One of the topics I find most interesting when teaching service operations is how the behavior and actions of customers affects operations. I see this as one of the defining characteristics of service operations because it has no real analog in manufacturing. In manufacturing, a pallet of widgets sits where you put it until you come with the forklift to move it. Unless we are talking about naked patients in exam rooms, customers are not going to behave like widgets and are going to go where they want. Even if we are talking naked patients, they might just wander into the corridor if you leave them long enough. One can argue that machines breakdown or go out of control, but that is not quite the same as when customers act up. Machines don’t misbehave just to spite you; customer, however, might.
Or they might just want to spite Tony Blair.
The Telegraph reports that there has been a civil disobedience campaign in the UK relating to former prime minister Tony Blair and his new memoir (Internet campaign launched to move Tony Blair’s book, Sept 4). Whatever charm and promise that got him elected had worn off on the British public by the time he left office. Many remain angry about the Iraq war and other things and are anxious to exact even a modest toll. Hence the Facebook group “Subversively move Tony Blair’s memoirs to the crime section in book shops.” As the photos on the group’s site make clear, people have relocated the book to all sorts of places — true crime to dark fantasy. At stores such as Tesco with more limited book selections, it has ended up with toilet paper and diapers.
Personally, I find this hilarious. But I also think it poses an interesting operational challenges. Items get misplaced all the time in stores, screwing up inventory records and impacting customer service. But here bookstores have become the innocent bystanders as customers aim to make a political statement. There seems little the stores can do about it short of moving all the copies behind a counter. That would likely dampen sales of a book that supposedly has been selling well. For the time being, I suspect that they have little choice but to ride it out. It will be interesting to see how bookstores will deal with this kind of thing going forward if this becomes routine behavior for politically charged books.