Hanging my head in shame

Something I'll never do again

I’m sorry to say that the villain in this story is me, but I assure my readers that there’s a happy ending, in which I learn some valuable lessons.

We have a patron at work who’s known for having a lot of trouble using our resources, and who is rather gruff in his expression of frustration. Let’s call him Dr. Gruff. I’ve never met him in person, and only deal with him over the phone. His problems all deal with access to our online journals from his off-campus office or home.

Dr Gruff is a self-proclaimed technophobe - he’s unable to answer basic diagnostic questions about his computer setup or browser settings. He didn’t like the process he had to go through to access our materials, and I was on his side with that point. To access materials remotely, users had to make configuration changes to their browser. It was a cumbersome process to go through, and it wass difficult to explain. It was more work than our patrons should have to do. I had many phone conversations with Dr Gruff, talking him through the set up & helping him navigate our web page.

There was much happiness across the land when our IS department decided to implement an easier authentication process for us. This new system would involve just a simple username & password. We got many words of appreciation, and the research process became much less cumbersome for people, even Dr. Gruff.

No system change is without its problems, and we ran into a few access issues. In most cases, the solution was either to add a URL to a config file, or to make sure the patron was using the correct username & password. Things were easily & quickly fixed, and people were pretty understanding.

One day, I got a call from Dr Gruff. He told me of his trouble accessing a journal, but he wasn’t seeing the error message I expected. So I assumed that he was doing something wrong. I talked him through the logon process, and he assured me that he was doing everything correctly. “But you’re not,” I thought, “because if you were doing this right, you’d be seeing the same thing I am! Clearly you’re doing something wrong!”

I told him I’d look into it, and that I’d call him back that afternoon. The journal access worked smoothly on campus; what was going wrong off site? I pulled out my iPhone & tried to view the journal with the 3G network. This would be an off-site access point, and should replicate what Dr Gruff was seeing.

And what do you know? I had the same problem he had. It was an issue I hadn’t seen before. I talked to our server guy, who fixed the problem in about a minute. I spent more time trying to convince Dr Gruff that he was wrong that it took to actually solve the problem.

They were serving crow in the cafeteria that day. I had a big helping, and made my call. Fortunately, Dr Gruff was a good sport about it all. He hadn’t even picked up on my exasperation with him. He was glad the problem was fixed, and went about his day.

Morals of the story...

  • The crabby, self-proclaimed technophobes will indeed have legitimate problems. Don’t dismiss them because you think you know so much more. Don’t jump to the conclusion that it’s their fault. Even if they are doing something wrong, don’t treat it like it’s their fault. We all make mistakes, and we all need time to learn new things.
  • Listen to what people are actually saying, rather than what you are expecting to hear. Had I been speaking to someone less persistent than Dr Gruff, they might have hung up the phone thinking they were doing something wrong. The problem wouldn’t have been solved.
  • And, most importantly, the people who are quick to complain are actually doing you a favor. For every person who notifies me of a problem, there’s a lot who don’t. Which means people are struggling needlessly, and I'm not doing my job.

I learned a lot from that one interaction, and it’s changed the way I approach customer service. It helped shift my thinking towards a more user focused approach. I don’t hear from Dr Gruff as much anymore, but when I do, I listen to him, and give him & his problems the attention they deserve.