Thanks to Linda Braun, Louise Berry, Alan Gray and probably a few other people, the first thing I read this morning was an article on Amazon’s surprisingly wonderful customer service. The author relates his Christmas tale of a stolen Amazon package containing a Playstation for his son, his desperate call to Amazon and Amazon’s Christmas Eve delivery of a miracle game console.
This is the stuff customer service legends are made of. Nordstrom’s returns department taking back tires, Danny Meyer’s maître d’ racing to a diner’s apartment to rescue a certain-to-explode anniversary bottle of champagne from the freezer and leaving behind caviar, chocolates and a pile of goodwill. Amazon is in good company with this holiday tale of woe turned wonderful.
Great story, but it was just the hook. Amazon’s setting Wall Street on fire, which investor-types attribute to everything but their service philosophy:
But I couldn’t help wondering if maybe there wasn’t something else at play here, something Wall Street never seems to take very seriously. Maybe, just maybe, taking care of customers is something worth doing when you are trying to create a lasting company. Maybe, in fact, it’s the best way to build a real business — even if it comes at the expense of short-term results.
Libraries don’t have to worry about profit, Wall Street or investor expectations, but do we also fall victim to this sort of reasoning? It’s so easy to fall into the pigeon poop trap- Daniel Gilbert notes in Stumbling on Happiness that we easily remember all the times we were hit by pigeons flying overhead, but not the multitude of overhead pigeons that passed without incident and formulate pigeon conspiracy theories based on bad statistics. Do we focus on all the terrible patron encounters we’ve had, rather than the average or good moments? How about the patron interactions we’re not having? What does that do to customer service?
Are we really going to rescue libraries from the tragedy of the commons by aggravating our communities? There are alway going to be people who take advantage, who steal books, trash the bathroom, argue over damaged materials and generally act badly. We can’t run our libraries based on the actions of the horrendously selfish.
Kevin Gamble posted recently about respecting the perspective of the beginner. His post is largely about the authorship of textbooks, but he adds:
This is all about respecting learners. Being open to the idea that everyone has something to contribute.
You know what is best about this model? It flat scales. There are no boundaries to what can be accomplished when you turn people loose.
Almost everyone who walks through our doors is a library beginner. Even the people that we see every day don’t know the depth and breadth of content and service the library has to offer. Libraries work from our perspective, one that is not only expert, but also occasionally overwhelmed with pigeon poop.
Individually and collectively, we can regain a beginner’s mind when we look at our libraries. Remembering how confusing a new place can be is a good place to start, but what about policies, procedures and rules? How about the monologues you find yourself giving on a nearly daily basis? The “this is how it works” soliloquies? Some of those explanations are not ours to control (we are not in charge of the bathrooms and have no say in their lack of paper towels; we can, however, give you the phone number of the public buildings department and you can ask them to provide paper towels in the public bathrooms) but many are (yes, you can opt-in to save your history of checked-out books).
Beginner’s mind is hard (people meditate for decades to get back to where they were when they were five). It might help to talk to some beginners. Not the cranky regular who complains about everything and wants the entire library to be run according to his or her personal needs and quirks, but to the people who pass right through, barely blipping our radar. How do they think it should work? What makes sense to them? What about their friends (especially the friends who never use the library)? What do they think?
Do the small things, plan for the big things. Then check back with that cranky regular- she has some great ideas, once you get past the pigeon poop.