Great Customer Service Requires Committed Library Staff

“The customer comes first” is a common adage that espouses the principle of providing a product or service that the customer values, of being customer-focussed. The customer must come first, because they ultimately determine how long you stay in business – they pay the bills, including your wages.

But in order to be customer-focussed and to provide a great customer experience, staff must be equipped, motivated, trained and supported to do so. This, according to Vineet Nayar, CEO of HCL Technologies Ltd, means that staff must come before customers.

One way to assess whether staff are engaged or are able to do great things, is the internationally recognised Gallup Q12 survey. Gallup has undertaken extensive research to identify 12 core questions that can be used to determine the level of employee engagement in comparison to others in the same industry, country or perhaps across teams within an organisation. It is commonly used in New Zealand and perhaps your library also uses it.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the Q12, below are the 12 questions that they use.

  1. Do I know what is expected of me at work?
  2. Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
  3. At work, do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?
  4. In the last 7 days have I received recognition or praise for doing good work?
  5. Does my supervisor or someone at work seem to care about me as a person?
  6. Is there someone at work who encourages my development?
  7. At work, do my opinions seem to count?
  8. Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?
  9. Are my co-workers committed to doing quality work?
  10. Do I have a best friend at work?
  11. In the last 6 months, has someone at work talked to me about my progress?
  12. This last year have I had opportunities at work to learn and grow?

These questions graduate from fundamental to aspirational aspects, so questions 1 and 2 should be addressed first or efforts to deal with the remaining ones will be wasted.

Below is a brief overview of how I think these first two questions correlate to libraries.

Do I know what is expected of me at work?This question encompasses the fundamentals of understanding my job description, what hours I work, and what resources I have to do my job. Libraries usually do this well with orientations, and buddy systems for new staff. But what about those staff who may be seconded to positions or take on higher duties on a temporary basis? How would they rate this question?

Do I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right?
If it is easier for library staff to get stuff done at home rather than at the library, then responses to this question is where it will show up. Access to youtube, facebook, and twitter is part of everyday work whether we like it or not. Computers that take forever to start-up and use out-of-date software make it even more difficult to be productive and provide stellar customer service.

This question is however not solely related to IT. It could also refer to having enough shelving trolleys so they aren’t overloaded, finding some private space for a meeting, creating purchase orders, getting reimbursements, or finding the latest meeting minutes.

I realise that libraries often have very little control over IT policies, and I’m in no way advocating that these are usurped as there are often valid reasons for such controls. However, I do think it is important to discuss these concerns and the impact they have on delivering great customer service with IT and other stakeholders. Library staff who do work from home in order to get things done, care about providing the best for their customers and should be supported rather than penalised for doing so. Trust staff to do the right thing, and then watch your library flourish.

Customers don’t come first, staff do.

A version of this article appeared in Library Life: Te Rau Ora, 23 March 2011.


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