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Becoming a “One Point of Service” Library in 5 Steps

by Matt Smith, Collection Maintenance Librarian, Kalamazoo (Michigan) Public Library -- email him at MattS@kpl.gov on January 23, 2015

One Point of Service” (OPoS) is a customer service philosophy of empowerment, in which library staff  are encouraged to take initiative to meet the needs of patrons. Loosely defined,  “One Point of Service” means that wherever or whomever a patron goes for help– be it shelver, Reference Desk, website, roaming librarian, switchboard operator, or HR person trying to get to lunch—these are all Points of Service. To the patron, they are all the same. Patrons could not care less about departments, various staff roles, or other weird reasons why they must be sent to another staff member, another public service desk, or another line to wait in. They want help and you look like the right person for the job (and you are). They want to find books, add money to their account, print, or make copies. They want their library card number to get on a computer. They want to know the phone number to a local business, how many items they can check out, and where to go for tax forms. This is the reality and the expectation; for the most part, it’s valid. We need to meet that expectation. OPoS says that wherever a patron goes for help, they will be helped most of the time. In person, on the phone, online, at a Branch—let’s make every Point of Service the strongest it can be. Here’s how we did it at the Kalamazoo (Michigan) Public  Library.

1. Gather a Team
If you already have a Customer Service Committee, that can be your team. Or consider starting one. Lower than 6 members might be too small, but more than 10 members might stall decision making (we had about 10). Make sure several members represent various public service desks. Pick a regular meeting time. Start talking about the concept, spread the word, and saturate the culture with your new catchword. Start talking to managers about it; you will need their support. By the time you are ready to formally start training, staff will already know about it. You will be surprised to hear your catchword—One Point of Service—used in causal work conversations. This worked very well for us.

2. Choose your “One Point Services”
One Point Services—defined as fast, simple, frequently asked about services that all staff can do—are the nuts and bolts of OPoS philosophy. First comes empowerment,  then comes training. You are obviously not going to train every single staff member on every single service that the library offers. But what you can do is focus on those services that are frequently asked about by patrons and that are easy to train (hence fast and simple).  Identifying these services took us a while.  Yet after analyzing various public service desks, we ended up with eight One Point Services: simple library card renewal, add money to card, renew materials, place hold and hold position, basic account info, giving out PIN and library card number, simple searches and basic understanding of collection, and local business address and phone numbers. Those made sense for us. (Notice: some of these services involve patron privacy issues. For example, if a patron wants their library card number, do they need a photo ID? Make sure you have this conversation in advance, so that everyone is on the same page.) To summarize what was expected in regards to OPoS, we boiled it down to three fundamental skills:  staff knows basic ILS functions; staff knows how to use library website to find information; and staff knows basic library policies. That pretty much encompasses the eight “One Point Services” and indeed the entire OPoS philosophy.

3. Write a Plan
It was important for us to submit a short, written One Point of Service Plan to a team of managers for approval. This spelled out what One Point of Service meant, what the One Point Services were, and how staff was to be trained. Keep it simple. It enjoyed unanimous support and was called a “game changer.” The Board of Directors was happy with it. Perhaps most important, OPoS generated a lot of excitement from staff (for some skeptical staff concerns, see below Common Myths).

4. Train
When you are dealing with a large amount of employees, plan carefully and allow for several avenues of training. First, to introduce the OPoS concept, we created a really fun video and played it at a required staff meeting. The video was humorous, illustrated the problem we are trying to solve, and described the solution (that is, OPoS). Following the video, the Customer Service Committee led a nice discussion, which organically brought up good talking points and dispelled some myths and concerns about OPoS. Finally, for the actual training we offered several opportunities:

  1. Two mass trainings, where we went over the procedures and policies of each One Point Service one by one
  2. “Department Deputies,” staff within your department that you could get training from
  3. A department could host a training session by inviting a “deputy” to their regularly scheduled meeting
  4. All procedures were posted on our intranet (Sharepoint), which is easily accessible and includes videos.

5. Measure Success
First make sure that every staff member is trained in OPoS: substitutes, catalogers—we even had a special meeting with custodians. We had a Training Log document that was accessible onlinealso that the Department Deputies could check off as needed. Also, make sure all new employees are trained as a part of their orientation. And last but certainly not least, figure out a way to measure success (or failure). Success has many meanings, no doubt, but let’s start with real data. We decided to count the number of library card renewals that were performed in a week—renewals that would not have been performed under the old way (that is, we counted all renewals except those that happened at the Circulation Desk). This is hard data, meaningful data and frictionless. We didn’t want to burden staff by doing tally sheets or surveys (although they are valid options). As of writing this, we are working on getting these numbers.

Success means reaching goals. From the beginning, OPoS had three goals: (1) to uphold our Code of Service, which is essentially the Patrons’ Bill of Rights, posted on our website, (2) to reduce the “runaround” that patrons experience from service point to service point, and (3) To reduce departmental silos, increase interdepartmental communication, and foster a holistic view of the organization. In other words, consistency of service.

Looking at these goals, I’m happy to report that OPoS is a success at KPL. Staff is more empowered and therefore patrons are more satisfied. I have personally noticed a decrease in giving patrons the “runaround.” Most importantly, the organizational culture has changed to a more holistic, interdepartmental, service-based philosophy.

In theory, you can become a One Point of Service library in five easy steps. But in practice, this is a large project.  It took much longer than I thought, it involved some compromise, and nothing’s perfect (not to mention human nature resists change). Perhaps we didn’t do enough. But, as someone who works at multiple service points myself, I felt the benefits immediately. The very same day of training I found myself on the Reference desk helping patrons pay fines through our website and renewing library cards. Helping patrons. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re here for, and that’s what we love to do.

Three Common Myths

Myth One: Even so called “simple services” can get complicated. What do I do then?
A: Yes, we agree; refer them to another staff member. There is no shame in that; in fact, knowing when to refer is essential to good customer service. A simple search sometimes becomes a complex research question. A simple library card renewal sometimes becomes a complex question of whether they live “in district” or not. That’s okay. We agree. Refer them.

Myth Two: When everyone knows everything, service will get watered down.
A: Everyone will not know everything. Everyone will know One Point Services, which are fast, simple, frequently asked about services. When everyone learns just a little bit more, it’s a lot less work for everyone—including the patron (don’t forget the patron of course). To repeat: this is not anti-specialization (I work in a Law Library—talk about specialization); nor is this anti-union (I’m part of one); nor anti-librarian (I’m a librarian). Also, what assumption is this myth based on?—that the human brain will explode if it learns a few new things? I don’t think so. Rather, I think not learning is much more dangerous.

Myth Three: So “One Point of Service” is a fancy term that really means more work for me, right?
A: Simply put, referring a patron to multiple desks takes more time than helping the patron first, both for us and them. Giving them the runaround, if we think about it, takes a lot more work for us. In “Lean” terms, if you’re into that sort of thing, it’s called the “first touch principle”: doing something first is always better than leaving it for later. We need to think holistically. Perhaps the question is: will this be more work for my public service desk? Or for my department? Disregarding the inherent flaw in this way of thinking, I’m actually curious about how patron behavior might change as a result of OPoS. Will patrons start going to different desks now, “spreading” the work out more? Will we no longer have long lines at the Circulation desk? Will the Reference Desk feel less pressure? Those are all open questions. No matter how this shakes out, however, I’m confident of one thing: there will be less total work and more happy patrons.

To see the KPL “Code of Service” mentioned in this article visit http://www.kpl.gov/about/code-of-service.aspx  To get more information email matts@kpl.gov.

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