Saturday, May 26, 2012

Customer Service in a Hurry

Now that summer vacation has begun and your library is packed full of young and old readers alike, providing quality customer service is probably the furthest thing from your mind.  But it shouldn't be.  With customers coming at you from every direction, it's very easy to get so involved with helping people that you forget to smile and have fun.  Here are three easy steps to help you keep a level head during a hectic season:

1. Focus directly on the person you are talking to.  Don't worry about the ever increasing line of people because they, too, will get their turn.  If you get distracted by all the activity surrounding you, then you are not giving your best customer service to the person right in front of you.  Whoever is in front of you at the time is the person who matters most.

2. Take Your Time with the person directly in front of you.  There is less of a chance that you will make a mistake and a greater chance that you will move more quickly if you take your time with each transaction.  Sound like contradictory statements?  They're not.  The story we all grew up with about the Tortoise and the Hare can still teach us something today - slow and steady really does win the race.

3. Find a Way to Make the Building More Efficient by changing furniture around and implementing new strategies.  This idea goes back to my post Rate Your Library and the importance of understanding how customers use the space they are in.  If your furniture is not working for you, then it is definitely working against you or, at the very least, being lazy.  By rearranging the library and rethinking signs and their placement, you will cut down on some of the frequently asked questions by customers, resulting in a lower wait time at the help desk.

Just because it's busier doesn't mean our customers are expecting less from us.  When shopping during the holiday season you still expect quality customer service from the retailer.  The same basic principle of customer service applies here, as well.  By giving your best you ensure repeat customers for life.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Read This, Not That

Reader's advisory, by default, is one of the main  functions of library staff and yet little training, if any, is spent on preparing staff for these customer transactions.  It's a simple question asked in many forms from the direct "what should I read next" to the coy "what good books have you read lately."  And, while a customer will patiently wait for you to answer the simplest of reference questions, the reader's advisor must give prompt answers to satisfy the customer's query.  This is difficult in so many ways because staff often get a question about a genre they don't read or draw a blank on titles they have read.

Most information I've read about reader's advisory gives the advice to be well read or to be proficient in reader's advisory tools such as Novelist.  Being well read is certainly useful when it comes to recommending books, but it is not the definitive answer in the reader's advisory quandary.  Novelist also has lots of great uses but, for the average reader's advisor, it takes time that the customer is usually not willing to give.  Most customers assume that the librarian has read everything on the shelf and expect you to have the answer to their reading dilemma on the tip of your tongue.  Since it's impossible to read everything, I recommend trying some of these tricks for a better reader's advisory experience:

Even if you haven't read the book yourself, you need to be able to sell it to the customer in 20 words or less - especially if you are doing reader's advisory for a child or young adult.  I often find myself recommending the same book to multiple people and, I've noticed, after the first time around I have come up with a slogan for the book that helps hook the reader in.  I would say that about 70% of the time I have not even read the book.  Because I am enthusiastic about the book, the reader is sure they will like the book, too.

A customer recently asked a staff member what her top ten favorite books were.  This was an almost impossible task to complete.  This forced the staff member to recall hundreds, if not thousands, of books she had read over the years.  The results ended up spanning many different genres and it was difficult for her to whittle it down to just ten.  I recommend coming up with a top ten (or top five) list as well.  But I'll make it easy on you - choose your top five books or authors over several genres and write it down on paper.  If you are like me, there is at least one genre where you will be unable to list anything.  This is okay.  Just having your top books written down will help bring the titles to the forefront of your mind and allow you to recall them faster when asked.  I've found that staff are more confident advising on books they have personally read.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Is Role Playing Really Necessary

You're attending a training and everything is going great until the instructor announces that everyone will be divided up in pairs, given a scenario, and asked to act out the scenario in front of the class.  Your heart begins to race and your face feels flushed.  You are about to be in front of the room with everyone staring at you, judging you.  But you participate anyway because, realistically, do you have an option?

Even as an extrovert I hate role playing during a training, so I can only imagine how introverts must feel.  Most trainer rave about the usefulness of role playing but here are my top reasons why the role playing method is a bad idea (based on Kirkpatrick's Four Levels of Evaluation for training) and what you should do instead.

1. Reactions - As the scenario above describes, most people fear role play.  There is something nail biting about not knowing what to expect and, worst of all, being judged on your performance.  There is a lot of pressure to be perfect in a situation that is supposed to be supportive  When preparing your training, you have to consider people's reactions to both the content and the delivery.  If trainees spend a good portion of time being fearful about their performance, you can bet they are not having a positive reaction.

2. Learning - It also stands to reason that if the trainee is concentrating on his own fear then that is time not spent on learning.  The whole purpose of training is knowledge retention.  I have to admit that my previous experiences participating in roleplaying have stuck out to me - but not like you think.  While I remember my responses, I can't recall feedback (if I received any) or my fellow trainees' performances.  I didn't retain everything I could have because I was emotionally wrapped up in the fear of my having to perform.

3. Behavior - In researching the subject of role playing and its effects on training, I wasn't surprised when I found that retention rates for role playing are around 75%.  So why am I so against it?  Because immediate use of knowledge yields an even higher percentage of 90% and that is precisely Kirkpatrick's Third Level of Evaluation.  Training becomes null and void if participants do not use what they've learned on the job.  Basically, time should be spent by the trainer on follow up rather than preparing role playing scenarios (which never seem to be realistic depictions.) According to the article Engaging Learners: Techniques to Make Training Stick by Fred E. Fanning, preparation for role playing can take 5-6 hours for every 1 hour of instruction as opposed to the normal 1-2 hours preparation.  Because there are other great training methods, time can be better spent on employing other methods and following up to get maximum retention results.

4. Results - Following through with the first three levels should produce the results you want to see in your organization and, hopefully, you got there without having to do much role playing.  In my last post, All Trainings Are Not Created Equally, I gave several examples of different training models.  In reality, there are an infinite number of creative ways to make training stick and it is important to pair the perfect training model and training topic together.

If you find that role playing is an absolute must, I recommend altering the concept to maximize time constraints and prevent moaning and groaning from participants.  Break into groups of three (1 customer, 1 employee, and 1 observer to offer feedback) and practice role playing scenarios between the three trainees.  In the intimate setting, people will be more relaxed and able to take in feedback from their fellow trainees. You can rotate people in and out of the groups so that everyone has a chance to be one of the three roles.  By taking the fear out of performing, you increase the likelihood that participants will remember what they learned.

Using a combination of visual aids, video, and discussions can function as well as role playing can.  The ultimate goal here, however, is in the follow-up.  Following up with trainees once they have returned to their normal work routine is the optimal time to observe their new learned behavior and see it in action.  Offer one-on-one coaching sessions to help them follow through.  Your trainee may even want to do role playing scenarios now that the audience has been taken out of the mix.  However you follow up your training, seeing it through to the end will get you closer to that 100% retention rate all trainers strive for.

Monday, May 7, 2012

All Trainings Are Not Created Equally

In the world of learning, training is usually thought of as a group of people coming together to learn a new practice or concept.  While this scenario is certainly an example of training, it certainly is not the only form by which we learn.  In fact, when I surveyed staff at my branch, I was surprised at the number of people who felt this particular setup was not conducive to learning.  There is a lot to be said about the group training model, but I would like to introduce you to several different training models I've found to be successful.  Try  utilizing some of these in the workplace to help increase knowledge retention rates.

Webinars are utilized quite a bit in the library world as sources for training because they allow multiple people from different locations to access the same content.  The great thing about webinars is that you can learn in the privacy of your own home or workspace.  They can be perfect for both the extrovert and introvert because participation is not mandatory and there is anonymity in your comments.  Because webinars usually teach abstract concepts and ideas, rather than a particular skill, the sharing of knowledge can be a great starting point for learning.  You can check out one of my favorite free webinar sites for libraries.  Because topics vary and they are usually free, webinars can be a great tool.  I recommend keeping track of upcoming offerings and assign staff to take relevant ones.  Those staff members can then share what they've learned.

Recordings(Video and Sound)
Actor Michael Fox of the Dr. Fox Effect
Videos and recordings are often shown in a 'new hire' environment.  I would also classify archived webinars in this category because the archived version does not allow for interaction.  Recordings can be great for an introduction to a concept but, as far as information retention goes, they don't do much.  In fact, because pre-recorded material often is meant to entertain, the audience is overwhelmed by the entertainment value of the training and may not be gaining anything of value from the content.  Take into consideration the Dr. Fox Effect on training evaluations.  In this study, an actor gave a lecture to medical students using double talk and still yielded high evaluation marks for his training.  The students were so entertained that they tricked themselves into thinking they had learned something when, in fact, it was all nonsense.  While recordings have their place, I bring up the Dr. Fox Effect to show that training doesn't have to be flashy or well produced to get results.

If a video, recording, or archived webinar seem to be a good option, I recommend following it up with a discussion among the group.  Why?  Discussing the topic together will ensure that everyone is on the same page and it may bring up questions that trainees would not have otherwise asked.  In settings where a large group watched a training video together, you can break the group into smaller teams to go over pre-planned questions.  Bring the teams back together to share information as a large group.  In an 'on-the-job' training setting where getting staff together is difficult, you can have staff view the recording in their spare time and discuss as a group at a staff meeting or other scheduled program.

If you calculated the amount of time spent on informal training around the branch, you'd be shocked.  I classify informal training as any time a staff member asks another staff member or supervisor a 'how' question throughout the day.  How does that work? How do I do this? These are just a couple of questions that arise on any given work day that requires an impromptu training.  These trainings usually only last a couple of minutes, but are invaluable.  If possible, try tracking the routine questions that come up - it will give you an idea of what your staff need.

Myself and a co-worker participating in Check Out a Librarian
Sometimes a couple of minutes just doesn't cut it.  Every person learns differently and, for some, one-on-one training can be just the training that makes the difference.  It's not feasible to plan a training program and train everyone individually but it is acceptable to make yourself available for those that need additional instruction or practice.  For this reason, I came up with the concept of 'Check-Out a Librarian.'  The idea behind this concept is to always have a professional available to meet the needs of staff members.  Ranging from technology to mentoring, this one-on-one training model is flexible and applicable to everyone because it allows the staff member to choose the topic and the trainer to tailor the training.

Not every training topic will fit into one of these categories and, sometimes, the group training will be necessary.  I encourage you to think outside the box and get a better understanding of how your staff learn in order to better meet their training needs.  Have a training suggestion for me?  I love to hear new ideas and concepts!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Training the Public

Libraries have always been thought of as repositories for books and this just isn't so.  The library is a living, breathing place of community building.  In the webinar Cultivating the Library as a Site of Participatory Culture and Learning, Buffy Hamilton describes the library as being collaborative.  This idea is revolutionary because it takes the idea of libraries being synonymous with books and makes a much truer statement that libraries are, instead, synonymous with learning.

As technology around us changes and information becomes accessible at the click of a mouse, libraries must reevaluate what their purpose is.  Taking on a new role as a participatory library means not only providing books about computers or job searching but having workshops around the subject as well.  In a world where anyone can edit the online encyclopedia and give their two cents via twitter, it begins to matter that people view the library as a collaborative place, too.  If you'd like to offer more to your community, consider following these simple steps:

Just as I stated in my blog entry, Understanding the Need, regarding the training needs of staff, it is important to know what is currently trending in the community.  A great way to discover what the community needs is by asking your reference staff to write down topics they encounter most frequently.  For example, are staff spending a lot of time instructing customers on how to download eBooks to their device?  If so, this is a prime subject area for training the public.  There are a host of topics that you can cover ranging from computer classes to job searching.  Some libraries even offer yoga instruction!