Report and Recommendations
Customer Service Task Force
Report to the University Librarian and Members of the Library Cabinet
April 12, 1999 (Revised)
The committee met several times. We surveyed current literature on customer service in libraries and read several Library reports that address customer service concerns (see selected reading list attached). We then compiled a databank of all the customer service shortcomings we could think of both in the Library’s dealings with its users and in its intra-unit relations. We consulted with Jerry Lowell about whether to do surveys of other staff or to submit a report with recommendations based on the information we had compiled. In light of the reorganization of the Library administration, we agreed to submit a report pointing to the importance of actions to improve the customer service posture throughout the Library, with the understanding that timing of these actions may need to be coordinated with the evolving administrative structure.
"Customer service" occurs in the Library wherever and whenever there is contact between anyone requesting or expecting a service and a member of the staff expected to provide the service. The first job of the Customer Service Task Force was to define the contact points where customer service occurs or should occur. The task force’s charge explicitly requested it to examine not only contact points with external users of the Library, but also service contact points among staff and units within the Library. Most functions within the library can be perceived as interconnected relationships between service providers and customers. Customer service begins where customers' expectations are set in traditions, on Web pages, signs, voicemail, and publicity, and in human interactions or encounters with computers in the Library. Customer service also begins with interactions among staff and the services their units provide. Staff attitudes affect service and range from the feeling that the customer is the purpose for a service to resentment toward customer as a problem or intrusion. A program to improve customer service would attempt to reinforce the former attitude and eschew the latter.
In the literature of customer service, most programs to improve or assess customer service include surveys designed to objectify what customers want or expect, and to quantify means to measure success at meeting customer expectations. Very often these surveys reveal differences between what customers say they want and what service providers had thought customers wanted. Improving customer service generally requires alignment of services with customers expectations. For improvements in customer service to endure over time, customer satisfaction must be a priority value espoused by all levels of an organization, from top leadership through the ranks of all staff. We recommend that the Library administration conduct surveys to evaluate and quantify customer expectations for services. As one of its highest priorities, the Library administration should also provide training and leadership to improve customer service. To signal commitment throughout the Library to a culture of customer service, we recommend that the mission statement of the Library emphasize the value of high quality external and internal customer service.
External Customer Service: A customer service contact point exists wherever our patrons demand or expect service. This report does not attempt to enumerate every type of user among our public, nor every single service point. Every reference, security, and circulation desk, every service open to the public in any way (even if only by appointment), the bibliographic instruction classrooms, the Librarian’s Office, the Library Web pages, and even vacant or under-construction spaces in our Libraries where customers might wonder what’s going on – ALL of these are customer service contact points. They have an impact on customers whether Library staff think of them as customer service contact points or not. In addition, all library staff may be engaged in customer service contacts through their demeanor (courteous, surly, preoccupied), their expressions of library or professional policies, and the way they implement the mission of The Library to serve faculty, graduates, undergraduates, staff, and any other library users. Signage, organizational decisions, space layout, seating, lighting, bathrooms, and quiet spaces affect customer service.
In a library with a culture of customer service, customer expectations are anticipated and, within the bounds of the library’s purpose, should be met without the need to hunt for answers. Library services and training have been designed to address customer expectations gleaned from well designed customer surveys. Customers generally should feel that services were designed with their needs paramount. The Customer Service Task Force identified many situations throughout the UCB Library in which service to the public falls short of the foregoing statements.
We believe it is not constructive to enumerate service shortcomings, however: anecdotes of poor service under previous administrations are of little value. Many of them arose from inadequate staffing, training, supervision, time, space, or funding. Others stem from lack of awareness of the value of customer expectations, or simply from the lack of guidelines for courtesy and professionalism. Customer service has not been a consistent value in the training, job description, position allocation, and rewards systems of the Library. We recommend initial and periodic surveys of customers (users of all types) be conducted throughout the Library by the Library Administration in order to quantify user expectations and satisfaction levels at a time when the Administration is prepared to actively improve customer service. The experiences of the Task Force members attest to the good will and many good suggestions from most staff in the Library to support a program of improved customer service espoused wholeheartedly and holistically by Library leadership from the top all the way down. We recommend adoption and support of a philosophy explicitly valuing customer service, in terms widely understood and shared throughout the Library, through actions such as position descriptions and allocation and in the rewards systems used by the Library.
Internal Customer Service: Customer service within the library may be defined as how units and staff interact and work with each other, and whether they see themselves in customer/service- provider relationships where the customer’s expectations have an effective influence on service provided by another unit or staff member. It is probably more difficult to assess than customer service to our users. Although we use language like "technical services" and "support units,"these units frequently do not define their mission as satisfying their customers by the criteria their customers use. The use of customers’ criteria is what distinguishes "customer service" from "good" or "efficient" or "cost-effective" service.
In our organization, customer needs have in the past been set by budget, space, or time constraints; options have been selected and procedures defined without involving the staff affected by the change. If a change in one unit affects another, there should be a forum bringing the service providing unit and its customers together to explore alternatives and build acceptance or understanding of the objectives behind the change. The Task Force acknowledges the mandate to stay within budget and to adhere to imposed policies, timelines, and other constraints, but believes that consultation with and involvement of customers in planning and implementing changes and new services could result in greater customer satisfaction.
A cultural and philosophical change is required to develop services following customer defined criteria. To establish a basis for improving internal relations for both customers and service providers in terms set by the staff who use these units, we recommend initial and periodic surveys be conducted to quantify customer satisfaction and to define service for ALL the Library's internal units. The literature of customer service often states that the way library staff treats its users reflects how the library staff treat one another and are treated by their leadership. Once relationships among staff and units within the Library firmly grounded in mutually shared service expectations, the staff of the Library as a whole will experience greater ease delivering customer satisfaction to its external patrons.
The Task Force believes that the Library is currently experiencing a very encouraging surge of optimism and renewed energy for improving services to its customers both external and internal. In our meeting with Jerry Lowell, we saw the likelihood that the new administrative structure and the new AUL’s will incorporate changing the culture to one of service as a high priority. The Task Force is willing to do further work with the AUL’s and the Cabinet in the future. The present report is not intended to be comprehensive or conclusive. We realize that much work remains to be done, and recommend full programs be undertaken within the current calendar year to improve customer service throughout the Library.
Selected Readings: Library Customer Service
Allcock, Sheila. "Maybe the Customer Is Not the Key!" Information development, v. 11 (March 1995), pp. 15-16.
Bicknell-Holmes, Tracy. "Focusing on Quality Reference Service (Using Customer Service Concepts from the Business World)," Journal of Academic Librarianship, v. 20 (May 1994), pp. 77- 81.
Hernon, Peter & Ellen Altman. Service Quality in Academic Libraries. Norwood, NJ:Ablex, 1996 (Z675 U5 H55 1996 Main).
Jurow, Susan & Susan B. Barnard, eds. Integrating Total Quality Management in a Library Setting. New York&London: Haworth, 1993 (Z678 I56 L993 Main).
Raitt, David Iain. "The Customer Is Always . . . What?" The Electronic Library, v. 11 (Feb. 1997), pp. 3-4.
Sirkin, Arlene Farber. "Customer Service: Another Side of TQM," Journal of Academic Librarianship, v. 18, no. 1-2 (1993), pp. 71-83.
Talbot, Dawn E., Gerald R. Lowell & Kerry Martin. "From the Users’ Perspective The UCSD Libraries User Survey Project. Journal of Academic Librarianship (Sept. 1998), pp. 357- 364.
Vespry, H. Arthur. "The Customer Is the Key!" Information Development, v. 10 (March 1995), pp. 15-16.
Walters, Suzanne. Customer Service: A How-To-Do-It Manual For Librarians. New York&London:Neal-Schuman, 1994 (Z711 W275 1994 Main).
Weingand, Darlene E. Customer Service Excellence: A Concise Guide for Librarians. Chicago&London:ALA, 1997 (Z711 W434 1997 Main).
Selected Library and UC Publications
U.C. Berkeley. Blue Ribbon Committee on The Library. Report of the Blue Ribbon Committee on The Library, University of California, Berkeley. Executive Summary. April 1998. (http://cois.chance.berkeley.edu/evcp/ExecSumm.html)
U.C. Berkeley. Joe Barker et al. Library Culture Strategic Planning Core Group. Recommendations for Shaping the Library’s Organizational Culture. Report to the University Librarian. May 31, 1994.
U.C. Berkeley. Katie Fromberg, Barbara Kornstein, Ralph Moon, Andrea Sevetson, & Allan Urbanic. Summary of the Blue Ribbon Committee on Library Final Report, the Report of the External Advisors on the Library, and the Senate Committee on the Library Response to the BRC Final Report. August 10, 1998. (http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/AboutLibrary/reports/BRC.AULSumm.html)
U.C. Berkeley. Senate Library Committee. Senate Library Committee’s response to the Blue Ribbon Committee Final Report (April 1998). May 15, 1998. (http://Amber.Berkeley.EDU:4205/news/committee/libr_brc_resp.html)
U.C. Berkeley. Task Force on Library Services to Undergraduates. Final Report, June 1998. (http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/AboutLibrary/reports/undergrsvrpt.html)