I first heard the phrase "move the question, not the patron" used by Julie Strange of Maryland AskUsNow. This phrase neatly encapsulates an important tenet of good customer service, and relates to an all too-common issue in the Cooperative:
A patron uses the Ask the Librarian service through his library’s web page, and a Cooperative librarian picks up the call. During the session, the Cooperative librarian is unable to help the patron, and states: “you’ll need to contact your library,” then ends the session. In other words, the librarian is moving the patron (forcing the patron to figure out another way to access reference services) rather than the question.
Remember, the patron has contacted his library by his preferred method: through the library’s (or statewide service) web page. This patron made a conscious choice to ask his question via live chat. When you staff the 24/7 Reference Cooperative, you are filling in for the patron’s local library. By telling the patron to “contact your library,” this sends a confusing message to the patron, and may discourage them from using the service.
Try these approaches to move the question, not the patron:
“I am not able to find anything at the moment. Would it be ok for us to do further looking and contact you by email?” (be sure and verify the patron’s email, then code the question as Follow Up by Patron Library)
“The circulation department can best answer that question. I can alert them to contact you by email, or I can give you their phone number and you can call them directly. Which would you prefer?” (if patron wants you to alert the circ department, verify his email address and code the question as Follow Up by Patron Library)
In these examples, the librarian helps the patron receive additional information (coding as Follow Up by Patron Library) instead of needlessly recommending that the patron contact his library again and repeat the question. Remember, the patron has already taken the initial step of contacting his own library through this Cooperative virtual reference service. If needed, the cooperative librarian should route the question back to the patron’s local librarians through the use of the Follow Up by Patron Library resolution code.
One of the benefits of virtual reference is to provide a more convenient way for patrons to access library reference services. Forcing the patron to go back and “contact your local library” through a traditional method defeats the purpose of providing this Live Chat/Email Followup service option.
Questions or comments about this post? Comment below or email Susan McGlamery at firstname.lastname@example.org