Posts Tagged ‘customer service’

Let’s start with a definition from a “Tomorrow People” fan:

Fandom (from the noun fan and the affix -dom, as in kingdom, freedom, etc.) is a term used to refer to a subculture composed of fans characterized by a feeling of sympathy and camaraderie with others who share a common interest.1

Soon after local government reform in New Zealand created my current employer, two blogs were created with the aim of spending a year touring and reporting on each branch within the system. As one of the staff members running a legacy online profile I was privy to some of the discussions, and suffice to say we were collectively excited but not entirely sure how, if at all, to respond.

Perceptions are what its all about, particularly in the online world. Don’t acknowledge people this enthusiastic, and one risks the appearance of being aloof. What about the other path. Can one become overly involved?

I think so. Let’s get a definition from another source. The now defunct webcomic Genrezvous Point had a set of characters who were the “seven plagues of cinema”. Plague five was fandom:

arguably the most repulsive of the plagues, a swarm of leeches that attempts to latch on and seize control of their target, refusing to accept any deviation from their will and loudly decrying any attempt at disputing their collective ‘wisdom’ and influence on their target.2

As a member of a number of fandoms, I can affirm that the above holds at least a grain of truth. I’ve regularly watched fellow mulitplayer gamers rail vituperously at the creators of a game world inside that world. Any amount and kind of protest, other than simply finding other pursuits, can be deemed appropriate by a dissatisfied fan simply because they will feel that they are pursuing a significant cause.

There’s also seems to be a relationship between this phenomenon and media interest. A number of stories have been published in our city’s paper of record about our service. The stories themselves are almost meaningless to those of us who have been in the profession for a significant time:

If they’re not about anything new (and therefore are not news in the truest sense), what holds these stories together? I believe they’re talking to the fandom in the sense that  they are aimed at a growing common interest in the organisation, and in that they suggest a canonical set of beliefs around what kinds of places libraries should be.

If all our organisations and services have fans, what does that imply? I’m going for an “I don’t know” on this one. We should definitely welcome the opportunity to hear what people think about us when they’ve got the comfort that relative anonymity can bring, but we’ve got to be mindful that our fandom and our users are two blended but distinct groups. To live by the word of the former is to risk doing disservice to the latter.




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I’ve been sitting on this post for a couple of months now . . . the subject still bothers me, so I thought why not publish it anyway . . . so here goes! My first post for the Room of Infinite Diligence.

I work in a research centre, and go out and about in the community a heck of a lot too, delivering presentations on my specialist subject and my collection’s resources.

I am fairly active on the social media front, mostly trying to inform and update people, and networking. But I have a bit of fun with it too.

I am very passionate about user-education and information literacy. I see this as my primary role, when out and about, and also in the Centre.

As part of my job back in the research centre, we also do paid research, for those customers who can’t come in to the centre, or who can’t do the research themselves. Its a great service, and also a part of my job that I enjoy.

I was a bit taken aback a while ago, to receive a phone call from a customer, who wanted to pay me to do the research for her daughter’s high school “dissertation”.

The daughter was much too busy to do her own research, as she spent many hours a week on sports training. Apparently she was a top athlete, represents her country, and couldn’t spare the time to come in to the library to do her own research.

The subject of the school project was outside my department’s specialism, but as a researcher and librarian, I offered to recommend some resources, send some books free to her local library via our reservations service – but, no her daughter was much too busy, she wanted me to actually do the research for her.

The customer service side of me battled furiously with the educator side of me. For a moment.

I took a deep breath, and explained very politely, that it would be better for her daughter to do the research herself, as it helped her with her learning and set her up for a lifelong learning path.

I was told that she always got librarians to do the research for her daughter (and named someone and went into specifics about a particular incidence) . . . that she’d used our research centre before, and that it was money well spent.

She replied that her daughter was a top student that got top marks for her projects at an IB school. Another deep breath. I offered more suggestions, more resources. Not interested “good bye,” she hung up.

I felt very sad. I did a bit of soul searching  to see if I could have dealt with it differently, better. I worried about whether I had given good customer service.

Then I wondered about parents who think its ok to pay someone to do their child’s homework.

That sports practice is more important than academic “practice”.

Then I felt perhaps I’d failed, because I hadn’t delivered “user education” adequately. Or that maybe another librarian would have got a better result.

That perhaps I’d failed because I hadn’t made her understand (conflicted eh?)

But then this high achieving, high school sports star, also apparently achieves top marks on her projects. Perhaps that’s because she gets librarians to do the bulk of the work for her?

Question is, should I have stuck to my guns? If the mother hadn’t been upfront with me, I’d have done the research anyway, blissfully ignorant, unaware (you can still snow the best “reference interviews”).

Maybe that is what had happened previously, if other librarians had really done her research for her. Is it poor customer service to assert your opinion in such matters?

Did I discriminate in some way, by not quietly just doing the research for this student regardless? I wondered what the student’s teachers would have said if they had known. Should I have rung the school and given them the heads up? Or is that a bridge too far? Was I right not to? Is it any of my business what someone wants to do with the research they commission from me?

A colleague I discussed this with asked “what is the difference between arranging a contract with a paid researcher, and a well-off student going online to a paid assignment writing service?”

Could I have handled this differently?

What do you think? What would you have done?

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Yesterday’s library link of the day was to an article about first impressions “First impressions and rethinking the restroom question“.  It was a reminder to remember that a question that might have been asked of a staff member at a reception desk multiple times (for example, ‘where’s the restroom?’) is being asked each time by a different person and perhaps a first time visitor.  As such the question should be answered as politely as possible and gives an opportunity to give the visitor a positive first impression.

This article struck me, as I’m sure we’ve all come across staff in shops or offices who seem completely bored or impatient with seemingly inane or stupid questions.  Quite a few of these people have probably been to customer service training but the whole concept of a positive experience for the customer seems to have passed them by.

When I was a library assistant on a circulation desk, customer service training had been drummed into us, but I’d also had some customer service training before working in a library.  Of them all, I found the trick to putting on the smile and treating everyone pleasantly, no matter how stressed, was the very one suggested in the above article – ie pretend the customer is a relative or friend or the next genius.  Remember that this person has had the courage to come up to the desk, perhaps as their very first visit to a daunting building to ask what might be a stupid question.

And when you think back to good customer service you’ve received, it’s from staff who have treated you as if you are special, that you are an individual and not another nameless face asking the same question that numerous others might have asked.

I no longer work on a service desk but I remember the positive glow I got from being pleasant and helpful and receiving positive feedback in return.  It makes the day for everyone concerned, especially during stressful times such as exam time or Christmas!

As if sensing my positivity, the grey rain-sodden clouds outside have parted to let the sun shine – for a change!

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Library stories

Anyone who’s ever worked on a circulation or information desk will have stories to tell of weird and wonderful incidents and customers.  Sometimes you may have felt like sharing them, not just with colleagues, but by writing about them.  The Merry Librarian comes to your rescue.  Here you can read about such stories or even send a few of your own. I can relate to one such story which tells of a woman asking more of a librarian than a librarian can give – she actually wanted the librarian to help build an extension to her house, physically.  Library staff are apparently super beings, psychic and all-knowing, able to do absolutely anything!  I can think of many instances when customers seem to think that way.

Perhaps we can.  Two heart-warming stories tell of how a library assistant’s help led to the reunion of a woman and her father whom she thought was dead, or of how a librarian encouraged a boy’s reading, even though he was stealing the books.

Perhaps we should collect and share such stories more often.

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