Showing Emotion? Keep It Real

You’ve no doubt had that experience where you go to a store, hotel or some other setting where you receive service, and the person (or people) serving you is doing all the right things to be nice – but you know it’s an act being put on for your benefit. We accept this because we know the person is doing their job and the management expects them to put some kind of positive emotions into the service. Just the same, it may leave us feeling a little weird. Should businesses expect their employees to fake emotions with you? This question is raised is a column titled “The Coming Point of Sale Revolution” by Grant McCraken. He understands the strategy but has a problem with it:

One of them is the American conviction that your emotions are your own personal business. Generally, we believe emotions are a private matter and that it is wrong to ask the employee to use them for public, commercial purposes.

McCraken shares the story of Dolores, a clerk at a busy 7-11 that sells the most cups of coffee of any other similar convenience store in America. Try to watch the video of Dolores in action. There’s nothing fake, contrived or insincere about the way she greets the customers and makes them welcome. While many of our service desk-based interactions could be described as impersonal transactions, I believe that we too have our “regulars” that we chat with, share a story or greet warmly. In other words, we put our emotions into those relationships – and the community members know it is sincere.

McCraken goes on to suggest that service-driven businesses should go out of their way to look for people like Dolores, or even those who have the capacity, through staff development, to be more skilled at what he calls “reading people and responding to them in real time” – the opposite of which is always avoiding eye contact, being sullen or professionally cold or aloof. I have no idea if that works for academic libraries. We talk about the importance of customer service, but when hiring and developing new librarians what do we tell them about connecting with community members when at a service desk or in consultation situations. Should we be asking or suggesting that academic librarians engage with everyone in a more personal and emotional manner – or at least be more adept at reading people and sensing at what level they desire personal engagement? It’s not necessarily a skill we all have.

Perhaps the important thing for all us who connect with community members in one way or another, at a desk, in a classroom, in offices or wherever, is to be thoughtful about the possibilities for building relationships. They can start with an enthusiastic greeting, sustained eye contact or simply demonstrating that we care. We should avoid at all cost communicating that the interaction is no more than an impersonal or bothersome transaction we perform in order to survive our time at the desk until we can get back to whatever it is we’d really rather be doing. Putting some emotion into our work can be a good thing. Do we all need to be Dolores? Of course not. Faking it, in fact, may be far worse.

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