This past Sunday, my mother and I were shopping at Macy’s (Alpharetta, Georgia) when I stumbled upon a fabulous pair of Nine West suede black boots that not only were marked 75% off but were also in my size (6); finding a pair of good shoes on sale and in my size is an event that occurs about as often as the coming of Halley’s Comet, so I felt compelled to act. Since I have not owned a pair of boots in nearly twenty years (I do live in the South, after all), I thought this might be the opportune time to purchase a pair.
I tried on the boot that was on the floor, had the shoe zapped with the inventory scanner device by a saleslady, and then proceeded to fall in love with the boot as it became more and more comfortable on my right foot/leg while the saleslady went to find the mate. After about fifteen minutes, she returned and stated she needed the boot because they could not find it, nor could she find the size 5.5 or 6.5 (which could have possibly fit, also) that were showing to be in stock. While I waited, imagined how comfortable, stylish, and warm these boots would be. I began daydreaming about how the boots would look with various dresses and skirts I own and felt excitement at the prospect of owning such a versatile and comfortable shoe that was on sale for practically nothing.
Finally, the saleslady returned with the sad news that the mate nor any other size could be found. I was dumbfounded and wondered how such a travesty could occur, but I gave her my name and number after she offered to look again later and call me if the mate to the size 6 boot turned up in the stockroom. My mom and I roamed around Northpoint Mall before returning to Macy’s as we prepared to leave and go home. I decided to stop by the shoe department one last time and ask about the boot. Not only did I discover the boot had not been found, but the saleslady shared that some employees had been known to “hide” clearance items so that they could purchase them for themselves later. I was both shocked and angered by this admission as I felt this kind of behavior was not in line with principles of good customer service. I left Northpoint Mall disgusted, dismayed, and disappointed.
I stewed about the situation for a couple of days. I even called to check on the missing boot’s status Tuesday evening but was put on hold for nearly 20 minutes with no response before finally hanging up. After whining in person and online to anyone who would listen about my misadventures in boot shopping, I decided to return to the scene of the missing boot yesterday (Wednesday) after work. After about a 30 minute drive, I arrived and made a beeline to the shoe department. At first, I did not see the boot on the clearance rack and thought that seemed odd. Within a few minutes, an elderly shoe salesman approached me and asked if I needed help. I told him my plight and he pretty much dismissed me, making comments that reflected he had not really listened to the details of the story and would not even go look for the boot in the back stockroom.
As you can imagine, I was rather upset and feeling insulted at this point. As I stood around contemplating what action to take next, a younger salesman must have heard my internal wailing and cursing. He approached me and asked if he could help, so I proceeded to share my saga once more. He listened patiently and intently to the story and graciously offered to go look for the boots. With nothing more than a description and name of the boot style, he disappeared and returned within just a few minutes with a box. “It’s your lucky day!” he exclaimed, and I smiled giddily as he removed the shoebox lid to reveal the boots. He diplomatically explained some various theories as to why the boots had not been found or why no one had called me about the boots without making excuses for anyone who may not have demonstrated the best customer service skills, which I respected and appreciated. I then checked the boot size, did one final test run in them, and the proceeded to purchase the $119 boots for $32 (which included sales tax). I am sure I looked like a triumphant animal with its prey as I left the store! I happily wore my new boots yesterday to work and felt like a million dollars (for $32) all day.
Now, what does this have to do with libraries and librarianship, you ask?
While enjoying my late afternoon run yesterday, the following thoughts came to me about the intersection of this boot buying experience and getting things you want for your library and library program:
1. Be Passionate: if you are not passionate about the things you want for your library and your patrons, the people you need to help you get them won’t be, either. Be able to articulate that passion and how/why the things you want can be beneficial. In the case of the boots, I explained to each salesperson that I did not own a pair of boots and that these comfortable boots at such a discounted price would make both my feet and pocketbook happy.
2. Seek Advice from Others: I spoke to co-workers, family members, and colleagues near and far about how they would handle the situation since I suspected the missing boot was actually there in the stockroom but either hidden by an employee for himself/herself or just merely misplaced and not found because no one had looked in the right place. If you are asking for something that you know upfront may not be readily available or met with an enthusiastic and immediate “yes” for your library, ask others how they would approach the challenge and glean wisdom from their experiences.
3. Ask the Right People for Your Requests: in my case, I had to go through two salespeople in person and one on the phone before I found Kenneth, the right person, who “got” my needs and request about wanting those boots. The same can be true when you are asking for things for your library, whether it be a purchase or something like permission to give your students access to a tool or resource like Evernote.
In the last week, my network specialist and I had to work through some obstacles in getting Evernote in my library lab because we live in an Internet Explorer only world that is sometimes further challenged by restrictions on students’ network rights. I could have given up easily after our first few unsuccessful efforts to getting student access to Evernote, but after using this tool for a few weeks, I saw the potential it had to help my Media 21 students in a new research endeavor we’re starting. After some failed attempts and not receiving permission for students to access an alternate browser, Todd and I did some research, regrouped, and we finally figured out a successful “fix” for the situation, and now my students will be getting the access to Evernote I envisioned for them come this Monday.
Anticipate the first person you ask for help in granting your wishes may not fully understand your request because he/she may not have a true understanding of the request or the value of what you’re seeking. Be prepared to go to multiple people in your efforts to secure your request.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask More than Once: quite honestly, I was reluctant to drive 40+ minutes to the mall after work in the rain and engage in another face to face confrontation with the Macy’s Shoe Department since I honestly do not like those kinds of situations. However, I knew how much I wanted the boots and how beneficial they could be to me over time in giving me warm, comfortable footwear during cool weather, particularly at such a discounted price. When we are asking for things we want and need for our library programs and those we serve, we have to take the same approach and put aside any hesitations we may have about making requests that may be met with “no”. Remember that you have everything to gain and nothing to lose by merely asking and by being persistent.
5. Thank Those Who Help You and Be Transparent About the Value of Your Successful Request: in the case of the boots, I came home and submitted an email to Macy’s customer service about Kenneth, the wonderful salesperson who actually listened to me and made a sincere effort to help. I will also be Tweeting a shout to @Macy’s on Twitter as well, and I posted pics of the boots to my Flickr account. When you receive something you ask, be transparent about how that item is helping you, your library staff, your library program, and/or your library patrons. After some trial and errors with browser issues in my environment, my students will be able to use Evernote. I will be blogging about their use of Evernote in the upcoming weeks and students will share how they are using it via our library YouTube Channel. We (my students and I) will also be writing a thank you letter to Todd, our network guy, for his efforts to get us access to a tool for learning.
In these troubled economic times and a climate in which we may be afraid to draw negative attention to ourselves because of budget and personnel cuts, it is easy to shy away from asking for things for our library programs even when we know those requests could yield something (a service, a tangible item) of significant value to those we serve and with a minimal financial investment. However, I urge you to make your requests known with courage and confidence!