Bookstore Phone Etiquette

We just wrapped up National Business Etiquette Week, so this seems like an appropriate time to cover phone etiquette.

Yesterday I asked you to listen to the staff as they spoke on the phone. Beyond the obvious things you can hear when a person is speaking–like food or gum in the mouth–you can also learn a lot just from listening to tone.

What you say without saying a word.

You might be having a rotten day. The air isn’t working. A toddler is destroying your new display. Somebody called in sick leaving you short-staffed and you have a long line of people waiting for help. Those in the store might be empathetic, but the person on the other end of the call cannot see your dilemma. Instead, they judge you by your tone. When listening to the staff on the phone, what do you hear?

  • Is the bookseller smiling?
  • Are they irritated?
  • Do they sound like they’re rushing the caller?
  • Do they interrupt or cut off the caller mid-sentence?

As booksellers, our job is to sell books. If we sound irritated and just want to end the call because the request will require a little bit of work, the chances of making a sale are slim. And these days, we not only need to make the sale, we need to make the up-sale, too. The way to do that is to smile and listen.

Smile so the caller knows that you want to help.

Listen so they know you understand what they’re looking for, and when another book might be an appropriate substitute.

After you’ve done those things and you still can’t help the customer, they will likely remember the experience as positive and try you again in the future.

If the customer’s disappointment is because a book is not on the shelf and must be ordered, remember the “unless I hear differently” strategy. The bookstore receiving the special-order sale is not the first store tried, but the last. If you’ve already solved their problem by placing a just-in-case order that can be cancelled, you’ll be the store to get the sale.

Loose lips and such.

Another issue to keep in mind when dealing with phone usage among staff is an outgoing information policy.

Does the staff know what information is appropriate to give and to whom?

Before my bookstore days when I worked with PR firms, we would create crisis plans and ask the client, “When 60 Minutes calls, who is prepared to take the call?” This is an extreme example, but the adage “the chain is as strong as your weakest link” is especially true if you’re being pursued by the media or an irate customer. Whoever answers the phone is representing the bookstore, and if you do not want sales information distributed or a personal opinion given to the media, have a policy in place and make sure the staff understands it.

Phone calls can taint customer service.

Let’s go back to that long line of people waiting for help.

Customers have many pet peeves with retail establishments, and a big one is when the phone rings and that customer on the phone takes priority over those standing in line.

You can help the staff alleviate situations like this by giving them helpful things to say:

“I’m helping a customer right now, but let me call someone to the phone who can help. May I put you on hold?”

“I’m checking out a customer so my computer is tied up right now. Let me take your number and I’d be happy to do some research and give you a call back so you don’t have to wait.”

The person standing in line wants to be treated fairly. But they’re also witnessing how you would treat them if they were the caller. If you’re considerate, calm and fair, you will not be the cause of irritation.

A convenient beautiful business tool.

In this age where there’s a gap between personal customer service and shopping from a distance with no human contact, the telephone is a business tool that helps bridge that gap. A convenient beautiful tool that we want to ring.

Beth Golay

Beth is a reader, writer, marketer and Books & Whatnot founder. Even though she knows better, she's a sucker for a good book cover and will positively swoon if a book is set in appropriate type. @BethGolay