By Carla Powers

OK, so this was
covered in a previous blog post put together by Nicole, but it was by far my
favorite session for the MLA 2014 conference. 
So, think of this “Customer Service is Dead 2.0.”  Or “Long, LONG Live the Customer Experience.”
This session was
taught by St. Catherine University’s Dr. Anthonly Molaro, and as Nicole
mentioned in her excellent recap, the difference between customer service and
customer experience is that customer service is reactive and focuses on
transactions, while customer experience is proactive and based on … well, the
whole experience of using the library.
I think the best
way to illustrate the difference between the two is with an example of
something that happened in my conference hotel. 
On the second morning of conference I went to the hotel lobby in search
of some much-needed coffee.  Alas, the
coffee urn was empty!  I tipped it toward
me in hopes of salvaging at least a few sips, but it was REALLY empty.  Disappointed, I headed for the elevator with
the intention of returning later.  Good
customer service taught me that the staff probably would fill the urn in a few
minutes.  Imagine my surprise – and
delight! – when a hotel staffer chased me down on my way to the elevator with a
carafe of coffee in hand.  She had
noticed me trying to coax coffee out of an empty urn, and she took it upon
herself to find a carafe of coffee from the restaurant, catch me before I left,
and fill my cup.  THAT is customer
experience.  She anticipated my need and
went above and beyond to make me happy.
Customer experience
looks at the customer not just as a consumer but as a participant.  It has grown out of the participatory culture
that began in the early 2000’s and has been embraced by many successful
companies – think Apple, Starbucks and Zappo. 
Customer service, in contrast, has become cliché and is no longer
trusted – think Comcast.
In the 20th
century, Molaro explained, libraries were predominately informational.  Library staff were the gatekeepers who
preserved and provided access to information. 
In the 21st century, however, Molaro believes libraries are
predominately social.  They need to
create spaces around tasks, and provide places for people to be alone and
together in many different configurations.
So how does a
library without the deep pockets of Apple or Starbucks begin to introduce
customer experience into its culture? 
Molaro offered a few practical tips. 
Make your spaces as simple and beautiful as possible.  If you are putting up a lot of signs to tell
patrons how to navigate your space, think about removing the signs and
rearranging your space to make it more intuitive.  Never give verbal directions, and never point
to a location.  Walk there with the
patron.  If you patrons have to wait in
line, make waiting enjoyable.  Give them
something to browse, or take a page from retailers and put your high-demand
items in these areas and watch the books fly off the shelves.  And, as Nicole mentioned, when you hire new
staff, hire people who are passionate and aligned with the library’s core
values.  You can train for everything
else.

Molaro ended by pointing
out that people long for a personal and positive
connection.  By taking the next step from
responding to their needs to actually anticipating their needs, he believes we
can ensure that libraries remain a vibrant, beloved hub of the community no
matter what changes the future brings.