Practical tips on creating a positive customer experience

April 14, 2006 at 3:07 pm 9 comments

For the next month or so I’m going to do a series of posts offering practical tips for creating a positive customer experience. Many of the tips will be ideas that can be immediately implemented, while a few will require a little bit of planning. I offer these tips as a smorgasbord, not a laundry list. They are born out of my own experiences as a library customer, from the experiences of friends and family, as well as from ideas generated at a recent organizational planning day I participated in.

Before I get into the tips, a caveat: Everything I suggest hereafter will specifically address the customer experience, but the uber-tip is that employees must be treated well, and with a basic level of trust. I don’t just mean that management must treat employees well. I mean employees must also treat management well, and co-workers must treat co-workers well. I’m talking 360 degrees. There should also be some shared sense, organizationally, of being on the same team, united for the same general purpose. I believe that a strong commitment to the customer experience in no way conflicts with a strong commitment to employees, and in my experience the two commitments correlate highly with each other.

One other point before getting into the tips: I am consciously using the term ‘customer experience’ rather than ‘customer service’. For me this not just a semantic difference but a reflection of how I’m beginning to think about these issues. ‘Customer service’ focuses on our behavior and offerings and looks at service from our perspective. (i.e. did we say “thank you”, do we offer a decent phone menu system, do we have convenient hours, etc.)

‘Customer experience’ focuses on the customer’s perception, and looks at service from the customer’s perspective (i.e. were they able to use the catalog, was the library open when they needed it, did they receive help from someone who treated them kindly.) I am finding it more useful to look at and think about the customer experience, and then “reverse engineer” to craft the organization’s services, offerings, and policies with an eye on improving the customer’s experience.


Practical tip #1: Start thinking about your customers’ experience. What do they experience when they walk in the door? When they visit your webpage? When they call your phone? When they email you? Ask these questions and encourage co-workers to do the same. Get some pizzas for lunch and brainstorm in the lunch room. Make a list, pick one negative customer experience, and find a way to improve it.


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  • 1. Aizal  |  April 16, 2006 at 11:29 am

    In my opinion, I want the customer to experience the warm welcome and good servicing just by smiling. So, smile first so that it will create a good impression to you.

  • 2. zgirl  |  April 16, 2006 at 5:10 pm

    Great tips, Pete! I especially like that you first acknowledge the importance of treating employees well. The “customer experience” often includes interaction with library staff, so it is important that employees feel good about where they work and spread that love, so to speak.

    Another tip for creating a positive customer experience comes from past retail experience: do a daily walk-through of your library. Ideally, it should be done in the morning, before the library opens. Train yourself to walk through all areas while doing visual scans: what needs to be straightened, “fluffed”, cleaned, restocked, etc.? Pick up any trash that may be lying around, push in chairs, straighten piles of handouts/bookmarks, check your signs for currency (I hate seeing outdated signs), check book displays for neatness and fill in books as needed, write down any major problems that you can’t take care of immediately (repairs, lighting, IT issues, etc.) and report them to the appropriate person/department ASAP. If time allows, do more than one walk-through a day. Train others to do it. Pretty soon, you’ll start to do these ‘visual scans’ automatically throughout the day, without even thinking about it.

    Another tip is to give out library kits, like a welcome wagon, when people sign up for library cards (maybe some libraries are already doing this?). Maybe the kit could be a tote bag (good for carrying books, of course) full of things such as bookmarks, pens, notepad, coupons for free coffee/drinks (if your library has a café), a calendar of library events, magnets, keychains (ideally, you would be giving out keychain versions of library cards – these are so convenient), candy, travel mugs, booklights, t-shirts, etc. Be creative!

  • 3. Steve  |  April 19, 2006 at 7:48 am

    I do the walk through in the morning…and I try to do it at some point during the day, too.

    One of the biggest barriers to creating a positive customer experience IMO, is not having a good “radar” for the patrons. Not knowing who is around you, not thinking actively about the possibility of helping every patron who walks through the door, or at least within your view, waiting for the patrons to come to us instead of greeting them proactively.

    I did an experiment last week; while I was not interacting with patrons I made an effort to NOT look at my computer. It was such a different experience, focusing outwardly instead of inwardly.

  • 4. Janie L. Hermann  |  April 19, 2006 at 1:30 pm

    Steve: You are so right when you say it is important to focus outwards (away from our computer screens) when we are not actively engaged in answering a reference question or doing research. So many library customers approach the reference desk with an apology for disturbing us simply because we look “busy”. Looking up and looking around is so much more welcoming than a person engrossed in looking at their computer screen.

  • 5. Peter Bromberg  |  April 20, 2006 at 12:29 pm

    Aizal — Thanks for pointing out the importance of a smile. A warm, sincere smile goes a long way toward creating a welcoming environment. This is especially important in libraries because so many customers are hesitant to approach us as it is; either because they don’t want to bother us (as Janie points out) or because they feel stupid.

    Zgirl — Thanks for bringing up the usefulness of regular walk-throughs. I’m going to build on that great advice in my next tip — although you fleshed it out so well, there’s not much to build on 🙂 The library kit is also a fantastic idea. Everybody likes swag!

    Steve — your point about “radar” is well-taken. I love your experiment with not looking at the computer. I’m always conscious to put my pen down, and look directly at the customer (because I hate it when someone’s helping me and they don’t put their pen down– the subtext is, “go away so I can continue writing…” I was working up a draft post on a “radar” experience I had recently at Wegman’s Supermarket. Rather than hold off on it, it makes sense to share it now so here it is:

    I’d like to acknowledge a small act of good customer service that I recently experienced. I was lost in the aisles of a Wegman’s (the truly super supermarket) that just opened nearby. If you haven’t been to Wegmans let me tell you, this place is huge. They sell everything. In the middle of the store they have aisle after aisle of organic foods. I was wandering down the organic cereal aisle with what I can only assume was a confused expression on my face looking for my beloved Honey Bunches of Oats, when out pops a friendly Wegman’s employee.

    “Looking for the regular cereals?” he asks?
    I nod.
    “Aisle 15B!” And he was gone.

    I’m sure there are many roving reference librarians (or greeters) out there are nodding approvingly. “Yup, that’s how it’s done.” Look for the confused expression. Take a guess about what the person needs. Offer help. Viola, good service!

    It’s little touches like that, little bits of service here and there, little smiles, little offers of assistance that add up to a great customer experience.

    Thanks for the great ideas! -pete

  • 6. Steve  |  April 22, 2006 at 9:36 am

    Speaking of roving, when I started at a university library, I was reluctant to do it because it didn’t feel comfortable. Really, I felt a little like a masher. However, I developed some routines, like pushing in chairs, fiddling with computers, picking up trash, etc. that let people know I was working there. (Nametags would have helped, too!)

    Recently, one of my staff came to me and described the experience of being in the stacks with a cart and a laptop. She was weeding, but people asked her questions. So, we’re going to get a sign to clip on our carts that say, “I’m a librarian and I can help you. Please ASK!”

  • 7. Peter Bromberg  |  April 23, 2006 at 6:38 pm

    Thanks for the comments Steve,

    On the topic of roving/greeting: The Mount Laurel Library (NJ) has their greeters where a nice big “ask me” button. You may be interested in some of their documentation (they created the position out of whole cloth a year or two ago.) Take a look at the greeter training information at:

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