Thursday, April 1, 2010

What I learned about customer service

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Public Library Association (PLA) conference in Portland, Oregon.  It was a great experience and I learned a lot - so, I thought I would share a bit of what I learned with you this morning.
All of the sessions I attended were great, but one in particular was extraordinary.  It was entitled: "You Want Me To Do What? Innovative Training for Soft People Skills."  Cheryl Gould, Molly Westmoreland and Mary Nacu from San Jose Public Library in California opened the session by saying, "Everyone, stand up."  With that, more than 300 librarians got to their feet for the first of four exercises designed to build people skills that could enhance customer service.  This was no longer just a conference session, but a fun learning environment.  These exercises are just part of the program that was carried out across the San Jose Library System to "redesign their staff."  A study done in their library determined that signs and layout were great, but patrons were still looking for (and not finding) library staff.  To do this, an experiential training model was used that allowed the trainees to practice "connecting behaviour" skills, such as eye contact, tone of voice, listening and body language.  
Here's an outline of the four exercises that we did during the session:
Try them with your staff - you might learn something!
1. Magic Refrigerator: With a partner (or a group of three) work together to tell a story about a magic refrigerator.  One participant starts the story and stops when the facilitator yells "switch!"  Continue the story where the first person left off until each person has had a few turns.  This is a really fun exercise and helps to teach listening skills.  Many people realized that they were thinking about what they would say next, rather than listening.  Are you a good listener?
2.  Hand Mirroring: This exercise is about fostering cooperation. Two partners standing face to face with palms toward one another pattycake style (but not touching), took turns leading one another through hand motions and then trying to share the leadership.  There is no talking allowed during this exercise - and without talking, the shared leadership task is very difficult.
3.  Eye contact vs. Sliding Away: This exercise makes people aware of their eye contact habits with strangers and can be very enlightening.  Using the same partners as the Mirroring exercise, take turns being the one that holds eye contact and the one that looks and then "slides away."  Next, practice the exercise with the strangers around you.  The feeling of someone looking at you and then looking away is really uncomfortable - imagine how your patrons feel if they get that in the library from staff.
4.  Voice Mirroring: This one is simple and is another one that works on developing listening skills.  One person speaks slowly and clearly and the other works on predicting their next word before they say it (speaking along with them).  
Try these out and see what you can learn from them - plus, they are really fun.
I've asked the presenters for the full training module, so I may be able to share more about this with you in the future.
You could even practice these with your families over the long weekend - see how well your husband, wife, daughter, etc. listens and cooperates. :)

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