When Michelle Baier was inspired to run her first-ever race in honor of Boston Marathon bombing victim and grad student, Lingzi Lu, she realized she was missing something important. After months of training and preparation, as race day approached, Baier wanted a Boston University t-shirt to wear for the event. When Steve Turco, General Manager of the Barnes & Noble at Boston University bookstore heard of the urgent request, he quickly located a shirt, and over-nighted it to Michelle, who received it in time to wear it proudly for her run.
Experiences like Baier’s might seem almost quaint to a generation of shoppers more used to uneven customer service, cavernous stores seemingly absent of assistance, exhaustive checkout lines or, alternatively, to the uninviting anonymity of shopping online. Yet, ensuring the service promise Barnes & Noble College makes to its customers falls to extraordinary Next Generation Leaders, and how they became that way is hardly accidental.
Great customer service starts with the right people, and as Director of Learning and Development Pamela Bonnell points out, Barnes & Noble College has a knack of seeking out individuals with the right kind of potential. “It very much comes from decisions in our hiring,” she says. “We look for people who are passionate about Barnes & Noble College and who we are, and will routinely go above and beyond.” Once hired, that potential is cultivated through a wide variety of training and support techniques backed by a financial investment some sixty percent higher than the benchmark used by the national training industry.
New booksellers are introduced to the culture and mission of Barnes & Noble College through “The Power of WOW!” — an interactive, self-paced course providing an in-depth explanation and review of customer service standards. “WOW! leadership helps our store managers to continue to lead the WOW! culture of service, and enables them to have those great conversations with our customers,” Bonnell says.
Maintaining that level of service also extends to knowing the store and what’s in it, and the primary tool for teaching this is the on-boarding training initiative based on the company’s Roadmap for Success program. As stores expand, or new product lines are introduced, staff can develop their product knowledge through in-store meetings, self-study, WebEx events and product knowledge cards. “It’s important we support our stores to make sure that everyone understands the product, why it’s important and how they can talk about it to different segments of our customer base,” explains Bonnell.
The balance between bookstore staff acting locally and investing their own initiative combines with support from Regional and Home Office staff in a unique service DNA for Barnes & Noble College. It’s a characteristic Lisa Malat, Vice President of Marketing and Store Operations, believes is essential to the company’s success. “The foundation of our company was built on the very firm belief that our store managers need to be empowered, and have the flexibility to do what is right for their campus and for their customers,” she says.
So whether its Point Park University Bookstore Manager William Fabyanic and Assistant Manager Chelsea Blake assisting a professor with an assigned textbook and on-line cartridge required for his course, or Wayne State University Bookstore Manager Jody Young helping a student get his textbooks while waiting for his student financial aid to come through, or Indiana State University bookseller Angel Pitts coordinating the shipment of textbooks for parents with a student returning to college, instances of Next Generation Leadership are plentiful.
On the heels of Barnes & Noble College’s Annual Meeting and Back-to-Campus Show held last month in Orlando, Florida, the spotlight strongly focused on leadership development — and in an event bringing together store managers, regional managers and home office employees, it is certain to shape more Next Generation Leaders with an even greater commitment to customer service.