Expectations, Overdrive & Customer Service

When your expectations aren’t met, funny things happen.

Another example? Sure thing.

These are setups, right? The basketball players see this old dude who plays terribly for a while. He’s embarrassing himself. The lamp is carried on the owner’s shoulder like a baby. It looks up through the window to its old home. The viewer is drawn into one understanding, one perspective. The videos play these missed expectations as funny, but it isn’t always that way.

Library members have a perspective on libraries that libraries cultivate: we have books. We have a lot of books. If the book you want isn’t in the building, we’ll ship it in from another branch, maybe from another system. Maybe we’ll even just go buy it. Because you asked. We’ve worked really hard to establish this reputation. Supplying books certainly isn’t the only thing libraries do, but it’s one of those core services that we have to do well, because it’s an important part of who we are.

Ebooks don’t work like print books. Lots of titles we have in print aren’t available in ebook formats at all, let alone being available through Overdrive. Even when titles are available, our money doesn’t go as far with ebooks, so we can’t buy as many titles or as many copies as we can with print. The public doesn’t understand this. They barely know we have ebooks at all

When people complain about ebooks, which they can reasonably see as indistinguishable from print books as a library’s core service, the first thing we should do is apologize. Don’t explain. Certainly don’t chastise them for not submitting their response through proper channels. We’ve worked to set their expectations, and then we didn’t meet them. Your patron–your customer–needs empathy before any of the “Yeah, but” explanations you have ready.

Try this on: Imagine you’ve spent a lot of money getting a fancy new 4G phone that’s supposed to download files at super-fast speeds. Two weeks later, you’re on vacation and you can’t access the data network at the beach house your family rents every year. Your old phone worked there, but your new expensive phone doesn’t. You call the store where you bought the phone, and instead of apologizing, the salesman says “Oh yeah, well this is a different network so coverage isn’t the same. You should have checked the coverage map that’s online. Besides, this is a carrier issue, so you should have called them and not me.”

At this point, you’re probably trying to light the salesman on fire with the power of your mind. The poor cell phone reception at your beach house isn’t this individual salesman’s fault. He can’t fix it. But everyone who represents that network system owns it. You bought that new phone expecting it would work better, and sometimes it does, but in this case it was a big fat FAIL. You hope for a fix, but you need an apology if they want to keep you as a customer.

We need to do more than apologize. We need to explain this whole ebook situation before the system fails people’s expectations. And I’m very confident that we aren’t doing this enough because people barely know we have ebooks at all. What are libraries already doing to explain the deal with ebooks? Let’s do it more, and better. This is a burning issue for libraries. In fact, I think my hair is starting to smoke.

One Comment on “Expectations, Overdrive & Customer Service”

  1. Rachel says:

    Yes, this. I’m not sure what the best ways are to explain the ebook situation to people, but I agree with you that it needs doing, and patrons don’t need blaming or correction.

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