Monday, September 28, 2015

Library interaction on the CenturyLink model

It has frequently been said that public institutions are not run as well as private companies. Private companies have to compete and so must be lean, efficient, and attractive to their customers. With my morning interaction with CenturyLink fresh in my mind I resolved to test this theory out at the public institution I work at, a public library. I will transact a piece of library business on the CenturyLink model.

Though it is not possible to perfectly translate all that transpired in my call to CenturyLink to the front desk of my library, I have tried to be as faithful to it as possible. Also, because I had to jury rig the CenturyLink technology to the front desk library experience there is a small lack of fidelity there as well. But overall I do feel it is a fair representation.

But first let us take a look at the interaction that we'll be exploring exactly as it formerly would have played out in our public institution. LP will stand for "library patron", and ME, appropriately, will stand for me. Later you will see KIOSK, which will stand for speaking, interactive computer terminals.

(LP waits in line for a minute and approaches ME at the front desk)

ME: Hello. How can I help you?

LP: I'd like to check out these DVDs, but I don't have my library card with me today.

ME: I just need a picture I.D.

(LP hands ME a driver's license)

ME: (Typing briefly, placing three DVDs on a pad, and printing out a date due slip) You're all set.

LP: (taking the proffered DVDs) Thanks.

Now let us take a look at this exact interaction after we've modeled it as precisely as possible on our CenturyLink experience.

(LP, with three DVDs, approaches the line to the front desk. There is a small computer kiosk at the entrance to the line)

KIOSK: To allow us to better serve you please enter your library barcode number on the keypad followed by the pound key. Para espanol entra uno. If you do not have a library card press the star key.

KIOSK: You have pressed the star key. Please enter your birthdate.

KIOSK: Thank you. Please enter the last four numbers of your social security number.

KIOSK: Thank you. Please proceed to our line where you will be helped in the order you arrived. Did you know you can bypass the line by using our automated self check outs? You merely need to have your library card and the items you'd like to check out. If you'd rather not use the self check out simply stay in line.

(LP steps to the back of the short line)

LOUDSPEAKER: (Broadcasting locally to the people, including LP, waiting in line) Did you know you can bypass the line by using our automated self check outs? You merely need to have your library card and the items you'd like to check out. If you'd rather not use the self check out simply stay in line. Have you visited our library coffee shop? There you can buy a delicious array of mouthwatering drinks and tasty baked goods. We are now...

(LP reaches the front desk)

ME: Hello. How can I help you?

LP: I'd like to check out these DVDs, but I don't have my library card with me today.

ME: Did you know that you can save time and bypass the line by bringing your card and using our automated self check out machines.

LP: Yes, I've been told that.

ME: I'm sorry. We are trying to make the check out process as pleasant as possible for you.

LP: I understand. Thank you.

ME: I just need to verify a few things. Please enter your birth date into the keypad in front of you.

ME: Thank you.

ME: Now enter the last four of your social.

ME: Thank you. I will need a current passport now to continue.

LP: I'm sorry. I don't have my passport with me.

ME: Do you have a driver's license?

LP: Yes.

ME: I can use that.

(LP hands over license. ME briefly types in information)

ME: I see you have just three DVDs to check out today?

LP: Yes.

ME: Did you know the library also carries CDs, books on CD, videogames, magazines, and an extensive collection of books? We highly recommend these materials and there is no extra cost to check them out. We have several new books on the "New Book" kiosk and our librarians would be glad to make reading suggestions to you. Would you like to see a librarian?

LP: No, thank you. I'll just get these DVDs for today.

ME: Of course! We just wanted to make sure you were aware of all the excellent materials we have for loan here. You might want to consider trying some of our books in the future.

LP: Fine. I'll consider it. But I'd really just like these DVDs today.

ME: I'm sorry. I'll check them right out to you momentarily. I apologize for any inconvenience.

LP: It's fine. No problem. Just the DVDs today.

ME: I have three DVDs to check out here for you. Would you like to check out one of our home energy kits right here? There's no cost and they help determine the energy efficiency of your home.

LP: No. Thank you. (LP is slightly terse)

ME: I'm sorry. We will proceed with your transaction as soon as possible.

(There is a thirty second pause while ME does a few things on the computer)

ME: These are your three DVDs. I have checked them out and they are yours for a week as soon as you complete our third party verification. You simply go over to our third party verification kiosk and enter this code and your pin. The kiosk will ask you a few questions to verify your check out and that's it. At that point you'll be all checked out. If the screen turns red that means the verification process failed and you'll simply need to return here and we'll start over because your items will not be checked out to you. Do you understand?

LP: Um. I go over to that kiosk and then I'm checked out?

ME: You are checked out now. The kiosk is just a third party verification that finalizes the check out. Is there anything else I can help you with today?

LP: No, thank you. I'm all set.

ME: We hope you are satisfied with your transaction and if there is anything you further need please don't hesitate to call on us.

LP: Okay. Thanks.

ME: Have a wonderful afternoon! And I hope you will continue to think of our library in the future for all your future library needs.

LP: Okay. Thanks.

(LP walks over to the third party verification kiosk with three DVDs)

KIOSK: Please enter your code.

KIOSK: Thank you. Please enter your pin number.

KIOSK: Thank you. Have you conducted a transaction at the library front desk? Say "yes" or "no" clearly.

LP: Yes.

KIOSK: Thank you. Did you agree to consider checking out books in the future? Say "yes" or "no" clearly.

(Long pause)

LP: Yes.

KIOSK: Thank you. Your transaction is complete. 


In looking unemotionally at these two interactions I am not sure that the competitive business model is better. Clearly both have points in their favor, and in the end I think it is a matter of preference rather than absolutes.

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