Saturday, January 24, 2015

What you want

What do you want from a customer service clerk?

Friendly? Yes, yes. Good.

Accurate? Right, excellent. Their mistakes can make you pay a dark price sometimes.

Quick? Sure. Absolutely, at least to a certain degree. I mean, how great is it if your clerk is competent at everything but takes forever?

These are three legs of the clerking table, so to speak, and you can get a table to stand okay on these legs, these virtues, of fast, accurate, and friendly. But when the chips are down, when things aren't exactly how they should be (and they often aren't), there is a fourth leg. You will above all want that fourth leg.

What is that fourth leg? What will you want?

You want a creative clerk.

Businesses and Institutions have a lot of rules. Many of these rules are very sensible. Some, occasionally, are not. But most of them, good or bad, are crude. Sometimes they are designed to protect from the far flung abuses of crazy or unethical people. Sometimes, oddly, they are simply there to protect clerks from working. Many, very many are for leaning on. They are there so a clerk doesn't have to reinvent or justify their seemingly specific act. I, for instance, am not saying that you're lying about who you are, I am merely required by some giant, abstract authority, to have a library card or picture ID to check out to you at my library. 

Actually, I am exactly saying you might be lying, who knows. I am professionally doubting you. The neutral, monolithic, god-like rule is merely something to hide behind while I do it.

But the fact is that sometimes your interaction with a clerk is a bespoke experience. It tangles with rules by accident, or it tangles with rules designed to prevent something that has nothing to do with what you reasonably want. A permissive clerk might let you check out on your good word or let you walk off with that book you desperately need, but often enough others in the community may pay a price for that largesse. The book may rightfully have been for someone else who can now get no justice, who has been cut in front of. On the other hand the strict clerk will simply tell you no. They are a servant of the rules, with you just the device to serve those rules. Indeed I have seen those people even invent extra rules to restrict you! But there, thankfully, in the middle, is the creative clerk. The creative clerk is like a safari guide. They know the land. They will show you the sights. If there is a way across they will get you across. To you, in your innocence or ignorance, it may look like a simple, straight shot from point A to point B. The permissive clerk will take you just that way, wrecking the land, or maybe leaving you stranded in mud. The strict clerk will say it is impossible, and they will leave you frustrated on the side of the road. But the creative clerk, your safari guide, will say that they cannot go straight or the jeep will cross a sensitive path of the elephants, and then the elephants will not come this way so readily in the future. They will say that the road is closed here because it is starting to churn into a quicksand, but that you deserve to see the elephants, and if they circle 'round, there is safe table rock that it cannot hurt to cross, though it requires a bit of caution and maneuvering, and if they slip under these trees you come out in a slightly better spot, here.

Elephants! Or the DVD you were hoping to see, or the answer to your question. They find the way through.

I roam the library I work at. I see my co-workers on the job. Sometimes it is hard to tell what they are up to, and sometimes it is very clear. Sometimes there are a lot of words, but I just hear "No".  "No, no, no, no, no". And sometimes I hear my co-worker guiding people through the bush, wily on the roads, clever at their suddenly intricate job, heading for the open savannah. Creative clerks. I hope they get there. They usually do.

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