Customer Service

We learned long ago that our customers can buy their books anywhere (literally) so we’ve chosen to differentiate ourselves from the competition by the excellence of our customer service. From the comfy bench and dog post outside our front door through every room in our rabbit-warren of a store we’ve put the customer’s comfort first. Every room has at least one chair to sit in, warm rugs, and lots of lighting. We strive at TKE to make our store look more like a living room than a bookshop. And there are staff-picks in every section so that if a bookseller isn’t handy, customers can see at a glance some of the books were personally recommending.

Want help with an out-of-print title? We’ll find it for you. Need to have it shipped? Happy to help. May we wrap that for you? Why don’t we read a story to your child so that you can shop for a minute or two? That’s a beautiful scarf you have on. Isn’t it cold out there? How was the soccer game/track meet/tennis match? (Clothes can give a bookseller all sorts of ways to engage.)

Reading customers preferences from their demeanor, dress, and body language is an important part of a TKE bookseller’s job. Why? Because we want to be able to handsell them a book they will like, sure, but also because we want them to be happy and we want them to feel at home. We want our customers to feel cherished at TKE, to feel accepted, admired, and most of all part of our large warm family. When they walk in the door we greet them with a smile and we find a way to engage them in conversation—or if their body language makes it clear they’d rather be alone, we leave them in peace. If someone comes in who looks like a student we send one of our young booksellers in their direction. If a businessman or woman comes in, a slightly older bookseller stays close enough to be of help if necessary. And we try to learn their faces and names as quickly as possible, introducing old customers to newer booksellers and in general going out of our way to make our customers feel known, accepted, appreciated.

You know the saying about “brown paper packages tied up with string”? That’s how we gift wrap our books—as if a customer has returned to an early age when each purchase was precious and carefully thought through. We add bows, of course, adorned with colorful balloons and crayons for the children, our signature blue-and-tan checks for adults, seasonal colors for Christmas and Hanukkah. We lavish the same care on the packages we ship; Aaron wraps and ships books in brown kraft paper with incredibly neat handwriting. When packages arrive at customers’ doors they feel as if someone has wrapped the books just for them.

There are many positive steps in training staff about customer services, and there are also many “don’ts.” In working with booksellers, of course, these can as easily be framed as “dos”—as in, Do drop whatever you’re doing or saying, however important you may think it to be, if a customer needs help or is simply nearby. But beyond careful and thorough training, mentoring, and modeling, the thing that causes TKE to excel at customer service is our hiring. We hire for book knowledge, sure, but for friendly as well. A good bookseller likes people, so friendly isn’t a matter of training, it’s a matter of personality. In addition to being able to talk books, TKE booksellers must be expert listeners. And listening isn’t a learned skill but one born out of genuine curiosity and interest. Being helpful isn’t something drummed into them but rather is second nature.

Good booksellers are people-pleasers in short; figuratively, at least, they’ll tap dance and sing, do whirly gigs and pirouettes if it will help them make a customer happy. And they’ll have the intuitive sense to know when enough is enough. Hiring people with these skills makes the job of training them simple. Hiring is the key to good customer service. Teaching staff to think of the store as their living room, the customer as their honored guest, the person who’s always right and always front-and-center in one’s attention, giving them tips on how to strike up a conversation or be more helpful is just icing—the cake is already there in the personality of the bookseller.