Monday, July 23, 2012

The Library Experience: Embrace Resistance

You can please all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.
-Variation on Abraham Lincoln

I always loved this saying because of its ring of truth.  Try as we might, not every customer is always pleased and how we handle the situation can determine if that customer will be visiting again.  Principle #4 of The Starbucks Experience, by Joseph Michelli, explains the importance of embracing those dissenters and effectively listening to their concerns.

It's natural to want to rebut complaints and accusations made against you or your organization, but doing so will almost guarantee a lost customer.  Most of the time, people just want their complaints to be heard and know that someone actually cares.  Building on the first three principles, Embracing Resistance means using your welcoming strategies to get the customer to open up, listening to the details, and then surprising them with your compassion.  Let's break this down:

If you remember from the very first principle, Make it Your Own, Be Welcoming is the first step to turning around customer service.  Applied to the upset customer, be welcoming means having an open stance and showing him/her that you care about their individual situation.  We often note that the only people who take the time to comment are the complainers.  While I don't think that is the case, it is notable to mention that most people who do make negative comments are motivated by high emotions which make these comments longer (and more memorable) than the positive feedback we receive.  Because it often takes a high emotional level to induce negative feedback, this means there could be other dissatisfied, low-emotional, customers who have not expressed themselves.  Your welcoming and open stance will put the high emotional  customer at ease and will allow a low-emotional customer to open up about their problem before it escalates.

Principle #2, Everything Matters, means it is all in the details.  Actively listening will provide you with essential details on how to improve a customer service situation.  But listening is very difficult!  Have a partner make a complaint to you and then write down all the things running through your mind.  Most likely, you were thinking of ways to respond before he/she had finished.  Active listening means fully understanding the complaint, details and all.  I guarantee that your response will be better crafted after having understood the complaint rather than trying to formulate a response as the customer is speaking.

Customer's expect a wrong to be righted - surprising them with your compassion and empathy will solidify their loyalty.  The Surprise and Delight principle means giving the customer something they would not expect. That surprise can be something as simple as compassion.  You'd be surprised at how tolerant people are of errors when you show them you are doing everything you can to make it right again. Having listened to the customer's full complaint and acknowledging their concern, you can begin to look at this as an opportunity to gain a customer for life.

With these principles in mind, I challenge you to actively engage and listen to your customer.  By thinking of each complaint as an opportunity to grow and change, you may feel  more inclined to embrace the criticism and less likely to rebut the complaint.

To be continued with Principle #5: Leave Your Mark . . .

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Library Experience: Surprise and Delight

In the last post, I focused on the physical attributes of libraries that make a difference in customers' relationships with the organization.  This post, which comes from the third principle of Joseph Michelli's The Starbucks Experience, focuses on the attitude of staff and how it affects customer loyalty.  This may come as a shock to you but customers usually expect good customer service from the places they visit.  When an organization can deliver EXCEPTIONAL customer service, the customer is usually both surprised and delighted by the exchange.  Let's look at some examples of both planned and unplanned surprises that can go a long way to make the customer in front of you a frequent visitor and life-long fan of your library.

Going the extra mile is a recipe for success.  Helping a customer carry their books to the car or walking them to the shelves to retrieve a title are great, and yet simple, ways to make a difference in your customer's experience.  As I've said before, most customers think they are bothering the staff when asking for help, not realizing that helping them is what we are paid to do.  Anticipating when a customer needs help, instead of waiting for them to ask, means the customer will be more likely to come to you with future inquiries.  And that's what we want, isnt it?  The goal should always be about making this customer a customer for life.

It's amazing how far a smile can go.  Even the most hard-to-crack people will acknowledge a smile.  Even better than a smile, is a word of recognition.  "How are you," and "did you find everything okay today," are great acknowledgements that will delight the customer and make them feel welcomed.  If you're seeking something better than a smile and a word of recognition, you should surprise your customer by digging deeper.  For example, if you are assisting a customer searching for Michael Crichton books, ask them specifically about the book and why they like them.  Doing this not only engages the customer but will give you reader's advisory information to pass on to the next reader.  If there is one thing in life you can count on it's that people love to talk about themselves and, by extension, the books they read.

The library suffers from a PR problem.  People tend to only think of the library in terms of books and, as you and I know, this is just not true.  The library has been, and always will be, about passing on information.  In the past, information was provided in books but now information has become much more collaborative.  This explains why you see your neighborhood branch with more hustle and bustle.  Planning programs that the community wouldn't associate with the library will accomplish the surprise and delight goal we are trying to achieve.

If you would like to plan more programs but just do not know where to start, here's a few tips to get your library going.  Ideally, the program should highlight the library's collection and information resources but, truth be told, anything goes because it's all information!

Remember it's all in the attitude.  What unplanned thing do you do everyday to make your customer's happy?  What can you plan that will certainly be a surprise to your library customers?

To be continued with Principle #4: Embrace Resistance . . .

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Library Experience: Everything Matters

The second principle of Joseph Michelli's The Starbucks Experience delves a little further into the first point of  Principle #1: Be Welcoming.  Considering that everything matters, it is the smallest of gestures which usually win over our customers.  Basic Customer Service can be broken down into two categories: attitude and atmosphere. The reasons behind a company's success usually lie within the fact that people want to be there because (a) they are treated well and (b) the space makes them feel at home.  When using an 'everything matters' approach, focusing on the little things is what will make the space around you work in your favor.

In my Rate Your Library post, I suggested taking time out to observe customer behavior and take note of how the space is used around you.  If you haven't done this already, please do.  It will make a huge impact on how you view the library's space.  Once you've completed those steps, take it a step further and consider the furniture, shelves, signs, fliers, and anything else that the customer comes in contact with.  Take note of their use and functionality.  Here are few items on my list that should be given thought before arranging.

Study area with a dab of comfy chairs for good measure
1.  Side Tables and Reading Chairs - The library is usually made up of two types of chairs and tables - those for reading and those for studying.  Reading chairs and their accompanying side tables are usually found in and around the magazine area - a key place for reading.  But what about those browsing the fiction section who would like to sit and read before they make their final selections?  Having reading chairs throughout the library in key places will make the library feel more like home and invite the customer to stay a while.  Likewise, side tables can be the perfect accent table with a plant or lamp, small display, or marketing area.  Don't let your small tables be lazy, put them to use!

2.  Study Tables and Chairs - If customers have come to the library to study, it makes sense that they would like a little peace and quiet.  Before rearranging tables, think of the flow of traffic and place these tables in areas that receive little interference.  Your customer will be delighted to find a great study area away from all the activity.

Makeshift WiFi tables certainly do the trick
3.  Wifi Area - Laptops, unfortunately, do not live up to their name.  Although designed to be used on the go, people tend to leave their convenient computers plugged in to the outlet at all times.  This can create a problem for the library not equipped with a plethora of electrical outlets.  Do not despair for there is always a workaround.  Scout out the library to find optimal places for plugging in.  This could mean an entire overhaul on the layout of your library but I guarantee it will be worth it.

4.  Displays, Signs, etc. - My previous post about library signage pretty much sums everything up regarding placement and wording of signs.  Displays, like signs, should be used as needed.  Always choose quality over quantity and, if you've rated your library appropriately, then you should know the key areas where displays will be met with interest.  Keeping the balance between aesthetically pleasing and easy to restock displays will delight library customers while taking  weight off of staff.  If it's difficult to keep displays well stocked then it means you have too many.  Also, take note of the small things around the library that people normally pay no attention to.  Shopping baskets, I have discovered, are used more frequently when placed at the point of need (i.e. by the books) rather than the front door.

5.  Shelving - The most important furniture in the building are the shelves.  Lots of thought goes into what to put on the shelves but little thought is usually put into arranging the shelves themselves.  Public libraries cater to the browsing customer - someone who comes in with only a general idea of what they are looking for.  Shelves should be arranged in a logical browsing order.  If a customer wants to browse titles by a particular author, the more times this author is broken up (whether it be by paperback, hardback, or genre) it makes it more difficult for the customer to find.

What other things can you add to this list which matter to your customers?

To be continued with Principle #3: Surprise and Delight . . .