Missing out on customer care

SEVERAL weeks ago, I visited a quaint old bookshop in the heart of Kuala Lumpur well known as a provider of books and reference materials for healthcare professionals. It boasts an exhaustive range of books, reasonable prices and knowledgeable staff who can rattle off titles and prices from memory.

As I'm not in the healthcare industry, I had not known of this bookshop and was thrilled when the chance to visit came. I enjoy visiting book shops, studying the way books are catalogued, reading "About the Author" sections and people watching.

Buying a book in itself is an adventure. For me, it begins the moment I extend my index finger and gently drag a book out of its tight space on the store's shelf. From there, it's about the people I meet, from the attendant to cashier to the stranger I exchange a smile with on the way out. If the experience is pleasant, happy memories settle between the pages of my new book.

Old bookshops usually come with wonderful book-buying adventures, and so I hoped it would be with this one. On my way there, however, I was warned that the staff members could be snobbish or borderline rude to customers.

We entered the shop and I liked it almost immediately. It had its own personality and charm. Beyond the lively chatter of excited students and silence of serious-looking adults, I could almost feel the weight of knowledge crammed in that space. It felt like magic.

Then, we asked an attendant about a few titles and the magic disappeared. He efficiently brought us the books we requested, but any hint of good customer service ended there.

Our subsequent interaction with the attendants helped me understand why they have a reputation for poor customer service, but the worst was yet to come. One of the books we bought was considerably more expensive than the marked price, which we only realised after leaving the shop.

When we returned to seek clarification, we were simply told by the cashier, "The price tag is wrong, not the price." We then asked him to cancel the earlier transaction, after which he completely ignored us while settling our request. Needless to say, it was a forced smile on my face when we left.

I rarely talk or write about poor customer service because everyone has bad days, including me. We may not want to be grumpy or snappish to others, but fatigue and frustration do take their toll. On these days, the tired hands serving us would appreciate our holding back judgment.

On this adventure, however, I felt that the heart of the bookshop was painfully obvious. Maybe because they're doing so well in the transaction tally, they have disregarded the subtle but defining touch of customer care. When I did a simple search of the shop online, I found that other customers too have had distasteful experiences.

After my anger had subsided, I had room to reflect. I concluded: when we feel important or indispensable, we easily stop caring about being nice. Studying the staff members' attitudes reminded me of the prideful state I find myself in sometimes, holding a balloon of an ego and wearing a handmade crown.

I may be an effective worker or an undisputed leader in my industry, but if people are frustrated and upset at my poor attitude, I wonder if I really am successful. I wonder if my material success can ever justify the bad taste I leave in people's mouths.

So it was a good reminder for me to meet the people I did not want to become in the bookshop that day. I certainly learned a lesson or two.

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