Wednesday, 19 March 2008

A customer service experience

One of the biggest problems in LibraryLand is our collective tendency toward introspection. Generally - and I know *all* sweeping generalisations are wrong - we don't look beyond the walls of the library for ideas. This means that we miss a lot of opportunities to learn how other organisations respond to their customers, and how relationships can remain positive in spite of the diffuculties that will, inevitably, aries.

I've been given a gift in this respect: my Xbox 360 has been cursed by the Red Ring of Death.

Red Ring of Death

Now, this is a known problem. The Internets tell me that circa 30% of all 360s have shown this fault, which is apparently down to poor air circulation around the console. The irony here, of course, is that I had been feeling quite smug about how I'd survived for over a year without the RRoD. I was confident that, since I keep my 360 on an open shelf with plenty of space around it, it wouldn't overheat. Oh, how wrong and foolish I was...

We know that 360s go wrong, and so does Microsoft. They have a procedure in place, whereby they send UPS to pick up your console and send it for repair. This costs the end user nothing, other than the time it takes to fill in a form, print out a mailing label, and call the courier. Yes, it took MS a while to accept responsibility for these faults, but they did it in the end.

So why don't we adopt a similar approach? We know that some of our systems are broken. We have freestanding bins for book returns - dump your books on the way in, and we'll return them using the LMS. But we know that, sometimes, we don't manage to scan all of the books in the bin. When you're scanning a large batch - maybe 50-odd - you'll probably miss a couple. Sometimes, the LMS hangs for a few seconds. If this happens, you might scan the next couple of titles in good faith, assuming that it's still working, when in fact it's taking a breather.

I know this happens because it's happened to me. I drop my books and DVDs in the return bin, partly because I'm lazy, and partly because I like to make sure that emptying the things isn't an entirely futile experience: surely it's better if there are some books in the box? On at least three occasions, my returned items have gone overdue. This is very easy for me to fix, but for your average library user (without access to the back end of the LMS) it's harder.

So why can't we [sharp intake of breath] be a little bit more like MS? Why can't we accept that some things don't always work as we intend them to, and give our users a bit of slack? Why do we treat every instance of this as a single, isolated event, complete with interrogation of the library user and the involvement of managers?

I think we should recognise our shortcomings and prepare for them. Having a process like the one Microsoft has instituted would give staff more confidence in dealing with these situations, would leave our users happier, and would probably save time. Does your library do what MS does, or does it assume guilt/mistake/worse on the part of your users by default?

Oh, and don't worry about me: I've got a PS2, a PS3 and a Wii as well as the 360. I can still get my game on while Bill's people fix up my Xbox.