Monday, May 08, 2006

What if.......

DBF and I invaded the Mall of America this weekend. I'm not a mall fan, really, and this one is the mall to end all malls. Really enormous. I'm not a fan of crowds, either, probably because I'm so short I easily feel like I've entered a maze. I don't know that I'll become one of those MoA fans.

That said, however, this weekend also was my introduction to Nordstrom's. Oh. My.

I had heard about Nordstrom's years ago from colleagues from the west coast. They were singing the praises of the store, especially their customer service. I remember being intrigued, but with no stores in the Midwest at the time, it was a moot point. I'm delighted that they're now in my neck of the woods. And having discovered them, I'm hooked.

The customer attention was incredible. None of this walking around looking for a clerk who would please, please ring up a purchase. But the staff wasn't pushy, either. It was just that they were everywhere. And attentive.

If you were in an area for any length of time, someone would approach and ask if they could help. If you had a look on your face that indicated puzzlement, someone would ask if they could help. Sometimes, they would just offer an opinion on whatever you were trying on. And they all had business cards. Now, as someone who worked in the retail world for years, I can tell you how rare it is that anyone outside of upper management would have a business card. But here, everyone did. And they would offer you their card and tell you to contact them with any questions you might have. And I believed them. I really think that if I contacted Mindy, who was our delightful shoe sales person, or Seth, who helped DBF for hours in choosing a suit, they really would help me in any was they could. How incredibly refreshing. (And quick - when was the last time you got to know the name of the retail sales person helping you?)

So, of course, this all got me thinking.

The thing that made the Nordstrom's experience wonderful was people. Not technology. Not stuff. People.

We're in the midst of a movement in the library world to make ourselves indispensable and...well, popular. And we're looking at how technology will help, and how we should be using IM and RSS and podcasts and whatever other swell innovation. And we're examining our collections and collection development policies and wondering whether we're offering our patrons the right stuff, and should we be offering this format, or that service, or getting rid of some stuff in favor of others. And the thing is, it won't matter.

Yes, technology is cool and can appeal to folks. And yes, we want to have collections that serve the greatest number of folks. But unless the human element is there, it won't matter a whit.

When you meet people who have had a horrendous library experience, it's not because they didn't have IM reference, or because their computers weren't the latest, or because they didn't have precisely the book/magazine/graphic novel you wanted.

If they had a horrendous experience, it was because some Old Battleaxe Librarian was horrible and mean and disapproving. They were afraid, they were ashamed, they were angry. And they didn't return.

So.....what if we took a page from the Nordstrom book? What if we abandoned the circ/reference/whatever desk and walked around? What if we approached folks looking bewildered and asked if we could help them? What if everyone in the library had a business card they could hand a patron, offering to help? (Yes, even pages. Everyone.) What if folks would leave our library delighted with how friendly and attentive everyone was, and that, even if they didn't find exactly what they were looking for (as was my case this weekend) they would be back regardless, because it was such a wonderful experience?

What if?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband took me to the Mall of America yesterday too. I can't stand malls. They give me a headache within minutes of arrival. This, the mall to end all malls, was not high on my tourist attraction list, but since he was driving us to the airport to return home to California, I was pretty much a captive audience.

Something strange happened when I entered the mall. First, it seemed that all of the zillion parking spaces were just steps from the mall. A miracle of design, truly. Second, no headache. The screeches and blaring sounds I associate with malls were missing. Third, it was FUN! We did the Paul Bunyon water ride, and it was a blast. A roller coaster in a mall?!

The people who did the design (as well as the Nordstrom clerks) deserve a medal. They were really thinking about making it a pleasant experience - each section of the mall has it's own theme, and its surprisingly easy to find yoru way around.

Every MOA employee we encountered was just great. When we asked about the undersea adventure, the MOAie told us it was $14.95, but didn't push us or scorn or anything. When I wanted to give directions to my husband to get to the Paul Bunyon ride (he was somewhere yonder), the ticket seller talked him through the directions via my cell phone. When I was buying a T-shirt at Razz! T-shirts - and it took a long time, the clerks gave me a beanie babie for my patience.

The whole experience was surprisingly quiet and peaceful, despite the amusement park. I'd actually go back again soon except that it's a bit far from California!
I agree that we have a something to learn from MOA when designing and staffing libraries.

Amazing place.

-Mary M.

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Susan V. said...

Amen. Great post. When I did that hideous assignment on RFID & self-check for you-know-who, one of the biggest things that I learned from it was that there is an opportunity. We can look at self-check & other labor-saving devices and say, "Cool. Cost savings." and let our service go down the tubes, or we can use it to get library employees out from behind the desks and into the stacks to really help people. Libraries that do the latter -- that invest in service -- succeed.

11:57 AM  
Blogger veronica said...

I totally agree, as both an avid shopper and librarian-in-training, that most of the bad press libraries get is from Bad Service. In one of our classes, we were taught The Experience Economy, whereby the transformation of the patron is the actual product. Transformation not only in terms of knowledge, but in terms of the experience of being in the library and working with a librarian transforming them. We have a duty to not only make information accessible but also make the patron want that information...I agree with getting rid of the desks, but too many fixes are quick, unwiedly, expensive and outdated too soon. I hope we follow the Nordstom model of full on customer service too...I think it is the best way to go....Good luck with your Nordstrom addiction, I've been carying mine around for years!

8:39 PM  

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