Serving Users and The Element of Surprise

Every year we have a library retreat at the Inn at Shelburne Farms. It’s a really relaxing, reflective environment and it’s always productive. This week, one of the conversations that we were having out there centered on our service philosophy and how we go about serving our users. This meant serving them in person, via chat, in the classroom, on our website, etc.

Our team had a lot of great insights, especially in talking about our reference interactions. In reflecting on how I wanted my service to look, I realized that I dont want to simply satisfy them or give them a positive experience. I want to surprise them. I want users to walk away from a reference question thinking “wow, I didn’t realize how much time asking a librarian saved me.” I want students in a class to think “this person is a librarian? This class was actually fun and I learned something useful!”

And sometimes this happens. This semester a student came up to me when I was wandering through the library and we had something resembling the following conversation:

Student: “Can I ask you something?”
Me: “Sure, what do you want to know?”
Student: “Why do you librarians always smile so much? You seem so happy.”
Me: (smiles) “Huh, I guess we just really love what we do. Thanks for saying such a nice thing.”

Surprise is all about doing things that are unexpected. In their book Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath state that one of the factors that can contribute to an idea or experience being sticky is if it is unexpected. People may not expect librarians to be smiling all the time. Perhaps they had different experiences other places they’ve been. Students may not expect library instruction sessions to be fun and engaging. Maybe they’ve seen boring lectures before. Students may not expect a librarian to be non-judgmental and amazingly helpful in a reference encounter. When these things do happen it creates a very memorable experience.

Steven Bell did an excellent conference paper presentation at ACRL this year about this. In his paper he outlines strategies to deliver a “WOW user experience.” He points out that student expectations for libraries are actually fairly low. In fact students sometimes even think it will be a painful experience. According to the literature there are students that have library anxiety. It makes surprising students that much easier.

The element of surprise is a powerful weapon. It makes experiences very memorable. If you are able to surprise the people you’re serving, then you’ll likely have people who keep coming back and maybe even tell their friends.


ACRL-NEC 2009 Conference

Twitter on the big screen

The 2009 ACRL New England Chapter conference was entitled Are you being served? Customer satisfaction and library service. I believe this theme of customer service  is becoming increasingly important, not only in libraries but in business as well.

The morning worskshop I attended was presented by Sara Laughlin, and it was called Tools for Understanding Your Customers. It was a hands on workshop in which the participants learned different ways to find out information about who their customers are and what they want. She broke down market research into six approaches:

  • Survey
  • Existing Data (yours and others’)
  • Interview
  • Focus Group
  • Observation
  • Comments/complaints

We were able to look at these approaches in depth and recognize the pros and cons of each. Understanding your patrons is key to serving them well. Libraries need to use marketing tools just like other businesses so they can know and tailor their service to their patrons.

The annual business meeting followed lunch at which I was recognized for being awarded the ACRL National Conference Scholarship. This scholarship allowed  me to attend both this conference and the ACRL National Conference in Seattle, for which I am truly grateful.

The afternoon consisted of a plenary session in which all the people who attended different sessions brought their findings and questions together to share with the group. They also used Twitter to enhance the session and projected tweets onto the big screen, which I thought was an excellent addition to the discussion.

I found Anne Washburne‘s insights to be the most helpful. She said that “people are forgetting how to be nice to each other.” Customer service is about treating people with kindness. But this also applies in your workplace. She stated that anyone can be a change agent, just by owning their work environment and being positive. This means not going into work making excuses and complaining but coming in purposefully everyday and realizing that everyday you can make a change. I know I was a little inspired.

The conference wrapped up with a social hour which I thought was very beneficial. I was able to meet a lot of different people from around New England who are doing some pretty cool things. I also may have volunteered for helping to get a stronger ACRL-NEC presence in Northern New England. I know that even in the Burlington area we have five colleges and we do not collaborate as much as we should. I would like to see a stronger cohesion and simply more conversation among us simply because I think we can learn a lot from each other and it would allow all of us to serve our customers better.