Next summer it will be twenty years since I qualified as an 'Information Professional'. Reflecting back on the years since I landed in the world of libraries I personally have changed enormously, just the usual list of becoming older, (a bit) wiser, finding more grey hairs and wrinkles etc. However, more notably the environment I work in, and libraries themselves, have significantly changed around me along the way. There are the obvious changes; computers have replaced typewriters, furniture is no longer uniformly brown and we've got far more sophisticated electronic resources than the CD-ROMS I used in my first job. But alongside the obvious there are also the more subtle changes that have taken place in our attitudes and ways of working. When I first joined the profession there was a strong focus on staff being 'professionally qualified' librarians and a strong theme was that we, as professional staff, knew best about what to provide for our library users. This wasn't incorrect, and I'm sure plenty of good things were going on in libraries at the time, but today the relationship we have with our customers is much more central to our service planning than the use of our own expertise. Asking our customers what they would like to see us provide, and how, is now paramount to our success.
A watershed project
In 2012 we introduced our Flexible Loans here in the Library and for me personally that was a watershed moment when the penny really dropped that we were able to do things differently and with success. At the time we embarked on the project to design a new way of lending books to our users we threw out the rule book and set about the challenge of designing a loans model which actively sought participation in the design process from our user community.
"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."
Ernest Hemingway, Author and Journalist
Listening to our users and feeding their ideas and preferences into our resulting service development became our primary aim. This contrasted starkly with the way things had been done previously when loans review projects had usually been structured around library staff locking themselves away in darkened rooms to complete the work required. The end result of those old style reviews was usually a few minor changes on the loans model - 20p on a fine here, a new loan category there - things that really lacked the impact we wanted to see. But it was "job done, see you again in another few years for the next review".
With Flexible Loans we really changed our approach and as a result I believe we really changed the impact we had. The model has resulted in a much more customer focused method of loaning books, and while it isn't perfect, it works well and ensures that our book stock is working hard and getting circulated to those who need it. Our flexible loans work inspired us to think differently about how we work with library users. Since then we've put the customers at the heart of everything we do and we have seen the same principles used in the loans work be adopted, adapted and taken to new heights across all our areas of activity within Information Services.
A credit to the team
Sitting in the background of this change to the way we worked, both driving and guiding our customer engagement, has been our work on implementing the Customer Service Excellence (CSE) framework and accreditation. To find out more read the story of our accreditation in a previous post of mine. CSE is the tool we have embedded across Information Services to support our desire for continuous improvement. We’ve held the standard for over four years now and we use it to monitor how we are doing when it comes to our customer service skills, as well as our customer focus. It has prompted us to ask ourselves what else can we do to further improve our engagement with our customers. As such is providing the context for some work we are doing this year to explore, formalise and expand our customer engagement strategy.
Writing our engagement strategy
During academic year 2016/17 we are writing up our engagement strategy. We're not even sure we want to call it a strategy at this stage, but we know we want to discuss what customer engagement means to us. We are asking ourselves what we do, why we do it, how we do it and how we might want to measure it. We want to understand the skills and techniques our staff need in order to do customer engagement well. And then we plan to write all that down so we can share our thoughts with each other and our customers. It is worth noting that our definition of customer is quite wide ranging, we apply it not only to the people who come through our doors or request our help but also to each other and colleagues we work alongside across the University - those we call our internal customers.
Grab & Go!
As part of background research for working on our engagement strategy we are doing some customer consultation during November and December and will be asking for the opinions and ideas from our users about a range of initiatives we're working on in Information Services. This consultation will take the form of one of our 'Grab & Go' surveys, a technique where we 'grab' someone to ask if they can spare a few moments to answer a few questions, give them a very short questionnaire to fill out and then let them 'go'.
By doing a high number of grabs and keeping the questions tightly focused we can create efficiencies and gather opinions and ideas on a wide range of topics all at the same time. This year along with the question about how important engagement is to customers and how they would like to us to engage with them, we are asking about new user induction, our Digital Skills Guide, our Customer Charter and the Service Standards we set ourselves.
Tell us more
If you see us out and about doing our Grab & Go please do spare us a few minutes to let us know what you think. Alternatively if you'd like to get in touch to comment on our engagement strategy, or any other area of our work, we have our feedback scheme available or you can email me direct, see box below for further information. So go on, do your bit to help shape and build our services in a way that puts you at the heart of what we do.