I recently had my first experience with Zappos. I’ve heard plenty about how great their customer service is, but always found their prices to be too high for my taste (my taste is generally based around clearance sales).
But when I started looking for wedding shoes, I knew there was a good chance that I would need to try several pairs with my dress then return some. I went with Zappos because of their free shipping and free returns.
My transaction did not go smoothly – the original package went missing for several days, and Zappos was sold out of one of the items. When the package did turn up, it was rather confusing to determine which items needed to go back in what packaging. But throughout each step of the process, Zappos was accommodating, friendly and generous. They handled submitting the claim to UPS, they upgraded my account type for future purchases, issued me an instant refund in anticipation of me shipping the extra items back and even gave me a $25 credit on the account. None of that was truly necessary – the representatives that I dealt with via live chat were wonderful and would have gotten me through the exchange/returns process just fine.
Wrapping up that transaction, I realized what was different from almost every other retail interaction – there was no fear. I’ve been ripped off so many times in so many different ways that when I need anything from a company, whether it’s honoring an advertised price, accepting a coupon, or handling a return, I go into it defensive. I often feel powerless to get what I need from a service provider.
This dynamic is something I’ve observed in the libraries I’ve worked in. At Fayetteville, our policies were entirely structured around making patrons feel welcomed, valued and cared for. We had procedures to ensure that overdue or lost items were dealt with in a way that was non-accusatory. We did shelf checks while people waited to make them feel more certain that we truly did not have the item, and anything that was still uncertain was referred to our Director of Patron Services. She was a highly trusted person in our community, and patrons understood that she was going to be fair to them. In contrast, at other libraries I’ve been in there haven’t been such policies in place. Mistakes would get made, and patrons would be told that items were missing or overdue when things were on the shelf. It wasn’t often, but it was often enough that people knew it was possible, and the inability to compromise on fines lead to numerous conflicts. People came to expect being given a hard time, so they came in with their defenses already engaged.
Starting at Fayetteville, I noticed a tangible difference in tension. Whereas in the past I would cringe to tell people that they had fines because I knew there would be an argument, at Fayetteville people generally said “OK” and paid them. That sense of trust was echoed back to me tonight as I wrapped up my transactions with Zappos. Being valued and cared for by an organization is a rare and significant feeling, one which adds a new level of value to a service.
I fear that I have not always been able to make my students feel 100% cared for. Things do get forgotten, items do get lost, and I don’t have enough control over the facility to guarantee that an item is not somewhere in the library. Today I had a student sobbing in the shelves because I couldn’t find the book he wanted and he wouldn’t accept anything else. I want to be able to guarantee students that I will take the time to get them what they need, that I will never accuse them of something they didn’t do, that I will trust them and that they can trust me. To some extent working on my procedures could help. Maybe creating something like a research request form would take the pressure off of me to remember what students want, and put it on them to document what they want from me.
A dimension of this problem does come from them though. As an example, I have a student who simply does not follow library procedures, then seems hurt when I won’t bend the rules for her. She lost a book, and has been given instructions about how to deal with it, but she doesn’t follow through. She refuses to wait in line during book checkout so that I can help her in turn, then gets upset because she doesn’t get a turn. So I hate that she feels slighted by me, but is it my responsibility to cater to her? I don’t think I would be doing her a service by giving up on trying to get her to follow basic procedures. It’s something to ponder. Maybe by looking at her and a few other tough cases I can think of things I can do to remind students of their jobs, so that I can do better at holding up my end and keeping their trust.