Library Leadership

99. Customer Service Matters with Asti Ogletree

Why does customer service matter? On this show Asti Ogletree, Operations Manager at the East Central Arkansas Regional Library at the Cross County Branch, jumps right into this topic to explore just why customer service matters and how we can help our library teams make it happen. You won’t want to miss this conversation on what to do when we feel like scattering when a difficult patron walks through the door or even how to create “inspiration stations” to help us be our best selves when we are helping people. 

Transcript

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Adriane Herrick Juarez:

This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.

Why does customer service matter? On this show Asti Ogletree, Operations Manager at the East Central Arkansas Regional Library, at the Cross County Branch, jumps right into this topic to explore just why customer service matters, and how we can help our library teams make it happen. You won’t want to miss this conversation on what to do when we feel like scattering when a difficult patron walks through the door. Or, even how to create inspiration stations to help us be our best selves when we’re helping people. Enjoy the show!

Asti, welcome to the show.

Asti Ogletree:

Hi! I’m so glad to be here with you, Adriane.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #1: It’s great to have you here. I’m really excited because today we’re talking about why customer service matters. As we start, will you please share the importance of our topic today, as in why does customer service matter?  01:31 

Asti Ogletree:

Have you ever been to a restaurant and you sat there, and it’s taking forever to get your food, or the service is just subpar? And then you’re like, Ugh—I’m never coming back here, or I can’t wait to tell people that they didn’t do this, or they didn’t do that. Like restaurants, libraries and other service industries rely on repeat customers. So, it’s important for us to remember our code of ethics and how we provide the highest level of service to all our library users. 

That’s why customer service matters, because our libraries are mostly in small communities. Granted we do have big libraries, but for the most part we’ve got our mom and pop libraries. I like to call us rural librarians—where we want people to come in and be like Cheers where everybody knows your—we know their name, right? That’s why customer service matters, because we want to make sure that people feel welcome when they come into our buildings. We want them to feel like they’re always going to either find what they need, or we’re going to direct them where they need to go.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #2: Being welcoming is so important, and that’s why we’re having this conversation, and that’s in best case scenarios. Somebody comes through the door, we know their name. They’re happy. We’re happy. But, Asti, I wanted to ask you today about what happens if we have staff—and this is all of us, who feel like scattering when a difficult patron comes through the door, right? How do we help our teams overcome that?  02:50 

Asti Ogletree:

For starters, let me just say that everyone has an off day. Everyone is allowed to be like, Ohh, I don’t feel like dealing with him, or her today. However, as information professionals, we need to remember that at the end of the day we are here to serve our patrons. Having a supportive team with great communication skills is essential.

Let’s say I am having that off day. There should be someone on my team that already knows that about me, so they’re going to step up, because we’re a team. Sometimes you need your team to step up and everyone plays their part. Having that supportive team with great communication skills is essential. It allows patrons to get familiar with our entire staff, so that they don’t feel like they can just pick that one person when they come through the door. No, you can’t speak with Miss Asti today, you’re going to speak to Adriane today. And Adriane’s going to be able to fulfill your needs just as well as Asti will without an attitude, or without you feeling like you’re going to beat her down today. That’s okay. We’ve got something for that, right?

This will extend beyond the—basically our patrons vary in age, gender, and socio-economic status, but we know that they all deserve the very best from our library. The very best starts with our staff.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #3: How can we provide better customer service for our patrons while fostering positive interactions with our co-workers?  04:31 

Asti Ogletree:

Fostering positive interactions between co-workers is a key to building positive interactions with our patrons. If we know that our greatest assets—like I said earlier, are people. If we treat our people well, then they will in turn treat our patrons well, right? Or, at least we hope that they will. 

This extends beyond the pay scale, too. When you value your asset strength and build each of them up to work within their strength, they’re going to create a cohesive team that will work toward your shared goal, which is what? It’s our mission statement. And, most of our missions are to provide exceptional service, or to provide equitable service, equitable assets, and things like that. So, if we’re treating our staff well, they’re going to in turn treat our patrons well.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #4: What is a service burst mentality?  05:30 

Asti Ogletree:

Service burst mentality—it reminds me of that old saying that charity starts at home. If you think of a service burst mentality in organization culture—it’s the valuing of staff ideas, intentional efforts of diversity and inclusion within your organization, and it’s the opportunity for staff to pursue professional, and personal growth throughout your community—so that they can develop ownership. 

Because, if our staff is developing ownership of the library and the community in which we work, then patrons will see that. They’ll remember that they saw—I used to work in youth services, and I still dibble and dabble in youth services because that’s sort of where my heart is. But, as an operations manager I had to step back, and I work more on the entire spectrum now. 

So, when kids see me out they still see me as Mrs. Tree, that’s because not only do I have kids in the community, my own kids, but I’m at the game, and I go over to the school and do World Read Day, and things like that where they still see my face. And, I’m on boards at the school or we go to meetings within the community, things like that. If they see you buying into the community, and see that you’re a person first, then they will respect you at work when you have on your librarian hat—which I say I never get to take off my librarian hat—but that’s okay, because I love my community, and I love my job.

Basically, if we are out there putting our face forward in our community, they will also realize that the service extends out from us, and it’s not just something that we keep in our hat here at the library. It’s something that everyone can buy into.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #5: It’s been a very unusual year. We were talking about this, a little bit, as we started warming up for the interview today. We’ve got COVID on our doorstep. So, how do we navigate service expectations given what we’re going through? 07:29 

Asti Ogletree:

Okay, well, see—here, I don’t know if you’ve told your listeners that I work at a rural, small library, but COVID has really forced many of us to think outside of the box for programming, and many of our in-person services. Our doors were shut when COVID happened for two, almost three months. When we finally—which by the way I still did online storytimes like many other libraries, and we tried to do other programming for adults, and things, online because in a rural community so many people were without internet. We were just at a loss. We had to think outside the box for programming. This gave us a moment to realign with what our mission was. 

When we came back we immediately started with curbside service. We immediately started with delivery service, things like that to our elders, senior centers, to pre-schools if we needed to. A lot of them wouldn’t let us come inside so we would read from outside. Whatever we needed to do to fulfill that need. So when we asked ourselves, What do our patrons expect of us? And, does that align with the services that we are providing? We needed to bring it back to the basics. Like the author Simon Sinek—he says, Remember our why. I have to stress that with my staff, and even with my family sometimes. I have to remember, Why are we doing this? Why do we do the things that we do?

We’re doing it because we’re being led to. We’re doing it because this is—at the heart of librarianship, it’s service. So, we had to bring it back. Empathy has been one of our key strategic goals during the pandemic. We needed to empathize with our community, whether it was—we were hit with COVID, or not. Or, someone in our family was hit with COVID, or not. Someone else might be. Someone might be stressed. Someone may have just lost someone in their family due to COVID. What would be the point of giving them poor service with what they’re already going through, you know what I mean? Let’s shift our perspective and figure out how we can best serve our patrons where they are, daily. That was what our goal was during COVID.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #6: Absolutely. And, you take this a step further with something I really like. You talk about creating inspiration stations at our libraries. What are these Asti, and how can we develop them?  10:13 

Asti Ogletree:

Okay. At our library our inspiration station started in our break room. During COVID we had time that we could paint and have some remodeling done at our library, thank goodness. I decided that I was going to go in there and strip our break room down and make it more of an inviting space, because at first we were using it for like—you know, we go in there we heat up food, there’s a little refrigerator, and then there’s a countertop that had, it was a catch-all. We put everything in there, and I said, No, we’re going to stop doing this. In here, we’re supposed to be able to come and take a break. We’re supposed to be able to come in here and regroup, and think about some things. 

You know, every once in a while people decide not to go out for lunch. They want to have lunch there. Well, let’s make this space inviting. Let’s make this space somewhere where if I’m having a bad day at the desk, I can step away for a moment. I’m not even saying I’m against it—you can go in there and cry if you need to, but this space has to be safe, and it has to be inviting. 

So, our inspiration station is just a safe space where our staff can take a breath, regroup, and align, change your perspective, or brainstorm. It’s got a—you know, we had to be intentional about the space. It has a dry erase board. It’s got plants, some brain puzzles, and that literally meant I went to the dollar store and bought some puzzle books, some markers, that dry erase board—that I go in and put a quote on. Or, my desk supervisor goes in and puts a quote on every once in a while, or a question to make people think. Because, what we’re trying to do is get those juices going, so that when you go out there to our patrons, you’re bringing something to the table, you’re bringing you—every single time you’re at the desk, you’re bringing you.

Our patrons who are coming in as our recurring customers, they’re coming in and they want a piece of you every single time they’re coming in, but you want to give them something that’s not stagnant. You want them to feel like, Wow. You never know who you are going to inspire. That’s one of those things that I guess is on my to-do list that I always want to be an inspiration to others. So, if I can inspire my staff to inspire someone then I guess I’ve done my job for the day, right? 

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #7: Definitely, and that support of staff helps them support our community, so it makes so much sense. Asti, is there anything else you want to share?  12:50 

Asti Ogletree:

I’m just going back to the inspiration station. I have a dart board, because I actually like to play darts. When I’m thinking—trying to get some things together for a program, I’ll go in there and I’ll throw darts. There’s a sound machine in there. One of my staff members —he’s in school too. He’ll go in there before he starts his shift, and maybe read a chapter in his textbook. He’s in there with the sound machine going and he’s like, I would have never thought that this is better than those youtube lofi things that you can listen to. He’s like, This is just so serene. 

It makes you go, Humm, maybe I’m doing what I’m supposed to do for my staff—making them better people. I just encourage other people to step out of the box that it’s got to be a break room, or a bathroom—if you’ve got a space, even if it’s just a closet. If you’ve got a space that you can put a mirror in so they can see themselves, maybe smile for a moment and go, You know what? Life doesn’t have to be this hard. I can be a good person to everyone. Then they can go back out and it totally changes the atmosphere. And that’s all it’s about.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #8: Is there anything else you’d like to share?  14:18 

Asti Ogletree:

Well, you know how sometimes when we go to conferences, and you look at their roster and you pick where you want to go, and what workshops you want to sit in, and you’re like, I’m going because I want to get something new? Well, sometimes it’s not always about the new thing. Sometimes it’s about refocusing and hearing things you already know, but in a different way. Those are the things that stick with us. 

I love that about going to conferences, but I think I’m going to love it more about this podcast that your platform allows people to hear things that maybe they’ve already heard before, but just needs a refresher.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #9: Thanks, Asti. And, I know that we all think about customer service. We all know how customer service matters, that having this conversation reminds us about ways to do that, and how important it is. So, I’m really excited to be talking with you about this today.

Do you have any favorite management, or leadership books, or resources, and why?  15:02 

Asti Ogletree:

I have a book called Soar with Your Strengths, and it’s by Donald Clifton, and Paula Nelson, that I actually read in college. I refer to it quite often, actually. It helped me to realize who I was in a managerial perspective, I guess. Once I realized what I was good at, it was easier for me to work with all kinds of people. So, that would be my go-to for that. 

There’s one that I’m currently reading called, Becoming a Powerhouse Librarian: How to Get Things Done Right the First Time. It’s by Jamie Gray. It is one of those books that I wish would have been required in library school, because honestly, you learn—I was a librarian before I went to library school. I worked in youth services. Then I went to library school, and that just refined everything that I had already picked up from work. It was one of those, Oh, that’s why we do that. Oh, okay. So, Becoming a Powerhouse Librarian would have been a great book to read while I was in school. 

And then honestly, Adriane, right now, Burnout: the Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, by Emily, and Amelia Nagoski. That one is on my to-do list of books that I’m going to read, because the introduction was enough to let me know that, You know what? Everyone can feel burnout, and it doesn’t just start at work. Sometimes it starts with your home life, and it manifests at work, or vice versa. There’s nothing wrong in learning about burnout, and knowing your triggers, and things like that, so you can be the best you—you can be. Because, it’s not always about the physical—sometimes it’s about the mental. Those are the books I would recommend right now.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #10: So relevant, thank you for those. They sound great. In closing, what do libraries mean to you personally?  17:23 

Asti Ogletree:

Oh, wow, okay—putting on my youth services hat for a second. Libraries are a safe place for people to be their authentic self and to explore places and ideas that are beyond their dream. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, so I was a patron of the Columbus Metropolitan Library. If anyone knows, that’s not rural at all. It’s the Metropolitan Library. 

But, now I’m a librarian at a small, rural library. I can see the need for there to be an open library here where I am, because there are so many children that don’t realize the world that’s beyond their borders, do you know what I mean? If they don’t have someone that’s here to show them, and ask them—it seems like a simple question to us, but what was the last book you read? But if you never ask, there’s some kids out there that are never—they’re only reading what the teacher assigns. That’s all they’re reading, because they don’t like to read, or they think they don’t like to read. I love—that’s one of the things I love most about being a youth services librarian was that I could pull that out of a kid and say, Wait a minute, what’s the last good book you read? And then they say, Oh, I really don’t like to read. Oh, no, no, no honey, you just don’t know that you like to read. You haven’t found the right book, and guess what—Miss Tree is here to help you find the right book. 

So, the kicker that I love most about libraries is that this is a place that’s safe, like I said. It’s without judgment and all of the opportunities are for free. In a world where we see that the digital divide is stifling, libraries are one of the only places where people can get equitable access at all times. I love it.

Adriane Herrick Juarez:

Question #11: I love it too. And, I’m so glad that you advocate for libraries—not only through all the things you do from asking children about what books they’ve read to making sure that libraries stay free and open for everyone, but making sure that when people come through the door, they receive customer service that matters. This has been a great conversation, and I’m so glad to have had you on the show today. Thank you.  19:37 

Asti Ogletree:

Thank you for having me.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. For more episodes tune into LibraryLeadershipPodcast.com, where you can now subscribe to have monthly updates delivered right into your email inbox. Our producer is Nathan Sinclair Vineyard. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

We would like to thank the Park City Library for their dedicated support of this show. The opinions expressed on this show are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect the views of Library Leadership Podcast, or our sponsors.

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