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Unexpected customer service

Last Friday, my best friend couldn’t get her car to run. We both worked for a couple of hours calling, searching the web while waiting on hold, talking to service stations, and searching the web some more to find a place that could service her little asian car, and then to find a tow service that wouldn’t cost her the equivalent of a week’s salary. Finally, she headed out to her car to wait for the towing service while I started the hunt-and-call process for a rental car so that she could get to work (the place that could fix her car didn’t do the loaner thing). Well, we found a place that not only didn’t break the bank, but also picked up their customers and dropped them off for free! What a deal!

But so far, that wasn’t customer service; it was just good business. The customer service comes in later, after her car is fixed and she’s trying to figure out how to time things so that she can drive her rental to the rental company (35 miles south), get a ride back home, take a cab to the service station (3 miles south of home), and then drive to work (50 miles north) all between the time the rental place opens (8:00) and the time she has to be at work (9:00). But when she called the rental place to ask when they opened, the guy on the other end did just what we’re taught to do in a reference interview. He recognized this as a “compromised” information need, and went questing for the real need. And when he found out that she had this time crunch, he offered to have her just drive the rental to the service station and give him a call. He’d pick up the rental from the service station… no extra charge. Not only did this completely make my friend’s day, but it also ensured that she and everyone she knows has a warm and fuzzy feeling for rental places in general and this company in particular.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could figure out how to make this happen in the library world? I’ve been struck by a few posts recently in the biblioblogosphere that have dealt with this issue of customer service, especially this post from Library Garden about Nordstrom’s culture of serving the customer without being tied to rules and regulations. (It was with this in mind that I [gasp] allowed a student to check out a reference book last week.)

Why can’t we offer to photocopy articles and run them to our “customers” when they call to see if we subscribe the journal housing a particular article? For that matter, we could even scan and email articles that aren’t available online.