Archives For customer service


I’ll never forget creating a Staff Day presentation titled “Customer Service is Loving People,” filled with all sorts of ideas about empathy, love, MLK quotes, and references to historical and philosophical figures. Before clicking ‘save’ on the PowerPoint presentation, I thought: am I really going to do this? Could this be the corniest presentation of all time? (the corniest LL&F post of all time?!) Am I one of those weirdos at Staff Day that we all make fun of later on? Alas, I felt compelled. I literally opened my talk with this: “I was going to talk about Customer Service, but I cannot…”

After thinking about it for several years, and after serving on our Customer Service Committee at KPL, I truly believe empathy is the holy grail of customer service and, being a simple person, I prefer to focus on that alone. All of us who serve people – whether that be students, library patrons, or middle aged women getting skinny vanilla lattes – we all need to consider how we treat them, how we think about them; and, ultimately, how and if we love them.

  • Do you care about the members of your library? All of them?

  • Do you find yourself thinking about patrons most of the time (positively, not negatively)?

  • Do you treat users as you would treat yourself, your family, your friends?

If so, you are giving good customer service, probably great. And you are probably a good person to boot. Similarly, leaders should be judged in proportion to how much they inspire others to care for patrons. I find a direct correlation between moral virtues and professional ones – and here is a good example. Empathy crosses the boundaries.

Customer service is empathy. And empathy is morality, and morality is life. Some things in life have simple answers, and this might be one of them. Maybe it’s not about eye contact, and smiling, and body position, and the reference interview, and re-stating the question, and following up, and saying the proper things. Maybe those are peripheral. Maybe those are symptoms of customer service; they flow from it and cannot be forced, cannot come from nothing. As Rene Descartes would say, let’s get to first principles. Customer service is a genuine concern. You can’t fake it. People are smart. They know if you care about them or not. And if you care, you will make eye contact, you will smile, you will follow up. I’ve seen it so many times. Caring for customers is the worldview that creates excellent customer service experiences, both on the front end and the back end, both in person and when designing service, spaces, policies, procedures. Everything that psychology has to say about a healthy relationship – empathy, trust, communication, love – applies equally to patrons, customers, users, members, and co-workers.

Well, okay, maybe love isn’t the whole story. Loving alone sometimes isn’t enough. We can have the best of intentions and still design a terrible service for library users. For example, it’s great to care about people who prefer large print books, and those people exist no doubt. But should you double the size of your Large Print collection? Probably not (in fact, it might be too big). Without knowledge, love can be blind. We have to know what patrons – specifically and collectively – actually want. We have to look at data, crunch numbers and interpret statistics on occasion. We have to get to know people, ask questions, think critically, do focus groups. Martin Luther King Jr. once said (oh great, now he’s quoting MLK?) that in order for the heart to be in the right place, the head must be in the right place. I agree. Perfect customer service is when the heart meets the head on an organizational level.

If you work at a library, you need to figure out which side you’re on. If you don’t love patrons, you are getting in the way of progress. If you love patrons, let’s roll up our sleeves, learn, and create amazing services and spaces for the people we care about.

bookshelves with title 4 Ways to See Your Library

As a librarian who interacts daily with other library staff, it’s easy to forget how our users may view the library. Our patrons may not know where to locate items in our collection or how many items to check out. They’re unsure if they can reserve items or rooms, or the difference between the reference and circulation desks. We have a unique lingo that can be confusing to anyone not living in the same world.

We all need to occasionally view the library with a set of fresh eyes, and I have a few suggestions on how to help patrons navigate your library space:

1) Walk through the library as a visitor.

Use the front entrance and take note of signs posted around the building. Is it obvious where to find the catalogue computer and how to access the Internet? Where are the restrooms? Who could you ask for help finding an item? Where are the library policies listed?

Not knowing where to find and locate answers can be overwhelming to first time visitors. Some people are more prone to ask for help than others. You may be encountering frustrated patrons who ask you for help after they have wasted time looking for items on their own, or leave discouraged without asking anyone.

2) Divide and conquer.

Instead of all staff trying to pay attention to all details everywhere, each employee focuses on the details in a vicinity.

It’s important for the safety of your staff and patrons that you are always aware of what is happening in your library. Assign people to walk through particular sections once or twice a day. This shouldn’t add a huge amount of time or responsibility to their schedule. It can be as simple as checking that there are no big problems and everything is in order, then they can continue on their way.

3) Ask for feedback.

Don’t wait for someone to fill out a comment card, because cards are usually completed when an uncommon positive or negative event occurs. Hold an open house one evening and prop up large signs that promote programs you have held or regularly book. Place a few tables around the room with suggestion forms and have your staff engage in conversation with attendees. As your staff talks and hears about their experience, encourage them to write down notes on suggestion forms, too. An important aspect of an open house is inviting people who are not regulars. Meet with business owners in your community to promote the event, talk to your partner’s coworkers, or pass out flyers at a nearby coffee shop or school.

4) Go beyond what was asked.

No one tells their friends and family about experiences that met the minimum of what they needed.

Florida’s virtual reference service, Ask a Librarian, has a logo that quickly became one of my favorite slogans: “We are librarians. And we know the answer to questions you didn’t even know to ask.” A new patron knows only what they have been told about library policy and usage. You know the rules on how many books and DVDs patrons can check out at once, but what’s known to you may not be known to them. A great customer service experience goes above what was asked to deliver additional information.

Remind yourself and your library staff that it is alright to say: “I don’t know, but let me find out” when you are faced with a question you don’t know how to answer. Write down those questions and share them with your staff. Sometimes a patron will notice something that was right in front of you.

What other ideas have you found to be effective in maintaining an outsider’s perspective for your library?

Let It Roll

hhibner —  May 21, 2014 — 2 Comments
photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

A co-worker asked me the other day how I manage to let things not bother me, or shake things off easily when I am bothered. It’s true, I have a fairly easy-going personality and it takes quite a lot to really get me worked up – but this post is not about me or about personality types. It’s about the answer to the question: How can we let things roll off our back more easily? At the time I told the co-worker that I guess it’s just the way I’m made and I don’t know why or how I am this way; I just am. I think there is a better answer, though.

  • Acknowledgement. It’s not about not being bothered. Of coursewe should be bothered when we are stressed out, insulted, or harmed in any physical, mental, or emotional way. The trick (for me, anyway) is to not let that negativity fester. Acknowledge it, deal with it, and move on.
  • Pick your battles. You have to decide how best to acknowledge the negativity. Sometimes it requires confrontation and sometimes that confrontation is more painful than the original stressor. What is it worth to you? Do you think that the person or situation that caused you stress will be “fixed” by the confrontation? If so, confront. If not, let it go. You can’t fix everyone and everything that is negative in this world. You can, however, choose which battles to take on and put your energy into those things, rather than feel negative about everyone and everything all the time.
  • Stay in control. If someone insults me, I have two choices. One option is to fight back and ramp up the negativity one more notch. Was I still insulted? Yes. Do I feel better after fighting back? No, it works me up even more. Option two is to shake my head and ignore it, hoping that the person who insulted me got what they needed out of the interaction. Do they feel better? I doubt it, but apparently they felt the need to act out, so I hope it did something for them! Do I feel better? No. I’m still insulted. BUT I DON’T FEEL WORSE.  I am in control of how I allow negativity to affect me. I am in control of my actions. I can’t control others, and honestly, the energy it would take to fight back is energy I could save for more positive interactions. So I usually choose to ignore it and move on.
  • Perspective. Compare the situation to other negativity in this world. Are there people in worse situations than you? I don’t mean you should compare your crazy boss to starving children, either. The starving children always win the game of “who has it worse.” I mean that you should compare it to a similar situation. Is your crazy boss better or worse than not having a job? Is s/he worse than your friends’ crazy bosses? Can you live with your situation when you put it into perspective of the rest of your workplace? Perspective also applies to the rest of your day, going back to picking your battles and staying in control. Put the situation into perspective of the rest of your day. If you are honest, many times you will realize that if this is as bad as it gets, it’s still going to be a pretty good day. Maybe I was late for work, stubbed my toe, and forgot my lunch, but you know what? My family is healthy, my car started, my co-workers are fantastic, and a patron appreciated my help.

Life is good.

In the Trenches

Kelly Bennett —  February 12, 2014 — Leave a comment


If you ask your average library employee what they’d like in a manager, one of the answers you’re sure to get is “someone who works with us in the trenches”. Or something to that effect. I think we’ve all had that boss who sits in his or her office all day with no practical working knowledge of how things are going on the floor. It’s not exactly a morale booster.

I’m lucky enough to work in a library and a department that needs my contribution of time on-desk. I can’t imagine tweaking policies or making judgment calls on patron fees without my day to day experience working with the public. Besides the invaluable experience of knowing how your library actually works (and doesn’t work), putting some time in the trenches will also help you gain your employees’ respect. The next time you ask them to work an extra shift on-desk or deal with a difficult patron, they’ll know you’re asking them to do something you’re willing to do too. Here’s some ideas for getting out there in the mud! Leave your great ideas in the comments.

*Ask your colleagues what the busiest hour of the day is. Get on-desk during that shift. Find out for yourself what it feels like.

*Is there a dreaded task that no one likes to do at your library? Find out what it is and do it. Maybe there’s a way to make it less odious. Either way, you’ll give someone a break from it!

*Make the rounds in your library, especially during busy times. Our library has set up a schedule of rounds throughout the day where a staff member checks for safety, neatness, and cleanliness. It’s also a great way to make yourself available to patrons who might not come to a service desk to ask for help. Once again, if the boss is plunging toilets and cleaning up ink off computer desks, employees won’t feel so put upon when they have to, too.

*Shelve some materials. Has it been a long time since you were in contact with your collection? What better way to reacquaint yourself than to put things back on their shelves. This can also be a great way to spot issues and can be surprisingly mind-clearing.

*Take it one step further! Work like a patron!