or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 3/14/10

   March 20th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Hours SignDue to the nice weather this week, the library has been extremely slow. I'm glad people are outside enjoying the weather, but because of that, this week's reference question is one left over from Christmastime.

So, cast your mind back to the holiday season, below-freezing temperatures, a foot of snow on the ground, and the stress of finding gifts for all the people on your list in time for the big day. That's the spirit in which the following email was sent to the reference desk:

> Date: January 11, 2010
> Subject: Researching Rip-Off Company
> This is a wild shot at trying to correct the errors of a company in
> your city. Six weeks before December 25, I ordered two gifts from the
> company called Young Explorers. They have a P. O. number, not a street
> address. They failed to deliver. January 9, I received a note to that
> effect.
> Kinda late for a Christmas gift.
> A second person I talked with had the same problem.
> Is there a Better Business Bureau?
> Any help you can give to stop the scoundrels will be appreciated.

This wasn't the first time I've gotten a question like this. In all cases, the resources I forward to the patron are pretty much the same.

Starting off with a simple search for "young explorers" chelmsford usually verifies the address and provides some good leads. More often than not, if someone has a complaint about a company, other people do to, so they will show up on various company review websites. For this company, there were a few complaints listed on RipoffReport.com.

But despite the power of Web 2.0, the resource I still like the most when it comes to company complaints is the Better Business Bureau. It may not be perfect, but at the very least it lists accurate contact information for the company. In this case, "Young Explorers" is one business under a parent company which has an A+ rating, despite having complaints lodged against them. I think means the company addresses and rectifies customer complaints, which, short of the problem not happening in the first place, is the best that can be hoped for.

Two good overviews of the complaint process are The Wall Street Journal's How to Complain About a Company and eHow's How to Complain To A Company If Your Initial Complaint Goes Unanswered, and I point patrons to these to put things in context. They contain lots of links, including government consumer protection resources.

But along with those, I also forward them a few other websites related to reviews and complaints:

Finally, depending on the patron and the company, I will also include links to the Chelmsford Police Department, the Chelmsford Business Association, and Middlesex Community College Law Center, which provides free mediation services to local consumers and businesses.

I never heard back after I replied to the patron's message, but I hope he contacted the company and worked something out. An unsatisfactory transaction is bad enough, but much worse when it's a gift. Customer service doesn't end after the transaction is complete - user experience starts with the first impression and continues through every time the customer (or patron) uses the product.

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