Thank you! My name is Julie Strange and i'm the Statewide Coordinator for Maryland AskUsNow! - the statewide virtual reference service for Maryland. my job as coordinator is to make sure that the 200+ people who use AskUsNow! everyday get good customer service. I have a few things i’d like to share with you about customer service and how it really is the most important and easiest thing to do in your libraries, but throughout the next hour i’m going to be asking for a lot of participation from you guys- i want to talk about specifics in your libraries so we can all help each other perhaps solve some problems or come up with new ideas as well as letting you know that you’re probably all on the right track. Sound good? Okay.. I use the word customers, but as we go through my talk I invite you to fill in whatever word you prefer to use – user, patron, client, researcher, etc. “ Customer service” is one of those phrases that can elicit some negative emotions and cringes among library professionals because it’s a phrase traditionally used in business – and often something we complain about on a personal level when we’re the customers. It seems that most businesses these days are providing experiences that give us negative stories to tell instead of positive ones. To start out everyone on the same foot, i’d like to see what customer service means to you. On your handout, please take a moment and write down a one sentence definition of customer service.
For me, &quot;customer service&quot; is what an organization does to make sure that their customers have good experiences. And we have lots of opportunities to do this - at each point of contact with us, our buildings our services, our websites, etc, we have an opportunity to make a good impression on our customers. I call all those little opportunities “moments of truth” because it at each of those contact points we’re either going to do a good job or do a bad one. Your customers are going to have an experience no matter what we do but we want to make sure they have…
… this kind of experience and...
… not this kind.
I have a 3 minute video i'd like to share with you about the kind of thing i'm talking about- that building great experiences doesn’t have to take any additional money, training or staffing- just a little creative thinking and problem solving. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8T54rQrMleA Do you all have the warm fuzzies now? This is just one example of why having a customer focus and building those relationships are so important, it has a HUGE ROI. Experiences like these make our interactions personal, emotional, and through these we begin to create advocates for ourselves, our services and our libraries and market ourselves to non-users and users alike. We create spokespersons for our work- people who will tell others about us- Word of Mouth marketing is very powerful and people tell our stories no matter what – we want to make sure they’re telling good stories about us, not bad ones.
I’d like to use real-world examples so lets take a few minutes to share some excellent customer service you’ve experienced- what made it so good? was it the act itself or the intent behind it?
You’re all familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy or needs? With sleep, food, etc on the bottom and creativity and self-actualization at the top? Well this is the hierarchy of service. At the bottom here we have what I consider “doing your job.”- the very basics- the equivalent to feeding yourselves. It’s here, when we succeed at meeting people’s expectations that our customers are satisfied. But satisfaction is at the bottom- I think of satisfied as “it wasn’t horrible, it wasn’t great- it was just a run of the mil… the “you were doing your job right” experience. I don’t have emotional stories to go along with that because these types of interactions don’t stand out in your mind. A step above that is meeting our customer’s desires. It’s in here that we provide that little extra- they asked for Y and we gave them Y but with Z and a smile AND we followed up with them a week later to see if they needed anything else additional. Here is where we start to create loyalty- people start to understand that we’re not just doing our jobs but that we’re are connecting with them,, really understanding what they’re involved in and making sure they know we’re available to help. At the top here we have Meeting Unrecognized Needs – It’s only after meeting the first two needs that we’re able to really figure out how we can work in this top zone here. Its after we’ve gotten to know our customers and their needs that we’re able to think creatively as information professionals to figure out how we might change our services or do things a little differently to fill a need that our customer’s didn’t even know they had until we filled it. It’s here that we create advocates - people who know our value and tell our story to others.
So how do we get to there? let’s pick this apart. Here's what i see as the four pieces that make up a great customer experience There's the human connection, excellent assistance, anticipating the needs of your customers and aligning services and products.
Let’s start with the human connection as is the easiest piece of the puzzle- THe things that fall into this category i’m assuming you’re already doing and doing well.
It includes things like being approachable - making eye contact, smiling at people in your view. Also being approachable to people who aren’t right there in front of you - making sure that those people know you’re there and what you can do for them. Librarians and libraries have a tendency to assume people know what we do and how, but that isn’t always the case.
When you’re in the interaction with someone, having a conversation, not just a “reference interrogation.” There’s also being being or appearing to be interested in what they’re working on - and how we can help them. Active listening is very important. It’s through caring what they’re working on and not just taking each interaction or information request as a singularity but as the building blocks to a relationship between you and your customers. Its through the relationships we build and conversations we have that we create the understanding that we’re not not just an information service, but rather humans that people can connect with on a deeper level – the thing that differentiates us, the information professionals, from our databases or search engines.
We are not robots.
the best part about being someone our customers can connect with is that we’re able to have a little fun, with them, or how we do things, or the services we provide. Professional level assistance doesn’t automatically dismiss “fun.” I have a one minute video on the kind of thing i’m talking about - thinking out of the box a little... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2lXh2n0aPyw What other things do you think fall into this “relationship building” or “human connection” piece?
So coupled with the relationship building is the excellent service that you provide your customers. Again, i assume that this is a place in which you excel -that your customers are getting what they need when they need it. I’d like to talk about two main things in this category that i see are really big issues in providing excellent assistance. One is Brick walls and the other is something i call “moving the question not the customer”.
First, brick walls. A brick wall is a barrier. in this instance, a barrier between the customer and what they’re looking for. And what’s both great and horrible about this barrier is that the librarian is in charge of building it - or not. Barrier’s come in the form of “no” or “can’t.” as in “Do you have information on x”... “no we don’t.” instead of “we don’t, but we can try ILL or databases or... etc etc etc” Brick walls are easy things to avoid, however - simply by offering an alternative, by turning a “no” or a “can’t” into a yes. There is always something we can do. Even if we don’t have what the person is needing, we can at least get them started on the right path to finding it. There is always something we can do.
My second big item in providing excellent assistance is something i call “moving the question, not the customer.” This mindset helps eliminates the “transfer syndrome” that we get a lot in support call centers – they’ll keep transferring you around until you get fed up and hang up or someone actually helps you. Moving the question not the customer means that you are the person that the customer asked- you are responsible for getting the answer. This is probably less an issue in small libraries such as yours but can be a big problem with large consortiums like AskUsNow!- If a customer comes to you, you’re the one who is responsible for getting the answer to the customer, rather than making the customer go find the answer. A simple example of this is when a customer comes into chat and asks about a fine on their account. because we do not have a statewide OPAC, local librarians need to be the ones to answer this question. The right way to handle this question is to ask the customer for all the information - cared number, etc, and verify their local library and their email address - and then let them know that someone from their local library will email them in the next 24 hours. The wrong way of handling the same situation would be to say, “I don’t have access to that information, please call your local library.” Actually that is an example of both putting up a barrier AND moving the customer instead of the question. Saying “i don’t have access” is the wall- you didn’t explain WHY you don’t have access, you just basically said “it’s not my job to help you.” and the “please call your library” is the moving the customer piece - they’ve already contacted their library - through their statewide system - and therefore should not be told to call them as well. That’s basically saying “you chose poorly. don’t chat. use the phone.” which then makes them ask us why we have a 24/7 chat service if we’re just going to ask them to call their library anyway. It’s a training issue.
Number three in the creating a good experience puzzle is anticipating the needs of your customers. You can only do that if you’ve built up a relationship with them and know what they need. Knowing your community of users and understanding what they need means that you’ll be able to provide it before they ask for it.
This is a friend and colleague Steven Cohen. He’s a law librarian in New York and he does something for his customers that really exemplifies anticipating needs– he has set up RSS feeds and email alerts within databases and websites that alert him to anything new happening on the topics that his lawyers are working on- so as soon as it happens he can forward the information on to his clients, the lawyers who are in turn always in-the-know. He’s aligned himself as a partner in crime so to speak – as a more valuable part of the institution as a whole - of his community. and because of that you can bet that when budgets get tight at his firm that the library won’t be the first on the chopping block. What are some things that you’re already doing similar to this in anticipating the needs of your customers?
The final piece is aligning services and products. Making sure that our services and products are as helpful as we are. Specifically I’m talking about innovation and eliminating breakage... this is kind of at the top of that hierarchy i showed earlier.
By Innovation i mean things along the lines of not just giving your customers what they want, but giving them what they didn’t know they wanted until they got it. Like the automobile. Henry Ford said if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they’d have asked for a faster horse. he took what he knew of his customers and took his brilliance and innovation and did something different. Just because your customers asked for something doesn’t mean that’s what they want - customers ask for the present, we can build for the future.
In addition to innovation, and actually, probably before innovating, or perhaps while innovating, an organization should be looking to eliminate breakage. What do I mean by breakage? I’m going to let Seth Godin explain that one a little. I have a video, it’s listed on your handout… its twenty minutes long but I’m only going to show you the first minute or so of it so you get the idea but I really hope you will watch the rest of the video at your leisure- it’s really excellent. http://www.ted.com/talks/seth_godin_this_is_broken_1.html or http://vimeo.com/4246943 You want to pay attention to t hings that are broken – things you think are broken, things your customers think are broken – and I’d like to add, things your non-users think are broken. And we know the people who aren’t using the library think something is broken because they’re not using the library! So why aren’t they? Have you asked them? What do they think is broken? How can we fix it? Looking to things that are broken is one way to ensuring that your providing the best possible service. And asking them is the best way of finding out what they need, want, would like, etc. It’s the best way of reframing what we do day in and day out into a different perspective - perhaps shedding light on something we never thought of before. Bringing customers in as cocreators is a great way to build those relationships.
So what might be broken in your libraries? Let’s talk about it and see if we can’t come up with a plan to fix some of these things.
We have xx minutes left and I’d like you to take a moment and write down one or two things that you’re going to do based on what you’ve learned so far today- either something you’re already doing that you think you can improve, something you want to fix, something you want to start doing - anything. There’s nothing I hate more than going to a conference and getting all worked up and “oh I’m going to do this and oh that’s great” and then getting back to my library and it being an effort to not get sucked back into the daily routine. So create yourself an action plan and give yourself a timeline.
Thank you very much! Time for break!
Transcript of "Customer Service as Advocacy"
Customer Service as Advocacy <ul><li>Julie Strange, MLIS </li></ul>19 October 2010, USAMRMC Library Workshop