Ideas in Client Service: Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless*

By Monique LaForce
Steptoe & Johnson LLP


The final month of Q4 is often a time for old chestnuts – like stories about hair combs and pocket watches, and memories of Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifles.  The time seemed ripe to review ideas from the pages of the very popular Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless, written by Jeffrey Gitomer in 1998 to guide sales representatives in retaining customers.  In the book, Gitomer takes a practical approach to customer retention  – noting that even though customers (or, for librarians, patrons) may appear to be at times overbearing and demanding (among other attributes), they are the source of our paychecks, and thus are always deserving of superlative customer service.

Gitomer argues that clients want five things from those that serve them:

1. Know Me.  As the library ceases to be a physical space, librarians can leverage our (primarily) electronic interactions (e.g., e-mail, social media) with our clients to know who they are (literally their names, but also what types of research they require, what their practices focus on, and what their expectations are for deliverables).

2. Understand Me.  For librarians, understanding our clients requires determining the needs of our particular client populations (e.g., law students, lawyers, law professors, the general public).  Are we focused on providing research and analysis that our clients actually value, or do we provide service and access to materials that we think they might value?

3. Lead Me.  With the disintermediation of access to information, clients perform more primary research in far more databases and sources than ever before.  With the increasing cacophony in the marketplace, are librarians taking the lead in vetting and recommending sources?  Do we understand the intricacies of these databases — their limits and benefits?  Are we sorting through irrelevancies and noise to lead our clients to accurate information that is appropriate to their needs?

4. Help Me.  Are our libraries appropriately staffed to provide the correct level of service to clients?  Do we have a standard protocol for how we respond to requests?  Do we treat our patrons, as Gitomer suggests, as though they were our favorite celebrity, hero, friend, neighbor, or grandmother every time they seek our expertise?

5. Serve Me the Way I Expect to be Served — Now.  Technology, the media, and the immediacy of communications have contributed to increased expectations as to the speed with which patrons will receive answers to their questions.  As librarians, are we attuned to these expectations?  Do we, as part of our reference interview, ask probing questions to determine what the particular client’s definition of “now” is?  For an attorney faced with filing a response to a motion for a TRO, “now” might mean something different than it does for a faculty member drafting a law review article.  As librarians, are we managing our clients’ expectations on the realities of obtaining information?  We might be able to provide a federal trial court docket sheet immediately, but may not be able to provide English language copies of the laws of a particular province in China on the same timetable.

In summary, during the hustle and bustle of end-of-the-year budgeting, exams, and business development, it may be useful to take stock of some classic customer service ideas.  New Year’s resolutions are just around the corner, after all.

*Ideas and quotations for this article are drawn from 1998’s Customer Satisfaction is Worthless, Customer Loyalty is Priceless by Jeffrey Gitomer.