A Lesson in Customer Service

I recently had an eye-opening customer service experience. Given how much customer service experience I have—in a few different industries—I’m somewhat surprised that I can still have my eyes opened.

I was contacted by a library patron who was looking for musical scores. He wanted a list of what the Library has in our collection. I’m not sure how he got my contact info for this inquiry—I’m not on the Reference staff, I don’t work the front line, my contact info isn’t on the website. Regardless, I tried to be as helpful as I could and sent him a link to our catalog listing all our holdings categorized with the “Musical Scores” format. I provided him with instructions on how to search for scores by particular composers and encouraged him to come visit our Central branch where we hold the bulk of our sheet music collection, to browse the shelves.

The patron responded that he wasn’t looking for musical scores—he was looking for “orchestral parts”. I confirmed that many of the items in our musical score collection are broken out into parts; he merely reiterated that this list of items in the catalog wasn’t what he was looking for. At this point, I thought it would be most helpful to forward his request to our Reference staff, as they have far more experience than I at conducting reference interviews, and they should have someone in their department more familiar with the library’s sheet music collection than I am. I let the patron know that Reference would be able to assist him better than I could.

In the meantime, the patron sent me another email, this time with a link to an old Library blog post highlighting our “Performing Editions Collection”. This is the collection he was interested in. The works in this collection aren’t cataloged in our OPAC and are held by the Missouri Valley Special Collections archive on the fifth floor of the Central Library. I responded to the patron to let him know that this collection is handled separately from the general circulating collection and forwarded his inquiry to the MVSC staff.

At this point, I pretty much felt like I’d bungled this transaction. I’d provided useless information in my initial response and forwarded the patron to two different departments—I felt like I was making him jump through too many hoops just to get the information he was looking for. His responses to me were curt and I was worried that he was getting frustrated.

And then he sent me a final email—thanking me for going to all this effort to get him a list of items in our “Performing Editions Collection”. Far from being frustrated, he was grateful that I kept trying to help, that I didn’t just drop it, and that I made certain to let him know everything I was doing and why.

This is a lesson about customer service that I forget too easily, and must relearn on a regular basis:

We believe that the ideal customer service transaction is the one where we can get the patron what they need instantly, on the first try. While it would be fantastic if that could happen every time, the reality is that this isn’t a meaningful yardstick to measure the success or failure of a customer service transaction.

We measure the success or failure of a customer service transaction based on how well we communicate during the process.

Throughout my interaction with this patron, I always made sure to let him know what was happening and why. When his inquiry proved beyond my ken to address directly, I fessed up and sent him to someone who I hoped would be better equipped to serve his need. When he provided more information that changed the direction of the inquiry, I explained how that affected which department should handle it.

Everything I did was in the desire to get this patron the best information possible and to make sure that he knew what was being done to that end.

People just need to know that you’re listening to them, that you’re paying attention and doing your best to help. In the end, that’s what they remember.

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