Yesterday I spent an hour shadowing a reference librarian colleague in the library’s ‘Help Zone’ – a central spot just inside the main doors of the library where students can come to ask for help on just about any topic. The Help Zone includes a few computers for students to quickly look up or check something, a few for library staff to use for basic reference, some consultation rooms for longer enquiries or booked research consultations, the self checkout points and the entry to the high use collection.
Feeling a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, I started out shadowing my colleague and watching, listening and learning. However, a sudden burst of ‘busy-ness’ found me handling some student enquiries on my own – it seemed silly to make students wait when I could at least get them started on their query (of course, there were also plenty of ‘where are the return chutes?’ type questions too and I could definitely answer those!). The overwhelming majority of students I spoke with were first year undergraduates desperately seeking resources as the semester’s final assessments loom large.
While taking my first tentative steps towards helping these students it occurred to me that they were just like my newly-at-uni-son – uncertain, probably a bit nervous about asking a librarian and just looking for a way to get started in the resource discovery process. Suddenly I had more confidence – it really didn’t matter if I didn’t have the best answer to their question, I knew that I could give them AN answer and that it would be a step up from the spot they were in, it would be progress. My reward? Smiles and thanks from grateful students and a quiet confidence that I might be starting to get the hang of this new job.
It’s nearing the end of my third week at my new job, although because of all the public holidays I’m only up to about my 10th or 11th day (I can tell by the stamps on my coffee card – I get a free coffee today!).
First impressions? I’ve come from an organisation with about 25 staff in total (including teaching, admin, IT, library, marketing etc) to one with 160 library staff alone. That’s a lot of people to meet, sort out in my mind and fit into the organisation chart and a lot of potential office politics to negotiate. Fortunately, I’m an old public servant from way back so in many ways this is a very familiar environment.
My role is outreach – to academics, post graduate students and faculty generally. I’ve got a few research centres to look after to start with, a project or two looming on the horizon and a supportive and welcoming team in which to work. I’m gradually getting a feel for the context of my role and working out how what I (will) do fits into the rest of the library service and with the university community as a whole.
I’ve been working so hard to concentrate and learn new things that I’ve temporarily dropped out of the blogosphere and twitterati – professional development is taking a back seat to learning the nuts and bolts of my job.
I’ll be back.
What’s in a name? Well, everything really. Welcome to a short rant about one of my pet peeves – the inability of otherwise seemingly educated people to spell my name correctly. I don’t have a particularly difficult first name to spell, in fact it’s a very common name. However, there are quite a few variations of the spelling and it seems to me that when doing business with me, checking which version I use is probably a) polite and b) professional. I can cope with my name being mispelled if its the first time I’ve heard from you, or if you have taken a guess having only ever heard it spoken (because I don’t use the most common spelling).
However, if I have sent you an email, with my name on it in AT LEAST 3 places, why, why, WHY would you reply with the wrong spelling? It makes you look a) slightly stupid b) unprofessional and c) completely uncaring.
To use my favourite phrase : It’s not rocket science.
Good customer service ain’t rocket science.
This is one of my favourite expressions – usually trotted out when someone is reporting either a good or bad customer service experience as it’s an equally appropriate comment in either circumstance. I feel that I know a thing or two about customer service so am somewhat qualified to comment. Working in libraries is all about customer service – it makes me laugh when someone says “Oh I’ve always wanted to work in a library, I love books”. It’s not about the books, that’s for sure!
Over the weekend I had a couple of customer service experiences that have triggered some thoughts about customer experiences in libraries to share.
On Friday evening, it became apparent that our modem at home was borked. The modem was installed about 2 years ago when I changed over to my current telco so I suppose it was getting on in modem years, but it gave us no warning, just up and died. In a fit of DIY troubleshooting I dug out the manual I had carefully stored away all those years ago and tried to look up the troubleshooting pages, just to confirm for myself that it really wasn’t going to come back from the dead.
- Customer service stopping point #1. The manual very helpfully pointed out that for detailed troubleshooting I might like to access the detailed ‘help table’ on – you guessed it – their website. Let’s recap. The modem was borked, remember? Meaning I had no internet access. Making the online troubleshooting manual a bit, well, useless really. Then, without access to the internet, the next challenge was finding a contact number to ring for technical advice from my telco. It was in the instruction manual, but buried on about page 35, in really small print. The helpful, “need help?” message splashed cheerfully across the back page of the manual referred me to…. the website.
- Lessons for libraries? Make sure help and advice don’t put unrealistic expectations onto those seeking the help and advice. Put contact information prominently on literature, websites, emails and social media pages. Make it easy for folks to find you. Go and check whether that’s the case now – yes, right now. Just because I know where to find the telephone number to renew library materials (and I should, I put it there) doesn’t mean that a newbie to my website will be able to find it. We need to view customer service initiatives from the customer’s point of view, not our own.
I’ll skip straight on past the part where I finally got through all the voice activated software and onto the help desk only to have them tell me my modem appeared to be borked. Yes. Thank you, I was glad to have that confirmed.
As our family home cannot function without access to the internet it was straight off to the shops to replace the modem. Despite previous terrible customer service experiences in my telco’s retail shops I headed there first. (I should point out here that while I consider myself to be a modern, up to date, savvy user of technology I have absolutely no idea what goes into making that happen for me. The technical nuts and bolts of how my internet access works is beyond both my understanding and my interest). Hence, as I was about to spend a not inconsiderable amount of money I was hoping to get some advice before simply schlepping up to a shop counter with a modem tucked under my arm.
- Customer service stopping point #2 This particular retail shop practices ignoring customers, they must do. Not for the first time, I found myself standing about in this shop clearly looking as if I needed assistance, loitering near the modems but looking around at and towards staff – giving what I consider to be fairly obvious signs. OK, some of the staff were busy with other customers but not all of them. Perhaps the staff who were free were unable to sell me a modem but surely they were not unable to come and talk to me and let me know that someone who did know about modems would be with me just as soon as possible. Result? After 5 minutes of being totally and utterly ignored I walked out – resolved yet again to never walk into that shop again (this time I really mean it).
- Lessons for libraries? We all get busy. Sometimes I’m on the phone when a student wants help from me, or perhaps I am helping someone else. It’s not rocket science – I make eye contact, indicate I know they are there – they are not stupid, they can see I’m busy but it has cost me nothing to let them know I have seen them and will be attending to them when I can.
There is a happy ending to this story.
- Customer service winning point #1 I walked out of that telco shop and straight into a major hi-fi/electrical goods store. I picked up a modem randomly from the shelf and was approached by a young staffer wanting to know if I needed help. Yes, I said. I need a new modem, will this one do? He asked me a few questions – what did I need it to do, how many computers are on the home network, what sort of warranty was important to me and then said, yes, that one will do. I paid and was out of there in less time than it took the staff in the other shop to ignore me.
- Lessons for libraries? Actually, this is one libraries can teach retail. The power of the reference interview cannot be underestimated. Those few questions he took the time to ask reassured me that the product I was buying would probably do the job I wanted it to do. He greatly reduced the chance of me coming back to return my product and becoming a disgruntled customer and in fact, he inadvertently became the trigger for this blog post because he converted me to a happy customer.
Yes, sometimes our customers (patrons/students/co-workers) are rude or difficult to get along with. Doesn’t mean we can’t practice great customer service.