Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Customer Service Lessons

I'm not the first librarian to look for customer services lessons from the private sector. I doubt I'm even the 100th. And yet I care greatly about customer service so much so that when I'm out in the world being a customer, I try to pick up tips and tricks. Here are three that I have noticed recently.

Long Lines At The Bank
One of the more random facets of my job is to take the deposit to the bank a couple of times a week. Somedays bank lines are short, some days bank lines are long. I don't actually mind, it's time I use to catch up on my words with friends games. But for people less patient (or less iPhone addicted) than me lines are irritating. (Before you think I'm a model of patience, you should see me at the post office). Every single time a person walks into the bank, one of the tellers looks up, makes eye contact, greets them and lets them know that they will be with them soon. Even if that person knows they have to join the twelve person long line, they still feel better because someone acknowledged them. It's so simple, so easy, so FREE to implement.

Hand Offs at the Apple Store
This Monday I went to the Apple store to update my iPhone to the 4S. My cunning plan to wait three days so it would be less crowded did not take into account that this is Elders and Youth conference and downtown was crowded. Still I approached the first blue shirt (apple employee) I found free. He radio'd and found me a phone upgrade specialist. When the new blue shirt came up, the first one handed me off to him by name. He literally said "this is Eugene who will help you". Eugene introduced himself, shook my hand and then walked me through the process, helped me find a dock, and even choose a new case. When it came time to do the set up, he introduced me to a new blue shirt, "Elizabeth this Andrea who will help you with set up. Andrea, Elizabeth seems fairly familiar with the product and operating system" Andrea also introduced herself and off we went. (Set up I could have handled on my own and only took a few seconds which is I think the coded message Eugene was passing on to Andrea.)

At no point was I abandoned, no one pointed at someone else and said "go ask her", no one said "that isn't my job". It was always, "let me help you find the right person". Every hand off included an introduction of me, my needs, and the person I was being handed to. Once again this is simple, easy and FREE to introduce at the library. When a shelver is asked a question they can't answer, don't point vaguely in the direction of the reference desk, walk the patron over and say this woman is trying to find out what percentage of US households owned cats in 1989?*

Dad Gets Mad at AT&T
My dad hates his cell phone. He wants a phone that comes with an instrution book and he's still mad that his last phone (purchased three years ago) said it came with an instruction book, but really came with a pamphlet and a link to a website. That phone died and he went to AT&T because he's been paying $5 insurance/month on it for three years. To get it fixed was a $50/deductible. That pushed my poor father over the edge and he did not have a good reaction. He complained about everything, incluing the lack of an instruction book, and was prepared to storm out of the building. The customer service rep got a manager who found my father glaring at racks of new phones (Dad didn't admit he was glaring at them, but I know him really well). Together they worked out a compromise, got my father a temporary phone and promised to work with him after he returns from his vacation.

They also transferred his numbers and other data to his new phone. He then complained he couldn't get the photos off his phone. They offered to transfer them to his new phone, but it didn't solve the problem that he doesn't know how to get the pictures off the phone (a complaint he has had for the last several years). They were emailed to him. He left the store with an entirely reversed opinion of AT&T.

How does this apply to the library? Be gentle. Forgive first time offenses when you can. Work with people. We (like most libraries) don't let people save items to our computers. We do keep an extra thumb drive at the desk so people can save their items (usually resumes) temporarily to email them to themselves. I also spend a decent amount of time teaching to use Google Docs. It's amazing how easy this is and how grateful people become.

There are my musings lately on customer service.

*True story: in my reference class in library school we had to find answers to 50 "typical" reference questions and explain our sources/processes for getting them. This is the question that took me the longest to answer. No one in my actual reference career has yet asked me anything even remotely similar.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Five Things on a Friday - Making a Difference

I'm a bleeding heart (not a bleeding heart liberal, just a bleeding heart). Of course I do what I do because I really want to help people. I care deeply about my community and its future. The library, particularly a library in the lower socio-economic neighborhood, is uniquely positioned to make a difference.

I consider myself to work in an education-adjacent field (not in a school, but next door both literally and spiritually) and fairly up to date. However I was shocked to learn that the Anchorage graduation rate is hovering around 70%. And even more appalled to hear Anchorage citizens saying they don't want to pay for schools because they don't have children. I don't have children (at this point in my life), but I'm happy to pay for schools. I'm invested in having well-educated doctors in the next 40 years and also in having a barista who can make proper change. I know that businesses and industries don't want to build in communities where they can not recruit qualified employees. Most importantly schools are cheaper than prisons. And more than 61% of the prison population does not have a high school diploma. Healthy schools=healthy community.

United Way of Anchorage has launched a fantastic new effort called 90 by 2020, to increase graduations rates to 90% by 2020. I've attended some of their community conversations. On their site there are 10 simple things (based on research, including interviews with teens) you can do to show kids you care. The entire community, even those of us without kids, can help. It's a bit easier for me since I work in a public library, but for my Friday Five, here are five of the ten simple things I am doing.

  1. Smile At Me
    When I see a teen or young person, I smile, I make eye contact. That simple. At the library or at the grocery store. Too many teens receive hostile looks (clearly they're here to make trouble, steal, they're in a gang) or are ignored. Simply acknowledging their presence as you would any other human you share the planet with can be powerful.

  2. Learn My Name
    I know some of the teens at the library and greet them by name. And I'm trying to learn more. It's cool. The teens are asking my name and making an effort to say hello to me by name. They want to know you as much as you want to know them. (Well assuming you want to know them, and I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt here.) I'm even trying to greet the neighbor's teens by names as I pass them.

  3. Catch Me Doing Something Right
    A lot of times we focus on the discipline issues, the 10% of the population that cause 90% of the problems. We don't pay any attention to the kids that are doing it right. In and around this library (and neighborhood) we have a HUGE litter problem. It's epidemic. We've bought trashcans and put them every 10 feet in the library and strategically located immediately outside the doors. Still I see kids toss a candy wrapper on the ground when they're within arms throw of the trash can. It's infuriating. So now when I see a kid throwing their trash into a garbage bin I very publicly thank them.

  4. Answer My Questions
    Duh. This is the entire point of the library reference desk. But we all need to remember that kids and teens as patrons are as important as adults. I've seen staff members skip over or short change teens while having long in-depth conversations with adults about the latest greatest mystery. Every patron in front of you is an individual deserving of respect and your full attention.

  5. Be Available
    After school my library is swarmed with kids from the nearby schools. It is not uncommon for the kids to number in the triple digits while I can count my staff on one hand. It's not easy to be available to them. Sometimes I'm running from question to question, discipline situation to drama/crisis and I don't look available. I look (and legitimately am) busy. And when it's over I'm sometimes burnt out. All I want to do is hide in my office and work quietly on a project on my computer. But I try my best. When I'm in my office, I leave my door open. My office is in the front of the library and I greet kids who come in with a smile. Occasionally they just want to chat a bit. That's okay too. (For a little while at least). And as I do my walk throughs of the library, I try not to just zoom past looking for discipline issues, but to slow down and engage with the teens.

So that's what I'm doing. I encourage you to look at the site and think about what you can do.