Extreme Customer Service: Hospitality in the Library

Earlier this month, I got to attend a presentation called “Re-energizing Your Customer Service Skills,” presented by Sally Ijams of Darien Library (CT), at the Newton Free Library (MA). Darien is well known in the library world for its customer service, technology, and programs, and Ijams’ (pronounced “imes,” rhymes with “limes”) presentation was the staff training that all new employees at Darien receive.

What does good customer service look like?

When developing their training, they had to look outside the library world for guidance: they looked to brands and companies like Disney, Zappos, Nordstrom, Shake Shack (Danny Meyer’s book Setting the Table is required reading for all new staff in Darien), and even Ritz-Carlton. One might think that public libraries don’t have much in common with the Ritz, but libraries are like these businesses in four ways:

  1. We have customers
  2. We have products we believe in
  3. We want repeat business
  4. We know our customers have other options

From these examples, Darien aimed to provide an extraordinary level of customer service by hiring for attitude (“You can train people to do just about anything but you can’t train them to be nice”) and focusing on consistent delivery of excellent service: greeting each library guest when they arrive and thanking them when they leave, saying yes whenever possible (only safety issues are a firm no), and anticipating and fulfilling library visitors’ needs.

WELCOME text made in Canva

The Welcome

What do people see when they first enter the library or first approach a service desk? Library staff should be approachable. Smile and make eye contact (this works in Darien, but may not work everywhere depending on people’s cultures and backgrounds). Stand up to greet people, then be on the same level (both sitting or both standing). Determine your “resting face” – is it welcoming? Don’t watch the clock – people will notice you looking. Be “relentlessly positive…fake it till you make it.”

Words and gestures are important. Instead of pointing, use the “Disney wave” (gesturing with the whole arm and hand); instead of saying “no problem” or “no worries,” say “you’re welcome” or “it was my pleasure.”

Nametags: they work! If nothing else, they show that you work at the library, so visitors can identify staff.

Smile when you answer the phone; people can hear it in your voice. But prioritize people who are physically in the building; reward them for coming. If you are on the phone with another patron, wrap up the call and call them back. Meanwhile, acknowledge the person in front of you (eye contact, “I will be right with you”).

Don’t talk about patrons in a public area. If there is information you need to convey to a colleague to bring them up to speed, do it in a private place.

The Handoff

Often, a person will need to go from one service desk to another desk or another area of the library. Rather than pointing or offering directions, escort them to where they need to go. If this “warm transfer” isn’t possible (you have a long line of people waiting), do a “lukewarm transfer” – call a colleague in the part of the building where the person is going to let them know who to expect and what they need.

As you’re walking through the library, use the “bartender’s trick”: clean as you go. Pick up trash, tidy books, push in chairs. “You are inviting people into your home. Make it look as nice as you can.”

Patron Behavior

Know your patron behavior policy! Every library should have one. (Darien’s is on their website.) Enforce this policy with compassion; staff should be empowered to make exceptions as they see fit. Remind patrons that “Our policies were written to benefit everyone in the library.” Other useful tips:

  • Remain calm
  • Defuse the situation (is there anything that will make them happy at this moment?)
  • Have difficult conversations out of the public eye
  • Bring in a backup staff person
  • Never touch or restrain a patron
  • If patron is “stuck in a loop,” change your body language or move to another location
  • Say you will follow up if necessary, then follow up!

Ijams cited a recent piece in American Libraries that has a useful sidebar called “What to say when things get inappropriate.” When staff is faced with verbal abuse or harassment, simple, firm scripts like these are helpful (“I’m sorry, we don’t tolerate language like that in the library”). If you have a bad interaction, try to take a break to reset afterward; likewise, if you see a co-worker have a bad interaction, give them a chance to take a break and recover.

“Extreme customer service” / hospitality: making everyone feel welcome at the library

How are we perceived by our patrons? Here are some of the things Darien does to earn its “extreme customer service” reputation:

  • Treat every person like a VIP. Make them feel special; greet them by name
  • When you have to say no, say it with yes options (some libraries call this “getting to yes”)
  • If you direct someone to another library or organization, make the initial contact for them (phone call, introduction, etc.)
  • Notary service: Darien has eleven notaries on staff, so a notary is always available. They do not charge patrons for this service. The library pays the cost for staff members to become notaries.
  • Library hours: Staff are paid to arrive early and leave together after closing time, so though the library opens at 9am, doors usually open at 8:50. At the end of the day, technology does not shut down before closing time. Five minutes before the library closes, they play music over the PA system.
  • No fines for senior residents. Fines are a barrier to access; Darien would like to get rid of all fines, but there is a budget crisis in Connecticut right now.
  • “We trust our patrons.” This is “the easiest thing and the hardest thing.” (Sometimes you know someone is lying to you and you just have to accept it.)

That was the bulk of Ijams’ presentation. During the Q&A, I asked what they did at Darien to make signage welcoming. Ijams said that in the old building, there was so much signage it was visual clutter; in the new building, they started with minimalist signage, but added more for wayfinding purposes. The only guideline is no negative signs – phrase it as a yes option. The only exception is inside a staff stairwell, where the public shouldn’t be in the first place. Instead of out-of-order signs, they use one that says “Taking a vacation day, be back at work tomorrow”! (Speaking of time off, Ijams also recommended, “If you’re sick, stay home! Colleagues will appreciate not being infected.” Of course, this presumes an adequate amount of paid sick leave.)

Ijams’ presentation was professional and gave the three of us from our library who attended much to consider. For customer service to be consistent, though, everyone must be on the same page, so our own staff training would be necessary, and while Darien’s philosophy is admirable, we wouldn’t likely adopt every detail. Still, there is always room for improvement, and some improvements can be made easily right away: escorting rather than pointing, performing more warm transfers, saying “you’re welcome” instead of “no worries,” employing the “bartender’s trick.” Other changes, such as prioritizing in-person visitors over people who contact the library via phone or chat, using nametags, or changing closing time procedures, would need to be made at a higher level.

Do you work at a public library? What do you do to make visiting the library a great experience for patrons?

 

 

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Top Ten Friday: the to-read list

Back in June, I wrote about books that I was looking forward to. Coming into the end of the year, it’s time to take stock:

  • The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein: read and liked this little peek into Julie’s life before the war and Code Name Verity.
  • Holding Up the Universe and All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: read/listened, liked; would recommend to anyone looking for realistic YA fiction.
  • Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy: read and liked, but it’s her first novel, Dumplin’, that has stayed with me more. I may re-read or listen (I’ve heard the audio is good). Related: Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu was another excellent teen novel set in a small Southern (Texas) town.
  • Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister: haven’t read yet
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: read and loved. Eleanor is such a unique character and her story is difficult and quiet and strong.
  • The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson: read this for book club and loved it – it was like Jane Austen meets Downton Abbey.
  •  Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen: haven’t read yet
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: read for book club. Important, especially for those in a position to ignore or forget the effects of institutional racism and police violence (i.e. most white people).
  • Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith: read and liked, but I’m not sure I’ll return to it, even though I bought a copy. I did love the line “perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone” (from “My God, It’s Full of Stars”).
  • The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman: read as soon as it was published, loved it, read it again, am waiting for the next one already. Review here, contains spoilers.
  • Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore: read and loved. Different from the Graceling books of course, but equally immersive, and structurally interesting (it’s sort of a Choose Your Own Adventure, but with all the options).
  • Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: read and liked this one very much, and included it on a “Books on the Bright Side” list I made for my library.
  • The Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan and others: I really liked the first two volumes, didn’t like the third and fourth as much (the Young Avengers crossover lost me), but still excited for whatever Rainbow Rowell comes up with.
  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green: just as good as expected, possibly better; review here.
  • Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart: haven’t read yet and might not; a trusted fellow reader found it disappointing.

Girl in Disguise and Miller’s Valley are the only two remaining from that list, but of course there are always more to look forward to; Gayle Forman, Maggie O’Farrell, and Jo Walton all have books coming out in 2018. Others I’d like to read:

  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (graphic novel/memoir)
  • Far from the Tree by Robin Benway (YA)
  • Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn (fiction)
  • The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (sci-fi/fantasy)
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (YA)
  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (I read this when I was much younger and I think it went entirely over my head; at least, I don’t remember anything from it)
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (nonfiction)
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay (memoir)
  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (myth/fairytale – I’d love to hear from someone who read this and would recommend it. Reviews look good.)
  • Walking Home by Simon Armitage (nonfiction/memoir/poetry)

And hey, that’s ten! If you count a trilogy as one. (Bear and Nightingale already has a sequel, as well.) What books are you looking forward to? Have you read any of the books above? What did you think?

Fake News, a.k.a. Information Disorder: an ongoing reading list

Since before the first Libraries in a Post-Truth World conference at the beginning of this year, I’ve been keeping a list of relevant articles. This list has expanded to include books, studies and reports, and other materials, and I am sharing it here. If you have relevant materials to add, please leave a comment here. If you would like to use this list for library programming, teaching, or related work, please feel free – I’d love to know about it if you do.

Though “fake news” is a term most people recognize these days (unfortunately), it is not the best term to use, for reasons Claire Wardle and Hossein Derakhshan state in their Council of Europe report:

We refrain from using the term ‘fake news’, for two reasons. First, it is woefully inadequate to describe the complex phenomena of information pollution. The term has also begun to be appropriated by politicians around the world to describe news organisations whose coverage they find disagreeable. In this way, it’s becoming a mechanism by which the powerful can clamp down upon, restrict, undermine and circumvent the free press.
We therefore introduce a new conceptual framework for examining information disorder, identifying the three different types: mis-, dis- and mal-information.

Misinformation is when false information is shared with no harmful intent; disinformation is when false information is shared to cause harm; and mal-information is when genuine information is shared to cause harm (e.g. by moving it from the private to the public sphere). Unfortunately, again, we are dealing with all three today (plus satirical sources like The Onion, which are the only good kind of fake news).

Fake News a.k.a. Information Disorder: A Resource List

Again, feedback is welcomed; please let me know if you use this list, or have anything to add. I am particularly interested in using the rise of interest in the topic of fake news to advocate for librarians in schools, as they are the ones who do the important work of teaching research skills, critical thinking, information literacy, and media literacy.

 

Top Ten Unique Book Titles

As usual, I am using Linda’s list for inspiration, and it’s not a Tuesday at all. Also, there are eleven twelve, and I could keep going. This is a fun one.

    1.  Cover image Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers: This book mystified me when I read it – was it fiction? Memoir? What? – but I always liked the brash confidence of the title. And the bit about French fries.
    2.  We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler: I think I came to this as an Ann Patchett recommendation, but the title would have made me want to pick it up anyway.
    3.  Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman: It may have been the title that made me pick this book up, I can’t remember now. Either way, I’m glad I did.
    4.  I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley: This one is on Linda’s list, but I liked the book better than she did. It probably helped that I read it in New York in my early twenties (the essays are about the author in New York in her twenties), and the title always makes me smile.Cover image of Men Explain Things to Me
    5.  Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: Well, obviously she’s not.
    6.  Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit: The title is so good, and so appropriate, that it’s the only thing on the cover of this book: white text on a deep blue background. (I hate to think what Solnit would have done to a cover designer who put a pair of heels on the front of her book.)
    7.  Someone Could Get Hurt by Drew Magary: A perfect title for a laugh-out-loud parenting memoir.
    8.  I Crawl Through It by A.S. King: My least favorite of her books – I really didn’t get it at all – but I love the title. Her others are good too (e.g. Please Ignore Vera Dietz).Cover image of Someone Could Get Hurt
    9.  Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer: I heard the song by The Cure before I read the book; both are atmospheric. I love discovering literature via music and vice-versa; when done well, it adds to both. (I discovered The Smiths’ song “Asleep” via The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.)
    10.  A Burglar’s Guide to the City by Geoff Manaugh: The title was more promising than the book itself turned out to be, but then, how could that not be the case?
    11.  Shh! We Have A Plan by Chris Haughton: Initially, I didn’t think this picture book quite lived up to its funny title, but after enough re-reads I came to love it.
    12.  A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again by David Foster Wallace: I’ve never read this collection of “essays and arguments,” but I’ve thought about this phrase a lot over the last two years. It’s rarely apt, but when it is, it’s so perfect.

Least favorite title:

Baking With Less Sugar by Joanne Chang: This doesn’t sound appealing at all.

What are your favorite titles? Least favorite? Book you read because of (or in spite of) its title?