In my final article in the series “High Performing Teams for the New Millennium,” I’d like to discuss the necessity of providing highest quality service to library customers. Satisfying and delighting our customers must be our number-one priority. While libraries may offer comprehensive collections, inviting buildings, and access to the information superhighway, if our customers are not pleased it really means nothing. To be successful, quality service must be perceived from the customer’s point of view and not the library’s.
Customer service has been an important issue to libraries since Hardy Franklin adopted customer service as the “heart of a library” during his term as ALA President. Franklin suggested that libraries identify users’ needs and provide them service with a friendlier attitude. He recommended that libraries eliminate terms such as patrons or users because of their negative connotations and call customers (because library patrons are “paid-up customers”) customers.
Making “quality service” work depends on having staff who are willing and trained to deliver this service, and who have the power to satisfy customers. Staff must be empowered, and management must allow them to take risks without punishment. They must be given the tools to build their self-confidence if a customer service program is to thrive. I think that libraries should follow the example of Nordstorm’s, which has only one rule for staff in making customer service decisions: “Use your good judgement.” We need to make heroes and sing the legends of librarians who “break the rules” and do something extraordinary to satisfy our customers.
Technology has probably raised customer expectations. Even though people grumble about navigating through voice message systems, technology has given customers the taste of instant gratification. It has also enabled librarians to deliver a higher level of information and services than was delivered previously. Today when a customer comes to the desk in search of a book not on the shelf he may hear, “The book is not on the shelf? My terminal tells me that it is on loan for another four days, and we can put a hold on it for you. You will be automatically notified by telephone when the book becomes available, and the book will be waiting for you at the reserve desk. May I do anything else for you?”
Organizational structure needs to be designed to create teams that work together to satisfy customers. Organizational communication and decision-making networks should guide behaviour that reinforces customer satisfaction.
Once excellent customer service has become part of the organizational culture, the staff is quick to correct those employees who do not share the common service standard. Over time this causes the culture of service to be reinforced. The beliefs, values, and assumptions of the library can create an organization where extraordinary customer service is the normal operating procedure.
Following are some things to keep in mind in developing a customer-driven organization:
- Make sure that commitment to quality service is etched in your library’s mission statement.
- Identify both your internal and external customers.
- Find out what your customers want and expect from the library.
- Make sure that everyone in the library is committed to quality service. If commitment does not start at the top, it won’t take place at the service desk.
- Provide training so that staff can provide excellent service. Do roleplaying, videotape service interactions, provide supportive feedback after a difficult customer interaction. Skills need to be reinforced and training should be ongoing. Continuous staff training will always be needed. Indeed, many people enter librarianship because they feel they will be buffered from some of the unpleasantness of dealing with difficult people (which we know isn’t true)!
- Make sure that library staff have the authority to make on-the-spot decisions to ensure customer satisfaction.
- Serving customers needs to be built into tasks or work assignments. Put library customer needs ahead of your own at all times. Look like you want to be “bothered.” Customers are often reluctant to bother staff working at a service desk reading a journal. Staff need to recognize customers, smile, and provide a service interaction that is pleasant. Librarians are people who bring people and information together, and the process should be joyful for both sides.
- Every once in a while check to see how you are doing by taking a fresh look at the service you are providing from the customer’s point of view. Walk around your buildings and watch what is happening. Listen to and respond to customer letters and phone calls.
- Visit stores and agencies that provide both good and bad customer service. Ask what the key to god service is, and what should be avoided. There are many excellent organizations that libraries can use as models.
Thomas L. Brown, in an article in Industry Week entitled “A Job for Management: Eliminate the Hassles,” (Thomas L. Brown, “A Job for Management: Eliminate the Hassles,” Industry Week 242 (Sept. 20, 1993): 23) summed it up well: Don’t make me wait, especially when you’re ready to do business right now. Don’t make me work around your cumbersome processes. And don’t make me slog through pages of rules and regulations if I just want to get a simple answer.” Good advice for us all.
I enjoyed my term as LAMA president. LAMA is a great organization because of the people who participate and the staff who support it. I have made many new friends and learned a lot during my term, which is what we should desire and expect from life. I hope that these four columns help you develop “High Performing Teams for the New Millennium”—Bill Sannwald.