Helping Staff Build Customer Relationships by Guest Blogger Stephen Efird

By Stephen Efird, Head of Circulation, Northwest Regional Library System

[This article originally appeared in Learning Exchange, Volume 35, Number 4, June 2019, American Library Association. Reprinted with permission.]

It’s easy to overlook the customer when you’re in the middle of completing a transaction. It might sound silly to think, but it happens all too often. At any given time we are going a million different directions that can make the current moment little more than muscle memory. We get locked into action and motion without giving the most important part of a transaction – the customer – the attention they deserve. The trick to putting the customer front and center is to focus on key areas and exercise our customer service muscles to build up our customer relationships:

Treat everyone with respect. This can be established by picking up a couple of habits. Never underestimate the power of the hello. Greeting a customer politely, quickly, and in a pleasant demeanor sets the tone for our interaction, and builds the foundation for everything that comes after that moment. Use the words please and thank you. These are quick and easy words that get missed in our daily interactions, that can go a long way toward building successful relationships.

Listen, Listen, And Listen. Giving the customer your attention should be one of the main things you do with any transaction you complete. It‘s easy to be lost in the daze of your own life, or the task you were working on right before the customer arrived. When you’re with a customer, take a few moments and pay attention to what they are communicating. This gives them an opportunity to feel like they are being heard. It also provides a chance to hear clues to what a customer wants even when it isn’t clearly expressed. Roleplaying exercises are a great training point to practice this. Play through scenes where information is indirectly asked for and see if clues within the request provide the information that is missing.

Take opportunities to go above what is expected. If a customer is completing a transaction and you have a service that you can provide that matches, offer it. Ask if they need a stapler after printing off a set of papers or if they found what they were looking for.

When you can, walk a customer to the area they need instead of pointing or giving directions. Giving the customer more than what they expected can create a special moment that customers will remember and keep them coming through the doors on a regular basis.

Don’t try to prove that the customer is wrong and that you are right. There will be times when a customer says something outrageously wrong and be insistent upon it. It’s natural for a part of us to want to let them know how wrong they are, maybe even with a little victory dance afterward. Proving ourselves right offers internal satisfaction but it isn’t going to help keep a customer as a customer.

Take a moment to repeat back the request or statement in a different way. Asking the question back provides a chance to verify the customer is understood correctly. It also gives a moment to see the situation from the customer’s perspective. Most importantly it allows the customer another attempt at explanation, while giving a moment to remember they aren’t always wrong and that we aren’t always right.

Provide alternatives when you are unable to meet expectations. Customers expect to have their needs met. The reality is that not every customer that comes through the door will have a request that we can address. This doesn’t change what the end goal should be, to help provide the customer what they are requesting, or find them another option that will accomplish that task. Learn the needs of the customers and be ready with information that can guide them to where those needs can be met. Giving a customer an alternative solution will stick with them and encourage them to return.

Focusing on these areas with a few exercises and establishing habits can have exponential results in turning routine exchanges into great customer relationships. These relationships are powerful tools in making the library a community hub that feels like family and home to those we serve.

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