Friday, March 31, 2006

Dumping rules by the light, er, dark of the moon

Maybe it was the new moon on the 29th, but at the same time I was writing about Nordstrom's one-rule employee handbook, Sophie Brookover was eloquently expressing her frustration with all the rules and red tape that libraries inflict on their customers. (see: Pop Goes the Library: Red Tape = Patron Kryptonite)

In Robert Spector's book "Lessons from the Nordstrom Way" he devotes a whole chapter to "dumping the rules". Spector suggests, rightly so methinks, that every rule -- EVERY rule -- is a barrier between the library and the customer. If you feel resistance to this idea and start thinking about all of the reasons you need the rules, I ask you to ponder: Do the rules make things easier/better for your customer?

It amazes me that Nordstrom is still one of the few stores out there to have a true no-questions-asked return policy. Most stores think that a return policy that liberal is a recipe for customer abuse. And you know what, some customers DO abuse it. But Nordstrom's philosophy is to focus their attention and energy on giving great service to their great customers--the ones who never abuse the policy and greatly appreciate being able to return something 3 months later without getting a dirty look. What Nordstrom gets in return (seriously, no pun intended) is an extremely loyal and vocal customer base. Do they lose a little money when they take returns on items that other retailers wouldn't even give store credit for? Sure, they lose a little. But they gain so much more. Do they "reward bad behavior" when they take a return on a leather jacket with the elbows worn away? Nordstrom (wisely) doesn't look at it that way.

So are your rules designed to prevent the worst customers from taking advantage? Does someone on your staff suggest that dumping a rule is equivalent to "rewarding bad behavior?" Have you considered the price you are paying by punishing the majority of your good customers to deal with a few of the bad?

Suffice to say, I empathize with Sophie B's frustration, and agree that we need to seriously evaluate the rules in our rule books and question the value of every one of them - from the customer's perspective.


Thursday, March 30, 2006

Use your good judgment in all situations...

In Janie's first post she mentions that the quip, "sharing is the new black" has been rattling around her brain for a few days. One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog is because it's beginning to feel like there's no room left in my brain for anything to rattle. It feels more like that closet upstairs that's already full, but every time I find some new interesting tchotske at a garage sale I bring it home and stick it in the closet. So now the closet's full of cool stuff, but I don't often stop to look at any of it, I just keep finding a little open space to shove in some more.

Library Garden is my place to take some of those ideas I've been accumulating and revisit them. Pay them some attention. Show them to my friends and colleagues. Talk about them. And in turn I hope to get turned on to some new ideas and develop a deeper understanding and a broader perspective on my own.

In no particular order here are some ideas/questions that have been stuck up in the old attic:

Customer Service
If you glanced at my bio you know I used to work for Nordstrom. It was one of my first "real" jobs (no funny hat, no dyno labelmaker nametag ), so I didn't have the perspective to appreciate what a wonderful organization it is. On my first day of work I was handed the "Employee Handbook". The Handbook is a 5 x 8 inch card that says "welcome to Nordstrom" and then moves on the rules: "Rule #1. Use your good judgment in all situations. There will be no additional rules. Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time."

An employee handbook with one rule? "Use your good judgment in all situations."? That's it??? Then the store manager -- an actual Nordstrom boy, who worked his way up to Store Manager; like every upper level employee, he had to start at the bottom -- tells us we will NEVER get in any trouble for doing ANYTHING as long as we can demonstrate that we were doing it to deliver good service to the customer. OK, now here's the thing: He really meant it.

Think about that for a minute. One rule, "use your good judgment" (note, they don't say "best judgment"; they give employees credit for having good judgment right from day one.) One rule, followed by the encouragement to do anything that the low-level, inexperienced employee deems appropriate to give good customer service. That's employee empowerment, and it's that foundation of trust that naturally gives rise to the famous Nordstrom culture of customer service.

Now think about the experience of library customers. What is the experience of the customer that walks through your doors (real or virtual.) How different would their experience be if libraries told staff to "go out and give great service", and meant it, and supported it, and rewarded it. How different? How different would the customer's experience be if we ditched the rules?

You can guess my answer. My little plea is this: Think like a customer. Try to experience your library from the customer's point of view. Ask them what you do right and what you could do better, but remember that many of them think your "nice" and don't want to hurt your feelings. Also their expectations may be rather low... So in addition to talking to them put yourself in their footwear and walk a few laps around your library in their shoes. Ditto for your website. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? Try calling your phone system, does it work well? Try renewing a book on that self-checkout machine over in the corner (yes the one with community newspapers piled on top - - and oh yeah, don't forget to plug it in.) Does it work? Is it optimally placed and signed for customer usage?

I'll be posting more in the future about library walk-throughs and some of things we've been doing in New Jersey to help libraries think about "Library as Place". In the meantime I welcome you to take a peak at some of the material we generated in 2004 when NJLA chose "Lessons From the Nordstrom Way" as our first "Leading Through Reading" selection (think "What if every library staff member in NJ read the same book?")

Well, this was going to be a laundry list of ideas (Library 2.0 is next on the list) but time she has run out. Talk to yuz soon.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

About Library Garden - Podcast

this is an audio post - click to play

About Library Garden

(You can reach us at librarygarden[at]

Library Garden has been conceived as an ongoing conversation among librarians with differing perspectives (public, academic, consortial, state, youth, LIS) but one shared goal: ensuring the health and relevance of libraries.

Library Garden is maintained by a team of contributing editors. We will each contribute to the blog, offering our individual perspectives on issues that affect or relate to libraries of all types. But we will also get together for regular topical conversations -- conversations with each other, with others, with you -- and post those conversations to the blog.

We love reading interviews, and often find them more interesting and stimulating than the articles that appear in our professional literature. Therefore, we intend to interview members of our extended library family, and occasionally interview folks from outside of the library fold, and post those interviews to the blog for your reading pleasure.

While the Garden is tended by our team of contributing editors, we would also like to open this forum to the occasional guest editor. If you have a piece you’d like to contribute, or discussion you'd like to be a part of, let us know.

Simple. We're from New Jersey, the "Garden State". Before you snicker, consider this: Our tiny little New Jersey ranks number 2 nationally in blueberry production, number 3 in cranberry production, number 3 in bell pepper production and number 4 in peach production. Also we have the best corn and tomatoes in the world. So there.