I want to emphasize that although none of my feelings about my inevitable enslavement to The Program have changed, I do NOT hold the poor sales associates responsible. I know their bosses are riding their asses like managerial demons. I know they don't want to be responsible for killing the part of my soul that loves books. Do I think some of them could use a little judgement and stop bugging me around the, I dunno, seventh or eighth time I say "No thank you, arrgghhh, you're killing meeeee!" Yeah. Do I know that if they don't bug me they'll get in trouble? Yeah. There's gotta be a happy medium in there somewhere.
In addition to posting the below to my blog, Yahoo group, FB page, Twitter, etc., I e-mailed it directly to Barnes and Noble corporate. Maybe. See, it wasn't easy to find any kind of e-mail addy for people who actually make policy. And I asked around, I searched the web, I even asked a couple of B&N sales associates here in the Twin Cities. The closest I could come is customer service, but that e-mail addy is for customers with specific complaints ("My Kindle self-destructed and might be trying to kill me...oh, wait, that's not you guys", "Why doesn't George R.R. Martin write faster?", "The gift card I bought in 1991 doesn't work"...like that), with no category for "did Barnes & Noble lose a bet with God and so has to sell customers to The Program?".
I did the best I could, sending an e-mail explaining that I had a problem with The Program, I wasn't alone in that even remotely, and I'd appreciate anything they could do to address my concerns. If Program complaints were out of their jurisdiction, could they please give me the name and e-mail address of the person in charge of that stuff, thank you, go Minnesota Twins, this is your year, dawgs!!!!
I get this back almost immediately:
Dear Customer: Thanks for contacting us. You should receive a response within 12 to 24 hours, and we appreciate your patience
-- The Customer Service Team at Barnes & Noble
It's perfect if you love automatic messages no human being at B&N has to think about or be involved with in any way. Luckily, I love those kinds of messages! And wow, a TEAM. A whole cadre of people dedicated to solving my woes. Excellent! I definitely feel taken care of. None of this has been a huge waste of time. At all.
Even better, B&N kept their word, and 24 hours later I got this:
Dear MaryJanice Davidson, Thank you for contacting Barnes & Noble. Unfortunately, we were unable to open the link you sent with your email. Please resend your email without the link at your earliest convenience.
Okay, fair enough. I think. It's a customer service e-mail address on the web, where presumably customer service reps abide now and again, but they can't click on links. Not one member of the famed TEAM can click on links...uh, okay. I must re-send, but with no link of any kind anywhere or they're paralyzed. Yikes. So I pasted the entirety of my blog into the e-mail address and sent it again, totally link-less. It had to go back to them with nary a link. Nobody on the TEAM would have to click a link; they could read my complaint from the comforts of their wherever-the-TEAM-abides. And hey, I did receive a response within 12 to 24 hours, even though the response was, "Yeah, we can't help you with this. At all. Unless you do more stuff." But now they had all the info, so someone could get back to me.
And someone did!
At Barnes & Noble, our number one priority is to provide you with excellent customer service.
Hey, that's great news! Not just customer service. Excellent customer service. Mama like.
Would you please take a few minutes to tell us about your recent experience with Barnes & Noble Customer Service?
You can access the survey by clicking here, or by cutting and pasting the following link into your browser:
WHAT? Wait, is that a link you guys can click on? Because I was under the impression the TEAM couldn't click. But you want me to? How will you be able to see what I wrote? You can't click!
Please do not reply to this email.
Yeah, God friggin' forbid I respond to the e-mail YOU SENT ME.
We are unable to respond to email sent to this address.
I'll bet. It's because the TEAM can't click, right?
If you need Customer Service assistance, please call us at 1-800-THE-BOOK or email to email@example.com
In other words, if you want Customer Service, do more stuff. Again.
Your responses will be used to help us improve Barnes & Noble products and services in the future.
You know, I doubt it. The response I'd send will not help you. It'll melt your server and give you intermittent night terrors for the rest of your days, but it's not gonna help B&N improve products and services in the future. Unless it's a zombie-wasteland future, maybe.
Thank you in advance for your time, your feedback, and your business.
Oh, no, Bill. Thank YOU. No. Really.
VP Customer Care NOOK Media
Well, a first and last name, and a title, which is nice. I'm not sure the VP of Customer Care for the NOOK can help me evade The Program, especially as I haven't heard from my new best friend Bill Higdon since, but a name, glory be, a name! Wait, do they name the drone robots at NOOK Media? Because that's awful. I'm sure naming the drone robots is supposed to make me feel like someone human is involved, but it actually makes me sad. Bill Higdon deserves better than a fake name!
So, to sum up, Barnes & Noble "helped" me by asking me, again, to do more stuff. For them. So they can...NOT...help me.
Anyhoo. All the above went out on May 30, I got their first response on May 31, and their last "help us help you by doing more stuff while we don't actually address your problem" e-mail was June 3. It's the 7th. And that's been it.
B&N, I love you, but what the hell?
(For those who missed it the first time, below is the rant from earlier in the week. And Bill Higdon, if you're out there, MJ loves you and knows that if you wish hard enough, someday you'll be a REAL boy!
* * * * *
I have no idea how I'll make this happen, but I've got to get B&N to stop with the harassment already, which will be tricky since I love how they sell my books. I've gotta be subtle and delicate and classy n'stuff. No problemo! (Yeah, I should abandon the whole thing right now. Like my attempts to plan laundry around Law & Order: Criminal Intent marathons, this is doomed to failure.)
But I can't! Because Barnes & Noble will not. Let. UP! I'm speaking, of course, about The Program. For some reason, it's really, really important to the Fortune 500 company that is Barnes & Noble, Inc. (NYSE:BKS) to shove their B&N Member Program down my throat until I'm coughing up Member Program points.
But first, a recap of The Program for the uninitiated, which I would really like to be. But because of all The Program harassment, I know all about it.
So here it is: if you enroll in The Barnes & Noble Member Program, you get a discount on some of the things you buy. Not all the things you buy; just some of them. But hey! All you have to do to get a discount on some of the things you buy is spend money to (eventually) save money (on some of the things you buy). Also, provide your name, marital status, address, country of residence, phone number, and e-mail, none of which will ever ever ever come back to haunt you. Oh, and your children's names if you want them to join their B&N Kids' Club. And their birthdays. And their genders. And when you first sign up, they'll send you coupons! Which may be discontinued without notice. But the important thing is, if they wanted they can now hunt you down and kill you. But your kids will get coupons, too! Also, The Program has a peculiar definition of kid: 12 and under. In B&N's eyes, 13 year olds unable to legally vote or drink are actually short adults. No Kids' Club for them! Which might not be terrible, because the Kids' Club discounts only apply to certain products. Don't worry, though; there's a complete list of exclusions in minuscule print on their website somewhere. Welcome to adulthood, young teens!
But hey, B&N devised The Program to help customers save money on some things, so they tell customers about The Program in the hopes that they'll sign on and save money. And if the customer says hell to the yeah, sign me up, great. And if they don't, no big deal. Just drop it.
It would be awesome if that's how B&N was training their employees.
I'm in a B&N about once a week. Sometimes it's for business; I'll swing by and sign any of my books they have in stock. They're always pleased to see me, even when I need a shower, and they're always happy to let me deface their merchandise with a Sharpie. More often I'm in a B&N for pleasure--I love love love books. If this writing gig doesn't work out, I'm setting up a cot in the back room of the Woodbury Barnes and Noble and living there like a book goblin. A six foot tall blonde book goblin. (Grotesque, right?)
Anyway, I rarely leave without buying something, even if it's just the latest BITCH magazine or the new John Sandford (I have a long-standing crush on that hound, Lucas Davenport). So I wouldn't mind (probably) if while ringing up my purchase they brought up The Program once, heard my polite (no, really, the first three times I say 'no thanks', I swear it's politely) TBNT, and dropped the subject forevermore. Or at least, until the end of that particular transaction.
"Have you heard about our member program?"
"Yes, I have, and no thanks."
"But you can get discounts!"
"Yeah, I know. No thanks."
"But if you join right now--"
"--you'd save $14.95."
"No. Thank. You."
"And you'll get coupons."
"Which will help you save even more."
"Here's a brochure."
"I have fifty at home."
The above is a condensed version of what usually happens. It often goes on longer. Out of pure self defense in an attempt to stave off Program sanctioned bullying, now I say straight out, before they start ringing up my purchase: "I know all about the Member Program." Unspoken: So you don't need to tell me about it. "I'm not interested." Unspoken: So you don't need to tell me about it. "But thanks anyway." Unspoken: So you don't need to tell me about it.
"But you'll save money."
"And it's only $25 to join and you'll get discounts right away."
"Because you're spending a lot of money today and you could really save a lot."
"You don't like saving money?"
"I hate saving money."
I don't, is the thing. So why not join The Program? Because by now I'm invested in my pissiness. It's a matter of pride after all this time and yeah, it's stupid and stubborn and I know that. More to the point: why the hell should I have to join at all? Some of the youngsters reading this blog won't know this, but once upon a time you could buy a product and not have to hand the clerk a notarized copy of your birth certificate. You could buy something and walk out without coughing up your phone number or e-mail address or street addresses. (Picture me rocking on a porch smoking a corncob pipe, if that helps any of this sound like wisdom.) I'm not paranoid about Big Brother; I just think I should be able to buy the latest issue of Bark without having a long conversation about a program I repeatedly say I'm not interested in.
Sometimes I plead with the sales associates, but either The Program has devoured their souls or the generation gap between us yawns.
"Remember when Radio Shack used to ask for your zip code, and everyone thought that was weird?" I'd cry. "It's true! It was weird and people called them on it! Because of all the weird! Why don't people take a stand on that stuff anymore? Why can't I buy something without having to hand over my resume and a notarized copy of my credit report and a deposit of $25? Why do I have to spend money to spend money here? Can you understand my frustration at all?"
"Sure!" the associate assures me brightly. Then, "What's a Radio Shack?"
"You will eventually age." I'm now resting my forehead on the counter. "Just so you know."
I guess the easy answer is to quit shopping there. But I love it. I love Barnes & Noble sooo much, which is what makes this so difficult (for me). I love the shelves and shelves of books, some of which I wrote. I love the big soft easy chairs and the low tables you can plop down in and rest graphic novels on, for hours, and nobody cares. I love how I can suck down Green Tea Frappuccinos in said easy chairs while reading said books, some of which I wrote. (It's weird that I read those. I know how they all end.) When I was a struggling...well, a struggling everything: when I was a new wife putting my husband through Harvard, a Midwestern stranger in the biggest city in New England, a girl who'd driven herself everywhere for years needing a crash course on the fourth biggest public transit system in the country, missing my family and getting at least two rejection slips a month from agents and publishing houses...when I was that kid Boston was scary and exhilarating, and some days skewed closer to scary than the other.
The one thing that would cheer me up and give me the strength to keep going (besides newlywed sex) was the Barnes & Noble in Copley Square. I'd hop a bus to a T station, hop a train to Copley Square, hop off (I have strong ankles), hop into B&N (okay, not really) and browse through the books. I'd read books I considered to be dreadful and tell myself if crapola like that could be on the shelves, there was a place for my crapola, too. Lots of my crapola! Years later, after my crapola was published and we were visiting Boston, I popped into that same store and saw my new book prominently placed. I made my husband take a picture in which I look like the Before in a Tums ad since I was crying/laughing like a woman with acute Crazypants. One of the greatest moments of my life. Honest to God. Barnes & Noble was and is my everything.
But now our relationship has skewed into the unpleasant harassment stage. And I'm not sure what to do. I'm not willing to summon up the nastiness to shut down sales associates while they're trying to do their jobs. But I hate when they won't abandon The Program propaganda. So I'm going to have to get raw.
Here it is, Barnes & Noble, from my keyboard to your ears--wait, that'd be eyes, I think--you know that girl/guy in high school who was always desperate for you to be their friend? And it wasn't that the girl/guy was all that objectionable, you just had enough friends? Barnes & Noble, you were in charge of the yearbook, you had lots of pics to take for the online newsletter, and you had practice twice a week. Plus your parents would get pissy if you weren't home by five on school days. You didn't need any more friends; you knew you had caught your limit. Taking on another pal would have been greedy. Nothing personal, right?
But the guy/girl in question is too dense or desperate to take a hint. "C'mon, Barnes & Noble," they'd whine, making you totally late for second hour which sucked because Ms. Johnson was a huge stickler for that stuff and who needed anther lecture? "C'mon, just come over to my house after school just this one time." Except you were wise to shut them down, Barnes & Noble, because even then you knew it was never just one time. You knew if you let them into your life even a little bit, they dig in like wood ticks and it's even harder to keep your distance. Remember how pathetic you started to find that person, Barnes & Noble? How you'd cringe whenever you accidentally made eye contact in the hall? Remember how you'd totally re-do your route to Chem so you wouldn't have to go past their locker? Remember that when they'd manage to corner you and you had to talk to them it was so lame and awkward? Remember?
So! Instead of pushing your "Pleeeeeease be my friend!" club, you should push my books instead. Wait! It makes sense if you think about it. (To me.) This way, I won't feel continually harassed, and I'll make money. Everybody wins!
Okay, maybe not. But come on, Barnes & Noble. You used to be one of the cool kids. I'll bet you still remember how. You can get back there. You don't have to be THAT kid. Okay?
Well, just promise me you'll think about it. Meanwhile, see you at gym class tomorrow, B&N. I'll be the one feigning leprosy to get out of doing the quarter mile. It's not like I'll ever have to use running in real life.