What is your Standard for Customer Service?

Customer ServiceA recent survey (by moi) of more than 40 CEOs of large urban public libraries suggested that they valued customer service and retail experience in new hires even more than library experience. So what does customer service look like? How do we train for it?

Of course we start with an attitude, a disposition to help (drop the arrogance and elitism; go out of your way to be helpful; break a rule or two; let a clerk forgive a “fine” or extended use fee). Then we add the challenge of dealing respectfully with difficult people. We encourage (do we really need to do this?) our staff to smile. Gawd, some of them would be fired in a nanosecond in retail.

But what is the next level?

A few weeks ago I slipped into Nordstrom’s. It was raining in Seattle. I decided to buy a few shirts. My favored brand was not available .The “clerk” (no doubt an associate or consultant) had a name tag, naturally, so I called him by name. He also had a business card. He promised to call me when my style and size were in stock. He would have them delivered. No charge. He encouraged me to call or email if I had any other needs.

Now, a business card is the basic currency for networking and service. Why don’t our professional staff have them and use them? And are we still having the debate in some of our organizations over name tags (this has been raging for more than thirty years)?

So what is our service level?

Is it defined?

Is it known to staff and customers?

Are staff trained?

Are they accountable?

We certainly know that our customers won’t demand it, their expectations are so low (yes, there is evidence for that too). But they are thrilled (shocked) when they receive it.

Of course, I don’t hold out much hope for this level of service.

I have been spectacularly unsuccessful in getting (cajoling, cheerleading, shaming) libraries to even a Walmart level by engaging their already paid security guards as greeters. (Welcome to your library! Or Enjoy your visit! Or We are here for you — be sure to ask for help! Ask us! Anything beginning with a smile!)

So, what is your level of expectation of service?

Can someone get into your facility and out without ever being greeted or approached? (Apparently more than 70% manage this in our urban central libraries.)

How do you articulate service levels?

How do you ensure high standards?

About Ken Haycock

Ken Haycock is currently Research Professor of Management and Organization at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California, where he coordinates graduate programs in Library and Information Management.

7 Responses to What is your Standard for Customer Service?

  1. Maryn Ashdown July 2, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    I’m often disappointed in the quality of public library customer service. It would be a culture change to shift it, but there are few things that I think would have a more immediate and profound impact on our perceived value to the public. Thanks for posting on this.

  2. Alan Harnum July 2, 2013 at 5:16 pm #

    A sometimes overlooked aspect of an organization’s customer service culture is that it will frequently model the organization’s internal culture.

    Short form, if your internal culture is rules-driven, bureaucratic and unaccountable, your customer service culture will tend to model this, and no amount of training, memos, “change initiatives” or otherwise will effectively address this.

    • Ken Haycock July 2, 2013 at 8:17 pm #

      An interesting point, Alan, and one that requires further investigation. I do think that we continue to underestimate the importance of organizational culture and how to change it.

  3. Karen Franklin July 2, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

    Perhaps staff in large urban libraries could benefit from visiting rural library systems, where customer service is the name of the game!

    • Pauline Weber July 11, 2013 at 9:49 pm #

      So true! And that small town library customer service reflects small town commercial customer service – a wonderful change we’ve experienced!

  4. Dena July 7, 2013 at 10:38 pm #

    Branch managers could take a lead ~ I would suggest an outing ( I have not experienced but have heard that some managers have staff meetings at local restaurants). Observe a positive & negative experience together on different days & talk about it. Yes, it is retail…but the point is for staff to learn to greet and hopefully meet expectations of supervisor!

  5. Spencer July 19, 2013 at 4:30 pm #

    It’s because larger systems are more prone to layers of red tape and less likely to empower their front-line employees to make the customers happy. Bigger often means the opposite of better.

    Bigger means less nimble. Bigger means more layers to climb through to get approval. Bigger means more dead weight.