a wicked awesome contest

OK, this is wicked awesome. My husband’s company, Endeca, runs a contest for their customers to see who’s making the coolest use of their services. In one fell swoop: learn what your customers value about you (including things you may not have known), reward them, and incentivize them to have a closer relationship with you. Oh, and while you’re at it, generate customer-focused ideas for future services. Brilliant. (h/t Endeca’s blog.)

So, are any libraries doing this? The closest I can think of is Read.Flip.Win, which sounds like a lot of fun, but seems to be engaging a narrower range of patrons with a narrower range of services, with more limited possibilities for intelligence-gathering.

the ongoing hideous woe that is shoes

I spoke recently about the awesomeness that is the Nordstrom shoe department. By contrast, take two unfamiliar shoe stores I checked out today:

One actually sold some things in my size, but instead of asking what style I wanted and bringing stuff out, they gestured at the wall so I could look for things I liked. Look, people. Most of what you have doesn’t come in my size, so asking me to pick things I like is asking me to set myself up for disappointment. Just bring me everything you have that might work — I promise, that’s a half-dozen at most — and let me sort it out. Don’t make me spend lots of time filtering by a useless criterion.

The other had lots of exterior signage indicating that it specialized in difficult feet. That’s promising. But when I went inside, she gave me the spiel about the product they sell, and when I asked if it comes in narrow, she said no, but lots of people with narrow feet have used it. (I later realized she was talking about the shoe insert, not the shoes, which also don’t come in narrow, but clear antecedents are part of good customer service, eh?)

(I should note there are few quicker ways to send me into a despairing fury than to tell me that a shoe only comes in medium, but “runs narrow”. All that communicates to me is that the person I’m talking to doesn’t understand anything about narrow feet, hence cannot help me find what I’m looking for. To ask a Set-Sail-for-Fail-esque question: how have you seen cluelessness and futility communicated to patrons?)

Anyway, she spent a few more sentences trying to connect her product to my feet, not apparently noticing my get-me-out-of-here body language.

It really underscored the distinction between product-centered and patron-centered thinking. (An early draft in my head had that as “commercial” vs. “service”, but then I realized that was dumb and wrong; understanding your customers’ needs is an excellent business model. Nordstrom sells me shoes because it has awesome collection development and reference interviews. A librarian once told me that if her branch’s hours were inconvenient, it was my fault for not caring enough to get to the library when they were open. So, really, this is not a for-profit/non-profit distinction. One might say it’s a “sucking at customer service” vs. “not sucking at it” distinction, but I am, of course, too nice a person to suggest that.)

Suppose I’ll spend all of ALA Annual in heels. Good thing they’re comfortable heels. But think kind thoughts for my feet come Monday.

customer service: all hail the Nordstrom shoe department

Peter Bromberg wrote about being an agent for the customer rather than a gatekeeper (a topic sure to make me gleeful as the gatekeeper model drives me batty), and this reminded me I had meant to post on one of my favorite things: the wonder that is the Nordstrom shoe department.

As I have mentioned before, my feet are a problem to shop for. “What’s your shoe size?” is a question I cannot, in fact, answer in two words (and the two words that are closest are a size most places don’t carry anyway). So shoe shopping has always filled me with trepidation and angst, except at Nordstrom, where I recently bought a pair of shoes, which I suppose I will show off at ALA Annual.

What works about Nordstrom?

  • Collection development. They actually stock my size (or things that substitute for it). They stock it in a variety of styles. It is one of the only places I have tried shoes on in twenty years, because it is one of the only places I can.
  • When I explained my complex size to the salesman, there were two things he didn’t do: tell me I was doomed, or uncritically bring out everything in an 8.5AA. He expressed concern about the complexity of my need, but optimism about the process of meeting it. And he brought out one shoe, which he used to calibrate my foot and his mental sizing models, so that he understood what I actually needed, with more nuance than what I’d stated.

(Yes, I was squeeing about the secret reference interview going on here.)

This was striking to me chiefly because I am one of those people who gets really annoyed if I ask for help and I’m supplied with something I didn’t ask for. I tend to feel like I wasn’t listened to, and that the other party thinks I’m stupid or incompetent. But shoe guy, by doing a good enough reference interview that he could abstract the principles guiding my shoe needs, was able to supply good candidates — not all of which met my stated needs, but all of which were reasonable approximations of my actual needs.

Of course all the good reference interviewing in the world won’t solve the problem that the set of dress flats that I can wear is barely distinguishable from the empty set, but good service means I feel happy about the process rather than discouraged that I didn’t (maybe can’t) get what I really want, and also I’m gleeful that I’m wearing an awesome pair of sandals…

“did you mean…?”, ILL, and next steps

I finally figured out why my overall ILL experience has left an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

So, a large fraction of the ILL requests I issue get shot down for reasons I find incomprehensible. (A reason is always given — it’s just clearly couched in a culture or policy I have no exposure to, so it feels totally arbitrary to me.)

But what is not given is a next step. OK, so you won’t give me this book because it’s too new and for some reason that’s a problem — so ask me, “Would you like to reissue this request in 3 months?” And give me a one-click way to do that. I interact with ILL solely by computer, and computers are awesome at keeping track of that in a way I am not.[*]

Even a link to more explanation, context that makes the explanation comprehensible, would be nice. But really…it’s like spellcheck. It’s like what we kept talking about in my library software class last term — user requests should not fail. If they searched for something with no hits, you should look for spelling mistakes and ask “did you mean…?”, or give them some kind of suggestion for the closest match you can find — some way of continuing the search, of feeling like you tried to help, something other than a blank wall of electrons. Some next step.

ILL rejections don’t give me next steps. (Or they do, and apparently not prominently enough for me to remember.) And that’s just frustrating.

[*] Actually, these days, a lot of the magic of the library experience for me is getting unexpected presents from past-me. Past-me sees some book she wants to read, say, Checklist Manifesto (after seeing Atul Gawande speak at ALA Midwinter), or Girl with a Dragon Tattoo (after seeing Bohyun Kim and pretty much the entire internet rave about it), and drops a request. There are a million holds on the first returned copy, so I forget, but the computer doesn’t, and a month or two later I get an email saying that this book I have totally forgotten I wanted to read, this present from past-me and the library, has arrived! It makes me feel all warm and happy.