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Rundles wrap-up: The library and customer care

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.

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Jeff Rundles

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

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