There is an organization in my state that is actively working to get library funding reduced by 50%. This is an absurd idea. The state library is rallying support and library directors are training staff on how to be good library advocates.
I have an idea.
Let’s be nicer. Let’s smile at each person. Let’s get up off our chairs and take them to the shelf. Let’s not act like they are stupid if they don’t know how to print a document or crazy if they ask us to do something clearly outside of our scope of services.
I witnessed something in my library recently. The library was closed, the computers shut down and a woman, somehow missed by our sweeps came wandering into circulation wanting to check out a book. The staff person did an okay job of telling her that we were closed; but, that we would check out her items by bringing the system back up. The woman threw her items down on the table and started storming out while yelling over her shoulder, ” You people are always so pleasant to work with.” We all stood there slightly dumbfounded. Our coworker had been decent in dealing with her. She had used a pleasant tone and did not even have a slight attitude in her delivery. We chalked it up to a grouchy customer and all headed out.
In the car ride home, I began to reassess what had happened. I felt bad that the customer had left without her items and so clearly upset. How could we have handled this differently? Two things came to mind…well actually three. First, my coworker didn’t need to tell her that we were closing, there were several staff standing there with their coats on waiting for the library to be clear of customers. Secondly, we didn’t need to have 7 staff standing around out there making this woman feel guilty about holding us all up. And thirdly, I think I could have chased her down, expressed that I really wanted her to be leaving with the items she had come for and offer to take her card, check them out and bring them back out to her car. I wouldn’t do a typical manager response by blaming the staff. It wasn’t her fault either. It was a perfect storm of a long, crazy day at the library and a frustrated patron running out of time to get the things she wanted/needed.
We can do better. We must do better.
I think that in situations like these, customers respond in anger because of their embarassment. If one is angry, they distract from the possibility of being to blame of being an inconvenience. It’s a great way to distract people from the real foopah at hand.
Better than anger is bewildered amusement. We all make mistakes like that–and it is usually an innocent one. I was at a hotel recently in avid conversation with fellow guests of the conference we were attending when the staff told us the cafe area had closed. We all apologized and I said, “Oh, dear, I had no idea you had closed. Please accept my apology.” I think the affect of that response was much smaller and positive than an angry response might have been. Later, all parties involved with an angry response would have had to deal with all the emotions that stem from anger: resentment, hostility, blame, denial, self-evaluation, embarrassment, etc. By admitting my innocent mistake, I had alleviated any signifant irritation from all the parties involved and had, in the best case, invited a chuckle and shoulder-shrugging amusement (i.e. “oops”).