Which Kind of Customer Service Do You Mean

Today I attended Laurie Brown’s ALA webinar on customer service.  I do a lot of customer service training, and I wanted to hear how others approach the topic.  And here’s what occurred to me:

Almost 300 people paid to attend the webinar, which tells me there’s a lot of interest in “customer service.”  But what is it people really want to know?  What happened in the webinar parallels my experience with clients who want in-person customer service training: there seem to be two distinct areas where people want help.

One area is “How can we fix people’s behavior?  I hear things like “we have grumpy employees”; “people don’t smile or make eye contact”; and “staff think enforcing policies is more important than helping people.”  The “fixing behavior” issue comes up consistently, and there are some straightforward techniques to learn, either by reading, participating in a webinar, or–god forbid—experiencing training where PowerPoint is the primary teaching tool.  But these approaches alone (reading and hearing) won’t do the trick.  If they did, we’d all be fabulous service providers.  My evidence?  If you ask people how to give good service, they can tell you.  If you watch them, you’ll see that they are not conscious of many of their habits that, indeed, are quite contrary to good customer service.  We often have a “disconnect” when it comes to knowing how we come across to others.  Unless good communication skills come to you naturally, they need to be understood, demonstrated, and—most critical–practiced.  We need help becoming aware of whether our habitual behaviors help us or hinder us in customer interactions.  We can all use regular refreshing on our customer service skills even when we’re pretty good at it.

The second area people are interested in when they say they want customer service training is “How can we improve services?”  In other words, what new innovative services can we offer?  How can we make the customer experience easier, faster, more pleasant, more interesting?  This is a very different conversation from “How do we fix people’s behavior?” and it requires a slightly different tool kit.

What keeps coming up for me is that there are commonalities in the skills you want in your staff, whether it’s the ability to offer superior service, to think differently, or to take risks.  These skills make up the improviser’s tool kit; the skills are teachable, trainable skills that are fun to practice.  My colleagues and I call it “applied improvisation.” The next time you want help with “customer service” at your library, see if you can get clear on which kind of customer service you want to address so you can focus your efforts.   In both cases you will want to work on the foundational elements of communication. The most effective way I know to do that is to train your staff on the improviser’s skills of  being present, listening, supporting your partner, and taking risks. It’ll do a lot more than just improve service to customers.

2 thoughts on “Which Kind of Customer Service Do You Mean

  1. More great food for thought! In the needs assessments that we did, customer service still tops the list of training that librarians feel they need. But the questions is rarely asked, “what KIND of customer service?”

  2. I absolutely hate and despise the term “customers” for library patrons. It is creeping in everywhere and shows a worldview antithetical to that of service to the public. Customers at WalMart or Macy’s, yes,because they are buying things, but “customers ” at a public library or a school? Do schools or libraries sell things? Not yet, I hope! Let’s drop the offensive word “customers”for library users or patrons! It cheapens those who visit libraries for ongoing education ,cultural enrichment , and yes, even relaxation from everyday things.Libraries are not businesses, patrons are not “customers”!

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