By Nicole Miller
October, I attended the Minnesota Library Association’s annual
conference in Mankato. It was an interesting learning experience. I got
some great ideas for teen programming and brought home some great
information for our Library Foundation to raise funds and awareness
about our library to potential donors. But the most relevant and
poignant session for me, the thing that I think will have the greatest
impact on my library, was Dr. Anthony Molaro’s session “Customer Service
is Dead: Long Live the Customer Experience.”
Molaro explained the difference between customer service and customer
experience. The former is a point of contact, reactionary based system
which has become somewhat of a cliché in recent years. The latter,
however, is a more holistic experience that includes a patron’s
perceptions of our websites, our overall interactions with them, and our
ability to recognize potential problems and take steps to forestall
them before they happen. He explained that people who have positive
customer experiences with an organization are much more willing to
forgive mistakes when they happen because a bond of loyalty has been
built. Think of Apple and the latest iOS 8.0.1 glitch that froze phones.
Despite the poor quality update, Apple has created such a positive
overall user experience that they have a very loyal following of device
users who forgave the glitch and plan to continue to use their devices.
When we make the experience participatory, in addition, people will
feel that their voices are heard and valued. We can do this by creating
an advisory board or committee for every age group, even if nobody shows
up. As Molaro explained it, even when people choose not to participate,
they appreciate having those avenues of communication open so they can
express their opinions to us. And if only one person shows up at the
meeting, that one person can share with us what others might be thinking
or what their needs are. And then our role is to try to meet those
needs proactively.
One way that I know many of us work on building that positive customer
experience is by greeting our patrons whenever they walk through the
door and greeting them by name. As Molaro said, people love to be
remembered and they love to hear their names (at least, as long as they
aren’t in trouble!). This is relationship-building. When we build
positive relationships with our patrons, by greeting them by name or
even purchasing books with them in mind, they remember these things and
they are more willing to forgive our mistakes. This is also the avenue
toward garnering more support at budget time when our budgets are
threatened because some of our patrons whom we have nurtured may have
some political clout. This is one point I hadn’t actively considered
Another way for us to create a more positive customer experience might
be to try to rethink our physical spaces. This means to create a variety
of spaces based on tasks more than age. For example, provided we have
adequate room (which I realize is not always feasible in some of our
libraries), we could divide our spaces for quiet work/reading, loud
work/reading, and anywhere on the spectrum between the two. This is an
area which I constantly work on in my library and it is a struggle. I
feel that, with observation and feedback, I may eventually get it right.
I think the absolute most poignant point that Molaro made was that we
need to get staff on board to create the best customer experience we
can. This starts with smart hiring. We’ve probably all worked with
someone who was very unpleasant with patrons and coworkers, who insisted
on performing the bare minimum of duties, and acted as if s/he didn’t
even want to be at work. Those people are toxic to the customer
experience. They are the people who turn away our patrons and possibly
make those people (especially the kids and teens) decide they hate
libraries and will never walk into one again. Do we really want that to
happen? I’m sure the answer is a resounding NO! So Molaro believes in
hiring for core values (yes, look at your mission statement and define
your library’s core values) and passion, but train for skills. Because
ultimately, if your new hire has all the skills in the world but is an
unpleasant person who doesn’t want to try anything new, that person’s
unpleasantness will spread. Attitude is contagious! Skills can be
taught. His two favorite interview questions are “Are you nice?” and
“What are you passionate about?” I think those are interesting questions
that can get to the heart of a potential employee’s future with your
library. In know that I’m adding those questions to my repertoire of
interview questions!
I like also that Molaro suggested building staff morale by monthly
get-togethers outside of the library. I know other industries do this
because it builds rapport and a stronger team attitude. I think it’s a
nice idea, but should never be made mandatory. Employees can’t always
make it to socials, but they should make an effort to attend some of the
time. I think that employees who don’t participate in these
get-togethers might also be toxic because they aren’t team players, but
that’s my take. It could be my sports background, but team efforts are
important to me because everyone does their part to get the job done.
But that’s a thought for another day.