Delivering Extreme Customer Service from the Inside Out

Liz Morris /

A girls smiles at the camera while standing at a library circulation deskFostering a culture of extreme customer service is one of the most important long-term investments a library can make, and costs almost nothing. The returns, meanwhile, are valuable beyond measure. Gretchen Caserotti, the Library Director from Meridian Library District in Idaho, provided fantastic guidance for library staff looking to enhance the customer service orientation of their libraries in a recent WebJunction webinar on Extreme Customer Service, Every Time. Sharing insights from her own work in library service, as well as knowledge gleaned from best practices in the private sector, Gretchen's presentation emphasized that library staff hold the key to turning excellent customer service from a talking point into a reality of library practice.

Library patrons know good customer service

Library patrons not only know what good customer service looks and feels like, they expect it. Gretchen shared six core values that patrons associate with excellent customer service, including:

  • Convenience
  • Comfort
  • Hospitality
  • Quality
  • Trust
  • The WOW factor

The webinar archive page lists a number of sources from professional literature that were shared to emphasize each of these areas of customer service. Most notably, the discussion of the WOW factor reiterated the importance of going "above and beyond" to make a patron happy. Gretchen shared an example of a customer of an online retailer who missed a return deadline due to a family tragedy. Rather than enforce the standard fiscal penalty, the customer service representative sent flowers to the customer. Investing in whatever it takes to ensure a current patron's happiness is incredibly important for strengthening your patron base and loyalty. This has the added benefit of developing patrons who are willing to do your marketing for you by recommending your library services to others.

A hand holding 2 notebooks that say on the cover - every decision we make affects how people experience the library. let us make sure we're creating improvements.Extreme customer service is a culture, not a checklist

 While "extreme" as a philosophy for a library practice may raise some eyebrows, it is at the heart of patron-centered service. Embedding an extreme approach to customer service requires trust, time, and creativity.

Trust must be built between library staff and library leadership, to quickly find resolutions to internal issues that may impact patrons. Trust is also required between patrons and the library, for patrons to know that the library has their best interest in mind. Gretchen mentioned that no matter what a library staff member's actual role is at the library, they will be perceived as a librarian by their patrons. Therefore, all staff members must be prepared to respond to patron inquiries with sincerity and a desire to connect patrons with what they need, regardless of what other tasks may be at hand.

One participant mentioned in chat that she has a "please disturb sign" on her desk, so that patrons know their needs are a priority!

Time is necessary to discover and acknowledge if the best support for a customer may be very different from what they are asking for, or outside the scope of what resources the library typically provides, and to find a solution anyways. Library managers and administrators can support this by helping staff be available to prioritize/balance patron engagement with other library tasks, and by providing training for effective time management with this perspective. Staff may also be acknowledged for modeling good attitudes and self-management around patron service.

Strategic thinking at all levels is necessary to provide creative solutions to pressing patron issues that may not fall within established library protocol. One chat participant posed the excellent question that "library staff are often 'rule oriented' - how do you break through that philosophy?" Of course, established protocols exist for many valid reasons. Gretchen shared the perspective that the best way to support staff in thinking about how or where there may be flexibility to meet patron needs is to regularly humanize the patron experience. a library staff person helps a small boy at a library service deskLibrary administrators and managers can engage staff in dialogue around potentially challenging patron engagements. Then, they can work together to strategize appropriate responses in a way that reduces staff fear of overstepping boundaries while finding solutions to exceed patron expectations. Another chat participant, Sara Gillis, shared her library's experience with identify creative customer service solutions by engaging staff around their perceived barriers. Her library's approach to this work, including details on the survey constructed for library staff, is shared in Today I Bent a Rule: Barrier Identification Staff Survey at Halifax Public Libraries.

The answer is yes - now what's the question?

Gretchen concluded the session by acknowledging that there is no script for extreme customer service. Rather, it is driven by a continual anticipation and awareness of patron needs, and the capacity of all library staff to act generously on behalf of one another and their patrons. When this culture of willingness is embraced and nurtured, it can facilitate extreme customer service, every time.

For slides, a chat transcript, and the complete archived webinar, view the webinar archive page: Extreme Customer Service, Every Time.