Monday, June 25, 2012

The Library Experience: Make It Your Own

Over the next several posts, I plan to talk about the Library Experience based on a great read by Joseph A. Michelli, The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary.  You may be thinking that Starbucks and libraries have nothing in common (unless your library has a cafe) but you couldn't be further from the truth.  Libraries have at least one thing in common with all businesses - customer service.  Like a business, we thrive on our customers and, as long as they continue to need us, we will continue to exist.  Throw a bit of great customer service into the mix and you have a recipe for success.  Here's the lowdown on how to make your library successful by following Principle #1: Make it Your Own.

It is often easy to overlook the small things.  Assuming your library has an info desk and the day is an ordinary one, ask yourself these questions.  Is there someone at the info desk?  Are they facing the flow of traffic? Are they alert to customer needs?  Are they smiling?  If the answer to any of these questions is 'no,' then there may be a problem.  Library staffers should appear accessible to customers and the best way to achieve this is  by simply being available.  Consider where the desk location is and figure the path most customers take to come and ask for help.  This point of contact is the ideal place for the transaction.  If, for example, an employee is set up at another computer and they frequently say "I can assist you over here," then the employee is at the wrong computer.

Being welcoming isn't just limited to employee-customer interaction, either.  Library design can have a great impact on customers' moods.  Michelli talks about creating the 'third place,' the place where people want to be when they are not at home or work.  The library has a lot of potential to be the third place and taking designing cues from places like Starbucks or Barnes & Noble will only help the cause.  Taking furniture placement and signs into consideration, you should evaluate what works and what doesn't.  Avoid clutter at all costs remembering that everything should serve two purposes: functionality and visual appeal.

There is a lot to say about being genuine but, ultimately, it is the epitome of 'making it your own.' If you are familiar with Chick-fil-a, then you are aware of their great customer service.  But if you look a little closer, you'll notice that every transaction is the same.  Their key phrase, 'my pleasure,' just doesn't roll off the tongue of everyone the same way.  Why?  Because it is a canned response that is not genuine.

Customer service transactions shouldn't seemed force, but should flow naturally.  This isn't to say that a grumpy person should be left to their own devices.  Quite the contrary.  Providing a customer service workshop to help develop people's own techniques and phrases might prove to be successful.

Being considerate goes beyond the simple greeting; it delves into the thought behind the customer's action.  Consideration on the part of the library staff means recognizing that you never know the customer's background information.  Seeking to understand, rather than judge, will get a staff member pretty far when dealing with difficult customer service situations.  It doesn't always work, that's the reality, but it sure can help diffuse most problems that arise.

The concept seems easy but, when you get right down to it, it's difficult keeping up with the constant changes of the library field.  The truth of the matter is there is always something new to learn and share.  But learning new skills is just as important as perfecting old ones.  The most knowledgeable employees seek new learning opportunities and refresher courses frequently.

Knowledgeable staff equals happy customers and, in order to make this a reality, a training program should be in place.  Try surveying your library staffers to find out what they would like to learn.  Knowing what they need to be a better employee and equipping them with that knowledge will be the single most important thing you can do for your organization.

Of all the tips included in Principle #1: Make it Your Own, Being Involved should be the easiest.  As a library, that's what we do - taking the opportunity to develop a relationship with schools, small businesses, and other non-profit organizations within the community to create a web of information for our customers to fall back on.  Networking with these organizations serves two purposes: puts the word out that the library is a great resource and allows us to direct our customers in the right direction if we are unable to provide a service. 

Coming Soon, Principle #2: Everything Matters . . .

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