In the Workplace

What I Learned About Library Services from a Hellish Day at the Airport

View from the plane
View from a flight that day.

I started this post in 2011 while sitting at the gate waiting to finally get on a plane. As travel goes, it wasn’t the worst of experiences, but I had never seen so many clear miscues. After reading Courtney Young’s tweets this morning, I was inspired to finally finish it. Here’s to you, Courtney!

In the nine hours since I woke up, I have had two cancelled flights, one missed connection (and am on pace for a second), and a brain scrambled by confusion. This isn’t my first bad day of air travel, and it definitely could still get worse. However, these circumstances were only worsened by my work as a public services librarian and my interests in user experience. Rather than brushing it off as drizzle-related delays, I cannot help but cringe at every service-related misstep the two airlines I have tried to travel home on have made. I have leveraged this opportunity to examine what about this experience has me as a consumer so frustrated. Weather cannot be helped; people’s reactions can, and this is where good service can mitigate an otherwise poor experience.

Help me help myself. I actually had a fairly easy time getting a new flight. Each gate desk had cards with a phone number to call if I didn’t want to wait in line — perfect! Then it went downhill again. I was rebooked on a different airline. After walking nearly the full length of Philadelphia International Airport, I was greeted by nothing but empty counters. Already six hours into this affair (and with carry-on suitcase in tow), I was determined to find someone, and eventually did, stopping her as she was walking down the hall. She unsympathetically told me that agents were only available an hour before the flight and that no, there wasn’t anywhere else in the airport I could get help from the airline in person. She also did not have any additional information about the delays, nor would she be able to confirm I was on the flight. I returned to my gate and looked for a URL, a phone number, anything that would put me in touch with someone who could assure me that I did still have a chance of completing my trip. If you can’t help me, make it possible for me to help myself.

When you have the opportunity to win over non-users, do it. My original airline had canceled numerous flights that day, and those passengers had scattered throughout the rest of the airport, desperately trying to find a way to their destination. I had never flown my backup airline as an adult, and given my first impression, I don’t plan to again. You may only get one chance to win over someone who isn’t sure about this whole library thing. Can you do it?

Great SERVICE still cannot make up for a poor PRODUCT. I had originally booked on Delta because I had generally had a good experience with them on the plane, at the gate, and online. But the end of the day, great service alone still did not get me from Philadelphia to the Upper Midwest. Likewise, customer service is only one piece of the library experience. The physical space, the website, books, DVDs, computers — all of these contribute to how our customers experience the library. What do the people and stuff in your library say about your organization?

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