‘Just give them the ichthyo-‘ Lessons in customer service through the eyes of a fishmonger

January 28, 2008 at 10:13 am 2 comments

Anyone who knew what ichthyo was without having to look it up wins a candy bar, on me.*

Scenario 1:

Can you imagine walking into a fish market, asking the fishmonger for a pound of cod and him responding, “Here, I’ll show you how to fish.”

That’s okay you assure him and say you would just prefer to get the fish from him.

“But if I show you how to fish, you wont have to ask me for it.” His demeanor is still pleasant but he is clearly showing that his time could be better spent doing other things than finding and weighing fish for you.

You assure the monger that you understand but, at this time, you would rather just get the fish. And besides, looking around the store, you wouldn’t even begin to know where the cod was located. Your response incurs a sigh of annoyance as the fishmonger proceeds to process your request.

As bizarre as the scenario sounds, it’s not uncommon to see this type of customer service in library staff.

We’ve been trained with the idea that we need to teach our patrons to use library resources. And while this can be beneficial for patron and staff alike, do we always have to turn an information request into a teachable moment?

What’s wrong with just giving them the fish?

What’s more bizarre is that we feel the need to institute this type of attitude but then get upset at patrons who do try to find their own information.

Scenario 2:

You decide to take the fishmongers offer and learn to fish. After a quick five-minute lesson on casting a line and setting the reel he let’s you on your way. When you finally catch a fish you bring it to the fishmonger he takes a quick look at it and snaps that the fish is no good. He cannot believe that you would even consider taking this fish from the pond and eating it.

You’re confused. You go into detail of how, like he instructed, you went to the pond, cast out the line and caught a fish on the end of the line. As far as you’re concerned, the trip was successful because A) you wanted a fish and B) you caught one.

“Yes, but you’re using the wrong pond! And look at the fish, it is not meaty, healthy or well fed. Don’t you know the difference between a good fish and a bad fish?”

Ummm, Isn’t that why you came to the fishmonger in the first place!?

Man, you can’t win! First, we hassle the patrons with insisting on them doing the research themselves but, once they do, we are annoyed by the resources they choose.

Sure, the difference between good and bad resources might be obvious to us, as well it should be. We went to school and got a Masters in Information Sciences for this very thing. Our patrons did not.

As much as we want to create independent researchers, we need to take our efforts a step further and teach our patrons how to find quality resources.

And don’t quality resources depend on what the information’s intended use is?

Scenario 3:

The fishmonger continues to chastise you for your fish.

“What could you possibly want to do with this fish!? The quality of this fish is certainly not acceptable for a four-star restaurant and I hardly find it passable for consumption in a household either.”

“Actually, I was going to stuff it and mount it on my wall” you say. “I didn’t think I needed to worry about it’s taste.”

“Ohhhhhh… well that’s different then.”

So, the fish is good enough because it meets the needs of the patron.

Sometimes, libraries get caught up in worrying about the quality of the information that they lose site of the information itself.

If all you are looking for movies your favorite actor stars in, isn’t Wikipedia be good enough? Do we really need to bother hunting down the latest Encyclopedia of film actors so the patron has the most legitimate resource?

Sometimes correctness is all that is needed of a resource. And sometimes, a quick and simple answer can suffice.

In the terms of the fisher and fishmonger, the fishmonger loses sight of what the customer’s needs are. He becomes more interested in what he feels to be important criteria, without ever knowing what the fish is being used for, and forgets what one of the most basic purposes of his job is; to sell fish to people who want it.

Personally, if I went to a fish market and was hassled about how to fish, where to fish, quality of fish, etc. I would eventually say to myself, “Screw fish, I’m gonna cook some burgers instead…” Thus, leaving the fishmonger to wonder where all his patrons went and why they can’t the public seem to see the value of his store.

So, what can we learn from the fishmonger?

1. Sometimes, it’s okay to just give them the damn fish

2. If they want to know, show them why it’s a good fish

3. Offer to teach them how to scale it, if they need to learn.

*Warning: candy may contain peanuts. To be eligible for reimbursement, entries must include proof of purchase and UPC code. All receipts must be notarized, time stamped and sent to your local archives office for a certificate of authenticity before submission. All candy must be approved by the FDA and meet all noted regulation requirements for Infant Formula, including lactose intolerance. Library Garden is not responsible for the freshness, satisfaction or effects of consumption. Offer void in 48 Mainland states.


Entry filed under: Academic Libraries, Customer Experience. Tags: , .

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  • 1. booklady  |  January 28, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Thank you! I’ve had many of these same thoughts. Sure, in an ideal world those coming to our libraries will learn everything there is to know about efficiently finding accurate information from the very best sources, but sometimes we make it too hard on them. I think at times it’s like a power trip, holding information hostage. It’s not good. Is the outcome of every interaction with a patron actually getting the information they need, or making it a “teachable moment”?

    Not that I’m against teaching people how to find their own information and evaluate it. I’m definitely all for that. But maybe some moderation, please, depending on the situation.

  • 2. K.G. Schneider  |  January 30, 2008 at 11:58 am

    A lot of that “teach them to fish” drives software design.

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