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14 Nov 2011 / Julie

listening & acting: providing excellent customer service

picture this: you’re in front of your laptop and you’re juggling multiple open browsers. you’re finding books you want to read in that online store with the world’s largest selection and you’re looking them up individually in your library’s catalog so you see what they’re all about without shelling out money you don’t have.

add an extra level of fun if you’re like me and you have more than one library’s card and look up those books in each of those other library catalogs (i have dreams of a statewide catalog that will let me search at once the libraries i have access to but that’s another post).

Most of the time i find one of my libraries has the item i want but sometimes they don’t. when this happens, my ILL department gets a phone call or a visit (their office is right next to mine). more often than not, though, the item I want is “too new” and isn’t being lended.

Last week, however, my library surprised me in the best way. I saw that one particular item i wanted wasn’t owned by ANY public library in Maryland. On a whim, i submitted a “purchase request” for the item and THE NEXT DAY, i had received an email back saying they’d reviewed their holdings and needs and determined that they’ll be purchasing the book. Oh, and we’ve put it on hold for you so when it comes in you’ve got first dibs.

That was October 26th. On November 10th I got an email saying it was ready for pickup and this morning I was able to get in and grab it. All new and shiny and just for me.

There are a lot of things that libraries do – specifically mine – that I would do differently if it were my choice but this is one of those wonderful moments of customer service excellence where i really felt valued as a customer. I was listened to, my requests acknowledged and then and followed up with or acted upon quickly.

Not every library has the budget or collection development policies that allow them to purchase whatever their communities want but it’s these moments of listening to your customers that will set you aside.

When i say listening i’m not talking about that in-one-ear-out-the-other business that placates no one. I mean active listening – making sure the person whom you are listening to understands you’ve heard them (there’s the acknowledgement piece) and then now that you’ve heard what they have to say, it’s on your plate – some action is needed – evaluate that policy, form a team to look at a new service model, add their comment to the list that’s going to be reviewed next month, or put that purchase request in the queue.

But it’s not enough to listen to your community when it speaks to you – because they may not always seek you out for a conversation or submit a comment card – you also have to hear what they aren’t saying…

Case in point: Karen Hyman spoke at the Tri-County Summit in Western Maryland on Friday on Great Libraries. An example of a library doing great things included a NJ library where there were couches upon which a group of older gentlemen used to sit and complain about the noise from the children at the nearby circulation desk. You might say the gentlemen should get over it or that the children should be quieter but the library took the couches and moved them to a quiet corner of the library and put a few chairs in place of where the couches were. The gentleman’s group moved and are happy now! No one asked them to move the couches, but the library paid attention to their community, or parts of their community, and made a change for the better.

Paying attention to and making changes for your community also includes your internal community and not just your end-users. In 2008 and again in 2010, I did a series of “Listening Tours” for AskUsNow! partner institutions. They were meetings with myself and whatever liaison or staff wanted to attend. The meetings had no agenda and I had no assumptions. I went in, kept quiet, and listened.  A lot of good came out of those sessions – some of them turned into mini-refresher trainings, others into bitch sessions that ended up solving some problems, and allowing librarians to get things off their chest. Regardless of the outcome, everyone had a chance to be heard which was overwhelmingly appreciated. They were heard, and I listened. And then acted. and our service and morale were better for it.

What is your community saying? Are you paying attention? Are you asking? And most importantly, are you acting?

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