Customer Service: Nothing New?:
As people who work in libraries we are continually challenged by providing excellent customer service to our users. I remember a few years ago I sat through a campus-led customer service training in which the facilitator, someone from our university’s professional development office, stated how frustrated she found leading customer service training. Her reason? There is nothing new in customer service.
Well, I just found something that rocked my world: episode 286 of the HBR Ideacast “The End of Customer Service Heroes.” To be fair, this isn’t a new idea–the episode dates from 2012 and features the authors of Uncommon Service: How to Win by Putting Customers at the Core of Your Business, which was also published that year. I’m not really sure why this just showed up in my iTunes now, but I’m really glad it did.
Customer Service: The Case Against Heroics
Library users expect great customer service. We all want to provide great customer service. But somehow this still doesn’t happen. Frances Frei and Anne Morriss, the authors of Uncommon Service acknowledge this, and explain that libraries are not alone–this happens in every market segment. How to provide great service is elusive, perhaps counter-intuitive, to most. For most service providers the system is set up to allow for occasional excellence in customer service, but that generally requires heroics on the part of an eager staff member.
They explain that the majority of service providers simply ask employees to try harder to provide great customer service. But it’s not about trying harder. It is about creating a system in which the average employee can’t help but provide a great service experience and ensuring that customers know what to do to create a great service experience. And by training I don’t mean expecting library users to be expert in every arcane aspect of using a library. The example the authors give is Zipcar. Zipcar is a car sharing service that is in several major metropolitan areas around the world. Members reserve cars online, pick them up at unstaffed parking spaces and return them on time, gassed up, and clean for the next user. Willingly. Somehow, Zipcar has made their users want to do this. How? By creating a community. You don’t want to let the next user down by returning your car late, so you return it on time. Zipsters (as they are known) don’t pay for gas, so why not use the fleet card to fill up the tank before you return the car? And the messages Zipsters receive from Zipcar all underscore the importance of being a good community citizen.
I see applications here for libraries–perhaps we could encourage users to return recalled materials by highlighting the next users need for the book? Maybe this also extends to due dates? Or better yet, maybe in the sharing economy, due dates don’t matter anymore? After all, if fines don’t impact user behavior, perhaps creating community standards would?
Customer Service: Prioritization
The authors go on to explain that service excellence is achieved by prioritizing the needs of your customers. So, in order to provide excellent customer service, service providers must be the best at those things their users find important and be the worst at those things their customers value the least? Sound familiar? This is where LibQual can be a highly valuable tool to libraries.
Libqual is a service quality instrument that asks users not only how a library is doing in various service areas, but also how important those service areas are to each given user. So, it can tell you not only if users are satisfied with how friendly or helpful library staff is, but also if that’s even important to users. With that type of data you don’t waste time perfecting a service that doesn’t really matter to your users.
Customer Service: How Do We Ensure It?
Service quality should not depend on how well an employee delivers that service. The system should be structured to support customer service excellence across the board. How is that done? I can’t wait to read the book to find out!