Hot Topics:

Customer Service: Keeping Them Happy Day In, Day Out

What I learned working at the library, part 1

Brad and I are life-long lovers of the library! Both of us share memories of countless hours spent wandering around stacks of books waiting until the right ones popped out. We’ve even coined a name for the game we play: Serendipity!

We’ve always thought this is the best thing about a public library. With only a small investment in time, you can explore any subject that catches your fancy. If you decide you’re not as interested in, say, French cuisine, as you thought you might be, it’s no big deal. Just return the book, and find something else.

Yes, that’s the value we’ve always placed on the public library and, until eight years ago, when I started working in one, that’s what we thought we’d learn as library patrons. I was surprised when I joined the library staff that chief among the things your local librarians have been trained for is customer service.

I estimate that serving as a librarian has taught me as much about dealing with customers as I have learned through all the years we’ve written about e-commerce. Lately, I’ve been thinking how similar these two jobs are.

Every day you go to work knowing you will likely disappoint someone

Do you sometimes feel that no matter what you do, you’re going to have to explain to a customer why you can’t do the thing he wants you to do? Yes, that’s likely to happen every day for me, too.

You may not be able to change the outcome of his experience, but you can go a long way toward letting him know he’s been heard

Just as your customers come to your business with a clear idea of what they want, people come to the library every day to get something we can’t provide. If your customer gets in touch to say he’s disappointed in his purchase, you’ll need to find a way to smooth his feathers and see if you can fix his problem. Like at the library, you may not be able to change the outcome of his experience, but you can go a long way toward letting him know he’s been heard.

First of all, take a deep breath and decide at this early stage that you won’t take this encounter personally. You may feel he’s being unreasonable—and he may be—but until you actually listen to what he says, you can’t know for sure that your customer doesn’t have a solid point.

That’s why we encourage sellers to pick up the phone, if need be. Talking directly to the customer can help you better understand the problem and think through a fair solution, together. Even if, in the end, you can’t give your customer just what he wants, you can still give him the customer service he deserves.

Most people will be reasonable with you if you’re being reasonable with them, especially on the phone. Sure, it can be a little exhausting to have to remind yourself to stay cool and not strike out, but that gets better with practice.

Don’t put all your customers in the same bag

I’ve also learned that once you have a contentious encounter with one customer, you may have an elevated level of adrenalin pumping for the next one. It’s important to remind yourself that each encounter is individual, and you can’t put your guard up for Customer B just because you found Customer A to be impossible to please.

If you go into your next customer service encounter carrying baggage from your last, you’re bound to end up with a day spent in negative interactions.

If you keep a positive attitude about customer service, you may just find that your customers are your best teachers

Once you’ve resolved a poor customer experience with one client, tuck the memory away in a file to add to your customer service knowledge and experience, and move on with a positive attitude toward your next task. Customer B may actually have a totally understandable and fixable problem, but you won’t know that if you go in with your dukes up.

Look to your customers to tell you what needs to change

If you keep a positive attitude about customer service, you may just find that your customers are your best teachers, in terms of how to increase customer satisfaction. If you keep an open mind, you may find that sometimes your customers are showing you a better way to operate.

Of course, that’s not always the case, and in Part 2 of this series, we’ll look at dealing with those customers who simply can’t be pleased, but sometimes your customers are right.

Not too long ago, the library where I work instituted a policy that said unaccompanied adults could not use computers in the children’s room. We have quite a few computers that go unused during the school day, and it’s tempting for an adult to slip in and log on rather than to go upstairs to the adult area, where competition for available computers can be fierce. Still, it’s very difficult to maintain a safe and family friendly children’s area if unaccompanied adults take all the free computer spaces.

Creating the policy was one thing; learning to enforce it well was another. In one very early encounter, I approached an unaccompanied middle-aged woman who had settled into her place at a computer in the children’s area. I asked if she was with children, and she said no.

I explained that she’d have to go upstairs and use the adult computers. Despite her pleasant aspect, she jumped up, slammed the chair against the computer desk and exclaimed that it was ridiculous that she couldn’t look for a book in our children’s collection.

Instantly, I saw my mistake. I quickly apologized and offered her personal service in finding the materials she needed. It occurred to me then that the first question I should be asking was, “Can I help you find something in our collection today?” If the patron answers with a no, there’s plenty of time for me to explain that we reserve these computers for children and their families, and invite her to go upstairs instead.

So, what started out as a terrible moment, ended with the nice lady apologizing for so quickly losing her temper, and she left with the book she needed. I was thankful for having been taught a better way to do my job in enforcing this reasonable and sensible policy, plus, I considered this quite a good customer service experience, overall.

If you see a pattern in customer service issues, look at your operation to see if you can make some improvements

If you see a pattern in customer service issues, look at your operation to see if you can make some improvements. It’s very easy to get bogged down in the daily point of view you take operating your own business. You’ve got a constant stream of issues you understand fully and believe you are addressing to the best of your ability. Your customers may be pointing out something you didn’t notice. So, if your customers bring problems to you, embrace them!

Embrace the ‘service’ in customer service

We recently attended a library training session in praise of mistakes. It turns out that every time you make a mistake, the best reaction is to embrace that mistake enthusiastically. Sure, it may make a problem for you, short term, but it could also teach you something you didn’t know you needed to learn about improving your job performance.

Every mistake you make is an opportunity, not just a headache. Your goal isn’t just to keep selling, it’s also to keep learning and growing. Don’t make your customers adversaries in reaching that goal.

Still, as we all know, there comes a time when you simply have to accept that some customers will never be satisfied, no matter what you do. Those can be the most challenging because, in spite of your reasonable attempts to please this type of customer, you’re doomed to fail. Believe me, we librarians understand! Some people just demand what we simply can’t provide.

If you find yourself trying to please the chronically displeased customer, in Part 2 of this customer service series we’ve got some great advice to help you mitigate that particular situation. It happens to us at the library nearly every day and, after a while, you get pretty good at coping.

About the author

Brad & Debra Schepp
Brad and Debra Schepp are the authors of 20 books, including eBay PowerSeller Secrets and The Official Success Guide: Insider Tips and Strategies for Sourcing Products from the World's Largest B2B Marketplace. Their most recent book is How to Find a Job on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Brad is also a literary agent for Waterside Productions. For further information, visit the couple's website, Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

Newsletter Signup