'The quality of our work...

by tosca on Sunday, August 14, 2011

...depends on the quality of our people.'

In which Tosca has been having rather deep thinky-thoughts about customers, who they are, how we think we're doing it right but don't always and other trivial stuff. You know, the usual.

We talk about 'customer service' and 'customer experience' a lot at work for one very simple reason: It's important. Customers, patrons, buyers, clients, end users, punters - whatever you call them, they're important. And I'm fully aware that they don't always have great library experiences every single time. For maybe a couple of reasons. Sometimes we don't always think to put the customer at the centre of every single part of our service. Other times we think we know what they want when we don't. I've often heard, 'That's not what the customer wants' so much that I almost began to believe it myself. And then kicked my own arse because really...did we ask them?

Over the last week I've been in some interesting discussions about customer-driven acquisitions policies, why we let our desk rosters be wielded like weapons rather than tools, how come we have staff who would be better suited to backrooms working on our front desks instead, and whether or not the term 'customer service adviser' for 'library assistant' is patronising (Personally? Yes, I feel it is but that's my personal opinion). There are no easy answers. Maybe, for some of these things, there are no answers at all. Instead, I have questions:

  • Customer-driven services: Where do we draw the line between seeking customer input on library service ideas before implementing them, and not having whimsical feedback drive/change everything we do? A couple years back a branch decided to have music playing over the PA system. A customer complained. The branch yanked it. That was one customer. What sticks in my mind is that possibly the other 500 or so who did hear the music appreciated it but didn't say so. We'll never know. Something a colleague said to me last year sticks with me always and it's this: If Steve Jobs had waited for customers to tell him they wanted the iPod we'd never have had it. So I ask, what counts as feedback? How much feedback do we need before we change a part of a service? And do we cry about it if we lose a couple of customers but gain 100 more? How much do we let customers determine our business?
  • As a public library, what is our business? For that matter, what is any library's business? I've had this discussion on and off for eight years straight (my lifetime working in public libraries) and I'm still not sure. I often think that if I cannot articulate what our core business is, maybe that's because the organisation's message isn't too clear, either. Depending on who you ask - which could also depend on the department that they work in - you'll get a different answer each time. The debates get quite philosophical and heated. One thing I hear a lot is that our core business is creating educated and happy communities. It's a thought I enjoy but is that really our core business? And, if it is, how is it quantifiable? What do those measures look like? And if that is our core business, why are we constantly collating statistics about people visits and participation numbers for events. Do those really reflect how happy and educated our communities are? Or are educated and happy communities the feelgood byproduct of what we hope we do?
  • Who are our customers? What do they do? Why do they use us? I often hear people talk about customers and when they reason that these are people who physically use our libraries somewhere, I'm sure, a fairy dies. As far as I'm concerned our customers are members and non-members who are individuals and/or organisations on a local, national and international level who have a query, or are interested in, our services Whether that's because they are using us, want to use us, or are curious about why we do what we do in a professional sense, it all counts. They're customers. That is to say, anybody and everybody. Is that really the case?
  • If we were really that serious about customer service, why do we not get rid of all of the staff who aren't? Or is that too simplistic? And is that something I never voice aloud? I'm the first to put my hand up to admit that I don't always enjoy being around customers for too long at a time. Hell, most days I don't even enjoy being around staff fullstop. Why work in libraries then, right? I adore books. I adore people who adore books. I adore information. I adore people who adore information. Helping people make that connection, well, it's a beautiful thing. I look at it like this, I want everybody to be able to get the best out of our libraries. In other words, I want to teach them to fish for themselves, so they can fish for a lifetime. It sounds idealistic, and it probably is, but it's also self-serving. If I get it right that first time, if I've done it well, they don't need to speak to me again. If they do, then I've probably done something really wrong *pulls a face* So, if we were to get rid of all staff who don't like to deal with customers, would I be the first to go? With my awkward reasoning, very probably. And if that were the case? I think I'm ok with that.

  • Too many thoughts, and questions, for a Sunday night. No clarity around them just yet.


    Excellent post. I'm especially keen on the last paragraph. I fond it totally frustrating that people who don't like people work in somewhere as people orientated as a library (and if you don't like kids why the heck would you work in a school library). I think lots of people like the idea of libraries but not the practical application of working day to day with the awkward and irritating - or just people in general. I want to share my knowledge, absorb others knowledge and make connections between people and information and people and books every day. If you didn't want to do that why would you work in any kind of library.
    There is plenty more good stuff in your post too, but I got all caught up in my hobby horse in the last paragraph. I could go on..... but won't.

    by Bridget on August 15, 2011 at 10:44 AM. #

    Love this post - so many questions, and a burning need to find some really good answers. Especially to the one where we allow non-people-persons to assume the mantle of customer service... what's with that? I have scooped your post to my scoop.it on professional registration - hoping it generates some deep thinking and reflection!

    by halfpintofwisdom on August 15, 2011 at 12:17 PM. #

    @Bridget and @halfpintofwisdom - Thank you both so much for taking the time to read this post and leave a comment :) In my mind, there's nothing greater than helping people get the most out of libraries and considering the amount of time you're in the public eye, it's most certainly not for the weak. And yet I still wonder how and why we end up with people who don't like the general public. It's crazy. Like Bridget suggests, I think a large part of it is that they love the idea of libraries but not the day to day reality of it. Such as people. Crazy.

    by catatonia on August 16, 2011 at 6:49 PM. #

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