I had a patron call me for help with his library account number. I said I'd be happy to look it up and asked for his name. He very helpfully spelled out his surname with examples for each letter (ex: V as in victor). I was so pleased with this that I complimented him. Then he told me his first name "ghteyr". Uh oh. That wasn't clear at all. I asked him to repeat it. He said the same thing again "Ghteyr". I swallowed my pride and asked him if he could spell it for me.
G-a-r-y. Oh. Then he says something about having allergies and apologizes for not speaking clearly. At that point I had to fess up and tell him that I have trouble hearing. Why is it so hard for me to admit that?
Another habit I've been forced to adopt at the reference desk is to write out each request I receive by telephone. This takes longer but has saved me so many times. People just naturally rattle off long titles or title plus author plus publisher information expecting me as the librarian to get it all immediately. When I used to type directly into the computer I often made mistakes. Writing down the information, naturally I only get part of it. Then I read that part back to my patron and ask for the rest of the information again. I have never had anyone complain about this technique. I think patrons realize I really want to help them when I take a little extra time to get their request right the first time.