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Jan 31

Lesson learned from a supermarket

Tesco Supermarket,Northampton UK

Tesco Supermarket,Northampton UK

My local supermarket has just added an extension to its store and done some renovations to the rest of the store.  One of those renovations was to change the express checkout area, increasing it from 2 to 4 checkouts.  However, with the increase, came a change in how they were accessed.  The new system required you to line up at one of the open checkouts, which depending on time of day etc, was usually between 2 and 4.

However, this new process was not accepted with delight by either staff or customers.  The majority of people were well aware of the potential unfairness of the situation, in that you could be served slower if you happened to choose the wrong queue.  It happened fairly quickly that customers started going to back to a single queue, ignoring the signage and stepping up to be served as a checkout operator became available.

Staff, on behalf of the customers and the numerous comment they had already received, approached management about the issue, asking them to change it to a single queue, for fairer service.  The response was that such a change would cause unacceptable blockages of aisle space. (I don’t know if they were ignoring or were unaware that 4 queues were doing the same sort of thing anyway).

That could have been the end of it, but it wasn’t.  I’m not privy to what happened behind closed doors, I just know what I gleaned from the girls behind the counter.  Anyway, those wonderful girls started taking a survey of customers, asking their opinion of the new setup and what their preference would be for the arrangement. From what I saw when they asked me the questions, the overwhelming response was that customers didn’t like the new setup and would prefer single queue access.

A few weeks later, I walk into the supermarket and there is now a barrier and guide, for one queue leading into the express checkout area.

Customer Service on Day 357

Customer Service on Day 357

This hit me on so many levels. Firstly, the whole idea of fairness that both the staff and customers determined needed to be achieved.  Just reminded me that we live in a world with a vast majority of decent people and that moment I was happy to be a part of that larger community.

Second was that the supermarket staff knew their customers and were listening to what they were saying and tried to do something about it.  They took those concerns to management.  Unfortunately at that time, management weren’t listening.  So the staff went away and got the information they needed to support their claims for change.  I am both proud and amazed that someone would stand up for customer interests, which includes my own, like that. It may seem trivial, but it was important enough that staff took it to management, not once but twice.

Third was that management took note of this extra effort and the evidence they were given (even if it was on the second attempt) and took the action necessary to make both staff and customers happy.  I spoke to one staff after the change, who was both suprised, but also very pleased that they had listened and acted – very quickly once the decision was made.

So how does this translate to libraries?  Quite easily, as we are both about customer service.

Do we know our users well enough to know what they don’t like about our libraries or what they would like to happen in our libraries?  Is it more than just guessing at what we think they want? If we don’t know them well enough, why don’t we – we serve them every day?  Also if we don’t know, are we asking them and if not, why not?

If we know, are we telling our management and coming up with ideas for change?  If not, why not?  If we do tell and they don’t seem to be listening are we letting it go, giving lame excuses or are we going to find the information that will help change their minds? I know that there have been times that I have made those lame excuses, when instead I should be fighting for what I know our users want or don’t want. My local supermarket has taught me that it can work.

It can be trivial or it can be major.  But if we are not listening to our customers and what they want and doing what we can to provide it, then we are not really serving them, are we? I know I’ll be trying to do better in future and really keeping my ears and eyes open to what our users want, then communicating it to the people who can make the difference.

If you have any, I would love to hear your stories of where staff have won through to change things in your library, because it was what your users wanted.