Approachable customer service


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I recently completed a consulting project for a network of county libraries. One of our objectives was to identify ways to incorporate exceptional customer service into the day-to-day processes at the libraries. As a part of my preparation, I read a research paper by Jennifer Bonnet and Benjamin McAlexander titled, “How Do You like Me Now?: An Image-rating Study of Librarian Approachability” (Apr 2013). Among the findings was the positive correlation between library staff approachability and whether or not they smiled or wore a nametag:

“Smiling had a positive effect across rater groups, demonstrating that…participants tended to consider smiling librarians as having increased approachability versus (a neutral expression)…(S)miling made the most difference of all the treatments (e.g., expression, nametag, attire), which reveals the uniquely powerful effect that smiling might have on patron perceptions of librarians. As a result, our recommendation for librarians who wish to maximize their perceived approachability in public service settings is to smile when making eye contact with patrons.

Librarians who wore a nametag came in second (behind smiling) in the ranking of tested treatments. This finding suggests that patrons consider an explicit indication of a librarian’s role as a public service provider to be approachable. Thus, our recommendation for librarians at public service desks is to wear a nametag.”

Supported by the research paper, I emphasized the opportunity library staff had to express genuine interest in patrons by smiling and making eye contact, which requires staff to be attentive and attuned to patrons in need of assistance – even as computer screens and side-work compete for their attention. One way to address this is to provide staff with standing or adjustable desk alternatives. Doing so increases library staff visibility while enabling them to more easily spot service opportunities that might otherwise be hidden behind a 23” computer monitor. (In addition to improving visibility, standing desks provide an array of health benefits according to the Wall Street Journal article: “The Toll of Sitting All Day” by Sumathi Reddy (Sept 29th, 2015)).

I also advised my client to consider adding a conversation starter – a “spark” to ignite a memorable interaction with library staff – such as engraving the staff member’s favorite book title or genre beneath her name on her nametag. This seemingly minor addition to the standard nametag has the potential to transform routine transactions with library patrons into memorable experiences.

These lessons are not unique to library staff. Regardless of setting, customer-facing employees have the ability to provide stellar customer service; they just have to put themselves in a position to shine. And they can do so by smiling, remaining visible and attentive, and always wearing a nametag – preferably one that creates a “spark”. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary really is that little “extra”.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steve Curtin
Steve Curtin is the author of Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He wrote the book to address the following observation: While employees consistently execute mandatory job functions for which they are paid, they inconsistently demonstrate voluntary customer service behaviors for which there is little or no additional cost to their employers. After a 20-year career with Marriott International, Steve now devotes his time to speaking, consulting, and writing on the topic of extraordinary customer service.


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