Dear Barnes and Noble…

For the past couple of days, it seems everyone involved with epublishing has been talking about Microsoft, and their purchase of $300 worth of stock in B&N’s new Nook spin-off company.Β It will undoubtedly provide Nook with some much-needed leverage to compete against Amazon and Apple, and hopefully provide them with some real competition.

But what does it mean for us readers? All we can do is speculate, but right now, my guess is…

Not. Much.

And it mostly comes down to one area which for me & B&N, has been a big, fat, FAIL: customer service.

First, let’s be clear on one thing – I’m talking online, not the stores. The people I’ve dealt with in the stores have been great – super-supportive of us Nook authors, listening to us, trying to find ways to encourage customers to buy our books in the stores. But I do most of my shopping online, and that’s where the breakdown occurred.

You see, last fall, someone tried to buy a bunch of stuff at HHGregg with my Discover card number. Discover Card knew it wasn’t me, denied the charge, and called me. I confirmed that it wasn’t me, and the Discover Card rep said I’d get a new card in the mail in a few days. (Barnes & Noble.com, are you listening? You can learn something from the folks at Discover Card.)

So, no problems there.

Until I went to buy some ebooks and my default credit card – yup, Discover – was denied, because I’d forgotten to update it.

Amazon sent me a polite email informing me that the charge had been denied, and suggesting that I update my payment method, and re-place the order. Which I did.

When I tried to order from Barnes & Noble, they emailed me too – informing me that my credit card was denied, my account was locked and I’d have to call customer service to get it unlocked.

WTF???

OK, I get that they don’t want to take a bad credit card, no problem there. But really? LOCK my account??? And they expect me to CALL to get it unlocked, just so I can switch out my credit card and SPEND MONEY??? Just do a quick search on that one to see what B&N’s customer service is like – stories of hour+ hold times abound.

I admit I didn’t even try to call. Did I mention I’m not fond of talking on the phone? And if I wanted to, you know, talk to someone, I might have just, oh I don’t know, gone to a STORE? And the big question: Why bother calling at all when a couple clicks will take me to AMAZON?

So that’s my story. How about one of my friends’? She started out with a Nook reader, and loved it – for about three months. Then it stopped holding a charge. Could she take it back to the store? NO! Granted, this was probably because she’d bought it at Best Buy, not B&N, but still… so she shipped it back. And waited for a replacement. And waited. And waited. Finally, her new, refurbished Nook came a month later.

Which she again loved. Until it, too, stopped holding a battery charge.

To make a long story short, she ended up going through this twice more. When she was on her fourth Nook, she finally said screw it and bought a Kindle 3, which she’s been enjoying without problems for over a year.

So do I think that the Microsoft infusion will cure these ills? I’d love it if they did, because really, competitions is good for everyone (well, at least for the consumers). If B&N stepped up their game, it would keep Amazon better as well, and the readers would continue to have choices, something I’m definitely in favor of. Of course, I’d be even more in favor of a universal ebook format (like that’s going to happen anytime soon). But failing that, choices are good. But my skepticism meter’s pegged out. I’ve used Windows computers since 1997. Customer service? If I have problems with Windows, I go look it up on a web forum. So hopefully if nothing else, the Microsoft partnership will spawn a bunch of those, where we can get self-serve support.

Because I really like that Nook Touch with Glow Light (with expandable memory!). But until the support situation improves, I’ll keep reading Kindle books on my Android phone. πŸ˜€

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you! Do you think Microsoft’s buy-in to the Nook will make things better for the customer? Do you have any other crystal ball revelations? Please share!

19 Responses to \

  1. You can’t touch Amazon for customer service. And, I’m a Kindle girl, 100%. I have, I believe, the 2nd generation with the keypad and everything … not one problem. Literally ‘sips’ at the battery power. Wouldn’t dream of getting a Nook. Furthermore, Barnes totally screwed with my good friend when her book was released, cancelled pre-orderes, didn’t honor sale pricing … UGH! I bought from Amazon instead and got it delivered day of release. At least 80% of our entire Christmas shopping came from Amazon. It’s the bomb-diggety! πŸ˜‰

  2. thanks for valuable information Jennette. You are the only one who’s made reference to this problem in all this melee. well done. I don’t buy from BN in Canada, so i can’t comment. I either buy from Chapters (our Cdn store)or Amazon. and with amazon’s pricing I never go to chapter’s anymore. oops.

  3. I had a similar issue with my Kobo. Took them forever to respond to my issue and they couldn’t fix my reader anyway, unless I sent it in at my cost and they might fix it under warranty, but probably send me a new one at my expense. I wasn’t happy because I had several issues before the screen of death.

    I hope B&N stays afloat. I sell more books on B&N then Amazon.

  4. I’ve never had any issues with B&N. I own a Nook and enjoy using it. However, I dislike Microsoft. I use their products because they are the standard, not because I like the company. (And no, I don’t not want to change to Apple either.) I am curious to see what changes will occur for B&N, but I think it will take some time before we see. I am glad that they will stay afloat, if only to give others a little more competition.

  5. I have a Kindle, which I received as a gift, and I love it. I still prefer paper books, however, but the Kindle is convenient for long trips where multiple paper books would be needed.

    I had great customer support from Amazon, both on line and on the phone. I prefer talking to a live person than exchanging e-mails, but that’s just me. I hate the inhuman, impersonal nature of e-communications. Even my husband is required to call me if he needs to tell me something more significant than 10 words.

    No experience with B&N or the Nook, so can’t really comment on that.

    Good luck to you!

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

  6. Customer service is the name of the game for me, too, Jennette. I have been known to go out of my way and pay more when the service is better at the out-of-the-way-pricey-place. Amazon’s customer service is excellent, both for authors and for consumers. Hard to beat them, but B&N should try.

  7. Last winter I tried to buy an e-book from B&N, but was refused. When I inquired I was told that because I’m don’t have an American address they couldn’t deliver. WTF? Yep, they really need to get their stuff together, customer service wise before they get me interested again.

  8. It amazes me how some places ignore customer service. It’s something I’ve always hated about B&N. Never liked them because anytime I went into the store, they never, ever had the thing I was looking for. I’d love to support them as one of the last stores standing but…they make it very, very hard. I miss Borders. Bad management aside, the store did it right. Comfy, inviting, and everything I ever needed was there.

    It’s sad these days that so many businesses ignore the one thing that would make them successful. Above a good product, above everything, is customer service.

  9. Okay, breathe Jennette, breathe! LOL!

    Customer service is THE most important thing in sales. If the customer is not happy, bad news spreads faster than…well you already know. And yes, viva la competition!

  10. Gosh! So much things happening. Can you still breathe? πŸ™‚ I’ve been a good Kindle user so I don’t really know about B&N but if that’s the case, they should step up and provide more just service to their customers. You spend to enjoy, not to waste it of some sort.

  11. Ginger, you are sooooo right – Amazon’s got it going on for service! I do most of my Christmas shopping there, too! Thankfully, I haven’t had any problems on the Pubit side, but I could tell you stories there, too.

    Louise – yep, it’s hard to beat Amazon’s pricing, especially when combined with the convenience and service they offer!

    Asrai, I haven’t heard much about Kobo, but I wasn’t impressed with the one I looked at. I hope B&N makes it, too, because that’s what will make them all better for the consumer!

    Julie, exactly – I hope MS helps B&N stick around long enough to realize they need to up their game in customer service! As for any of that from Microsoft, I’m not optimistic. If I decide to switch from Windows, it will be to Linux. All of that support is online forums!

    Patricia, the few times I’ve had an issue with Amazon, their customer service has been top-notch, whether by phone or email. I like that we have the choice of which to use, too!

    Diane, exactly! I’ll pay a little more when I know I can get good support! I really do hope B&N steps up their game.

    Prudence, yes, it’s mind-boggling how B&N doesn’t even try to serve the huge market that’s everyone outside the US! Especially for ebooks, that don’t require shipping! And that’s true on the Pubit side too, as I’m sure you know. At least you can get your books listed there through Smashwords!

    Melinda, I guess I’m lucky that my local B&N actually does have good people working there. I haven’t bought anything there in a long time, but they were wonderful when I participated in a booksigning there. So maybe there’s hope. But you’re right about their selection, and from everything I read, that’s only getting smaller.

    LOL Karen, was I a bit cranky about them closing down my account? πŸ˜€ I figure it’s their loss – and Amazon’s gain. Thanks for your comment!

  12. I’m a Kindle girl … Or iPad, depending on what’s in my hand. But it’s amazon all the way. I too am curious about what changes Microsoft will make at B&N. I’ll be watching with you, Jennette!

  13. I have a Kindle and for customer service no one beats Amazon.

    Can’t really talk about B&N since I live in the UK but a UK bookstore WH Smith’s stocking the Kobo and sales of those have gone through the roof. Haven’t heard anything bad about that reader so far.

    I think the thing that’s got me excited is not because either Microsoft or B&N are wonderful companies with brilliant customer service, it’s the fact that competition for Kindle will happen. And hopefully readers won’t have to wait too long. And that means Amazon will continue to step up it’s game which is good for us as consumers and as writers. Of course the proof will happen when we see it. It’s not as if B&N have proved they’re a forward thinking ebusiness is it? In fact if anything they’ve proved the exact opposite. We live in interesting times.

  14. I am also an Amazon fan. I have had good results from their customer service and so they are my go to for most online purchases, not only books. And I love my Kindle Fire!
    πŸ™‚

  15. CC – I really do hope the investment helps B&N to step up their game! Competition is good for us all!

    Coleen – I’ve been an Amazon fan for a long time, but used to buy as many books from B&N, because they had good deals, too. Now it’s all Amazon, all the time! Thanks for stopping by!

  16. Microsoft and customer service.

    I love SQL Server. I love ASP.Net. I love Windows 7.

    I hope to God I never have to call Microsoft for technical support again. It took 45 minutes for them to locate someone who knew where a missing key code was.

  17. Exactly, Jim! MS really got it right with Windows 7, and while I prefer Java and MySQL for development, .NET and SQL Server are good products. But tech support? Thank goodness there are many forums to find it on! (Which of course, wouldn’t have helped with your issue.)

  18. Amazon customer right here. I bought a book from B&N recently for my kid’s book report because I found it there and not at Amazon. Can you believe that? I ordered 2 day shipping, paid the extra for it and everything. Do you think I got my book in 2 days? Hell no! It was more like four or five. Total bull crap. One more reason I don’t shop at Barnes and Noble.