Fellow genealogy blogger Tony Masiello recently posted about a less than satisfactory experience with Ancestry.com’s customer service. Reading his blog post prompted me to also share a less-than-satisfactory customer service experience I had with a genealogy library.
I asked a question about a NARA microfilm set that is freely available in its entirety online. Let’s just call it Record Set ABC. I identified this library as one that had a high likelihood of knowing the answer to my question. My specific question was:
Has [Record Set ABC] been indexed in any print resource?
Their 1st response:
Not in print, but Footnote has some (not all as yet) at their (subscription) website.
That’s all. Hmm… so, I have one answer, that it is not indexed in *print,* but to mention that Footnote has it on their subscription resource without providing any indication of where on their site I can find it is decidedly lacking. What if I want to follow-up on Footnote? From this response I still don’t know if the Record Set I asked about is there. I fortunately know my way around the Footnote site well, but would the average person know how to navigate to the descriptions of their collections? Some guidance on where to look on the Footnote site would have been preferable. So, I wrote back:
Thanks for the reply. Do you have a URL to the collection online? I did think of Footnote, but I was not able to find it listed on their site as part of their collections. [Record Set ABC] also does not appear on NARA’s Digitized Records page at http://www.archives.gov/digitization/digitized-by-partners.html. Thanks.
Here was the response:
http://www.footnote.com/browse.php#31|27436 but I don’t know if you can actually get there.
Now I have a link, but what does it mean “I don’t know if you can actually get there?” Does that mean because it’s a subscription site so I’d need to have a paid membership to see it? If so, then they should have stated that. Does it mean that the person responding thinks the link may not take me deep enough into the site? This was a mystery to me. But, I followed the link anyway and it takes me to the wrong Record Set. I quickly realized this b/c Record Set ABC is not organized by state levels and that is the first categorization option you see when you follow the link to Footnote. Just to double-check, I clicked on the “i” icon for more info about the collection for which I was given a link to view. Quite prominently it is clear that the years of this record set do not match the years of the record set I asked for (the years are part of the title of the record set I asked about) and Footnote provides source information for all their collections. This was not what I was looking for so I wrote back:
Thank you again, but this is not the right record collection. The link you provided is for the “Civil War Pensions Index” and the Footnote page about this collection at http://www.footnote.com/page/75_civil_war_pensions_index/ states that it is from NARA Record Group T289. The record group I’m inquiring about is [Record Set ABC] and is described at [link removed]. Perhaps you meant another link? Thanks for checking again.
At this point though I was frustrated that the responses I was getting were not exactly helpful. As you can see, I gave them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they sent the wrong URL? Here was the last reply
We have [Record Set ABC] on film, but I have never seen it in any other format.
Now I have given up. I have been a librarian for more than 10 years and I provide electronic reference in my current position. The quality of the email exchange I have shared is far below standards we set in our library and I am quite disappointed. What was wrong and what was I expecting?
- Rule of thumb for customer service – do not give a “No” answer — we try to be as helpful as we can so instead of just telling someone “No” and leaving them empty-handed, we always offer further suggestions. In this exchange, it would not be inconceivable for this library to have suggested I follow up with NARA directly since it is NARA microfilm I’m asking about. Or, perhaps share with me resources they may have consulted in order to determine that it has not been indexed. Or, perhaps suggest I follow-up with Footnote to find out if they plan to include this record set in their database.
- Tone — tone is very difficult to express in email; I understand that. However, these answers were very short and thus come across as clipped to me. For email communication I would expect a much more gracious tone to come across and use more terminology that indicates *helpfulness.*
- Personalizing – what about addressing me by name and starting off the email with “Hello Taneya….” Doing this would help with the tone – make me feel less like a number in the queue.
- Incomplete information — try to give as complete answers as possible. To tell me that Footnote has digitized *some* of the NARA microfilm without addressing the set I asked about is not complete. What if I did not know what Footnote was? Some explanation of what Footnote is and how they operate would have been helpful. We do not give a recommendation to visit a particular database/website without some explanation of what it is and what the person can expect to find there.
- Wrong information — giving me the URL to the wrong collection? Take the time to look at what you’re sending me. If you give a patron the wrong information, it makes it less likely they will believe you the next time around – if there even is a next time around – they may not come to you anymore.
I’ll share this post with management at the library in hopes they can use it as a training experience for whomever it was that interacted with me yesterday and today. To top it all off, I still don’t have the answer to my question. Telling me they have not seen it in any other format does not tell me that it’s not available. Their “seeing it” is not a credible enough source for me at this point and I’m not sure I can trust the original answer that it is not indexed in print given the exchanges that came afterwards. Now I will be following up with NARA & Footnote on my own accord but not because this library was actually any help to me. How disappointing.