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When you don’t tell the truth to customers . . .

I was thinking about three events lately that bothered me. There’s a library related question here at the end.

Why do employers ask their employees to tell known untruths to their customers?

Story No. 1

I am sitting in my seat on a plane and listening to the pre-flight announcements and safety training. Our flight attendant gets very aggressive on this point. She states that all phones must be off. “I said off people. I didn’t say airline mode, I said ‘OFF”. Your phones must be completely off for this flight. It’s a safety issue,” she is now shrieking at paying customers angrily. I’ve seen this performance to often.

It’s also total B.S. One, we turn our phones off because of cel flooding on the ground for normal phones. A plane full of phones floods many land-based cels at once as it flies over the country and uses up bandwidth space for local ground-based users. It interferes with ground communications, not airport or plane communications. Two, honestly, if our mobile phones were so dangerous, they’d be collecting them at the door! Remember this is the same place that makes all of our shoes come off because one (1) person once made a bad shoe. They cup our underwear because one (1) person once rode a plane with bad underwear, and we put our liquids in small bottles and a baggie because they fear someone might try that but haven’t yet. If phones were that dangerous they should be checked, but they’re not, so they aren’t.

And, yet, we listen on EVERY flight how our phones, if left on,


our flight safety. Hmmm, believable huh? So why would an airline bring down disrespect on their employees and the safety system by crying wolf and insist that staff present false information to customers en mass every flight? I don’t know the answer to that question.

Story No. 2

I am attempting to pay for something in a store with a credit card. The store cashier asks to see photo ID. I don’t carry photo ID since I don’t drive and I resent being asked for my passport in my own country. I am disallowed from purchasing the item. The cashier tells me that it is for my own protection. This is also total B.S.

The store has negotiated with the credit card company that they will get an additional discount on their store credit card fees (credit card companies make (big) money both ways). It has nothing to do with my credit safety.

Now the interesting decision is that the store’s management has trained all staff to tell customers that it is for their own protection. Who trains their staff to lie to customers? I now tell staff that I won’t be frequenting their store and making the purchase in front of them if they insist on photo ID. I point out that this has nothing to do with the reason they gave me as I complained. They say they know that but management insists that they tell the lie. Sometimes an empowered employee just puts my purchase through, other times they lose the sale and often give me attitude, but it’s a principle for me.

Story No. 3

I am paying my fines at the library. Like most librarians I manage to get a few and so does my family. We pay them and it’s not a hardship for us like it can be for many. For fun, I ask the clerk why they charge fines. She says that it’s to get the books back on time and to punish borrowers who are not obeying the rules. Interesting. I doubt that’s the real reason but it’s the one I got. I suspect that for some libraries it’s a small revenue stream and for some libraries they have political masters who feel that these punishments are moral.

I know that I have heard of some studies showing that:

1. Libraries are unusual in their use of fines as an intended ‘motivator’ for good behaviour. Hmmm. I wonder if that works?
2. Fines have the opposite effect by causing some books to be returned very late or not all. Overall they delay the return of books and have a negative effect on key markets like families, teens and children.
3. Individual fine forgiveness requests can put people in challenging economic circumstances into embarrassing situations of having to be cap-in-hand supplicants to desk staff in the public setting of the library.
4. Fine forgiveness events (days, weeks,months) often result in overall circulation increases after the events when people no longer fear having fines accruing in the library’s system.
5. Some staff treat fines in a ‘Gotcha!’ kind of way that results in a negative circulation transaction and the decline in the public image of the library as a friendly, approachable open place for service.
6. I hate it that the most popular interest news story about public libraries so often involve fines. We’re soooooo much more than that!
7. Who else uses fines? Police, parking officers, . . . These are for infractions of the law, not the rules. Even dying retailers like Blockbuster stopped fines years ago.

Either way, what are we asking our front line staff to say about fines? And can we make the transaction nice and positive. I know some libraries offer food for fines events and that’s neat. Any libraries offering pay-it-forward fine forgiveness where friends of the library can pay the fines of the needy? Any other good ideas? Have you reviewed your fine communication strategy and training lately?


Posted on: February 24, 2011, 7:22 am Category: Uncategorized