Organizations can assume that their customers are as educated on their internal processes as their employees are. This assumption will cause customer alienation if practiced too frequently.
For example, because of staff cutbacks, the library has done a very good job of training us to serve ourselves, from ordering books to check out. So interacting with a live person is an anomaly. But I couldn’t order this book without a librarian’s assistance. With my librarian, I ordered a book from a neighboring library system. He explained that it would take a little longer than an in-system borrow, and I’d get an email when it arrived.
A week later, the email arrived so I went to pick it up. I perused the usual book hold area to no avail. There was a line at the librarian’s desk so I decided to call later to ask, thinking the notification had been in error. Later that day I called and got voice mail. I left a message as well as emailed the library.
Five days passed and I knew if the notice was correct, the book would be returned the next day, so I called again and got the head librarian. He said, “It’s here waiting for you.” I told him I’d be right over.
Again, I searched the hold area but no book was awaiting in my name. I inquired at the check-out counter, and the librarian said, “Here it is” as she reached under the counter. I calmly asked, “How would I have ever known that the book would not be in the usual book hold area?” She said, “All books from outside our system are held here.” I again asked, “How would I have ever known this? The librarian I ordered it through didn’t say anything, the librarian I talked to earlier today didn’t mention it. I could have had this book a week earlier if I’d had any idea I had to ask at the counter.” She said I could speak to her supervisor.
It turns out he’s the one I spoke to on the phone. I suggested that when patrons order books from outside the system, they be informed where the book will be held so they don’t get frustrated looking in the normal, but wrong, place. He explained the system, as the previous librarian had, but seemed not to grasp that patrons wouldn’t know that their system meant a very different process than the patron was used to. He didn’t seem to understand the importance of explaining to the patron when something different than the norm was required to get what they needed.
It made me wonder how many other organizations expect their customers to understand their processes, without ever educating their customers. Ideally, the initial librarian would have told me where the book would be located when I came to pick up the book. Then the email could have reiterated that. But knowing that some email systems are nearly impossible to change, how about putting a note in the book-hold area with my name on it, as is the norm, but then telling me to pick up the book at the counter?
Patrons can’t easily take their business to other libraries. But customers can often effortlessly take their business elsewhere if the organization is too narcissistic, expecting the customers to bend to their processes with no thinking of how these procedures affect the customer.
How do you know if you’re irritating your customers by expecting them to know how you work? Interviewing your customers will yield gold. You’ll find out what you’re doing that may cause your customers inconvenience or downright anger.
The book Remarkable Customer Service…And Disservice is chock-full of other examples of good and bad service. Order now!