Customer Service Tip #3: Be a great place for teens

Practical Tip #3: Be a great place for teens.

Granted, many libraries already excel in this area, but it’s worth mentioning. In my first “test” post I joked that, “If we can get [baby ducks] to come in for quacky time when they’re still fuzzy, cute, and let’s face it a little impressionable, I think we’ll have them for life.” But seriously folks, if we give teens a positive, engaging, welcoming library experience, there’s a much greater chance that we will keep them for life (or at least through their first molting season.)

And I don’t think that a positive, engaging, and welcoming experience is at odds with the necessary boundary setting that has to happen with teens. I never felt more loved and welcomed than when Carol Kuhlthau was throwing me out of my high school library! (I had an inkling that defacing magazine covers by cutting out the noses and mouths and wearing them as masks was not appropriate behavior.) I appreciated that I had done something wrong and Carol always welcomed me and my friends back. I guess she realized that when we weren’t goofing around we were actually doing some reading.

So how do we make libraries welcoming and engaging for teens? There’s the basics: Smile at them. Treat them as you would other customers. Anticipate and meet their needs. What needs? Stephen Abram suggests letting teens bring their skateboards into the library:

“Why don’t we have a skateboard rack inside the library? Why would we have our patrons risk their independence if their skateboard is lost or stolen? How would they get to the library? We should support them. A skateboard box, Rubbermaid storage container or simply a towel bar by the service desk is a simple solution that provides a service instead of a negative interaction. It’s welcoming. Buy or get a second hand old skateboard and a few sticky letters that say WELCOME. Why wouldn’t we do this? It’s a cheap visible proof of welcoming attitudes.”

Aaron Schmidt suggests (gasp) letting them use the stapler (that generated a LOT of discussion across many blogs–worth following.) Back in a previous incarnation when I served as a YA librarian I set up a modest homework center with paper, scissors (double-gasp), hole punch, white out, pens, pencils, highlighters, paperback dictionaries and thesauri all located in a little 3 shelf bookcase–just for teens! If they’re asking us for it, why not provide it? (Please don’t say “money”: paper, pens and a few staplers a year–yes they walk occasionally–aren’t going to break the bank.)

Beyond the basics (smiling, scold-free service) there are so many good ideas out there for serving teens it’s hard to know where to start. So why not start here at the BIG IDEAS, NOW: teens @ your library conference that took place April 30-May 1, 2004, at Trinity College University of Toronto. There are a lot of goodies here so I’ll highlight a few:

  1. Keynote address by past YALSA President Michael Cart
  2. Notes from breakout session, Attracting Teens/Selling Teen Services to Staff and Administration
  3. Notes from breakout session, Adolescent Development and Libraries (good ideas on why teens come to the library and what we can do to meet their needs)
  4. Notes from breakout session, Librarians New to Working with Teens

Thanks Ontario Library Association for continuing to host such a valuable resource!

Little bits of what?

I just finished watching Scott Pelley’s interview of Starbucks President Howard Schultz on 60 minutes and I’m inspired to share something that I wrote a few weeks ago but then felt shy about posting.

Why the change of heart? It was something Schultz said early in the interview. He told Pelley that an employee had coined the phrase, ‘We’re not in the business of filling bellies. We’re in the business of filling souls.” Pelly’s cynical response was, “oh, c’mon you’re blowing smoke.” Maybe, but… Here’s the post that’s been sitting in my drafts folder:

My wife and I were recently reminiscing about our first date and she remarked, “Yeah, there we were on our first date talking about customer service. That’s part of the reason I fell in love with you.” Maybe that’s not the best reason to be passionate about customer service, but it’s nice icing on the cake. 🙂

I remember telling her that I loved working at the reference desk, just as I had loved working at Nordstrom, or at my college jobs working in a pizza place, and delivering prescriptions for a local pharmacy. My secret was this: People thought I was giving them little bits of information, or dress shirts, or slices of pizza, or drugs, but I was really giving them little bits of love.

My future wife’s reaction to this was, and I think I’m quoting exactly, “OK, now you’re starting to freak me out a little bit.” So I went on to explain in less freaky terms that what I enjoyed about providing customer service was the opportunity to connect with other people, if only briefly, and possibly make their day just a little brighter. Regardless of the specific transaction (reference, pizza, dress shirts, prescriptions), I was also (or primarily) giving them a little bit of myself, and that was my real job. If little ‘bits of love’ is too freaky, so be it. Little bits of fill-in-the-blank:  Kindness. Caring. Service.

So in light of my own freaky customer service inclinations I’m inclined to believe that Howard Schultz was not blowing steam up Pelley’s espresso. (Boy, I could sure go for a double tall skinny chocolate almond moo right now!)

Tip #2: Do daily walk-throughs

Practical Tip #2: Do daily walk-throughs.

ZGirl beat me to the punch on this one when she commented on my last tip. Here’s what ZGirl had to say, followed by my comments:

Another tip for creating a positive customer experience comes from past retail experience: do a daily walk-through of your library. Ideally, it should be done in the morning, before the library opens. Train yourself to walk through all areas while doing visual scans: what needs to be straightened, “fluffed”, cleaned, restocked, etc.? Pick up any trash that may be lying around, push in chairs, straighten piles of handouts/bookmarks, check your signs for currency (I hate seeing outdated signs), check book displays for neatness and fill in books as needed, write down any major problems that you can’t take care of immediately (repairs, lighting, IT issues, etc.) and report them to the appropriate person/department ASAP. If time allows, do more than one walk-through a day. Train others to do it. Pretty soon, you’ll start to do these ‘visual scans’ automatically throughout the day, without even thinking about it.

Other than a hearty agreement, I don’t have much to add to Zgirl’s suggestions other than this point: It can also be useful to do a virtual walk-through (a “click-through”?) of your website. Clean up those broken or outdated links. View your website through various browsers and screen resolutions to make sure your websites are viewable and properly scaled. Every page doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should be accessible and readable through the most common browsers (IE, Firefox/Mozilla, Safari) and screen resolutions (1024×768 is the most common, followed by 800×600. )

Next up, Walk Throughs… (no, that’s not a typo. yes, I meant to capitalize.)

Practical tips on creating a positive customer experience

For the next month or so I’m going to do a series of posts offering practical tips for creating a positive customer experience. Many of the tips will be ideas that can be immediately implemented, while a few will require a little bit of planning. I offer these tips as a smorgasbord, not a laundry list. They are born out of my own experiences as a library customer, from the experiences of friends and family, as well as from ideas generated at a recent organizational planning day I participated in.

Before I get into the tips, a caveat: Everything I suggest hereafter will specifically address the customer experience, but the uber-tip is that employees must be treated well, and with a basic level of trust. I don’t just mean that management must treat employees well. I mean employees must also treat management well, and co-workers must treat co-workers well. I’m talking 360 degrees. There should also be some shared sense, organizationally, of being on the same team, united for the same general purpose. I believe that a strong commitment to the customer experience in no way conflicts with a strong commitment to employees, and in my experience the two commitments correlate highly with each other.

One other point before getting into the tips: I am consciously using the term ‘customer experience’ rather than ‘customer service’. For me this not just a semantic difference but a reflection of how I’m beginning to think about these issues. ‘Customer service’ focuses on our behavior and offerings and looks at service from our perspective. (i.e. did we say “thank you”, do we offer a decent phone menu system, do we have convenient hours, etc.)

‘Customer experience’ focuses on the customer’s perception, and looks at service from the customer’s perspective (i.e. were they able to use the catalog, was the library open when they needed it, did they receive help from someone who treated them kindly.) I am finding it more useful to look at and think about the customer experience, and then “reverse engineer” to craft the organization’s services, offerings, and policies with an eye on improving the customer’s experience.

So…

Practical tip #1: Start thinking about your customers’ experience. What do they experience when they walk in the door? When they visit your webpage? When they call your phone? When they email you? Ask these questions and encourage co-workers to do the same. Get some pizzas for lunch and brainstorm in the lunch room. Make a list, pick one negative customer experience, and find a way to improve it.

Dump the rules

Maybe it was the new moon on the 29th, but at the same time I was writing about Nordstrom’s one-rule employee handbook, Sophie Brookover was eloquently expressing her frustration with all the rules and red tape that libraries inflict on their customers. (see: Pop Goes the Library: Red Tape = Patron Kryptonite)

In Robert Spector’s book “Lessons from the Nordstrom Way” he devotes a whole chapter to “dumping the rules”. Spector suggests, rightly so methinks, that every rule — EVERY rule — is a barrier between the library and the customer. If you feel resistance to this idea and start thinking about all of the reasons you need the rules, I ask you to ponder: Do the rules make things easier/better for your customer?

It amazes me that Nordstrom is still one of the few stores out there to have a true no-questions-asked return policy. Most stores think that a return policy that liberal is a recipe for customer abuse. And you know what, some customers DO abuse it. But Nordstrom’s philosophy is to focus their attention and energy on giving great service to their great customers–the ones who never abuse the policy and greatly appreciate being able to return something 3 months later without getting a dirty look. What Nordstrom gets in return (seriously, no pun intended) is an extremely loyal and vocal customer base. Do they lose a little money when they take returns on items that other retailers wouldn’t even give store credit for? Sure, they lose a little. But they gain so much more. Do they “reward bad behavior” when they take a return on a leather jacket with the elbows worn away? Nordstrom (wisely) doesn’t look at it that way.

So are your rules designed to prevent the worst customers from taking advantage? Does someone on your staff suggest that dumping a rule is equivalent to “rewarding bad behavior?” Have you considered the price you are paying by punishing the majority of your good customers to deal with a few of the bad?

Suffice to say, I empathize with Sophie B’s frustration, and agree that we need to seriously evaluate the rules in our rule books and question the value of every one of them – from the customer’s perspective.