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Navigating 3 Tricky Customer Conversations

by on March 12, 2013

One of the best perks of working in public libraries is interacting with our customers.  We spend much of our time building connections with patrons in our community. But when issues involve library users that we know and like, things become complex. When concerns arise, how do we fix them while maintaining the patron relationship? The key to navigating these tricky encounters with ease and grace is to set limits.  Follow the three scenarios below that outline some of the more common challenges library workers may face.

The Longwinded Talker: You’ve built a good rapport with this patron, but now every time she comes in, you get drawn into a long, long conversation. It’s not that you don’t like talking to her – you genuinely do –you just don’t have the time for a ten minute chat. Plus, your colleagues are giving you the stink eye as they pick up the slack at the service desk.

The Goal: You want to exit the conversation gracefully without hurting the customer’s feelings or damaging the relationship.

How: Tackle the issue before you hear your internal clock ticking to take some of the pressure off.  Look for a natural break in the conversation, and then reiterate your enjoyment of the discussion. “I’m so glad you came in today, Mrs. Smith; I always enjoy talking books with you.” This statement may be all you need to part ways; if not, continue with something like, “I’d love to keep the conversation going, but I’ve got to get ______ done.”

The Personal Librarian: Maybe you recommended a great book to read, or expertly handed a reference query. Now, this patron thinks you walk on water and he will only come to you for all his library needs. At first, you’re flattered: hey, this guy thinks you’re the best librarian ever!  But it’s evolved into an issue, in that he refuses to be helped by other library staff except to ask for you specifically.

The Goal: You want to be rid of your personal librarian status without losing him as a library patron.

How:  Involve other librarians in your work with him so that he can get to know and be comfortable with them.  “Let’s talk to Felicity, Mr. Jones; she’s an expert at using this database.”   “I’m not able to assist you today, Mr. Jones, but you’re in good hands with Scott.” 

The Too Personal:  You’ve had several conversations with this customer, and may have shared information about yourself.   Now, your patron, with what you assume are good intentions, asks questions that are a bit too personal.  Maybe it’s your relationship status, your religious beliefs, or political opinions, but the conversation has crossed a personal threshold.

The Goal: You don’t want to answer questions that are this personal, but you don’t want to be rude, either.  Again, you like this customer, you just don’t want this level of intimacy with her.

How: It’s okay to say that you’re uncomfortable.  In fact, it may be preferable to be that direct, otherwise, you may find yourself in the same territory time and time again.  You can be gentle and firm, “I’m sorry Mrs. Adams, I just can’t talk about my personal beliefs at work.”  Or “I enjoy our discussions, Mrs. Adams, but in the workplace, I don’t discuss my feelings on _____.”

Got any helpful hints for the rest of us?  Please share in the comments section below!