Suzanne was tenacious. She wanted me to buy the Barnes and Noble membership card. When I came through her check-out line with my first set of purchases, she said, “You could have saved $8 – you’d be a third of a the way through to having your card paid for.” I hemmed and hawed and then said no. “I come here once a year, for Christmas gifts – you have a great selection of gift books.” They don’t have that big footprint for nothing.
So I went away not buying the card. Then I realized several more purchases I wanted to make – and came back to Suzanne with another $75 worth of books. She said, “You know, if you had bought that card… and by the way, it’s not too late. We could go back and re-ring that whole first sale.” She was really willing to go out of her way to do this.
I was on the edge this time – and finally said, “No. I’m a Malaprops shopper. I don’t buy from big chains. I support our local independent bookseller. They have my loyalty – I don’t want to do something that will build loyalty elsewhere.” Suzanne said, “Well, in some ways you are buying from independent booksellers. I’ve been here 15 years. I love to read and I’m a writer. This is a job where I get to be around books. Tony over here has worked for Barnes and Noble for 18 years. You’re not buying from some high school kid – you’re dealing with book professionals.”
As Suzanne was bagging my books, she continued her sales pitch: “Each month you will get a coupon for 20% off certain kinds of books. When you buy online you always get free expedited shopping.” Now that made me perk up.
But I have loyalty to Amazon, too. I think Amazon is great – it revolutionized the book industry. What I couldn’t escape though, was that Suzanne was building a relationship with me. She was my bookseller. So I said yes. Suzanne was pleased, though she kept her dignity. She didn’t do a happy dance or anything gouche like that.
But she had gone the extra mile. I know, from being a cashier, what it’s like to really invest in selling your company – to really invest in getting the best for your customer. You have to put it on the line. It takes energy. Suzanne did it. I don’t know how many customers a day she did that for, but she did it for me.
She had said that she’s a writer. I pulled out my business card and told her, “I’m a writer too. I write a blog about cashiering and you are a superb cashier. I’d like to write a post about you.” She was tickled, a little shy but happy about this prospect. I think she was happy just that there was such a blog, then doubly happy at the prospect of being featured in it.
I said, “Maybe tonight I’ll write this up.” I didn’t say “I’ve got about three other posts queued up in front of it – it might not be tonight.”
I took my new purchases over to the gift-wrapping station and while I was there I realized two missing pieces for this blog post – her first name and, preferably, a photo. I went back around to the check out area. This time there was a line. She spotted me in the line and giggled right away.
When I went up to her I said, “I have two requests: I’d like to use your first name and I’d like a picture of you.” She said, “I look terrible today.” “I don’t think you look terrible – I think you look fine. And it will make the blog post just pop. And if you do that for me I promise that I will write a blog post about you tonight.”
Now it’s a promise. There’s a good likelihood that by the time I get through some other to do’s tonight it will be late and I won’t feel like doing this – may actually have a hard time marshaling the level of focus needed to write this. (But I actually have pretty directly transcribed all this from a digital recording I made right after leaving Barnes and Noble.) I do well with accountability…not to say that every time I have promised to write a blog post I actually have done it.
Suzanne had won me over. I wasn’t buying from Barnes and Noble – I was buying from Suzanne. Now she was not really going to be my personal bookseller. I wouldn’t be able to call her up. But in this moment, in a merchandising market that can be so impersonal, she met me as a person. She seemed to genuinely care about me. Even if she was primarily driven by a desire (or pressure) to drive her upsell numbers up, for me in that moment it was all personal.
I had a spiffy new Barnes and Noble membership card and a promise that lots of B&N promotions would be hitting my email inbox (“Just once a week”, Suzanne said). I do not know if this card will actually end up saving me money – or in any way change my book buying habits. I don’t know if it will draw me into the store, where I will immerse myself in the world of books. I don’t know in which situations I will choose for Malaprop’s – certainly some. And when I will choose for Amazon – probably sometimes I will comparison shop, though that may get to be a pain in the neck.
I left Barnes and Noble happy. I had had a real exchange with a real person – doing her best, with a lot of dignity, to do a good job. I felt like she liked me – and I definitely liked her. She made me proud to be a cashier.