A report from the Library Assistants Study Day on 6th November 2018 by Lorna Goudie (Aintree Library) and Julie Potter (JET Library)

Library Assistant Study Days are a wonderful opportunity to step out of the library environment, and really think about your library service and how things are done. Could you do things differently? How could services be improved? By meeting people in similar job roles from other health libraries, you share -and gain - different perspectives on similar practices, ensuring that everyone ends the day with a fresh insight. Whilst contributing your own ideas and opinions you’re able to take away other suggestions which can be incredibly rewarding to implement within your own library. At the recent Customer Experience Workshop, run by Claire Bradshaw – as well as the valuable content of the day and enjoyable networking - it was great to hear about other opportunities within LIHNN. After endless cups of tea and coffee, and sweet treats like pastries and cookies, we found ourselves signing up for all kinds of things, and naturally blaming it on the sugar!  

In the first part of the day we began by sharing our own positive, negative, and mediocre experiences of customer service. Lorna strategically situated herself on the ‘negative experience’ table, as it enabled her to have an impassioned rant about Virgin Trains! Ranting aside though, this allowed us all to consider how we were made to feel in these situations, and whether we changed our behaviour, as customers, because of them. In our group we agreed that our negative customer experiences all involved us feeling as though we had not been listened to.  We felt that the people we’d dealt with had lacked sympathy, passed us from pillar to post and had, on occasions, simply not cared if our problem had been dealt with. Some negative customer experiences arose from being promised things the company could not deliver, leading us to consider the importance of managing customer expectations to ensure a good customer experience. This opening discussion set the tone for the day, by placing ourselves in the customer’s position and in turn applying this approach to our respective library services.

Thinking about what customers expect made us realise that most of the time we are probably meeting their expectations of the service they expect but not having a massive impact. For excellent service to occur the service we provide must exceed customers’ expectations. It is what the customer perceives it to be and it is those perceptions that we have to work with.

Mapping the customer journey was the next step and considering opportunities for changing our existing practice by seeing it as the customer sees it and going through each step from the minute the phone rings, the person approaches the library or clicks on our website. We divided into groups, considered each step and the positive and negative reactions that could lead from them. This led us to think of ways that we could turn negatives into positives and take action – some of these were quick wins – simple actions that we could take immediately. This was really valuable and was a new way for us to look at how we handle a simple enquiry and how we can develop this to exceed expectations. It was interesting to see what each group had come up with and we took a lot away from this.

Lunch followed which gave us an opportunity to share our thoughts on what we had learned so far and how we could do things differently as a result. It also gave us the chance to find out what was going on in other library services, ways they have used to improve numbers of Twitter followers and how differently we each do things. For example, Julie didn’t have access to Athens accounts, and after talking to other library assistants who did she went back to JET, asked about it and now has access. This means she can answer basic queries when the Athens administrator is out of the office which has improved the level of service to customers.

The afternoon covered how we can deliver excellent customer service by using rapport, effective listening, the Can-Can approach and avoiding weasel words! What customers really want is:                             

  • To be listened to
  • To be understood
  • To feel important
  • To be treated like an individual and dealt with flexibly
  • To feel that there is genuine empathy and respect
  • To feel that they are being treated with appropriate behaviour for the situation
  • To be dealt with, with enthusiasm


Rapport can be used as a positive step to building great customer relationships. Claire demonstrated this by getting us to pair up with someone we didn’t know well to learn about what it feels like to be talking to someone who is actively listening in rapport with you and then of someone who couldn’t care less! This was a great exercise as we learnt what a difference rapport and effective listening can make in delivering excellent customer service. There are four levels of effective listening:


Level 1 – Cosmetic listening

Level 2 – Conversational listening i.e. getting the story out, thinking about what to say next

Level 3 – Active listening: participants absorbed and concentrating, in rapport, manager

                  doing little of the talking, asking skilful questions

Level 4 – Deep listening: hearing the emotions, listening to the silences, feeling connected at

                 an emotional as well as intellectual level, in ‘flow’


To provide the best customer experience we need to use deep listening, avoid blocking language (‘I know you’re frustrated but I don’t know the answer) and aim for building language (I appreciate how frustrating this has been. What I can do is…’). We should also aim for the Can-Can approach! Phrasing our response so that we aren’t being negative and using a more positive language about problems.


At the end of the day we both felt energised to plan what actions we can take and create our own individual personal action including any resources needed, timescales and success measures. In putting this together we considered:


We ended up with actions ranging from Quick Wins like moving a zap stand to improve visibility to running an informal customer service experience session, including the rapport exercise, for the rest of the team. At the start of the day we had been asked to think about what we needed for the course to have been successful. At the end we all agreed that the course had met our aims. We felt that we were now prepared to take responsibility for and become more actively engaged in the quality of the customer experience that we provide both personally and across the whole team.

Lorna Goudie (Aintree Library) and Julie Potter (JET Library)