Friday, 28 November 2014



Customer Service Excellence (CSE)?!

Since Wednesday, 12/11/2014, I have been unable to advance-book a library PC. Nor am I able to simply sit at a public computer and use one that has not been booked. (My access to the Web Catalogue, however, functions as normal.)

No staff member seems to know what is actually going on. I have been told - by Tunbridge Wells’ staff - to try logging-in more than once at any available PC. This ridiculous suggestion (given the inherent consistency of programs - compared to programmers) does not actually work - no-one is willing to state it in writing, in any case. And physically finding an available computer is problematic since it requires perambulating the library - switching-on unused monitors as one goes. An onerous task, at the best of times, which the booking computer previously did, but automatically.

This new library computer-system makes it impossible to book a library PC a) remotely; b) days ahead; or, c) when physically-present in the library; nullifying all the benefits of booking ahead - and of library membership, as such - particularly that of not waiting around for a computer to become free.

I must now obtain Guest Tickets from staff after signing for them - yet another onerous task - unexplained except in terms of revenue protection or some vague failing of Microsoft software.

What went wrong?

Clearly, this results from your new policy (as of 17/11/2014) of disabling customer access to the Web if individual Fines/Charges rise to GBP£10.00 or more. Along with the concomitant need to enforce this injunction through the library’s automated system rather than the uncertain and inconsistent manual enforcement of the past.

Making it harder for customers

But, if delinquent accounts really are a serious issue for the Library Service, it is strange that many of the library’s automated borrow/return machines do not accept payment (none at all accept credit/debit cards). This makes an overdrawn library account ever more likely since it is possible to borrow chargeable items, like DVDs, without paying for them. (It makes no sense for the Service to enjoin non-payers when the Service, itself, makes payment harder than necessary.)

If the thief doesn’t own up, you’ll all be in detention!

All library members are now blacklisted until their accounts are checked and, presumably, the non-delinquent then white-listed again. This gives library members and non-members exactly the same status despite the former being a subset of the latter - a distinction conferring more privileges on members through the very fact of membership. These privileges are now effectively abolished through the collective punishment of all members because of a minority of delinquent ones; making the library harder to use and, thus, less likely to be; as well as reducing the benefits - and the likely take-up - of said membership.

Dealing with financially-delinquent customers?

While recognising the Library Service is not yet computerised enough to do this, it is always better to punish people - directly & individually - in terms of what they do (or do not do) rather than in any other terms: The punishment then more closely fits the crime.

For example, customers who return non-chargeable items, like books, late (or never return them) should not be allowed to borrow more of the same until their “overdraft” is paid (&/or the item paid for). Similarly, customers who return chargeable items, like audio-visual material, late should be barred from borrowing more of the same until they are in the black. (This is, of course, especially important given that chargeable items are not generating further revenue while remaining on loan to delinquent library members.)

Time to Pay

It would be easier (since it is common business practice) to give customers time to pay rather than focus on the amount owing. The latter merely encourages library members to conclude Fines/Charges less than GBP£10.00 unimportant; increasing the likelihood of greater numbers of small accounts-outstanding. Staff costs are not significantly increased after computers have been programmed to deal with any outstanding amount, as they would increase if all delinquency were dealt with manually - so long as there is minimal human intervention. Under such an automated system, any Fines/Charges must be paid within, say, the loan period (eg, seven days for DVDs; 21 days for books, etc or when the item is returned - whichever is the lesser) otherwise library use is then automatically restricted or prohibited.

Logic & Rationality

Using the PCs does not require library membership and never results in fines/charges, so there is no logical connection between the two. Borrowing items, however, does require membership, so there is a logical connection between fines/charges and not allowing further loans should these fines/charges become excessive. This is clear, easy-to-understand and, therefore, easy to enforce.

By keeping library services that do and do not require library membership separate, you will have a much easier means of policing your system. Requiring library membership for all library services would, perhaps, be impractical.

Arbitrariness & Laziness

There seems no reason for an arbitrary limit of GBP£10.00 triggering punitive action from the Library Service, nor why Web-access prohibition should be the sole punishment - unless it was thought this would make re-programming the library software easier. If so, this has clearly not worked: Simplistic solutions to complex problems rarely do. Either way, delinquent customers never or rarely accessing the Web via the library, will remain largely unaffected by this injunction - even though they may incur further Fines/Charges from continuing to borrow unpaid-for chargeable items such as CDs.

There is also the possibility that a library member can walk into the Library and ask for a guest ticket even when banned - and get one if his account is not checked. He can simply say he is not a member and, if not recognised by staff, gain Web access despite owing more than GBP£10.00. Staff would then have no means of proving that such a person was not a library member since accounts do not contain photographic data.

Customer Solution

The only sure way to solve this revenue-protection problem is to delete ones account and start a new one; ensuring such things as loans & reservations are manually transferred. This ensures that there is little data to be checked for, say, national security purposes.

Who benefits from automation?

Ultimately, if you wish customers to ‘Make sure [they] can still get online’, you should not put unnecessary obstacles in their way: It is better to ensure any so-called library-software upgrades actually work on a test system before long-suffering customers’ experience them on the live one.

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