Customer service: welcome the complaints and damn well enjoy yourself

I was surprised and delighted to win the “Customer Service of the Year” award at the local Mayor’s Oscars early in 2014. This is the second time I have won the award, with the 2012 one now having to move up to make space in the downstairs toilet.   After the shock wore off, it got me thinking about what makes, in my eyes good and bad customer service and so that’s what this post is going to be about.  Now, there’s a danger that this whole editorial is going to come across as arrogant blather and if it does then move on and ignore it.  However, it’s what I’ve learnt over 20 years and they work for me so they may work for you.  As you will see, if you disagree with any of them, I would positively welcome your complaints ….

  • Never be too busy.  The main point of my job is to serve the customer.  Yes, I manage a couple of libraries but that person is standing in front of you now and needs help.  Giving him or her inferior help so you can get on with the paperwork is going to make it more likely they don’t come back. Which brings me on to..
  • Think long term. That young parent with children asking for a picture book may take up a long time but she’s going to remember that help and come back.  Her kids will too.  You could be saying no to several people’s life use of a library if you say “no” to helping them as well as you can. I notice this having worked at the same place for twenty years … schoolchildren I remember serving are now bringing in their own kids. They wouldn’t have done if I’d have been nasty to them just once.
  • Treat customers like friends and they become friends which means that pretty soon you’re not working but going to see your friends each day which means the job is fun which means you’re good at it.  But beware of not …
  • Treating everyone the same.  It’s tempting to give more time to the nice ones and ones you know, less to the others … but that person who you don’t like serving is as worthy of help as anyone else.  You can quite often make more of a difference to theirs lives too.  Also, people notice if you treat some people better than others.
  • Find ways of ending conversations.  Always be polite but if someone else is waiting then you need your own plans about how to stop the conversation as nicely as you can.  It may be fun but you’ve got work to do. Chatting 15 minutes to a friend is poor customer service to everyone else.
  • Don’t gossip about customers.  Ideally, don’t talk about them at all, off or on desk.  While often a human failing, gossip can lead to disparaging of customers and a decline in service … and if customers hear you do it, they’ll write you off (after all, if you gossip about x then you’re going to gossip about them too – you wouldn’t want that to happen in shops you went to, would you?).
  • Don’t clump.  Humans are social animals and so it’s natural for library staff to chat to eachother in quieter periods.  However, this means that they look busy to customers and also, have their backs to them.  It also means that anyone walking in will think only one thing … that the library is overstaffed. Not a good idea these days.
  • Outreach breeds publicity breeds usage. I’m an extrovert, can’t help it really.  I do pantomimes, I do public speaking, storytimes, the works. The bigger the audience the better. If you speak to 200 people for five minutes and you make an impression then that is as much as a whole day or two at the desk.  The rules are to be relevant and not to be boring.  That’s it. The rest is window dressing.
  • Self service doesn’t mean the end of customer service.  We’ve had self-service machines for two years but that award was still won.  Smile at users as they walk in – every customer should have some sort of acknowledgement.  Measure them up, see if they need help.  You’ve been doing this job for years: you know the signs. Smile and say hello to those who don’t need help, help those who do. Not a challenge.
  • Go the extra mile.  You don’t know the answer so take down details and ask others until you find the answer.  You don’t have the book so phone up a library that does and get them to put it to one side for them.  Buy in the book if it is not in stock.
  • Check check check.  You know the best way to deal with an enquiry: open questions, closed questions, answer then check to see if the answer is correct.  Then check to see if the user needs anything else.  Do that and you’re winning.
  • Complaints are welcome. I love complaints.  They tell me what we’re seen as doing wrong, for free.  Take them as a gift to improve things.  Thank the complainer.  Look into the reason for the complaint and change practice if necessary.  There’s always room for improvement.  We never have all the answers and we’re never always right.  If we think otherwise then we’re wrong.  Similarly, I deal with hundreds of enquries a month but I still remember the ones from years ago that I did not do well and hopefully have learnt from them.
  • Enjoy it. If you’re not enjoying your job, you’re doing it wrong.  Find a way to enjoy it.  Game it if necessary. People notice if you’re not enjoying things.  They even notice, would you believe it, on the phone … and my personal theory is they notice it in email too.  They’ll certainly notice it on Facebook.
  • Be your own manager. Don’t look for your manager or colleagues for praise or for how best to do things.  If they do help then great but they may be too tied up to notice. Look to yourself for how you do things and take the pride with you. You’re the one that has to live with yourself after all.
  • Be proud.  You’ve got the best job in the world, in a place you fought hard to work in, helping others.  People campaign to support you.  You provide a valuable service that people rely on.  So be proud of it and others will be proud of you.

Some of these of course rely on there being sufficient staff and resources but not all.  Anything which I have missed? Anything you disagree with?  I’d welcome your comments.

Please send any comments, thoughts, news or anything else to me via ianlibrarian@live.co.uk. I’d love (and enjoy) hearing from you.

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