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Finding Your “Happy Voice”

by on April 13, 2015

How do you feel when greeted by a disgruntled employee in a store or restaurant? Probably not too excited to spend your money there, right? A recent article from Hofstra University’s Zarb School of Business points out just how important it is to greet customers in the most upbeat, positive way possible[1]. Although this piece is geared towards those dealing with the public in a business-centric environment, it is certainly applicable to public libraries too.

There are two components to our everyday speech that affect how people perceive our tone: the words we use and their inflection. Choosing the wrong words to speak—those that discount the service you’re trying to sell—can leave patrons feeling poorly about your library, even if they are communicated in a happy tone of voice. Similarly, speaking only in positive language but sounding unsure or impatient will make it difficult for patrons to trust what you’re saying. In short, when we speak to patrons at a service desk or anywhere within the walls of our library, we are trying to sell them on a particular service—using a database, signing up for a program, or requesting an item through ILL, for example— or the library itself. This is now the case more than ever thanks to the library’s changing role in its community.

So how can we tweak our everyday language to sell ourselves better? Avoid negative phrases like “I don’t know.” Instead say something like “Great question! Let me look into that.” or “Let me connect you with…”  It’s perfectly fine not to know something, but offer to find out the necessary information, or direct the patron to someone else who can help. Further, avoid overly formal expressions such as “Please be aware…” and “I just want to make sure you know…” A more personalized alternative to very formal speech such as will make each patron feel valued as an individual rather than a number. No need to state that you’re going to tell them something. Just tell ’em!

Also, never say your library does not offer something without offering an alternative. This could be something as simple as “Birdman is checked out right now, but I would be happy to place a reserve for you” or “We don’t subscribe to Database X, but you can get similar information from Database Y; would you like me to show you?” One phrase that I find myself repeating almost weekly at my library is, “Unfortunately we do not offer passports here, but I know the post office does. Would you like their phone number?” Ending every conversation in a positive way will empower patrons to leave your library feeling optimistic, even if you could not provide them with exactly what they hoped to find.

Which phrases have you found particularly helpful –or detrimental—at your library?

[1] Do YOU Have a “Happy” Voice? (2015, February 11). Retrieved February 17, 2015, from http://zarbmeansbusiness.com/2015/02/11/do-you-have-a-happy-voice/

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