Thursday, June 30, 2011

Customer Service 101

Bad customer service: isn't it a bummer? I had an unfortunate experience at a RAWTHER FANCY boutique the other day, and it made me think about the service we give the library.

My husband gave me a lovely wallet for my birthday last week-- something I've really been wanting, as I carried around my previous wallet for over a decade. Unfortunately, there was a small, tiny, hardly noticeable imperfection in the new one, so I thought I'd see about exchanging it.

Here's what happened:
  • The first thing the sales associate said to me was a very curt, "Do you have a receipt??" Which, yes, I did. It's not a wildly inappropriate thing to ask, of course. But it might have been nice to hear a somewhat concerned, "Oh, what seems to be the matter with the item?" before the demand for a receipt. I'm just saying.

  • They didn't have any more other items in style and color I had selected, so the sales associates showed me the floor models, which weren't in great condition either. (Honestly, who wants a floor model at full price?) I politely declined, and... that was it. They just kind of stared at me and didn't offer any further solutions. No offer to call other stores in the area, no offer to order the item online and have it sent to me, nada. They could see I was disappointed, but were clearly waiting for me to leave.
What bothered me the most about this whole interaction wasn't that they didn't have another wallet to exchange for me-- it was their utter lack of concern . Their attitude was basically, "Oh well! Your problem doesn't matter to us!" Which translates into, "YOU don't matter to us!" Which, for me, translates into, "And WHY would I ever go there again?"

But the outcome of this whole thing was that I went away feeling PRETTY GREAT about the excellent service my colleagues and I provide every day at the library. At no charge to our patrons! We will go to the ends of the earth to find the information a patron needs, and if we truly can't help them, we act with empathy and humanity.

So, just in case any RAWTHER FANCY boutique sales associates are reading, let's recap some good customer service strategies:
  • Make eye contact and greet the customer/patron before they greet you. Ask how you can help them. Don't make them start the conversation.

  • It goes a long way to acknowledge that the person's need is important to them. If those sales associates had just acknowledged the fact that this was my birthday present and, as such, the item was important to me, I would have walked away from the situation a whole lot happier.

  • Go the extra mile. At my library, we always offer to check the other libraries in the area for items that we don't own, even though we're not connected to those libraries. We don't have to check with the other libraries-- technically, we'd still be doing our jobs if we just said we didn't have the item and left it at that. But why not take the extra step? Our patrons really appreciate it.

  • There's a fine art to telling someone there's nothing you can do for them. Show a caring attitude. (Ahem, even if you don't really care-- it won't kill you!) I always want a patron to walk away feeling like, "Well, even though I didn't get what I wanted, that nice librarian really cared about my question, and she tried to help me." I don't want them walking away thinking, "Isn't there something else she could have done?"

  • We all learn this in library school, but it bears repeating: always wrap up the transaction with an offer to continue helping. "Is there anything else I can find for you?" Half the time, people are shy about approaching the reference desk and asking for help in the first place; make it easier on them by letting them know they're not limited to just one question.
What are your worst customer service pet peeves? What makes you vow to never patronize a particular establishment ever again? Conversely, what are some of your favorite customer service strategies? What keeps your patrons coming back?


  1. I had a similar experience that I blogged about last summer:

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience, Beth- that's pretty shameful, the way the Steinway rep treated you! But how awesome about the Bösendorfer experience. I agree, these impressions really stay with you and can influence future purchasing decisions.

  3. First off, let me just say that I'm IN LOVE with THE library. Yes, all of you totally ROCK. Here's my worst customer service experience: I visit a fabric warehouse with 2 kids. NO ONE says one words of hello. NO ONE offers to help. I practically have to beg someone to help me cut the fabric. But that wasn't the worst: the OWNER, yes THE. OWNER. scolds my oldest not once but TWICE for picking up a toy in the toy area that her daughter was playing with. I totally understand she might have been over protective of her own daughter but really, if you're going to provide a huge play area and decide to bring your child to work, then you must understand some of the situations that may arise from that. I'm just saying. BTW, my daughter almost started crying....

  4. Aw, thanks for the nice words about the library! Very much appreciate that. :D

    But, ohhhh, what an awful customer service story you have about that fabric warehouse! I have a serious problem when people don't acknowledge the customer. Even if they can't help them right that second, a greeting, eye contact, or "I'll be right with you!" are all appropriate choices! And that is really bad that the owner scolded your daughter. Not cool. I think the most effective way to alienate a customer is to be mean to their child. Sheesh!


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