Brace Yourselves

Megan Hartline —  November 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

In academic libraries, the rhythm of our work is ruled by the academic calendar. We can predict with pinpoint accuracy when our desk lines will lengthen, our dropboxes will overflow, and our users’ stress levels will go off the charts, all thanks to exams.

Forewarned, in the hands of a good leader, is forearmed. This year, in addition to bracing for the onslaught with more staff hours, we’re preparing our employees with customer service sessions on dealing with stressed users. In addition to group discussion, we’ll share some resources from the retail industry about working with stressed users.

Jeff Mowatt, for instance, has some great ideas on toning down the chipper smiles for clients who are obviously not having a good day. I love his story about a health clinic:

Picture this… a receptionist at a walk-in medical clinic greets new arrivals with a friendly, upbeat, “Hi, how are you today?” Obviously, people enter a clinic because something is wrong. That question forces the incoming patient to reply in one of three ways:
Option A) The patient essentially lies, and responds with, “Fine.” In which case the customer gets the impression that the receptionist must be blissfully ignorant of why people visit a clinic.
Option B) The patient responds tersely, “Not good!” Here, the receptionist begins to think she should look for a job where there aren’t so many cranky people.
Finally, Option C) The new arrival explains at length their medical history and everything they’ve tried to alleviate their suffering. That means the patient has to repeat their story to the next health care provider – and the next. Not much fun for the patient who was simply answering a direct question.

The point is that empathy with our users demands sensitivity to mood. An undergraduate with fifteen minutes ticking down to a due date and five articles that need proper APA formatting does not need a perky conversation at the reference des; they need swift and sympathetic assistance.

Thanks to discussing these service ideas, our staff will be better prepared for the exam rush when it comes (next month, may Melvil Dewey help and guide us!). When are your crunch times? What do you to to prepare staff?


Megan Hartline


Megan Hartline (@awrybrarian on Twitter) is a librarian in Denver, Colorado. In addition to librarianship, Megan's background is in nonprofit leadership. She would love to visit your library to talk about management, workflows, or customer service.

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