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Customer Service Challenges: Dealing with Difficult Patron Behavior
An Infopeople Online Learning Course
Instructor: Mary Ross
Public libraries face some unique customer service challenges. They provide free and open access to resources and services, ideally in an environment that is safe and respectful to staff, patrons, volunteers, and others. The peaceful co-existence of service, safety, and respect may be challenged by difficult, disruptive, or even dangerous behaviors of library patrons.
Difficult patron behaviors have many causes: stress over job loss, anger at something that happened outside the library, substance abuse, mental illness, and sometimes even staff actions perceived by patrons as disrespectful or rude. This course will help you develop an understanding of and skills to deal with:
- A range of difficult behaviors from merely annoying to potentially harmful
- External “trigger factors” and internal stress points
- Prevention and proactive approaches
- Consistent enforcement of your library’s policies and procedures
- Safety in small or minimally-staffed libraries
- Follow-up after an incident occurs
As a result of the course, you will be able to provide a range of responses, from active listening and de-escalating a confrontation, to getting help from other staff or contacting law enforcement. You will learn skills to manage your own reactions to the tension caused by difficult behaviors.
This course is being repeated because of interest in the topic. Some of those who took the first course commented that: "I was able to learn more from this online course than any other 'Difficult Patron' course I have taken so far." "A lot of extremely useful skills in patron interaction."
Course Description: Readings, discussions, recorded interviews, and online meetings during the course will help you learn skills, share experiences and questions, and apply the concepts of managing difficult patron behaviors to your own library and community.
Preliminary Course Outline: Using an Internet connection and web browser, you will log in to the Infopeople online learning site and complete the following learning modules:
- Week 1: Challenges in Customer Service
- Why customer service is stressful
- Behaviors are the problem, not categories of people
- Difficult behavior as a continuum from merely annoying to potentially dangerous
- External factors such as economic hardship, mental illness, and substance abuse
- Being alert to patron stress points in your library
- Week 2: Ways to Respond to these Challenges
- We can’t control another person’s behavior; we can control our response.
- How our verbal, vocal, and nonverbal responses have an impact
- Personal space that is respectful and safe
- Recognizing when mental illness or substance abuse is an underlying cause of difficult behavior
- Establishing boundaries and setting limits
- Special situations: telephone and online encounters
- Week 3: Creating and Maintaining an Environment of Safe Service
- Rules of conduct and exclusion policies and procedures
- Special situations: unattended children, difficult adolescent behaviors
- Procedures for responding to a crisis
- Working with local law enforcement
- Safety in small or minimally-staffed libraries
- Week 4: The Three Ps: Pro-action, Prevention, and Preparation
- Documentation, de-briefing, and de-stressing
- How to go from being reactive to proactive
- Community resources and referrals
- Teamwork and looking out for your co-workers
- Don’t assume—model and teach appropriate behavior
Time Required: To complete this course, you can expect to spend 2½ hours per week, for a total of ten course hours. Each week's module contains readings and various options for assignments, discussions, interviews, and online meetings. You can choose the options most relevant to your work and interests. Although you can work on each module at your own pace, at any hour of the day or night, it is recommended that you complete each week's work within that week to stay in sync with other learners.
Who Should Take This Course: Any library staff who want to improve their understanding of difficult patron behaviors and gain skills to respond more effectively. Staff who recommend or develop policies and procedures for dealing with difficult patron behaviors will also benefit from this course.
Online Learning Details and System Requirements may be found at: infopeople.org/training/online_learning_details.
Course Start: This online learning course starts on Tuesday, January 7, 2014.
After the official end date for the course, the instructor will be available for limited consultation and support for two more weeks, and the course material will stay up for an additional two weeks after that. These extra weeks give those who have fallen behind time to work independently to complete the course.