October 11th, 2008 Brian Herzog
This week's question is actually one with me as the patron (well, in this case, customer). I was so impressed with the person who helped me, and how she helped me, that I thought I'd share. However, to keep her from getting into trouble, I'm going to change a few facts to protect her identity.
On the weekends lately I've been working on a project building boardwalks through a swampy park in Chelmsford (hey, librarians need fresh air too). I needed to rent a cordless circular saw, and in the process of calling around to local places that rent tools, I called a Lowe's Home Improvement store. After I explained what I needed, the customer service associate I spoke with said:
I'm sorry, but that is not a tool we rent. Furthermore, it is against Lowe's store policy for associates to suggest places like Taylor Rental at 555-555-5555, so I'm very sorry I can't help you.
I was laughing so hard I could barely say thank you and good-bye, and I think she appreciated it. I know I did - no rules were broken, and the customer service was friendly, informative, useful, and very memorable.
Because of this good experience, I'll definitely be shopping at that Lowe's in the future, despite their unhelpful official store policy. Just an example of why good customer service, and caring and helpful employees, is so important.
July 29th, 2008 Brian Herzog
At the Simmons Tech Summit, we talked about more than just tech stuff - we had a good discussion on customer service in libraries, too.
A few of the attendees visit lots of libraries, and so witness different levels of customer service in action. Since good customer service is absolutely fundamental to libraries, we talked about a new trend that is a bit alarming.
We dubbed it "reverse justification," but what it boiled down to was libraries claiming "customer service" as the reason for continuing to do something "the way it's always been done" - regardless of whether or not patrons benefit from it. Examples:
- We only allow patrons to use the internet for 30 minutes a day ... because it's good customer service
- Bathroom doors are always to remain locked ... because it's good customer service
- Patrons cannot use flash drives, only floppy disks ... because it's good customer service
I'm not saying there aren't legitimate reasons for rules like these - technological limitations, staff shortages, etc. - but "customer service" is not it. Customer service is very important, so some serious critical thinking should always be applied when customer service is cited as a justification for something. Are the patrons really being served, or it is that policy/rule/situation just easiest for the library?
April 22nd, 2008 Brian Herzog
This is a long story, so I'm going to try to summarize as much as possible. It's a good story, though, so stick with me.
A few months ago, an incident at my library finally brought a long-smoldering issue to the surface. My library doesn't charge overdue fines, and we rely on patron integrity to get things back on time. So far, this policy works very well, and I know the staff enjoys not dealing with fines.
That being said, our system is abused from time to time. The culture in this library is to put customer service first, to give patrons a good library experience, with "getting to yes" as our unwritten rule. But since we had no written policy to that affect, and what rules we do have are considerably flexible, different staff would enforce overdue items in different ways (some would allow patrons to check out new items, some wouldn't).
But worst of all, this situation allowed some patrons to "shop around" amongst desk staff until they got the answer they wanted, and this is what finally caused a blow up.
We (the department heads) decided we needed to ensure that patrons received consistent service, no matter who helped them. We rewrote a portion of our circulation policy, with the goal of making it clear and fair, while making sure it allowed for the highest degree of service but still punished those who flagrantly abused the system.
It took some time, and as Reference Librarian I was only marginally involved. But I was so impressed with what our Circulation and Childrens Librarians came up with that I wanted to share. The beginning of the new policy contains this preamble:
This library makes certain assumptions when dealing with the public:
- The staff of this library works to “get to yes” with patrons
- The vast majority of patrons are honest; therefore, we take patrons at their word
- Patrons appreciate courtesy and understanding. Gentle reminders, along with compassion toward extenuating circumstances, are used to prompt people to return overdue items
It goes on from there into the technical nitty-gritty for enforcing the policy, and in general staff was very satisfied with the result. The goal is still serving patrons, but the more black-and-white desk staff now have an up-to-date policy in writing to guide them.
And since this policy has been in place, the number of abuses and difficult situations seems to have gone down.
I'm generally a rules-based person, but serving patrons as well as possible should always come first. It's a fine line between completely meeting one patron's needs and also serving the next patron in line equally and fully, but having a written yes-based policy goes a long way towards making everyone happy.
Tags: customer service, get to yes, libraries, Library, patrons, Policies, policy, positive now, public, saying yes, Service, yes, yes-based
January 15th, 2008 Brian Herzog
I believe this sign was seen hanging in an antique store:
Wouldn't this be a good way for libraries to both allow cell phone use in the library and encourage patrons to interact with librarians (in a way that is convenient for the patron)?
Or we could go the supermarkets route and install "help phones" in the stacks, so patrons who can't find their items don't have to go looking for staff, too. Hmm.
cell phones, customer service, libraries, library, phone support, public, reference 2.0, roving reference
April 26th, 2007 Brian Herzog
The photo here is a little sign taped to the cash register at a Dunkin Donuts in Chelmsford, MA. It is positioned so that the cashier will see it and remember those simple rules to good customer service.
As I waited for my bacon-and-egg on a plain bagel (no cheese), I pondered these customer service guidelines. They seemed to fit the library world, too - "Listen" and "Solve," definitely, and "Thank" should be part of every interaction.
But "Apologize;" this one struck me as odd. I mean, yes, quite a few of my daily patron interactions involve apologizing - "I'm sorry, the book you want it check out," "I'm sorry, all of the computers are being used right now," "I'm sorry, I don't know why our catalog does that," etc...
Should it be an indicator that something is wrong when you prepare to apologize or compensate for shortcomings of your work environment? If these are known problems, doesn't it make more sense to look for solutions? In the case of unavailable books, of course I always ask if the patron would like to request it from another library.
But when it comes to the catalog, I am sick of apologizing for it. That soapbox is so crowded that there's little new I can add - except to say that people in my library have started looking very seriously at Evergreen. And best of all, rather than being skeptical about open source, they're excited about the possibilities.
It'll be a long process before we switch to a different catalog search interface, but the day I can stop apologizing for our catalog will be a happy day. And if the interface is user-friendly enough and patrons can easily request checked-out books themselves, then maybe we can cross "Apologize" off of the little "L.A.S.T." lists entirely.
apologizing, customer service, evergreen, libraries, library, public libraries, public library
January 4th, 2007 Brian Herzog
A couple stories recently caught my attention, as examples of threats to the service libraries can provide.
First was an (much talked about) New York Times article, about a library in New Jersey. They were being overrun by kids after school let out. Their solution? Close the library between 2:45pm and 5:00pm.
I don't agree with this, but I can empathize - I used to work at a library with the same concern, but to a much lesser degree. Even still, this is not a long-term solution. My current library is lucky enough to have both a Childrens and a Young Adult Librarian, who do after-school programming as well as special programming on early-release days - recognizing who your patrons are and preparing for them is the key.
The second story is an issue brought up recently on the Maine Libraries listserv (MELIBS-L). The following message was posted to the list on behalf of an unnamed library:
...city council [is requesting] to apply the following to non-residents: Anyone who walks through the door must prove they have a card or will be asked to leave. Anyone who asks a reference question or brings children to storytime or uses any service from this library will be asked to pay a fee. This will not apply to use of internet connectivity as that is not permitted under e-rate rules...
Maine librarians have always been open and supportive, and a great deal of discussion ensued (the highlights of which are below in the comments). Again though, although I can understand how someone could reach this as a solution, it just goes against everything libraries stand for. I haven't heard yet what happened with this city council request, but will post the result when I do.
Geez. We all talk about how outstanding customer service needs to be our bottom line if libraries are to have any kind of future, so it is shocking that situations like these exist in American libraries today.