Customer Service

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 excellence

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!


Library Service & the Culture of Haste

Library Service Expectations

Library Service expectations, like service expectations in any sector, have changed dramatically over the past decade.  We live in a culture of instant gratification.  Libraries used to have few if any competitors.  Now they have innumerable online service providers who can provide content quickly and conveniently, albeit for a fee.  Our library users are the same consumers who have gotten used to streaming movies from Netflix downloading kindle books from Amazon.  I see this as a good thing.  It makes libraries raise their game in terms of service.

The Culture of Haste and Library Service Expectations

A good friend of mine, I’ll call her Sarah, runs the public service department of a large academic library.  She’s the kind of librarian who likes to provide good library service to the students and faculty.  These days good library service means fast library service.  Interlibary loan is an area of library service that has received a lot of attention over the past decade.  Once a slow process, a lot of work has gone into streamlining the delivery chain, improving the tools and generally making it a timely service that meets the needs of today’s researchers.  This process has been achieved because of people like Sarah who work hard to ensure that items in their library collections are loaned quickly and efficiently to researchers elsewhere who need them.

Library Service and the Culture of Haste

Are We Racing to Meet Library Service Expectations?

One day not too long ago Sarah was speaking to the staff in the interlibrary lending department and explaining that for each item they were working on there was an actual researcher waiting for the book.  One of the lending staff took exception to this and said that Sarah was “buying in to the culture of haste.”

What’s Wrong With the Culture of Haste

OK, I get it.  Yes, we live in a society full of instant gratification.  The rushing can be too much at times.  Stress related illness is at an all time high. We need to be reminded to stop and smell the roses.  Every time I’m on the road someone is rushing in a way that puts other lives at risk.  Sometimes rushing isn’t necessary.  And often it can have negative consequences.  Sometimes rushing means a decline in quality, but it doesn’t have to.

What’s Right With the Culture of Haste

Librarians like Sarah have it right. It is important to Sarah to provide good library service to all researchers, not just the ones at her own institution. She also wants to provide good library service to researchers at other colleges and universities who need to use items from her library’s collection.  Her colleague accused her of buying in to the culture of haste as if it were a bad thing.  When it comes to library service, it’s not.  It is simply providing good library service in an environment of ever increasing expectations.  Where we have the tools and staffing to provide fast service, why not?

How Can We Help Our Colleagues Embrace the Culture of Haste?

Many of us are able to see the value in providing super-timely library service yet work with people who don’t get it.  So what can we do? I think Sarah had a good idea.  She explained the context to her colleague.  Unfortunately her colleague didn’t get it.  This time.  Perhaps with repeated explanations the expectation will begin to sink in.  Perhaps by explaining in in a context meaningful to the colleague it would help.  Obviously this is going to differ from person to person but everyone has been in a situation in which they didn’t like waiting.  Rather than getting frustrated at colleagues who don’t understand the changing nature of library service expectations we need to continually have the conversation on why faster library service is important.

What are your experiences dealing with colleagues who have different views on library service expectations?

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Personal Mission Statement–What’s Yours?

What is a Personal Mission Statement?

A personal mission statement is a succinct declaration of what is important to you and how you bring that to action.  We have all heard it before:  success is preparation met with opportunity.  One way to prepare for opportunities is to know yourself.  Knowing what is important to you helps to make decisions that feel right.  By knowing what your capabilities are you can make decisions that suit your talents.

How to Write Your Personal Mission Statement:

Fast Company recently published an article on using businesses strategies in planning to create a personal life plan.  To create the direction needed to fulfill your life’s purpose, here are four questions to answer.  The answers you provide will help to form your personal mission statement:

  1. What makes life meaningful to you?
  2. What are you truly passionate about?
  3. What are your talents?
  4. What are your core values?

By sitting down for a quiet hour, thinking about these questions and recording your thoughts you will be on your way to developing your personal mission statement.

Benefits of a Personal Mission Statement:

Once you have identified what is important to you and what you are good at your mission then informs your life strategy.  Everything from choosing where to live to choosing a job to deciding where to go on vacation is an easier choice because you have a model for making that choice.

I would love to hear what you uncover when you ask yourself these questions.

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Startup Mindset for Libraries

What is the Startup Mindset?

Simply put, the startup mindset is creative, flexible thinking. has a great piece on this.  The article details 5 core philosophies of the startup mindset.  By adopting these, libraries and other organizations can bring useful services and efficient practices onboard more quickly than through traditional library thinking.  These philosophies are:

  1. Curiosity – Ask “why” and “what if” and “why not” and always seek to understand and find a better way.
  2.  Focus on Possibilities – Focus on what could be, rather than focusing on what is.
  3. Disregard for Status Quo – Work like you have nothing to loose, and forget about those sacred cows!
  4. Conquer Fear – Be brave in the face of change and risk.
  5. Speed – Get those services and improvements into production quickly and tweak them while they are live.

The Benefits of the Startup Mindset

One benefit of the startup mindset is clear:  it makes the workplace more interesting.  About six years ago my professional life was transformed simply by thinking differently about my job:  I began to look at my workplace as a lab in which I was to experiment with improving user services. I stopped worrying so much about what was not working and began thinking more objectively about how work differently to achieve my vision of what service could be.  Some things worked, others were chalked up as learning experiences.  But overall the benefits were clear: not only did service improve, but so did the workplace.  Suddenly it was all a lot more interesting.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was running my department like a startup.

A recent episode of the Coaching for Leaders podcast focuses on knowing when it is time to move on professionally.  It reports that “moving on” doesn’t necessarily mean finding a new job.  It may mean reinventing your current job.  Adopting the start up mindset is one way to do this.

Learn More About the Startup Mindset

Want to learn more about the startup mindset and how it applies to libraries?  Read Brian Matthews’ 2012, “Think Like a Startup:  A White Paper to Inspire Library Entrepreneurialism.” Seriously, READ IT! It is inspirational, well written and only 13 pages (including notes).  In my opinion it’s a half-hour well spent. What do you think?

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Defining your personal vision

I recently met with a friend from high school who is now a successful PR manager for a multi-national software company.  We reconnected in the midst of his Summer-long sabbatical in a beautiful beach-front artist community, a town where he had spent numerous vacations and feel at home.  During the course of our conversation he half-jokingly explained to me a fantasy he has of opening a small deli in this town.  He was apologetic and almost embarrassed that he had had thought this out so clearly.  It got me thinking about the importance of fantasy in our lives.  It’s not so silly.  Fantasy puts you one step closer to a goal; from there you can see what it would take to make your fantasy a reality.

Shortly before I graduated from library school I was assigned the task of writing a letter to myself stating what I wanted to accomplish professionally in the following five years.    Looking back, I accomplished everything on that list within that time frame–everything.  If I had not taken the time to actually think of where I wanted to go in my career and written it down, I doubt I would have actually accomplished these things.  What I had done, and what my friend did by working on the details of his fantasy, was create a personal vision statement.

Visioning is something organizations do quite regularly to plan their future direction.  This is something we can capitalize on in our personal lives and to set our personal/professional trajectory. It is just one of the ways we improve our personal satisfaction by applying business principles to our personal lives.  Wondering where life will take you?  Why not work on your personal vision and determine where you will take your life!


The TEDx Talk Every Librarian Should Watch

I often say libraries are not innovative, and when I say this I do so very hesitantly.  As much as I don’t wish to offend those who share my passion for libraries, I also feel very strongly that libraries need to step up their game in the face of competition from companies like Amazon and Google.  This is what entrepreneur Andrew Roskill is saying–much more eloquently than I ever have– in his talk recorded at TEDx Charleston a couple of months ago.  This is a “call to arms” for libraries to provide a niche service based on what they do well, and to do so in a way that’s “easy, elegant and engaging”–like a business.  Watch this talk!  It’s 10 minutes well spent.

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