Is virtual reference successful? Part I (Hint: yes it is)
Pascal Lupien begins his recent article on virtual reference (Virtual Reference in the Age of Pop-Up Blockers, Firewalls, and Service Pack 2 , By: Lupien, Pascal, Online, Jul/Aug2006, Vol. 30, Issue 4) "by declaring that, "the evidence indicates that libraries are not satisfied with the service." Say what? Aside from the fact that the statement is so overly broad as to be false on the face of it (which libraries? which services?), it's not about whether the libraries are satisfied with the service, IT'S ABOUT WHETHER THE CUSTOMERS ARE SATISFIED WITH THE SERVICE.
The fact that Lupien goes on for nearly 3500 words with nary a mention of customer satisfaction epitomizes to me the worst of librarian-centric thinking at the expense of customer experience. 3500 words with:
- No mention of how VR customers love and rave about the convenience of the service.
- No mention of how VR customers love and rave about having a live person available to assist them with their information needs.
- No mention of how VR has changed our customers' perceptions of what libraries can offer them.
- No mention of how VR has helped make libraries more relevant to our customers by meeting their needs and exceeding their expectations.
I am feeling weary after reading Lupien's article. Weary because there is so much wrong with it that it almost demands a line-by-line critique in the spirit of Twain on Fenimore Cooper. Well Lupien isn't Fenimore Cooper and I'm certainly not Twain, and besides I'm really, really tired.
So let me address a few errors, raise a few eyebrows (two, to be precise) and share some of my own experience - uh, make that our customers’ experience - with VR via QandANJ.
A moment to share my creds: I've been involved with QandANJ since it's inception in 2001 (before that, actually,) helping to build, manage and promote the service. I've looked at thousands of transcripts and thousands of customer feedback forms. I know that our usage is through the roof. We handle as many "calls" as we can limited only by our ability to offer deeper staffing. I know that our customers tend to be very satisfied, and I know WHY our customers tend to be very satisfied. If you want to delve deeper into our stats and findings, take a look at this presentation from the VRD Conference in 2003. (there's more here) The numbers may be a little dated, but the story they tell and the trends they point to remain just as true today.
I'm not making this stuff up... Here's one of my favorite comments:
If you think this is cherry picking, it ain't. We get our share of negative comments too (usually younger users, usually wanting "faster, faster, faster" service.) The reality is our customers are happy. Why? Here's what they tell us:
We have hundreds of pages of single-spaced pages with thousands of comments that go on and on in these veins. There are many other successful collaborative VR projects like those in Maryland, Colorado, and Cleveland that could show you similar comments from their satisfied customers. The challenge isn't attracting the customers, it's managing to grow the staffing of the service to keep pace with the demand!
In part 2, I'll get a bit more nit-picky with other elements of Lupien's article.