Monday, December 06, 2010

Survive & Thrive! Customer-focused Reference “Soft” Skills

From the Reference Renaissance Conference.

Presenters: Keith Unrath, Tamara Grybko and John Vittal of the
Albuquerque / Bernalillo County Library

“Knowledge of resources and search strategies is undoubtedly important to providing reference desk service. It is outstanding people skills that builds customer trust and confidence and takes reference service from adequate to excellent. The Albuquerque/Bernalillo County Library developed a training to explore a variety of customer service scenarios: lonely customers, sensitive questions and customers who were unsure where to begin their inquiries. This workshop presents the approach and structure of our training so participants may offer it in their own libraries. A mini-version of the training will be conducted in breakout groups and then all participants will reconvene to share their impressions.” (Description in the conference program.)


Training Plan:

Training Handout:

This session was very valuable. They ran a mini-training for us, choosing participants out of the audience, so we really got to see the benefits of this approach to learning/refreshing customer service skills.

The discussion leaders would assemble a group (between 8 and 15 people – any bigger and people start fading into the woodwork, any smaller and there’s not enough fresh discussion). They’d send emails out to the group asking them to come up with scenarios along certain lines. The leaders would also have scenarios just in case, but they rarely had to use any of theirs. Then the group would brainstorm about the various scenarios and how best to approach them. Much of the content was generated by the group. It felt much more like a discussion than a training, and staff learned from each other as well as from the discussion leaders. The leaders said they always came away from a session with something new they could apply to their own reference practice.

The leaders did come up with concepts they wanted to be sure were introduced each session, such as the idea the great customer service could be learned; it’s not inherent. They also wanted to make sure to outline the basic behavior standards of the organization. And emphasize respect, responsibility, and relationships: the 3 Rs that are the basis for good customer service.

They recommend mixing veterans and rookies so you get new ideas as well as institutional traditions in your answers. They deliberately have across-branch trainings which keeps the sessions on task – about customer service skills and not branch issues. They so far have only run the trainings for reference staff, but it would be equally applicable to clerical and other front-line staff.

Praise liberally. Let participants know they’re doing it right.

For wrap-up & closing thank participants. Mention that there are always new ideas and Encourage folks to continue the discussion.

One of the points of the trainings is to help staff make situation-based decisions in a rules-based organization. Also to try to encourage people to see in shades of gray instead of black & white. Want staff to work to find solutions rather than purely enforcing rules.

Another point/benefit is to create a space for to interact on a more personal level. People make friends and become better colleagues. It builds a sense of team.

A basic assumption of the training is that staff work in libraries because they like people and want to take care of them. Not because they want to follow the rules. Knowing that the library system wants to have this discussion is as important as having the discussion. It sets priorities for the system.

You can use these trainings to monitor the state of reference in your system. Are you keeping up with all the RUSA standards? You can also use them to emphasize important trends you want to enforce with staff – ADA, the etiquette of working with the hearing-impaired, etc.

Measuring outcomes is a little difficult; it’s hard to measure outcomes in attitude-based training. They used feedback surveys. You could also use competencies to help measure outcome.

Melissa @ Central

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