Hi. Can I help you?

I just joined a group on Facebook:  ALA Think Tank.  They were discussing customer service.  Do we in the library world have customer service?  Do we have customers? Should we take lessons from the business world or should they be looking to us?  All great questions.

I was trying to think about some of the great customer service experiences I’ve had and one stands out. For a brief moment, I owned a Mini Cooper, which I must admit was THRILLING!  Mini Coopers are really BMWs and are serviced at BMW Dealerships.  I had never set foot in a BMW dealership before I owned the Mini.  Heck, I don’t think I ever owned a car that was under warranty.  When I was having a problem I went to the dealership.  Wow.  Someone greeted me at the door, got me signed in, took my keys, gave me a tour of the multiple waiting rooms (quiet/one with a TV/one for laptop users) and then finally took me to the mini bar where I could help myself to coffee, muffins, sodas, cookies…..you get the picture.  Someone came out twice to give me an update about where in the process my car was and then finally to tell me that my name would be called.  My car was right outside the door, fixed, freshly washed and vacuumed and the door was being held open by the young man who drove it up.

Those folks clearly thought about customer experience.  They had anticipated every need and had already met it before my arrival.

How did they do it?  Clearly, they did work to figure out what their customer’s needs might be.  That could have been actively surveying customers, their own brainstorming, keeping a record of customer’s questions and requests or a combination of all of those.  They trained staff in the behavior they wished to see.  They empowered staff to make decisions.

It started with the greeting.  This was not the poor retail greeter put out there to greet you in an effort to deter theft or in some faux attempt at being friendly.  This woman was warm and smiling and came out from behind her desk to greet me.  She walked back to her desk with me.

We can do this in our libraries.  We can greet people genuinely.  We can smile and look them in the eye.  We can stop what we are doing and engage. We can walk with people into the stacks to find their book.   Library directors, managers, supervisors need to set the tone they wish to see in their libraries.  Circulation managers should get out of their office, work the desk and model the behavior they wish to see in staff.  The circulation desk staff are frequently the first people customers (patrons) encounter.  I have told staff:  we are the friendly face of the library.  That is our number one priority.  I’d rather see people getting helped with care and thoroughness than tasks being completed.

Managers and supervisors need to have a grasp on the workloads of staff and be flexible with deadlines and expectations.  How do you want to be treated when you walk into your local library or store or you hire a service for something?

Jaime Hammond wrote:  I think we should mystery shop each others libraries.

Love it.  Sometimes we forget to step outside and try to see our libraries like a customer.  We should be going to other libraries and seeing what they do well and where they need improvement.  Call up your colleague 3 towns over and have them “shop” your library and report back.  This is not to catch people doing things wrong and should not be used in such a way.  It’s to see how you are seen and where you might need to focus your attentions.  This is an exercise in growth and improvement, not punishment!   In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, the great Zen teacher states:    In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.   It is a fantastic and beautiful reminder that there is wisdom in seeing your world as a beginner.  Emptying your mind of what you know and taking another look.

Suzuki, Shunryu.  Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.  Boston, Shambhala Publications, 2010. Print, pg 2.
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