Monday, December 17, 2012

The Blame Game

In a New Yorker report "Why Smart People Are Stupid," Jonah Lehrer writes that people are bias when it comes to thinking.  According to the study, the smarter we are the more bias we become.  In a workplace full of intelligent employees, you can see how bias may get in the way.  If you are not sure how this could apply to your library, allow me to paint this picture for you:

A very hard worker named Sally always does her job diligently.  While weeding a particular section of the library, Sally noticed quite a few materials from another collection misshelved.  Concerned, she spoke with Jane, her supervisor.  Sally asked Jane to spread word via email about the misshelved collection, asking other workers to be mindful when sorting materials on the cart.  Jane was hesitant to send an email after reading the New Yorker article.  She understood that most everyone would already think the email did not apply to them, assuming the oversight must be someone else.  But Jane relented and sent the email.  The following day, after having sent the email, Jane went to assist Sally with sorting books.  The first thing she noticed was that Sally had missorted an item from the collection she had referred to yesterday.  Knowing that it was just a mistake, Jane corrected the error and never mentioned a thing to Sally.

This scenario is very common among the workplace.  When things go wrong, we naturally look for the right person to blame, often times forgetting that everyone has the same fatal flaw - our humanity.  Being human means being prone to make mistakes.  

You may be very familiar with Jane's situation and have probably sent out a few of those emails yourself.  The key is to not let employees and coworkers run amok with constant finger pointing and corrections.  There are two significant factors to look out for:
  1. Verification - the employee wants you to understand that there is a bigger issue which needs to be addressed.  Asking questions to identify if the problem is repetitive or a one time occurrence will clue you in on what action to take.  If mistakes are happening over and over again, it may be time to offer training on that topic.
  2. Venting - the employee wants you to know that a mistake has happened and has effected them personally.  These are usually one time occurrences where the employee needs to be reminded about humanity's flaw and that forgiving and forgetting is the best policy.
Just as Sally would not have suspected she was the one contributing to the misshelving, it can be difficult to consider yourself as a culprit of the crime.  The beauty of mistakes is that it makes us human.  The key is allowing others to make mistakes as well.  Before bringing mistakes to your supervisor's attention, take into consideration two things:
  1. Verification - is this issue something that has been repeatedly happening and needs to be addressed either in a meeting or through training?  If this is the case, then a supervisor should be alerted to make them aware of the gap in information.
  2. Venting - if the mistake is a one time deal, it may be best to remember our humanity and forgive the person the mistake.  If you know who made the mistake, you can politely call their attention to the mistake.  If not, just shrug it off and know that there have been plenty of mistakes you've made in the past but never knew about them.
Basically, give people the benefit of the doubt and remember you are only as perfect as your coworker.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Transferred! Now What?

A lot of people fear change - and for good reason.  Change means having to face the unknown head-on, learning something new and, sometimes, meeting new people.  When you get transferred to a new location, all of these factors are at play.  But before you get down in the dumps over all the change you will have to face, reflect on what this change will mean and how it can benefit you.  Every situation is different but here's what I did when I found out that I would be making a lateral transfer to a new location:

  • Get to know the people you will be working with and the building you will be working in.  Try scheduling a time to meet with staff and supervisors before your arrival so you at least know what to expect on your first day at the new location.  
  • Be prepared to ask lots of questions and don't be afraid of looking like an idiot.  In time, you will get to know the hang of things and your coworkers will realize that you are not an idiot after all.
  • Know your role at the new location.  Expectations may be different at a new location and this is important information to have up front.
  • Learn what your coworkers roles are.  This will prevent you from stepping on any toes where day to day tasks are concerned.
Teen area of my new branch
  • Creating an Us vs. Them scenario.  Try not to use phrases like "at my old place we used to do things like this."  Saying things like this will only create a chasm between you and your new coworkers.
  • Changing things too fast.  If you are in a position where you have the ability to change the way things are done, wait a breath or two before diving in.  Making swift changes has the potential to start a staff rebellion.
  • Using the pronoun "you" instead of "we."  This is a hard one to break, but the sooner you begin asking questions like "we shelve our books here?" instead of "you shelve your books here?" you will begin feeling like a member of your new team.
  • Clinging to the past.  If you continue to reference your old location in conversations then you are preventing yourself from making connections with your new coworkers. This doesn't mean you can never talk about your past, it just means selecting the appropriate stories and the times to tell them.
  • Something new and exciting.  When we have been doing the same thing for so long, we often get a fog over our eyes.  Making a change allows our bodies to wake up from the fog and revisit why we do the things we do.
  • Meeting new people.  Depending on your position and your intentions for your career, meeting people may or may not be at the top of your priorities.  Whether you want to network or just find someone you can discuss a book with, meeting new people at a new location is rarely a bad thing.
  • Learning something different.  If you work in an organization with multiple locations, I can guarantee that each place does something different.  Different is never good or bad, it's just different.  Use this opportunity to look at things in a whole new light.
  • New customers.  When you are new to a location, you get to meet new customers and touch the lives of different people within the community.

Embracing change, instead of fearing it, will definitely put you on the right path to getting comfortable in your new location. While transferring locations can take quite a mental toll on our bodies, following these tips may help you integrate much easier and develop connections with other staff members more quickly.  What other tips might you suggest to help ease the transfer process?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Customer Service Fatigue

My coworker, Laura,  used the term Customer Service Fatigue to describe the burnt-out feeling we, as professionals,  get after being "switched on" all the time.  You know what I mean.  It's that tiredness of repeatedly greeting customers and annoyance at explaining how the copier works, again.  Customer service fatigue is a natural feeling but, left untreated, it can become a real problem for you, your coworkers, and your customers.  Here are a few symptoms to watch out for:

  • Finger Pointing - if you are pointing to an area in the building and not walking the customer there, then you may have a problem.
  • Giving Directions - this one goes along with finger pointing; it's much easier to just show the customer.
  • Terse Replies - this happens when we are all talked out or have been repeating ourselves so much we stop communicating.
  • Saying No - sometimes you have to say no, but if you've stopped offering another solution then it may be time to regenerate.
These symptoms can occur at any time and for any number of reasons, but let's talk about how to treat them by addressing common situations which may bring on bouts of Customer Service Fatigue:

It's a busy Saturday; you've been running around all day and the lines at the desk just haven't let up.  No doubt about it, you are tired.  When the next customer in line asks you where the science fiction books are located, you are tempted to point your finger and give directions.  After all, the collection is pretty easy to find because it's only the last shelving unit on the left side. When you begin to feel Customer Service Fatigue because your body is physically tired, overcoming the exhaustion you feel and giving the best customer service seems impossible.  You've probably heard the phrase "point with your feet, not with your hands" in customer service training you've received in the past.  It's really good advice, and I try to adhere to it as much as possible, but the reality is such that it's not always possible.  For this I give a conceit: use your hands to gesture and give verbal directions but ask if they would like assistance.  Saying something like "the science fiction section is straight back and to the left, would you like me to show you," gives customers the power to accept or decline your help and gives you a 50/50 shot at exerting extra energy.  By offering the help, you are keeping up customer service expectation levels while still giving your body a break.

Everyone seems to be using the printer today and if you have to explain the printing process one more time then you may just burst.  It's not that difficult! One of the most difficult things about customer service is repetition. Realizing that customers are not equipped with the same information as you is easy in theory but difficult in practice.  Treating each customer as if they know nothing can be painstakingly repetitive at times but, before giving the Cliff's Notes version of anything, think about the time you will be saving yourself in the future.  If a customer is unsure of the procedure then the likelihood of him coming back and eating up more of your time is great.  Even worse, the customer may never come back.  Having this at the forefront of your mind may make it easier to give full explanations and, preferably, demonstrate at the same time.  When giving an explanation, use the strategy above and ask the customer if he would like assistance.  If you've already given a terse reply and you realize it after the fact, like I have on many occasions, don't be afraid to follow up with the customer.

A customer needs a book that the library no longer carries.  You've already offered to submit a request for Interlibrary Loan but the customer needs it right away.  You feel bad about sending her away, but what else can be done?  Sometimes the library can't fill a request, but it can help arm the customer with information.  Your Customer Service Fatigue may tell you that you've already done enough to help this customer, and that may be true, but I've found that going the extra mile is a great cure for the "Saying No" symptom.  When you truly see something to the end, you may find yourself invigorated to do more great customer service.  For this particular customer, needing the book right away probably means she will need to buy it.  There have been times when I have called around to different used bookstores in order to locate a title, looked it up on Amazon, and even reserved it at Barnes and Noble for a customer to pick up.  Since I couldn't put the book in their hands, I found someone who could.  If you ever find yourself saying "no," try your best to add a "but."

The reality of life is that we can't always be on our A game, but that doesn't mean our customer service should lack.  Remember that these are only treatments for the symptoms to Customer Service Fatigue and may not treat the issue completely.  If you find yourself having any serious side effects, please consult your nearest librarian for help.