What Does Customer Service to Teens Look Like in the Library?
I was recently asked an interesting question: what should customer service to teens look like in the library?
The truth is that customer service to teens should look the same as customer service to any other library patron looks. Every library patron who walks through the library door should get the same high quality and friendly service regardless of race, gender, disability and yes, age. Your library should have one and only one approach to customer service and it should apply to every one. Anything less then consistent, quality customer service to all patrons is both discriminatory and bad for business.
Hopefully your library has a strong emphasis on customer service and provides routine training. If it doesn’t, discuss putting some training in place with your administration. And as your library’s teen services representative, make sure you are a part of the planning and decision making in your library to make ensure teen teen interests are represented in the discussion. Some library policies, like obtaining library cards and Internet use, can be more complicated with the teen audience. You want to make that the unique challenge of teenagers are at least considered in the discussion.
So, what should good costumer service to teens look like?
It should be friendly and approachable
Every patron that walks through your library doors wants to feel welcomed and valued. Staff should be friendly and approachable. Smile. Interact with patrons in a professional and courteous manner. As part of your training have staff think about their positive and negative customer services experiences. Ask them what made those experiences stand out in their minds. As you discuss and outline these experiences you will come up with positive and negative examples of costumer experiences. By having staff reflect on their own experiences, it will help them realize the hallmarks of good customer service. The golden rule of life applies to customer service: treat others as you would want to be treated.
Remind staff the importance of good customer service because customer service is PR. Patrons are much more likely to go out and share their negative experiences with 7 to 10 people. This type of negative PR is very hard to counteract and your best defense is a good offense; make sure patrons walk out of your library with nothing but good experiences to share. Today it is easier then ever to share one’s experiences. Many teens have Facebook or Twitter accounts and all it takes is for a teen to get online and share with their 200+ friends that “Generic Public Library HATES teens”. But we can also use this to our advantage by giving them reasons to share their positive library experiences with 200+ friends.
It should be consistent
A good starting point for customer service is to make sure your library has policies and procedures in place letting staff know how to handle a wide variety of patron interactions and ensure high quality, consistent services to all patrons. The consistent implementation of policies and procedures helps both staff and patrons understand expectations and decreases the hostility that can arise from miscommunication. Consistent policies and procedures also help ensure that the patron’s experience will be the same regardless of what staff member they are interacting with; when they come in on Friday and see staff member A they will get the same experience as when the see staff member B on Tuesday. In addition, they will see the patrons around them being given the same high quality service and being asked to meet the same patron responsibilities. The fastest way to create negative patron experiences is for the patron to see other patrons being given service that they are not. Patrons – including teen patrons – like to have clearly defined expectations from behavior in the library to Internet use.
It should be informed
Helping staff understand teen development and your teen services goals can help to decrease staff anxiety about teens in the library. As with all things regarding staff attitudes, communication and team building can help break down barriers and make staff feel more comfortable in serving the teen audience. Make sure you have a clearly outlined teen services program with a mission statement, goals, and appropriate evaluation measures. I encourage you to communicate with staff on a regular basis making sure they know about upcoming programs, new and popular books and readalikes, trends in teen literature and pop culture, etc. With some basic information, some basic tools, in their belt staff will feel more confident when teens approach the public service desk.
To help develop your teen services and communication model with staff check out these previous posts:
YALSA has put together a helpful presentation on Guidelines for Library Services to Teens Ages 12-18. I recommend consulting it as you help put together your library’s customer service model and training packet.
Reshaping Our Experiences
So often when we walk away from a patron service desk we walk into a back office and begin sharing a story about the horrible customer interaction that we just had, forgetting that there were 90 other completely routine ones. But those negative ones stay with us and we need to process them, to process the stress of it and state our case. There is a catharsis in getting it out and sharing. But what if, after we discussed our negative experience, we made it our goal to always follow the negative with a positive. To make sure, for ourselves and others, that we share ourpositive interactions and remind ourselves that it is more often good then bad. As I discuss in one of the above mentioned blog posts, part of your regular communication with staff should be an emphasis on positive experiences between teens and the library. Report statistics, positive feedback, and those stories when I teen came back and told you that they loved the book you recommended.
Reshaping Our View of Teens
When you understand teen development, it is easier to understand why they do the things they do. Brain research shows that they literally don’t have the biological mechanisms in place to make the same types of decisions that adults do. Again, some of this is discussed in one of the previous posts shared above. When we understand behavior, it is easier to deal with it. I also recommend making yourself and staff familiar with the 40 Developmental Assets and your library’s role in helping teens obtain assets and grow in healthy ways. By reshaping the way we see teens, staff can be more comfortable when the clock strikes 3 and you get the after school rush.
Reshaping Our Staff
As we share our knowledge of teens and teen services, we invite co-workers to be a part of our teen services program. To be a part of the team. Teambuilding is important because as staff become a part of the team, they become vested partners in providing quality customer service to teens. It’s no longer you providing customer services to teens, but the library providing quality service to teens.
You often hear teen librarians making a case for teen services by saying that “teens are our future.” The truth is, teens are also our here and now. Teens are members of our community with information, education and recreation needs. They are making important decisions about who they are and who they want to become. They are forming foundational opinions about the library and its role in their life. They are deciding whether or not they will be library users and supporters. If teens walk away from the library today, it will be hard to get them back later. Today more than ever there is a lot of competition in programming, services, and informational needs. If we fail to capture and keep our teen patrons today, it is unlikely that we will be able to do so later; make sure your teens feel welcomed and served by every staff member in your building. And use the powerful force of social media by creating loyal teen customers that will spread positive words about your library.
More About Good Customer Service:
8 Rules of Good Customer Service at About.com
The 10 Commandments of Good Customer Service at About.com
Authentic Promotion: Giving Customers What They Really Want
How to Create a Customer Service Plan
What Do We Mean by “Customer Service” Anyway?
Other tools for you to use:
Visit YALSA. They have a large variety of tools including some on advocacy and a bibliography of current teen related research.
VOYA, an essential teen librarian tool, often has teen pop culture quizzes that you can use with staff.
Frontline on PBS did a good report Inside the Teenage Brain that you may want to check out.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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