Monday, October 22, 2012

Space + Staff = Greatness

I commented to my supervisor the other day that I could really see a change in the way the library is used by our customers, thinking that we may have finally achieved the concept of the "The Third Place."  I attributed this positive change to the thoughtfulness of the space.  My supervisor, as any good boss would do, was quick to point out that it was definitely the staff's great customer service as well.  But, of course, it was the staff!  Within the library, the space and the staff are not mutually exclusive as one might think.  It's all in the user experience - you can't have one without the other.

It should not come as a shock to you that color and design influences emotions.  Most of the time we are interested in the effects that design has on our customers.  For example, the use of McDonald's Red and Yellow colors are meant to inspire satiety and invoke uneasiness to make you leave promptly thereafter.   Design follows the same principle.  Open design concepts make spaces more inviting (hence my comment regarding the space affecting our customers use.)  But the open concept also feels inviting to staff, as well, and encourages them to be at their best.  Here are three reasons why design directly influences your staff's customer service level:

The functionality of space means each piece of furniture is placed with a specific function in mind.  Giving thought to the everyday routine, just the simple act of moving a waste paper basket can mean freeing up seconds of staff time.  Those seconds add up to minutes and everyone's job is made a little easier.  Just as I suggested to observe how customers use the library, let me add that observing how staff use the same space can help you make appropriate changes.

The important thing to remember is that functions change over time.  The way customers use the library now is slightly different from 10 years ago so it makes sense that our behind-the-scenes operations have changed a bit, too.  Reevaluating the functionality of furniture and space should be done consistently and, if I may add, should also be reactionary to staff input.  In my branch, when several staff members decided they would like to try rearranging the sorting carts to improve efficiency we gave it a trial run.  In the end, we collectively decided that the new arrangement didn't work. The fact that we tried a new method, however, meant something profound - staff voices were heard and acted upon.

Staff take pride in a beautiful workplace. Having taken the time to carefully think out the design we use, whether it be for furniture, paint, signs, or displays, everything is part of one cohesive unit that adds to an overall effect.  The more appealing the space becomes, the more likely staff are going to nurture the space and aid in its effectiveness.  The library is essentially an evolving work of art that invigorates and motivates staff.

It is a bold statement - to say that design can do so much - but in my experience from visiting libraries, I've noticed a direct correlation between customer service and library design.  I think a quantitative study regarding this theory would be interesting to pursue.

The idea behind "The Third Place" accounts for comfort.  If the space is not comfortable, no one will want to be a part of it.  For staff, the library is the "second place" - work.  If you've considered the function of each piece of furniture and rearranged so that staff are taking pride in their work space, then you should notice a certain level of comfort start to set in.  Comfort is good.  If staff have to be at work, it may as well be comforting to them.  I know my worst customer service happens on my "off" days so, it stands to reason that, if staff are not happy then the customers will not be happy either.

Is comfort ever a bad thing?  While I wouldn't say that comfort in of itself is bad, I do think it can sometimes lead to complacency.  We begin to take things for granted and let ourselves slide but you can prevent that with a simple change of display.  Staff are impacted by the slightest visual change and by altering simple design elements of the library space (i.e. changing a display, moving a table, moving a collection, etc.) you keep them motivated while keeping up that level of pride in the overall design.

Maybe it seems too good to be true - getting better customer service out of your employees by sprucing up the place - but it sure couldn't hurt.  I recommend making a change because, at the very least, your customers will benefit from a well thought out design.

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