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Posted: April 01, 2012

Rundles wrap-up: The library and customer care

Jeff Rundles

A few weeks ago the Colorado attorney general’s office released a report of consumer complaints filed with its office, and it offered few surprises. When it comes to what the AG hears about, it is allegations of fraud, potential fraud and/or questionable business practices. In 2011 state citizens filed some 7,297 complaints, up from 6,462 in 2010 and 4,723 in 2009.

And, of course, that’s just the people who took the time to take such action. I think it’s reasonably safe to assume that thousands more just took it, as it were. It comes as no shock that the types of businesses people complain about the most are financial consultants, utility companies (especially providers of cable and satellite TV), and anything having to do with health care. In my experience you can measure the level of customer service in direct disproportion to the number of requests you get, either on the phone or the Internet, to take a survey at the end of the session on their level of customer service.

They usually ask, "Was the information we provided ‘Very Helpful,’ ‘Helpful,’ ‘Somewhat Helpful’ or ‘Not Helpful?’" What they should be asking is, "Did our service ‘Really Suck,’ ‘Just Suck,’ or is being our customer best categorized under the heading ‘Sucks For You’?"

I got thinking about all of this because directly or indirectly I have had a lot of dealings with health-insurance companies and health-care providers in the last couple of years, and while most profess a great interest in, and pride themselves on, customer service, they are in general terrible. I must say that I know a couple of doctors and dentists I would rate very high for customer service – and what I am coming to call "customer care" – but the insurance companies, well … I am pretty sure they have people with business cards that have those initials pointing out their professional certifications, and the people I have come across are listed as P.O. – Professional Obfuscators. On second thought, perhaps P.O. is an indication of how they will make you feel.

I find it interesting, by the way, that Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is putting a great deal of effort and resources into revamping the Division of Motor Vehicles. He’ll be the latest in a long line of mayors who have tried.

Many people – me included – have pointed out the disaster of customer service at every level – business and government – many times. It probably serves no purpose, other than the fact that venting makes you feel better. What is needed is a solution, and I think I have found one.

Everyone should hire librarians.

Every time you hear about budget cuts and cutbacks on hours, it seems like our libraries, and librarians, are the ones suffering. But these places, and these people, must be the most helpful, the most informed, and the most knowledgeable resources on the planet. If they hired librarians to be clerks at the DMV, everyone would get their license plates on time and walk out of the office looking forward to renewal time. If librarians ran health care, people might still get sick, but not tired.

I recently went to the Denver Public Library’s Western History Department for some research, and I couldn’t believe the level of customer care. I am so used to surly and uninformed clerks and agents that I braced myself, only to discover that I was in the hands of not only an expert – a person who had the answers, the ideas, and didn’t need to check with anybody else – but a cheerful expert at that. "Very helpful" doesn’t even come close.

May I suggest that insurance companies, financial planners, cable television executives, DMV managers and others similarly situated visit a library for a demonstration of customer care? Perhaps the AG, when taking damages to settle complaints, could send the money over to the library.

Jeff Rundles is a former editor of ColoradoBiz and a regular columnist. Email him at jrundles@cobizmag.com.

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Readers Respond

Marcy, with all due respect, I've also been in this profession since the 70s. Do you remember what it was like getting unionized employees to embrace an online catalog? I think that is indicitive of what I'm driving at. There is no accountability in this profession while unions exist. They are a plague that render instituitionalized laziness a norm, poor customer service as the standard, and progress as a pariah. These people should have been removed years ago, but their union made that impossible for their previous manager and for me. Behavior on a transaction by transcation basis isn't rendered by anything save personal temperment. By Mark on 2012 04 21
Mark, in most organizations, attitude comes from the top down. I'm a librarian with 20 years of management experience. If this is the way you talk about the people who work for you in public, I'm not surprised that you have problems. By Marcy on 2012 04 21
What!? Do I have to show you the stack of patron complaints that I get about my unionized staff? I have one that curses at disabled patrons, three others that will walk off on their break when there is a line at the circ desk, and others still that won't even answer the phone. Don't know what library you've been at, but I'd love to visit! Can't write them up as civil service and their contract requires that I warn them that I am going to warn them before beginning disciplinary action.... By Mark on 2012 04 20
Capturing what we Librarians bring to what we do - PASSION! As with any job, unless you really like/love what you do, the customers will feel devalued. Bringing that sense of excitement and passion into play helps to create staunch supporters of our services. Librarians are an essential business partner - in healthcare and other fields. Google can give you 1,000 answers - a Librarian will give you the right one. Our value-added expertise is beyond compare! By Mindy Robinson-Paquette on 2012 04 19
Thank you Jeff! That was wonderful. I have been a librarian since 1989. And it just gives me joy to see librarians being praised for their service. I am a medical librarian and typically hospitals are dumping their medical libraries and librarians for online resources because the Joint Commission had replaced library resources for knowledge based information resources and words like library, librarian has been dropped from their vocabulary. Thanks again! By Lori Graham on 2012 04 19
Jeff, Thanks for a very complementary article about public libraries, one of my favorite subjects since I am a trustee for the Elbert County Library District. Customer service is tops with us and it is what keeps our patrons coming back for more great help, information and warm feelings. We hear it all the time in my library district. I, too, have had the pleasure of experiencing the fine service from Denver Public Library's western history and genealogy department. Great people there. Best, Fred By Fred Beisser on 2012 04 12
Businesses lose a lot of customers due to their terrible customer relations. It is, indeed, such a joy to do business with a firm that truly understands and practices excellent customer service rather than just treating customers as "necessary evils." Examples of industries and companies are many. The same principle applies to governmental entities. While some are quite effective in serving their citizens, such as libraries, others are highly deficient and could reap many benefits simply by becoming more service oriented. By Jerry Boswell on 2012 04 06
I think New Carrollton Library is a pretty cool place and doesn't afraid anything. By Samson on 2012 04 06
I work at a library as a PSS (Patron Service Specialist). I don't have my master's in library science yet - that's what it takes to be a 'real' librarian. However, we have what we call a roving model of customer service. We walk around unlike the days of yore when a frimpy librarian sat behind a desk. We look for people to help and our district is very good about offering training and education to keep libraries relevant. Even patrons who don't think they need help finding an item often come back a few minutes later to ask for assistance because they know we are here to help. We are trained in the very latest in technology. We love our library! It actually has an interesting history, including when Aurora residents voted down their library, they use ours and comment on the excellent customer service. By carrie harp on 2012 04 02
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