Tag Archives: customer service

User Experience is a Social Justice Issue

User Experience is a Social Justice Issue
by Sumana Harihareswara
Empathy and the User Experience

Monica Diego
Kristi Hansen
Dana Kim
Stephanie Miko
Grace Song

Sumana Harihareswara defines customer service as a basic human right; the author’s aim is to change practices to focus on the needs of the user. Sometimes, as the author points out, technology gets in the way of good customer service. One such example is the “19 Steps of Hell” described at the New York public library. A user must complete 19 steps to use an e-book. Consider a user who is not fluent in English or a disabled user, these extra steps create a barrier and barriers stop the flow of information. It can also be seen in the Keurig coffee system: the Keurig’s benefits and detriments are weighed by the users, and it works for some people, but not all. It is important to be able to step back and look at services from the viewpoint of the user, and take into account the diverse needs of the library. The author discusses empathy and the need for librarians to think in terms of human relationships instead of hard and fast rules.

Being hospitable is accepting feedback (the negative as well as the positive), and turning that feedback into usable data. It is important to “see from many different user’s points of view, even when it’s uncomfortable or shows us that we’ve failed” (Harihareswara, 2015, p. 4). Working together and learning to communicate effectively is a practical solution to better customer support. Libraries and technology go hand in hand, and according to Harihareswara empathy is listening and responding.

In a public library setting it is crucial to focus on the providing of services, and as Harihareswara states, the building of capillaries instead of arteries, or building personal relationships and leaving the technology building to those who can better control it. Leaving the arteries to others, and creating a better user experience using disciplined empathy, the public library can provide welcoming hospitality coupled with the cutting-edge technology users crave.

After the author, Sumana Harihareswara, stated many examples of proven issues in lack of usability in banking, e-books, and others, she concluded that there was a simple lack of empathy on the developer’s side of programming (Harihareswara, 2015). It is obvious that poor usability leads to lack of use, which causes a barrier in information access, which is a complete disregard for open access. Allowing obstacles like bad usability to plague the information world, ultimately narrows awareness.

The author concludes that simple actions of empathy for the users and keeping an open mind to possible improvements, can destroy unneeded barriers to information access. Creating a connection between developers and users through communication, allows developers to modify any needed programing to allow for better usability. This can be done by organizing a diverse group of control members who can trouble shoot issues during development phases (Harihareswara, 2015). The author also asks to omit any notions of dominant point of views. As a programmer and creating a product, it’s easy to assume a product is perfect because it is your creation in a professional environment, but will your audience and users understand the product in its entirety. Being empathetic to these users and open to feedback can greatly increase the usability and use of your product, which is in the end the entire purpose to a creation.

This issue can be labeled as “bad customer service.” A simple definition of customer service states it is “the act of taking care of a customer’s needs by providing and delivering professional, helpful, and high quality service and assistance before, during, and after the customer’s requirements are met.” Our author states that customers need to be treated “as a first class responsibility and a source of important data” (p. 3). Designing with a code of “disciplined empathy” will ensure all user needs are meet, the product is at its best, and all possible information is available for all to access and use.

The term “social justice” refers to making sure no one is left behind in issues of civil rights, opportunities, or just clearing out the judgments people make against each other that separate them in society. Social justice aims to erase barriers, so everyone in our society is able to enjoy the same high quality of life without prejudice. Harihareswara has stumbled on a hidden prejudice in our Internet society: one that is against the computer illiterate. People may joke that they’re “bad” at computers or that they need their kids show them how to use their smartphone. The more we step away from paper and face-to-face interaction, the bigger the divide between the tech savvy and the computer illiterate. This is something people may be embarrassed about and try to mask it with jokes, but it is no laughing matter.

When Harihareswara mentions the “19 Steps of Hell” to borrow an e-book from the library, that is something relatively inconsequential in an individual’s life. But as we saw last year with the roll out of Obamacare, bad user design and interface, combined with people who may be elderly, disabled, or lack proper Internet access, creates a cascading operational failure.

Customer service and the IT department will gripe about the problem being “between the keyboard and the chair”, meaning it is not the system’s error but the user’s. But many of these same designers refuse to view their creation as difficult for the layperson to use. Many times programmers are focusing on speed, precision, and economy of language. What one programmer may see as needless words – an inelegant dumbing down of the expedient user system being designed – may be necessary explanations for those who are less confident in their computing skills. Isn’t it possible that while we librarians work to help the public with their computer skills, we should also be teaching our programmers and designers to be creative, compassionate, and just?

In conclusion, this article addresses much more than the issue of improving customer service. Most public service domains, companies and businesses know that customer service should always be great and impressive for its customers. Harihareswara explores the questions of how and why. The purpose of this article is to lead to more meaningful conversations on how to incorporate diversity in the workplace and how doing so will lead to better products and services. Simply put, the more diverse identities a library has in its staff, the more comfortable patrons will feel using the services. For example, if the designers of library software, websites and/or services are made from the point of view of people who may not have as much education or may not be completely fluent in English, then perhaps more people (especially those who are marginalized) will be able to use it without getting frustrated or feeling inadequate. The author’s discussion of hospitality and disciplined empathy are core to her argument that with more effective communication and through more listening and observing, services will be more all-inclusive. The aspect of including more people, especially those who are of minority groups or do not have as much opportunity in work or in the general society, will be helpful in the long run with lasting positive changes. It does not start with the product or service itself, it starts with the willingness to understand different people.

Harihareswara, H. (2015). User Experience is a Social Justice Issue. Code{4}lib Journal, 1-5.

Using the critical incident technique to evaluate the service quality perceptions of public library users: an exploratory study


Anna Ching-Yu Wong from Syracuse University conducted a research study evaluating the service quality of public libraries through the reports of participants who regularly use the library. The “critical incident technique” was used in gathering information from the participants. The critical incident technique is different from the traditional approach in surveying participants in that it relies upon actual events which offer insights of the subjects, rather as a blanket set of questions with a very limited number of open-ended questions. The critical incident technique has been verified by previous studies to be an effective research approach for user-centered studies in library science. This exploratory study further adds to the body of research surrounding the use of the critical incident technique in LIS by attempting to answer this question: is using the critical incident technique a good way to determine how serviceable a library is to its patrons? The study also focuses on public library services and evaluates participant’s positive or negative experiences at the library, attempting to answer the question: are patrons happy with the service quality at their public library?

Method of Research:

To answer both of these questions, emails and unstructured interviews were used to measure the experiences of eight frequent library visitors (aged 20-80) and data was conducted using SERVQUAL, a model that has been used by many libraries for evaluating their public services. The SERVQUAL model, developed by Parasuraman, Zeithaml, and Berry in 1988, uses the patrons’ responses and categorizes them into the following domains in order to be evaluated later:

Tangible, effect of service: library staff attitudes, library collection and access

Reliability, the promised service; dependably and accurately

Responsiveness: The willingness to assist and provide prompt service to library users

Competence: Possession of the required skills and knowledge to perform the service

Courtesy: Respect and consideration of contact personnel

Credibility: Trustworthiness and honesty of the library staff

Security, library as a place: No risk

The process of the data went through two stages. First, the researcher sent out a message to participants, asking them to record the incidents — either negative or positive — while being given examples of standard critical incidents from other library users. After all of the surveyors’ responses were recorded, two coders classified them into categories and examined their validity (the degree of the agreement between two coders was over 95%), and the collected critical incidents were grouped into the seven categories listed above.


The participants of the study found online resources to be helpful because it was easy to locate materials and user friendly. The study shows that 48% found the resources available to be tangible considering how user-friendly the catalog is and also how patrons able to easily locate books. Based on the study and results of participants found that the public library is not reliable. In this particular category no participant provided a positive response about the reliability of library. Another category in which the library failed in is that of courtesy. Only one participant suggested the things that transpired within library showed a lack of respect for patrons. An example of such is people speaking loudly and library staff not having authority to change their behavior. Participants felt insecure about the library due to the number of homeless people surrounding the area panhandling. Activities such as this and patrons using profanity made participants feel unsafe.


The participants of the data is reliable considering they are regular users of the library. In order to conduct the study data was collected via email and in person interviews. The study shows that the library should create a safer, reliable, and courteous environment for patrons. In order to create a larger study and compare other libraries a large population should be considered. Also, further research and a diverse populations should be considered as well.
Results showed that positive incidents were slightly higher than negative ones. Also, women library users had more positive experiences than men.
The study also showed that even though participants resided in different states, their positive and negative incidents revealed similar situations.
Of 47 recorded incidents, library access issues accounted for more than one-third of all incidents, approximately 36.17% which represented 48% of the positive related critical incidents and 22.73% of the negative ones.

Unanswered questions/ Ideas for future research:

Clarification was needed as to how the participants were selected for this study? Was this the best sample of patrons that represent library users? How diverse was this sample? This study would benefit from a larger base of participants and consider including non-library users.
A clarifying point could be made to address the discrepancy to the statement of initially having 12 participants, but later stating that there were a total of 8. Did the drop in participants impact the results of 19 positive and 16 negative incidents, yet on the table provided it states 25 positive and 22 negative. While this study provided valuable information for public libraries, there needs to be transparency as to how the results were obtained.

Possible answers to these questions:

Perhaps selecting a non-user would give the researchers valuable input.
More patrons would have given the researchers more data to work with.
Replicating this test 2-4 times a year may provide more insight as to how patrons use the library and the services provided.