Daily Archives: September 16, 2008

Let’s try empowerment

So I posted my rant on customer service, and Glenn at Business Exchange posted to say that he agreed with my thought that customer service starts with management, but only to a point.  He wrote an interesting piece to encourage individuals to focus on the customer service areas they can control.

I love a good discussion!  Yes, Glenn, you are right, but I’m sticking with my original statement regarding service starting at the top.

For a bit of extra cash, I work at a large urban library.  I was recently talking to a fellow librarian after she dealt with a very difficult patron and handled the situation so that both parties were happy with the result.  I mentioned how smoothly it all went and she happened to say “Yeah, it wouldn’t have been like that five years ago…”  Upon prodding, she told me that she didn’t feel empowered under the former management.  She didn’t feel that she could offer the customer service she wanted because she didn’t feel that she had much control.  The outcome of any customer service exchange was either a rebuke by the top brass (either telling her she didn’t handle it well or if it was a difficult situation not providing her with back up on the decision she made) or something along the lines of “you are setting a precedence and people will take advantage of that over time”.

The new management makes her feel empowered.  Even if they don’t agree with something, they provide a united front and then have a reasonable discussion afterwards.  Current management gives her the tools she needs to be great, keeping her informed, and making service a priority.

Another way management leads the way in customer service is by rolling up the sleeves and showing what is expected.  I went to hear a well known director speak about management about a year ago.  Almost with pride, the director stated “I haven’t worked on desk since we started using the Internet!”  WOW.  That’s awful.  Firstly, by being out at the reference or circulation desks, even just for a couple hours each week, you can provide a sterling example of what is expected.  People learn a lot through observation, and many people have never truly seen phenomenal customer service.  By setting that example, you have the power to say “see, this can be done, and we will be doing it”.  I also think that when management gets out there, they observe needs and trends that may not otherwise be addressed or seen by busy staff who don’t have time to create a full report to management.  Plus direct observation is often far more powerful than just hearing it.  (“It is hell on earth when you only order one copy of the newest Tom Clancy”)

A director I know recently sat back to observe the library and noticed the bored kids who were waiting on parents using the adult reference computers.  (The children’s department is far away and it’s a security nightmare to let kids go in there alone!)  So, the director found some small packets of crayons, printed out Dora the Explorer coloring sheets, and handed them out.  It was a simple customer service solution that caught the attention of the staff and made them realize “hey, I can do that too!”

So, Glenn, you’re right.  Individuals can create outstanding customer service moments on their own, but I’ll follow up by saying empowerment by management certainly helps!