Customer Service that's Cause for a Smile

Megan Knapp /

[Photo credit (Image 1): Petro Feketa/iStock/Thinkstock.]

young boy smiling as he reads a bookHow is a library like a deli counter? Or like Nordstrom or the Ritz? All of these businesses rely on excellent customer service skills to delight patrons. As many expert resources will say, good customer service is grounded in good common sense: be kind; be thoughtful; do your best to help. Top customer service organizations incorporate these ideas, and make a habit of constant improvement, to create exceptional experiences for those they serve.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not a single act, but a habit.” (Aristotle)

Every interaction with the library and library staff has the potential to improve customer perceptions. From the organization of materials, to library signage and policies, to the ways library staff greet patrons at the desk and throughout the building--each point of contact provides an opportunity to create a positive impression, and a loyal voice of support for the work libraries do. Though we may not always have direct control over the library’s vision statement or the signs above the door, we can manage our own engagement with customers to very healthy outcomes. 

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” (Jeff Bezos, CEO of

Strong communication and problem-solving skills (and a good attitude!) are essential in dealing effectively with customers. We listen well in order to get to the root of a question or problem, and we may then need to clarify a patron’s request through follow-up questions or examples. As Mike Parchinski and Scott R. DiMarco note in their article Salami, Provolone or E-book: Providing Excellent Customer Service: “Sometimes a patron appears to know his or her topic of interest but is unsure what specific information is needed and cannot articulate these needs to the librarian.” Of course, we sometimes run into even more challenging situations, or have particularly difficult customers before us, or sensitive situations to manage. Fortunately, there is a wealth of information at our fingertips (online and available through the library catalog) to help us continue to hone our customer service skills.

“Service with a smile” is only the mature woman placing a book on a library shelfbeginning, and in the webinar, Extreme Customer Service, Every Time, practical, actionable ideas on delivering excellent service will be shared. In order to deliver the best service, we can anticipate customer needs, learn from fellow librarians, the library community, and retail and other industries, and work proactively to understand customers (and our customer impact) better through feedback tools and our individual experiences.

“The more you engage with customers, the clearer things become and the easier it is to determine what you should be doing.” (John Russell, Vice President, Harley-Davidson)

We are all looking to make our customer interactions great. Delivering top-notch customer service might make us heroes to some, and definitely gives customers reason to smile. Developing some new habits, or refining old ones, can help us ensure that customers find the information or answers they need--and ideally, that they leave the library singing its praises.

[Photo credit (Image 2): Steve Mason/Photodisc/Thinkstock.]