At the reader’s service

Vendere l’anima (“Selling The Soul” ) BY Romano Montroni (Laterza, 2006)  discusses innovation, the flexibility and speed of change, and how to devote complete attention to the requirements of readers and clients on the one hand, and to the emotional side of a bookshop experience on the other. The book mostly preoccupies itself with the work of a bookseller, written by someone who has lived its present-day history. Umberto Eco has said, quite rightly:

To have Romano Montroni discuss a bookseller’s job, is a bit like reading Dante explaining how two write a poem in three canticas, or having Cellini talk about the business of being a goldsmith, or – in more modest terms –  listening to Landru describe how to kill one’s wife.

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We could add – before mentioning Landru… – that it is a bit like reading Donald Norman thoughts on design. Most of all, Montroni’s ideas are hand in glove with Norman’s ideas of user-centered design and a gread deal of the work that we are doing is founded on these concepts. Without new and different ideas and a willing acceptance of contrast, there is no such thing as innovation or improvement, but only repetition, maintenance of what is already there and eventually, expiration. In short, the death of creativity.

In concrete terms, in our work this translates into a very strong and direct effort: readers and clients must be able to obtain all the desired information concerning what the bookshop can search for and provide. The objective is to give the correct indications efficiently, so that a book can be found and sold.

It should also be considered that the price of a book which is paid at the counter is only a part of the total expense which readers sustain. In fact, there are also costs which are “non monetary”, as is the stress of waiting to receive a service or any kind of waste of time caused by disorganization and disorder. The problem of waiting around for a customer must not be underestimated, because it is one of the main reasons for discontent and in bookstores it must be reduced to an absolute minimum. Naturally the waiting-around moment is annoying and very different to the pleasure of wandering around and getting lost amongst the bookshelves; it is not right to take this second moment as the only relevant one. For clarity’s sake, we are not talking about “minimising” booksellers’ relationships with their customers, but about avoiding inefficiencies in the service they provide.

In fact, a large amount of customers prefer bookstores which are designed to save the buyer time. Often, the problem is not so much the actual loss of time, but the sensation of time being wasted: unfair delays in customer service feel as if they take more time than they actually do. For this reason, availability and flexibility in taking requests, just like an honest “good morning” or “good afternoon”, can help customers feel as if their time is not being wasted. Minimising non-monetary costs: this is what bookshop customers ask, and they will be doing so more and more in years to come. In a competitive environment, being able to satisfy such a reqest is an enormous advantage. We must take into consideration the fact that, given the scarsity of readers (in Italy especially), customers hold a huge amount of power. If, at one time, the bookseller used to say “This is what our service offers, become our customers”, today customers think, and with determination: “This is what I want, give it to me or somebody else will!” (and perhaps the answer is only a button’s click away).

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