When does providing individual attention to customers shift from a good thing to a bad thing

So pretty much everyone these days works in customer service.  You might swear up and down that you don’t work in customer service, but I promise you do. If you repair cars, there is a customer service aspect of dealing with the customer. If you’re a doctor, patients are customers by another name and you still have to please them.  Work a government job? DEFINITELY customer service and a particularly thorny branch of it because people LOVE to remind you who “pays your salary” (hint: this is a terrible tactic for getting help, because we definitely don’t care after you pull that stunt). Libraries are literally buildings dedicated to customer service. The purprose of libraries is to provide information, tools, and entertainment to the general public (obvs I mean public libraries, academic and other libraries are a bit of a different ball park though still customer service).  Customer service in a library takes many forms: collecting fines, getting people library cards, helping them find or order books and DVDs, and helping them on computers.

In my new capacity I do a LOT more of the latter than I did in the past and for the most part it’s very simple work. Sometimes it’s time intensive, but easy like when you help someone filling out a job application. Sometimes it’s tricky, but a surprisingly quick fix like having to reconfigure the speakers for the computer so it will actually play sound. And sometimes it’s long, tedious, confusing, and frustrating. Such was the experience of helping a customer recently.

A week ago a patron came in and said she needed help.  I asked her how I could help her and she launched into this huge story about her family history, a recent family reunion, genealogical research, basically everything save what I needed to know to actually help her. I tell you truly: there is nothing the person who’s helping you cares about less than your life story. They want to know what the problem is so they can fix it and move on to the next person who needs their help. When you next need assistance please do not explain that you were out of town, then your car broke down, and it was the craziest thing because you sister was too busy to run your errands and on and on and that’s why you couldn’t turn the books in, need to return this item, etc so could you renew them or can I return this? Just tell us what you need so we can start fixing the problem.

The problem, as it turns out in this particular case, was that she’d put together an absolutely MASSIVE (3+ GB) PowerPoint of her ancestry with over 100 slides. D: She wanted to convert this presentation into a video file to burn to DVD to give to relatives and also wanted to upload to Youtube.  Powerpoint has a function that should allow you to do this, but there are caveats about what kinds of files are supported. She didn’t know anything about file extensions and couldn’t tell me anything about the files she’d used. I only realized that she might have file conflict after I tried to convert it (several times, but I can occasionally be slow to catch on) and an error message about being unable to convert would pop up after twenty minutes of trying to convert the files. So I tell her she needs to go through and make sure all the files are compatible and even point out some problem files.  She says she’ll take care of it that evening and anyway she wanted to add more slides. so she’ll see me tomorrow. o.o

She comes in the next day insisting that she’s fixed the file, but we still run into the same conversion issue.  Something seems odd, so I go do some research (I’ve already done a bunch at this point, because people seem to have trouble looking things like this up for themselves) and I find out that PowerPoint has a glitch that’s been around since 2007 edition.  Namely that audio and video files actually edited using PowerPoint don’t always convert properly when you try and make a video.  And this woman has done pretty much all her video and audio editing in PowerPoint.  So she has two options, she can go back, take out all the audio and video and actually edit them in Audacity (a sure road to insanity) or she can use a screen capture program.  Sensibly she opts for screen capture and luckily she already has a screen capture program…But she doesn’t know anything about it and neither do I.

So I sit down with her and fiddle with the damn program until I’ve figured out how to take a video, but the first time the mic is left on, the second time because the audio is playing at such a loud volume she needs to be put into one of the private rooms.  Problem is, the private rooms are all booked, so I have to move her around, which freezes the powerpoint because she never turned off her wireless mouse.  Which ends up not mattering at all because when I turned off the mic, I didn’t change the settings to acknowledge system audio so the entire presentation is without sound.  Well, having spent hours of my time on this and reaching a point where I just can’t care, the library is closing and she tells me she’ll be back tomorrow.

I can honestly say I was torn about helping her because on the one hand I had already invested so much time I really wanted to see her project succeed because it would also be my success.  On the other sunk investment is a bad way to judge how something in worth it.  So I resolved that I would take everything that I learned and set her up in a private room to record it through at least once more.  If I could not make a workable file after that point, I would have to ask her to seek other help because I wasn’t what she needed and I couldn’t spend any more time on the project because it was taking me away from other customers who needed my help.

Thankfully, it never got to that point.  I had figured out the right recording settings, had her set up in a private room, and taught her how to convert the files for internet upload as well as DVD burning.  Added to all that I taught her how to upload videos to Youtube using the unlisted setting so she could share the presentation with others while not making it publicly available.

I’m not sorry for the amount of time I spent on her and I was honestly glad to help, even when I was frustrated. I also know that she was very grateful for the help I was able to provide.  That being said, in the future I’ll probably approach a similar differently and seek the easiest solution for myself or I would have told her that she would need to book private sessions with me.  I only say that because the amount of time I was supposed to be available to the public was shortened considerably during those three days.  Even on day three when we were pretty set on what needed to be done, she still needed my help periodically and was at the library until we closed again.  At the end of day it’s important to consider how much help you should provide, because if I hadn’t been able to find the solution I did I would have been wasting her time, my time, and the time of other patrons who needed my help with things I absolutely knew and no one wins in that scenario.

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