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?