Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Consistency and Excellence: The Customer Service Debate

Here's a scenario:

On a quiet day at the library, you bring in your résumé. You come to the desk and ask me, "Is there someone here who can look at my résumé?"

Now, résumé proofreading is not a service that the library normally offers. However, I used to do résumé critiques in the Career Services office at UVA, so I'm completely qualified to look at your résumé and offer comments.

How do I answer?

The obvious answer is "Say yes!" Do whatever you can to help your customer, right?

"Say yes" is not the prevailing answer in library-land. Many of my coworkers would suggest treating your question as a reference question: "Here are some books and websites that can help you, and the Virginia Unemployment Commission will look over your résumé," and so on. Why would they say this? Why direct you to an hour-long struggle with books and websites, when all you want is a 10-minute critique?

Consistency of service. This notion is so important that it has found its way into our library's mission statement. Not excellent customer service, consistent customer service.

Why is this so important? Let's have some variations of our scenario:

If you come to the library when it's busy, there's no way I will have time to spend 10 minutes critiquing your résumé.

If you tell your friends how helpful I was, and 20 of them visit the library expecting help with their résumé, there's no way I will have time to help them all, even if I happen to be at the desk when they arrive. It's even more likely that I won't be there, and your friend will walk up to the desk and say "I need my résumé looked at."

My coworkers will say "I can help you find some books and websites."

"I don't want books, I just want someone to proofread my résumé. My friend said you would do that here."

"No, unfortunately we don't do that here, but maybe I can help you find an organization that can help."

"But my friend got her résumé looked at here last week. Do you mean I drove all the way here for nothing?"

This is the point when my coworkers (and your friends) begin to feel that I haven't done anyone any favors by helping you with your résumé.

This is just a brief introduction to a long-running debate, and I want to make it clear that I understand both sides of the issue. But where do I stand?

I confess: my "scenario" was a true story, and none of my hypothetical downsides came to pass. All that happened was that I helped someone.

I'm on the "use your expertise and help the customer" side of this debate. Library workers aren't all the same. We have different areas of interest and expertise. If you want to chat about the latest fantasy novels, I'm a good person to talk to; if you want to chat about westerns, you might want someone else. We complement each other with our strengths, and we are all here because we want to share our information and knowledge with others. We should neither hide our differences nor waste our talents. If we can help, we should help. That's the route to customer service excellence, and personal excellence as well. That's my take on the issue.

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