Last year my business and home internet connection went down for 35 days. I was forced to consider how I was going to survive given my seemingly total reliance on modern technology for my communication needs.
The first thing I discovered is that is a myth. Sure I became stressed about being unable to instantly respond in the way I had become accustomed to but the reality is that we find ways of coping and in fact every e mail is not so urgent that it must be replied to immediately.
The best way I could cope in dealing with my e mails and updating my website and Blog was to visit three local libraries. There was the main library in the town centre and two more local smaller libraries.
The rules for use are that customers are allowed one hour on a computer and, if the computer is not booked, it is possible to gain an extension for a further 30 minutes.
I visited all three libraries almost every day for the 35 days I was without my internet connection at home.
It was a fascinating experience. My priority was to make the most of the limited time I had available to me and it is only since the experience that I have been able to reflect on the differences in each of the three libraries.
The main library has the most machines, is a very large building and is run very efficiently. It is big and somewhat impersonal but overall a satisfactory service. The other two libraries are much smaller and after a few days I got to know the staff – there are less of them – and generally I felt more at home in the two smaller libraries.
An interesting thing happened in one of the small local libraries.
It was a Friday afternoon. There were 6 machines available and I was working on one of the six. There was one other person on another machine and four were free. The library was due to close at 4 pm and the time was approaching 3 pm.
Although I had been on the computer for my allowance of 90 minutes, I thought I would just ask if I could have an extension as it was fairly obvious that no-one was going to come into the library at that time on a Friday afternoon - and certainly not five people rushing in.
I was somewhat surprised with the reaction of the rather ‘frosty’ staff member who said that I had used my 90 minutes and she would not be able to extend my time beyond that. I accepted her decision but made a comment that it seemed rather a shame that I could not stay when there were now five computers free and it was less than an hour before the library would close.
Despite this she told me I could not have an extension and so I left – rather peeved but at least it was the weekend.
Contrast that situation with the staff at the other smaller, local library. They got to know me well and even if I had used my 90 minutes and the library was not busy I was regularly allowed to stay on the machine for another hour at least and sometimes longer!
The difference is simple.
* The ‘jobsworth’ library assistant stuck rigidly to the rules and I suppose she is technically ‘correct.’
* The staff at the other local library used their discretion and made a decision based on common sense and customer care.
I know which I prefer and would suggest that if more people at the front line used their discretion rather than stick strictly to every rule then customer care could be celebrated more often.
I would not want to see rigid rules stretched in life and death situations, for instance in healthcare or airline travel, but come on... we are talking a library!
It is ironic that all three libraries are run as part of the same organisation and yet each one has its own distinct culture, values and beliefs and styles. If any senior manager in the organisation believes there is a common and consistent customer care culture they need to visit the libraries themselves to discover the truth. The three libraries could have been in different continents they were so different. The joy of this example is that it proves we are all individuals and we can celebrate difference.
Rules are made to be stretched and sometimes broken.