What if the customer is wrong?
Posted by lpearle on 10 April 2013
Recently there was some twitter discussion about getting rid of library fines – I’m of two minds about that. On the one hand, it’s less about the fine and more about responsibility; on the other, it doesn’t give people a warm fuzzy feeling about the library. Just look at Twitter (search “library fines” and see what I mean). When I tell patrons that they have a fine, there’s usually one of three responses: immediate payment, asking to delay payment, and “I never took out that book.”
It’s the last response that has me thinking. There are times when you really can believe it, because knowing the person’s reading tastes and looking at the book title you just know that isn’t something they’d be reading. It does lead to the question of whether they borrowed another book and the wrong one was checked out to their account, or whether another patron (perhaps with a similar name) has the book. The only reason that matters is because having books appear to be on the shelves when they’re really checked out can disappoint other potential readers.
And then there are the times when it’s not the patron but a parent who says that the book couldn’t possibly have been checked out by the patron (yes, schools tell parents which books their children have overdue. get over it.) . Sometimes the parent is wrong, and the student brings the book back later, apologizing for the problem. Sometimes the book mysteriously reappears – seemingly unrelated to the student’s reappearance in the library. I’ve had parents swear up and down that the book was returned, only to have them (or their child) bring it back later.
At all times we keep a smile on our face – albeit at times a puzzled smile – while trying to help the patron/parent/person standing in front of us figure out how this book could 1. be checked out to them and 2. be late. Sometimes we waive the fine, at others we merely mark the book lost and clear the patron record. Sometimes we stick to our guns and insist on payment (sometimes that option is the only one available). But when it happens in the face of patron rage?
There was one incident years ago when a student didn’t put an assignment on my desk. I reminded her about it, and was told she had put it on my desk; I asked that she come and show me where she’d left it, as I couldn’t find it. The next thing I knew, the mother left me (and the Head) voice mails that were expletive filled diatribes about how I hated children, was unfit to work in a school, etc.. Because this was a child I saw daily it was impossible to avoid dealing with her, but of course one never blames the child for the parent. But it’s difficult!! Even more difficult? When two weeks later, the division head gave me the assignment, which had mysteriously migrated from my desk to under the child’s bed. Nothing from the parent voicing any regret about the vicious phone call.
That’s not the only time people have been enraged in the face of what may have been their mistake, or one inadvertently made by the library staff. It’s also not the only time that no apology has been offered for an outsize response to the problem. It does make me wonder how we continue to give those partons service with a smile when the customer is clearly wrong.