Saturday, July 11, 2015

Customer Service

What is good customer service?  And how do we provide good customer service in the library?

I think that's a hard question to answer, maybe not quite as subjective as saying what is good art, but it is a bit nebulous and often times situation-specific.

I would say that good customer service in a nutshell is providing prompt, courteous service in way that the customer leaves with a positive feeling, and feeling that their issue was resolved to their satisfaction, or at least that they were heard and understood and the issue would be forwarded to the appropriate person and addressed. 

Good customer service is being friendly and welcoming, approachable, patient, and knowledgeable.  Good customer service means finding a way to help the customer, or finding the person who can.  Good customer service means anticipating what customers may need, and recognizing when they need help but are shy about asking.  And, in my opinion, sometimes good customer service means having to enforce the rules so that one patron does not infringe on the ability of other patrons to use the library, but in a way that is positive and friendly.  But then again, good customer service sometimes means making exceptions to the rules.

Some of the practices I use in customer services are fairly basic: greet people when they come in, smile, make eye contact, ask if they need help or have a question.  While I am busy doing something like sorting carts or shelving, I make sure to keep open body language and face the front, and to still be aware of when customers enter the department.  If I am the only one in the department, I will circulate among the stacks every so often, just in case I missed anyone coming in.  I find that patrons often approach me while I'm in the stacks shelving rather than ask whoever is working the desk since I am already there, and in general many are shy about asking for help, but seem relieved when you offer.  I discreetly observe patrons while they are in the stacks to see if they seem to need help, but I make a point not to hover or ask them if they need help every five minutes.  If I ask, and they say "No", I just smile and say "Okay, just let one of us know if you need anything or have any questions" and may mention any upcoming programs or special displays we have that might interest them.

I also try to really give them my attention and provide a personal touch.  Instead of just pointing or directing to where something is, I walk them over personally.  If they need help with adult fiction, I help them even if it's not my department.  When you are walking through the library, patrons don't know what department you work in; they just ask the first staff member they see.  If it's something I know, I go on and help them myself; if it's not, then I walk them over and introduce them to the appropriate staff member with a brief explanation of what they need.  I try to remember repeat customers' names, especially the children, and what kind of books they like and what I have suggested for them in the past.  Patrons really seem to appreciate this more personalized, "concierge-type" customer service, and I believe developing such a relationship between the customers and the staff fosters a greater sense of customer loyalty, and more frequent visits to the library, which in turn results in greater circulation and program attendance.

I really enjoy helping people, whether it be finding a book they need, suggesting titles, or helping them with their accounts.  It is so gratifying to see a child's face light up when you find the right book, or to hear from a parent that their child really liked the book you suggested.  I like that I get to interact with lots of different people, and all ages.  I enjoy seeing our regular patrons as well as introducing newcomers to our services.   I hear some people in other service fields complain about customers, but I have been very pleasantly surprised at just how appreciative people are for the least little things, and how patient they are when it is busy and they have to wait for help.  While all customer interactions are not so pleasant, the good far outweigh the not so good, and I couldn't imagine working in a position that did not afford me the opportunity to work at a service desk at least some of the time.

And what about the not so good?  I think I will devote a separate post to that later on....


  1. As a frequent "customer" of our local library, I can tell you that a staff person who is friendly and helpful makes my day a little better. I do not expect the staff to jump up and run to my attention when I need a bit of help, but it is appreciated to be acknowledged and suggestions made. Most of my time is spent in the children and youth library because I write reviews for children and teen books. My biggest peeve about customer service neglect in that area is the staff who ignore children who are asking questions about a book or author. The staff will tell the child to look it up himself or just point to the section where the book might be. The other is miss information. If an adult comes in with a question about an author or book his child is required to read, the staff person should at least try to look the information up on their computer. They should never say they haven't heard of the book or the author and just walk away leaving the patron dangling. I can understand that there are so many books and so many authors in children and teen publications, it is difficult to know all of them. But, the advantage that a library has is their computer and usually the NoveList which helps find books. At any rate, I love your blog and especially your reports from the library.

    1. Thanks for stopping by & leaving a comment :) I'm glad you enjoy my blog, and sorry to hear your library customer service experience has sometimes been lacking.

      I certainly would never just tell a patron I hadn't heard of a book and walk away! There are lots of books I may not be familiar with, and sometimes a patron my not get the title exactly right, so the catalog won't find it even though we have it. In those cases, a quick Google or Amazon search can fix that, as their search engines are not so picky and can figure out what you really mean, whereas the library catalog is very picky. Or it may be a new book that hasn't been released yet. I have found many an item for a patron this way :)

  2. Thanks for the info Jen. When I am in the library and carrying my ipad, I usually look things up on Good Reads or Library Thing if I can't find it on the Library Catalog. They certainly are picky (like a cat!). Haven't thought of using Amazon or Google but that is a great suggestion.