By Dr. Steve Albrecht
In 1985, my father, Dr. Karl Albrecht, wrote Service America!: Doing Business in the New Economy, the first big book on customer service. He described service excellence as a "managed event," meaning it was something that business leaders, managers, and supervisors should carefully consider and focus on with their employees. "Good service is no accident," was a primary theme of his book. He talked about having the right three things in place: service strategies (the direction), service systems (the methods, approaches, and policies), and service people (the right employees, with the right attitude, training, and motivation to serve others). He referred to this as the Service Triangle and it still works today.
Part of his efforts to train frontline service employees was to create the Code of Quality Service, a set of 10 behaviors that can provide a path to service excellence, both personally and professionally.
This set of 10 can be useful as a reminder for you as a library service professional and as a set of training guidelines for managers and supervisors. It works as a refresher for longtime library employees and as an orientation tool for new employees, as to what our library service culture should look like. Most of these 10 are operational and not abstract, meaning you can put them to use right away.
1. Greet each patron immediately or when passing by.
This concept is about both politeness and safety. We want to see patrons as they enter the library and pay attention to them as they move through the facility. Respectful eye contact can help us all make a human connection. We can all benefit from looking more at people and less at screens.
2. Give each patron you contact your complete attention.
It's easy to get caught up or distracted in the work we need to do. What we call "multi-tasking" on the patrons' behalf is actually "split attention" or "being distracted." It's a simple step just to tell patrons, anytime you need to do a part of your job that requires you to disengage from them. "I'll just need a quick moment to step over to the computer and take a look at your record" or "Let me go and ask one of my co-workers about that and I'll come right back to you." Those types of statements are enough to buy you the time to do your job and serve them well.
3. Make the first 30 seconds count.
This concept is related to #9 as well. Patrons remember how they were treated by recalling the beginning and the end of the service encounter. You may only have a brief interaction with a patron but he or she will remember your approachability, tone, and helpfulness.
4. Play your part to be real, not phony or bored.
If you have a high human-contact job, with a lot of the same transactions that don't require a lot of creativity to get them done, it's easy to get tired, burned out, and become what Karl calls a "BoZo" or a "Bored Zombie." Change what you say and how you say it with each patron. Don't get robotic in your answers, greetings, or wrap-ups. We've all dealt with service people who say, "Have a nice day - NEXT!" and don't really mean it.
5. Show your energy with sincere friendliness.
Whether you're talking over the phone, over the counter, or in the stacks, know that you're being viewed as a representative of the library. Patrons don't care about job titles or how long you've been there; they want service from someone who is truly friendly, not faking it, and who has the type of enthusiasm that says they care about their jobs and about helping people, at the start of the workday and at the end of it.
6. Be the patron's problem-solver.
Own the patron's issue until you can solve it or get it over to a colleague or boss who can. This step is all about not brushing off our patrons, but taking ownership for that brief moment or long period when you're helping them. Be creative, within the limits of our policies, and solve the presenting problem the best way you can, the first time.
7. Use your common sense.
We've all been in service situations where the person on the other side of the counter or on the other end of the phone has not been authorized to think. This person could come up with a smart solution but just won't. You get paid to think and work on behalf of our patrons. Do the right thing for them, using a common-sense sensibility.
8. Bend the rules when the situation calls for it.
Don't give away the store, but if you can solve the patron's problem or fix the issue by using creative, empathic solutions, do so. If you can waive a fee or a fine and it makes sense, get permission from your boss and do it. Don't always get stuck in the fine print of the policy manual or the Code of Conduct. Don't say to the patron, "Well, I'm just doing my job by saying no to you." Know the difference between the "letter of the law" and the "spirit of the law." Like with Number 6, be the patron's advocate if you can.
9. Make the last 30 seconds count.
Like with Number 3, the end of your service encounter with patrons can make a big difference in how they see their library experience. Thank your patrons for coming in, or for being patient while you worked on their behalf. Even if they don't thank you back, thank them anyway.
10. Take good care of yourself.
Service jobs are challenging and tiring. Don't get burned out. Take your breaks and lunches, use your vacation days and floating holidays. Pace yourself throughout your workday. Get more sleep, get some exercise, and catch up on your reading or other hobbies as a way to stay fresh and focused. Help yourself have a long and healthy career in library service.
Karl Albrecht's Code of Quality Service offers ten easy and practical steps toward improving and sustaining your own brand of service excellence.