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.

You:  (Chance are, the person has approached you at the information desk, has been waiting in line to be helped, or is nearby and looking bewildered.) Hi! How can I help you?

Customer: Umm, I'm going through the change and I'm trying to decide what to do?

You: (I personally think paraphrasing the question makes you look clueless and causes you to be presumptuous.  This customer didn't give you a lot to go on and there's a good chance you have no idea what she's talking about - you should tell her so.) I don't think I quite understand what you're saying.  Can you explain a little bit more?

Customer: You know. THE change . . . menopause.

You: (You now know they want information on menopause.  But what kind of information are they looking for?) Oh! Okay.  What exactly are you wanting to know?

Customer: Well, I know some people take things to help get them through it.

You: (It seems like this customer is looking for something on medication and menopause.  But you may want to narrow it down a little more. Open ended questions are great until the customer stops meeting you half way.  As long as you aren't leading the customer in a particular direction, it's okay to ask a close-ended question like this one.) Is there a particular aspect of menopause that you want me to focus on or are you wanting general information?

Customer: I'm really concerned with gaining weight most of all, but I would like some general information about the process as well.

(The customer has said what she wanted and expects, by this point, that the two of you are on the same page.  Repeating the question back to her just makes you seem clueless, once again.

You: (Another unrealistic expectation.  Even if you know exactly where to look, it takes time to find answers.  All the while, the customer is waiting on you.  Here's two methods I suggest. (1) Show the customer where the print resources are that she can look through and let her know you are sifting through databases on the subject to answer her query.  Most likely, she will find helpful information just by browsing while you narrow down the search to pinpoint her specific topic request. The benefit in doing this is that it allows the customer to feel useful in the search.  The second method will have you (2) narrating your search as you sift through information together on the computer.  The benefit to doing this is providing the customer with the necessary skills to search for herself in the future.) A really great resource for you would be MedlinePlus.  Not only does it have general information on every health topic you can imagine, but it gives great tips on the subject of weight. Let me show you how to get there and pull up some information for you.

Customer: This is pretty good.

You: (This is the most important step because it leaves the door open for the customer to ask any more questions before leaving - ensuring a successful visit to the library.) It's a pretty awesome resource.  Do you think it will help you?

Customer: I think so.  

You: Great!  Let me know if you need more information.  Did you need anything else?

Customer: Yes, can you show me where your fitness section is? (From here you will start the reference interview all over again.)

While the six steps of MRBs make sense in an idealistic setting, the truth of the matter is that they can be condensed into one step - Dig Deeper.  If you are following all the basic principles of customer service then every reference interview conducted will be the best it can be.

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