Spot The Customer Service

Tomorrow, I'm coordinating a customer service workshop for a few RPL employees (coordinating but not delivering – that will be handled by a very experienced, very
awesome librarian we have on staff who has a lot more background in
this area than do I.)

I'm sure everyone has those elements of their job that they're ambivalent about and this is one for me.  Although I understand why the notion of “customer service” has become such a huge part of the library world, I'm still not sure if I agree with the underlying principles (well, duh – obviously treating customers well is a good idea, smiling at people and being polite is a good idea.  But is something like “the customer is always right” equally valid?  Is customer even the right way to think of the people who use libraries?) 

In fact, I'm not sure if I mentioned this or not, but I've been accepted to deliver a session on the various terms we use for library patrons at the Saskatchewan Library Association conference in Saskatoon next May.  I'm going to take an especially detailed look at the reasons for the increasing prevalence of the term “customer” to denote library patrons and then propose an alternate term/approach which I've discussed on this blog before

My plan is to approach it as an exploration of the idea as I don't honestly think we're all going to start calling the people who come into our buildings “neighbours” instead of patrons/customers/clients/etc.   But I do think that, were the idea to catch on, I honestly believe it could be a brand new and potentially ground-breaking approach to the idea of how to deal with and treat people who use our services.

So anyhow, thats a long preamble for a couple things that happened to me while I was in Ottawa and which I thought would make the basis of an interesting comparison on the notion of “customer service”:

– on my last night in Ottawa, I was tired and my feet hurt from a lot of walking but I still wanted to take full advantage of being in the city.  So I hobbled out of the hotel to the nearest bus stop to catch a bus down to Byward Market, even though it was probably only a 10-15 minute walk.  I got on the bus, asked for a transfer and also how long it would last.  When the bus driver told me, I explained that I was going down for a bite to eat and didn't know how long I'd be but didn't want to have to buy two (expensive – $3 ) rides if I didn't have to.  “Oh, I see.”  He punched a couple buttons on his ticket unit and out popped a different ticket.  “This is a day pass – you can stay down there as long as you want and use it to get back later tonight.  Have a good time!”  I looked down to see what the day pass would normally cost – $7.25 – and it only cost me three bucks!  More importantly, it made me less stressed because I knew I could have a leisurely meal, have a wander around and maybe grab a dessert or drink somewhere else, all without worrying about catching a bus within an hour and a half. 

– so I get down to the Byward Market and end up eating at a place called Mambo Nuevo which had caught my eye when I was scouting out places on the Net.  It's their 2 for 1 appetizers night but the menu says this is only after 10pm.  It's about twenty to ten at this point so I ask the waitress if I could get this deal since it'll be after 10pm by the time my bill comes and it's time to pay.  “No, you have to order after 10pm to get the special.”  Okay, fine – she's just following the rules but coming so quickly after my great experience on the bus, this was extra disappointing.  So instead of sampling a couple of their different (vastly overpriced!) appetizers which I would've done if they'd given me the deal, I only ordered one.  I only had one beer instead of maybe sticking around for a couple.  I gave a smaller tip than I probably otherwise would've (yes, knowing full well that she was just following the rules – but so was I in leaving a tip that reflected my experience at the restaurant, right?)  And now I'm blogging about a negative experience at that restaurant to a readership that includes numerous people in the Ottawa area or which may be found by people who are doing web searches and happen to end up here.  (What is that old line – “if you have a good experience, you'll tell one other person.  But if you have a bad one, you'll tell ten?”  Except in the Internet age, those numbers are multiplied exponentially.)

What it comes down to for me is this: we can teach customer service and tell our employees that they need to smile and be nice.  We should give them some discretion to make front line decisions that may be against the rules or policies (I can't remember which one it is but there's a famous story of a hotel chain which has empowered ALL employees to make decisions up to $1000 on the spot to rectify problems.)

But the bigger question is how to reach staff in a more fundamental way to change their underlying attitudes so they don't come out of a day of training and then, two weeks later, they're back to frowning at customers or ignoring them or whatever.  (I was getting a new battery in my watch recently when a guy came and lined up behind me.  It was taking the lady at the counter a long time to change the battery but she didn't even take a second to acknowledge the other guy who was waiting – “be with you in a moment, sir!” or whatever – to the point that I felt awkward and turned around to apologize myself!)

At our staff conference a couple weeks ago, Karen Hyman gave an excellent presentation (like seriously, one of the best I've seen!) based on a previous PLA presentation she did.  It had one particular slide showing a close-up of her granddaughter's face.  “Would you be mean to this little girl?” it asked then answered on the same slide, “Research shows that you would.” 

I've seen this first hand in a library and it's not pretty.  So again, the bigger q
uestion is, how do you reach employees on a deeper level than just giving them training?  I've got a couple theories and I guess the weeks and months to come will see if there's any truth to them.

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