October 18, 2017

PLA 2010 Conference: A Strategy for Redesigning the Staff for Better Customer Service

"Everybody stand up." That’s how Infopeople’s Cheryl Gould prompted over 300 librarians to their feet for the first of four exercises on building the people skills necessary for good customer service. And it transformed the all-too-expected conference panel into a robust learning environment.
At "You Want Me To Do What? Innovative Training for Soft People Skills" Friday morning at the PLA conference, Gould, with Mary Nacu and Molly Westmoreland from San Jose Public Library (SJPL), presented a training model developed after comprehensive observation of SJPL by Paco Underhill’s Envirosell research firm (think Why We Buy). That study identified that the library space and wayfinding were great, but that people were looking for staff and staff were not looking for customers. That gap alerted the library to the fact that it was time to "redesign the staff."
Gould had us pick partners for an exercise where we took turns leading one another through hand motions and then tried to share the leadership.
Increasingly a community place (think The Third Place), noted Nacu, the library’s role "is now relational instead of transactional."
The experiential training model is designed to teach and instill "connecting  behavior skills" around eye contact, tone of voice, listening, and body language. It assumes that these are skills that can indeed be learned through awareness and practice in a supportive environment. Testing at SJPL branches, said Westmoreland, proved it, with more than 60 percent of staff showing sustained improvement in six of eight behaviors. (The two that didn’t change much were body language, which is influenced by deep habits developed over a lifetime, and appearance, which didn’t have as much play due to dress codes already in place.) Branch culture also started to change, and people reported they were happier at work and felt more connected to colleagues by the training itself.
My favorite of the exercises we tried out entailed telling of a story of a magic refrigerator in turns, picking up where a team mate left off. In ours, a big red refrigerator could clean itself, change its color on demand, anticipate food choices, and eventually, clean the entire house. It had us laughing, appreciating one another’s creativity. And it tuned us in to our own listening skills. We weren’t alone. If the connections zipping between the hundreds gathered in that conference hall are any indication, the model is one to take home and put to use.
Supported by an LSTA grant, it was also scaled for use at the state level, with info and a training module available at TK.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (miller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.