costs if you must, or you could offer 99¢ shipping for all orders over $15.

STORE WEBSITE - A simple, well-designed website allows customers to find information and place orders easily. The process of placing an order should be easy, with clearly defined policies. Also, if a customer finds a book in the inventory, they should be given the option to place the order over the phone. The customer should be able to track the progress of their delivery. The shipping policy must be clear to the customer. Offer fixed rates and a reasonable delivery time. Staff needs to ensure that orders are delivered within the predetermined amount of time to maintain customer satisfaction. There should be several payment options available including credit card, debit card, or cash on delivery. Providing these options will likely result in increased sales and improve the customer’s buying experience.

REALLY LISTEN - Have a “Customer Suggestion Box” and ask your customers to fill out a card with a short survey. Questions can be as simple as “What do you/don’t like about our bookstore?”, “Did we have what you were looking for today?”. The answers will bring to your attention issues that may have never crossed your mind, however, are very important.

RETURN POLICY - It is important to have a clearly defined policy regarding exchanges and returns so that there is no confusion. Mention the policy on receipts and train staff to handle all customer questions regarding the policy. Typically customers have a 30-day timeframe where bookstores will allow returns or exchanges under certain requirements. The book must be in good shape at the time of return.

ESCALATIONS - Make sure to train your staff how to handle escalations. When a customer is angry, disappointed, or feels wronged by someone within your business, quality of merchandise, pricing, and so on, your staff needs to remain calm and listen to the customer without interruption. Never have a bad attitude towards a customer's complaint. Always stay friendly, smile, and assure the customer that you are going to work hard to make their complaint heard and if needed, corrected. Moreover, never, ever, make promises that you cannot fulfill.

IN CLOSING - No marketing professional will ever honestly state that there is one marketing idea or method that will work 100% of the time, for 100% of their clients. The truth is, there is no magic bullet, and there are no guarantees in life or business. Everything we do is a risk. However, there is one thing I can assure you––something I can and will promise. The worst thing you can do in this life is nothing at all. Remember, do what you love, and love what you do, and the world will eventually follow.