Monday, November 3, 2008

They Don't Sell Anything

My wife and I were asked a favor recently by another member of the family, who is attending college. The favor was simple: buy a textbook for her that was not available in any bookstore in North Texas. She found one far, far away, but couldn't get to it. We had a day off and wanted to help. So, we Mapquest-ed it and headed to a little college, south of Dallas County, hoping the trip would allow us some catching-up time without the girls.

Off we went and catching up we did.

I have to disclose, before I go on, that both my wife and I have customer service as the core of what we do for a living. Truly, without exceptional customer service in our given fields -- funeral service and interior design --, we'd be out of a gig. Some say mine -- funeral service -- is something we will always "need." True as it may be, funeral service is not without competition in a Capitalist society. We have nothing guaranteed about how much business we'll do. People have choices, and customer service remains the Golden Rule.

Back to our story...

So, we finally find the college through a myriad of obscure signs. The college baseball team was assembling in a parking lot, and we got our first taste in I-don't-give-a-crapness. I asked one of the fellas where the school's bookstore was, and he turned to the another. Both shrugged their shoulders and continued their business before my wife and I ruined their lives (or so their faces expressed). I let the car roll to the next player, and he never even looked at me. He did manage the comment, "It's near the student center." That didn't help either. I gave up on the baseball team and sought life elsewhere.

To the college's credit, on-going construction resulted in signs not being up-to-date. Besides, who visits this place anyway, if not a student? I guess only desperate book-seekers like us.

I'm in my 36th year, and I think I'm eligible for a "yes sir" from a college student now, right? That's what I got from the next person I saw. I was floored. A young man, not only gladly came over to talk to us, but acknowledged my greeting with a "yes sir." He kindly pointed to the bookstore and wished us a good day.

Wow! They do exist!

That's not really the point, but you get the sense of what this entry is about.

So, we made our way to the bookstore and entered the retail space. The only cashier there never greeted us, but at least did look up when we asked, "Where do we get a book that has been reserved by phone?"

She said, "In the back." That's it.

So, we headed to what we felt was the back, and this is where it got ugly.

A lady in her midlife crisis (or so her face expressed) saw us coming. She was sitting at a desk, pretending to be very interested in her computer monitor. We stood there for about 10 seconds, waiting for her to look up, giving her the benefit of the doubt that whatever was on the monitor was (in fact) important -- at least more than two in-house paying customers.

She never looked up.

So, I asked, "Is this where we get books on reserve by phone?"

With a five-second delay, she finally managed to look at us. She frowned and asked, "What do you mean on 'reserve'"?

"You know, we called and asked that a certain text be reserved so we can come buy it. A person from this bookstore agreed and told us we had 24-hours to come get it."

"I don't know anything about that. Go to the cashier."

And, with that she went back to her computer. Her tag announced her name and "manager" on it, so, I wasn't going to let her off so easily.

As my wife turned to head back, she whispered, "Why is she so rude?"

I said loudly, "Cause they don't have to sell anything here."

The manager sneered at me and probably wanted to run her mouth, but she didn't. As we headed back to the cashier, who was busy on her cell phone, my wife asked, "What do you mean?"

"Look around dear. This retail space is full of things students HAVE to buy. Only about 20% of it is things you have to try and sell. There were the expected magazines, school souvenirs, junk food, etc., but the money was made in college texts students needed."

No effort -- or very little -- is needed to run this store.

We made it to the counter again, and waited for our cashier to tell her friend she needed to end her cell phone talk.

"The woman on the back said she didn't know anything about our book. She said to come back to you."

"What? What am I supposed to do?" she asked, as if I was now responsible to solve her problem.

All along, the book was behind the cashier on a counter she never cared to look at. She rang us up, and it took an Act of Congress to leave the store because we paid with a personal check. I would have canceled that form of payment for a credit card in the spirit of leaving earlier, but I didn't. It was retaliation for their obtuseness and don't-give-a-shitness. Excuse my French, please.

The whole experience took 1.5 hours (drive plus unhappy workers/students). We met our goal, but the experience was unbearable. Because my wife and I sometimes spend more time with our clients than our own family, it'd be nice to get some of that customer service back here and there.

Our standard is so low now days. We just don't expect anything anymore. Have you ever tried to get anybody at Wal-Mart or Home Depot to help lately? You may hit the jackpot at 2 a.m. at Wal-Mart. Try Home Depot at about 6 a.m.

We just flat don't care.

You know, I'm sure being the manager of a college bookstore -- or cashier for that matter -- is not a life's goal, but I can tell you it certainly is a choice in this country. I'm continually baffled about people in the U.S. and how unhappy we seem to be.

Why do we have such a problem with worrying about what we don't have? What we are not?

How about a little "I'm happy to have another day of life!" every morning?

Here's a life lesson for you folks, who seem to be eternally unhappy with what you consider a "bad life".

A man was leaving his dad's house one Sunday afternoon. The man was in his mid-thirties, a rising attorney, and a newly wed. His new bride chose to spend the afternoon with her mother, as watching the Cowboys game was not her cup of tea.

The man got in his car after the game was over, on his way to pick up his bride. Comments I heard were that he had called his wife to let her know he was on his way, and that he'd made been better off spending the day with her, than watching the Cowboys poor display of sportsmanship. Dad -- his dad -- did not agree. After all, the Cowboys were a big part of the family sports allegiances. His last words to his son were, "A win is a win."

The man's dad did not know those would be his last words to him, neither did his wife.

The man pulled up to a stop light at a busy intersection. Two blocks and he'd be with his wife. When his light was green, he pressed the gas pedal. A person to his left was busy with the cell phone to notice the red light, and broadsided him hard. The man sustained severe internal injuries and died a short time later at a hospital.

Up until the second when his car got hit, this man's biggest concern was missing out on time with his wife and how badly the Cowboys had played. He could have never guessed those would be his last thoughts.

Stories like this are not just news items I see on TV or newspaper. There not second-hand stories at dinner, or cooler talk at the office.

This is everyday for me, folks. In my business, stories like this are real.

Take a deep breath.

Look around you right now and don't worry too much about what you don't have, what you are not, or what great/bad things the future holds.

It might be worth it to be positive about your day, as monotonous or uninteresting as you think it is, for no other lifestyle guarantees you more of anything.

The best way to use your valuable time is today, right now.

No comments: