Monday, August 27, 2012

Not Your Grandma's Library

The library prides itself on being a place open to all.  From children's services to eBook tutorials, the library has everything you need and more.  But, when helping an elderly customer the other day I noticed that something was amiss.  Most libraries have staff with different skill sets who can be called upon in certain customer service situations.  You may have a children's specialist, a reader's advisory expert, a business connoisseur, and so on.  Of all these specialties, I've never encountered a  senior specialist - someone who, at the very least, knows the best way to assist older adults.

Having realized the deficiency, I continued to assist my customer perform a search on Google all the while taking mental notes of my own exchanges with the woman.  I successfully helped her find what she was looking for online. The customer service transaction took a painstakingly long amount of time and I found myself becoming frustrated throughout the process.  But why would I feel this way?  After all, she is a customer and I am there to help.  Had she have been a child, I probably would have approached the situation with more patience and understanding.  And so I went on a journey to understand why we, as librarians, seem to be gerontophobic and how we can turn our fears into a positive customer service experience.  Here's what I've found:

Aging from infancy to adulthood is a developmental process of resolving emotional conflicts.  The conflict of independence vs. dependence in childhood and the conflict of meaningful work vs. monetary need in  adulthood are just a couple of examples of our progression through life.  Often times, the development into old age is seen as degenerative when, really, it is just a developmental process of resolving emotional conflicts.  More often than not, the conflict needing to be resolved is deeply rooted in the need for control.

The development into Senior adulthood is marked by one key word - loss.  Loss of strength, loved ones, and independence are just a couple of factors that Seniors face which foster the need to retain some amount of control in their lives.  In addition to control is the need to pass on a legacy.  We often associate repetitive storytelling as a sign of deterioration but, in fact, storytelling serves a significant purpose in validation.  More often than not, Seniors will retell stories until they are met with satisfactory responses which ensure their experiences will be remembered.

Taking into consideration these two key points about Senior development, think about your own interactions with the elderly.  The best way to communicate with them is by listening to their subtle hints about what they really want and need.  Here are a few checkpoints to help you communicate better:

  • Explain the how and why simplistically but avoid being condescending
  • Recognize that you are talking to someone with intelligence and years of life experience
  • Lead instead of instructing or taking over completely
  • Understand that anger is often frustration in disguise
  • Diffuse angry customers by putting the control back in their hands - usually through listening
  • Be patient
Using these communication skills in your everyday interactions and you'll see a difference in, not only the Senior customer, but yourself as well.  If you would like more information on this topic, I highly recommend How to Say it to Seniors by David Solie, the source for all of the information written here.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Dig Deeper

At the heart of the library is information.  It's the place people go when a search on Google didn't yield the results they were looking for.  So now, they are standing in front of you needing help and not doing a very good job of asking for it.  We've all seen it before to the tune of "where are your [insert topic] books?"  It's a convoluded question disguised as a seemingly simple directional question.  What is really plaguing their mind is something along the lines of "what can I eat now that I've been diagnosed with gluten intolerance?" or some other equally direct question.  If a customer asks Question A but really wants the answer to Question B, how do we, as librarians, get them from A to B?

It's all in the Model Reference Behaviors (MRB,) the six step plan to achieve customer satisfaction.  They are as follows:

Be Approachable and Welcoming
Paraphrase the Question 
Ask Open Questions to Elicit More Information
Verify the Real Question
Find the Answer in the First Source
Follow Up

It's a tried and true method that every library information specialist is taught and, yet, no one seems to stick to the method.  Why? Because it is never taught realistically - factoring in time constraints, difficult customers, and using antiquated wording.  Here is a sample reference interview that is meant to exhibit Model Reference Behaviors.  The reference transaction is ideal but definitely unrealistic.  Using the same scenario, let's deconstruct this reference interview and form our own, realistic version of the transaction.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Library Experience: Leave Your Mark

The whole idea behind leaving a mark is about doing good in the community.  Seems easy enough.  The library is a cornerstone of the community, after all.  Unfortunately, in times of financial hardship constituents often forget about the library and the value it brings to the community at large.  Joseph Michelli's fifth and final principle in The Starbucks Experience, Leave Your Mark, explains how to have a positive impact on the community and keep them coming back.  While this principle is directly targeted to for-profit companies, the idea behind the principle is still the same - partner with the community and the community will partner with you.  Let's break this down into two parts:

Great leadership is just one of the many keys to success - but it's a big one.  It's no secret that happy workers are a byproduct of quality leadership.  You can indirectly impact the community just by having a positive impact on your staff.  I've discussed library leadership in the past and, although every leader has his/her own style, they all have one thing in common - motivation.  Leaders know how to motivate staff to do their best.  When staff feel supported they tend to perform their job at a higher level and that makes customers happy.  It's a trickle down theory of sorts.

Outreach has become an integral part of spreading the word about the library.  Appearing at community festivals and PTA meetings are an excellent way to engage new customers.  Sometimes, however, you have to kick it up a notch.  When other organizations crop up, "leaders could be far more effective if they searched for common ground that could lead to successful partnerships," says Michelli.  Partnering with other organizations will help the library thrive because it opens up the ability to reach out to new users through another organization.  By forming a symbiotic relationship, both organizations can provide referrals, co-sponsor events, and advocate for one another.

Ultimately, before you can leave a mark you have to consider what kind of impact you want to have on your community.  Think of the things you would like to accomplish within the community and let the five principles lead you there.  Just in case you've forgotten, the five principles are:

Principle #1: Make It Your Own
Principle #2: Everything Matters
Principle #3: Surprise and Delight
Principle #4: Embrace Resistance
Principle #5: Leave Your Mark

So, what lasting impression do you want to leave on your community?