I've lost count of the number of times that I've heard government customer experience experts suggest that if we really want to provide great customer experiences we should head to our closest Apple store and study the way they do business. Apple? Why would we want to be like Apple?
It should be no surprise that local libraries often provide some of the best examples of customer service in our cities. They regularly score the highest on customer satisfaction surveys and have hoards of people that would happily give up their time to support librarians if they are ever in a pickle. So what makes customer experience in libraries so wonderful?
Apple stores are shiny, new and mass produced. If you have a problem you need to book in a time to come and speak with someone (often a week after your initial visit) and then when you do come back you'll need to wait, possibly pay for problems to be solved (especially if you are prone to breaking your iPhone screen) and answer more identification questions than you would expect at a border security check point. After all of that you'll be invited to spend even more money on gadgets that you may or may not know how to use before heading off on your merry way to set up your new toy unassisted only to find that none of your accessories work anymore because the USB connection has been upgraded yet again.
Libraries on the other hand are staffed by helpful, university trained information experts who deeply care about the work that they do. They're collaborative, innovative and empathetic. Initiatives such as the One Card system that allows you to borrow books from any library or the introduction of RFID which helps you to check out your books yourself help to make libraries some of the most technologically enabled and connected services we can interact with short of booking into a flight on a commercial airline. Over the past 20 years libraries have increasingly taken on the important role of helping people connect to online services in a non-judgemental way and provide computer training to some of our most vulnerable people. And they do this for free.
When we look for shining examples of customer service it's enticing to look outwards and to the corporate sector for inspiration. Perhaps the inspirational examples of great customer service already exist within government- and we just need to tap into their existing shine.