Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Finding the sweet spot – customer service

Posted by lpearle on 26 November 2012

Recently I had a Close Encounter of the Smarmy Kind with a salesman.  A friend and I walked into Men’s Warehouse to buy a new suit (for him) and suddenly – there he was.  Our new BFF, joking about Brooklyn and missing the Good Life in the Big City.  And during the upsell, the whispered “just go along – my manager is right over there” and louder, “So, Sir, you’re sure I can’t find you a new shirt?  Of course you need a new tie with your lovely new suit!” The suit needed alteration, and the sports jacket we wanted wasn’t in stock so we were to come back later when the tailor had worked his magic; then the jacket needed alterations when it arrived.  Again, our BFF salesperson was smarming all over us, urging us to look at these leather jackets… that vest. I picked up the jacket in August and thought it was all over.  Then in October, there was a phone call asking when we were picking up the jacket.  Several conversations later, it turns out that the jacket there was the ‘placeholder’ in the wrong size.

Bear with me – this is connected to libraries!

Also this summer I finally got a local public library card (I still have my NYPL card, so don’t hate).  Now, where I live is relatively close to four different libraries: Carmel, 3.5 miles and close to the shopping plaza where I usually get my groceries; Brewster, about 5 miles away; Kent, also about 5 miles away, but in a direction I’m only travelling if I’m going to Newburgh or the Taconic; and Mahopac, 7.5 miles away.  When I went to Carmel’s quite lovely Reed Library, the aide helping me get the card was… unwelcoming.  He asked where I lived, why I was getting a card at that library, why I wasn’t going to Kent or Mahopac, and finally, again, why Carmel’s Reed Library over the others?  Yes, I was a little taken aback by this.  It did become clear that this man had no idea where I actually lived, and that the other libraries were further away from my home and not quite as convenient.  Granted, Kent and Mahopac have larger buildings and collections, but Reed is part of the Mid-Hudson Library System, a five-county consortium, so I can get virtually every book I want.

Compare those two models: one, overly welcoming and friendly, never leaving the customer alone versus the other, unwelcoming and not interested in helping.

We know that there are three different types that come into the library: the browser, who doesn’t need or want our help; the seeker, who is looking for information and needs our help; and the lost soul, who doesn’t know how, or is afraid, to ask for our help.  What sort of welcome do we give them?

At PCS my desk was right by the front door.  In an attempt to be warm and welcoming, I said “hello!” to everyone that walked in.  Later I learned that my cheery “hello!” was a little off-putting, that some students and faculty felt that they had to have a reason to be there, that they couldn’t have just drifted in and wandered around.  Not saying something, not looking up when they walked through the door, seemed unwelcoming and somehow rude, as thought I didn’t care at all about them and wasn’t available to help should they need.

Eventually, of course, I found that sweet spot.  Each new space I’ve been in, each new community, has a different one.  The question we all need to ask is are we hitting it, or are we just doing what we think is right?  How can we get honest feedback about how we’re doing? And, most important, how can we make sure we stay there when we get there?


One Response to “Finding the sweet spot – customer service”

  1. […] get to know students and their interests.   My local public library (with the exception of the guy who helped me get my library card) also knows me, although I don’t use them that much.  But bigger libraries?  Do they really […]

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