Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Libraries, the Retail Customer Service Model, and Feel Good Marketing: Updated

Sometimes a pattern only appears when it is broken.

When I shop at retail stores, clerks usually smile and sometimes comment about the weather, but they do not say very much. Until recently they have rarely said anything about what I buy. Occasionally a clerk at a clothing store might say "I like that color" or a grocery clerk might say "That's on sale. I should get a couple." These comments seemed mostly undirected.

I had not realized until this weekend that there is a new pattern. At both the big supermarket and the friendly speciality grocery, I have heard many comments recently about what I brought up to the register.

"I really like these apples. They are so crisp."

"Ghirardelli brownies! I bet they're good."

"You'll like those enchiladas."

"That's my favorite nut mix. That little bit of coconut makes it so good!"

"You found the Thai mixes. My favorite is the satay. Have you tried it?"

I have not heard so much from clerks since I had a toddler in the shopping cart. Could it be the few gray hairs at my temples that makes me more approachable?

I only thought about this about after shopping at an office supply store. A young clerk was being trained by a manager. As she checked me out, she said cautiously, "That's a really nice binder."

I walked back to my car wondering why she said that. It was just a plain blue plastic binder. Then it struck me. She is being taught to compliment the customer's selections. The idea is to make the customer feel good about buying something from her store. She hadn't gotten the hang of it yet.

Of course, this made me think about the library.

The idea of marketing a good feeling is not a bad idea. We may want to do it in libraries, too, but our comments have to be honest and natural. Any falsehood is quickly spotted.

Also, complimenting someone every time you see will rouse suspicions. People will wonder if we are trying to manipulate them or secretly make fun of them.

There has been much emulation of retail models of customer service in libraries in recent years. It does not always work. I hope I never see a library consultant pressing "feel good comments about what people borrow" onto our public service staff. We should stay honest and friendly and only say "I liked that book" if it is true.

As long as we stay friendly and helpful and real, we will cultivate good feeling.

Update: This is getting more comments than most of my blog posts, and a variety of viewpoints are being expressed. The discussion has brought up several ideas that I was not connecting.

For clarification about my viewpoint, let me say I see nothing wrong with honest, unforced comments by service staff at retail or in the library. I like talking with people and enjoy some of these little convesations, so long as they are tactful. Having clerks forced to comment or being kept from commenting both seem wrong to me. Also, I do not like the idea of being subliminally marketed.


MrNemo said...

I totally agree with you. In my opinion, I kind of prefer it to not have a comment made abot what I buy. It makes me feel more anonymous in a sense. If that makes sense. I like know that what I buy is not being judged, but then other days I do appreciate a comment because it makes me feel more confident about what I am buying.

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Maggie said...

I like to give the students a little book plug when they check out, such as if you like this one you might try ___. If they are chacking out a subject matter I like to steer them to readable NF in the area. AND, I always keep it real. :D

Impossible Jane said...

I've been noticing that the librarians at the library I frequent have been giving me compliments lately. The other day it was "I like your hat" then another librarian made a comment about how the food looked on the cookbook I was checking out. I've been noticing that more and more.

Nonanon said...

This is an interesting post, not only on its own merits, but for the many other issues it raises. I know, personally, that this is a sore point in our library: at our circ desk, we are "not allowed" to make comments on anything people are checking out, due to "privacy issues." Note, please, that no such injunction is in place at the reference desk (I work both so the irony really tickles me). In essence, what my supervisors are telling me, as circ staff, is that they don't trust me to keep it real, honest, and not probing or negative (e.g., "so, you've been checking out a lot of books on divorce lately!"). This in turn leads to my bad feelings about management and their condescension toward their staff, which in turn makes it harder for me to feel satisfied at work and be in the proper mood to provide good service.

Too long a ramble, I know. But I find it interesting that positive comments are viewed as a way to provide "better" service, and further, the double standard with which we still view circ and ref staff.

Incidentally-nice work, Maggie, on plugging the readable NF!

Katharine said...

I disagree that comments of any kind should be made about books selected and taken to the circ desk. At that point, the transaction is private and unless the patron starts the conversation (hope hope ... since I love to talk about books) comments should not be made. At the ref desk it is a little different because you might be talking about the merits of one title over another. Even in Readers Advisory it is recommended that personal comments, I liked, I didnt like, and I recommend should be used sparingly if at all.

Maggie said...

Rick, I love library ethics and thanks for the post.

A little common sense here...

If a person brings "growing indoor gardens" and "what the police know, but just don't tell you" to circ, I'm not going to say, "Hey, you forgot the great 'maryjane' book in the 300s."

Katharine, I'm guessing your rule is in place b/c you have some pages and/or paraprofessionals running the circ.

Professionals know the difference and can/may act on guiding a reader to another choice without invading privacy issues. It's part of being an approachable librarian in an open institution. If we go all mum at any desk (circ/ref/info) we are giving off the wrong vibe.

It's really just too #@*% hard to get people to read (maybe this is regional) in the first place. So, when I see/hear/smell a chance to plug, I'm pluggin'.

Katharine, I would respect your rule if I worked at your institution, but seek to change it at every opportunity.

Also, if one is worried about the next person in line over-hearing, encourage the third grade lesson, "indoor voice."

Nonanon said...

Oh, Maggie, you're talking to a paraprofessional here, so them's fighting words...:) I'm just kidding. I understand the distinction you're making.

I've thoroughly enjoyed this discussion and recognize there's many different ways to go with this "comment/not comment, and at which desk" scenario. I also appreciate, Rick, your comments in red, about both not wanting to be subliminally marketed to and the reminder that there's lots of different viewpoints on this, all valid. Fascinating stuff. The privacy issue, I would guess, will only grow as libraries move to open and out amongst the public holds...I for one am much more annoyed at the thought of everybody being able to wander around hold shelves and look at names than having library staff comment to me on my books. I guess it's all about where we draw our lines, that's all.

JessHeart said...

Personally, I think a lot of the comments on this post are rude and degrading to the "paraprofessionals" out there. I understand the distinction you're making, but just because we don't have masters degrees does not make us unprofessional and unable to tell the difference between what's considered rude. Not having a masters does not mean I'm a moron.

And I'm not kidding. I hope you treat the "paraprofessionals" at your library with, for lack of a better word, professionalism.