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Do you want to appear smarter? Show some empathy.

January 6, 2009, 8:49 am

I hope everyone had a nice break. I always only seem to be able to accomplish half of the tasks I set out to do. This break was filled with many distractions. One of them was an afternoon with LibQUAL+,  but I found something interesting.

It started with a question:  is there a connection between how knowledgeable a person is perceived with the level of friendliness that they offer. Another way of looking at: during a customer service interaction, do we perceive people who are nice to be more competent?  My hypothesis was that there would be a strong correlation in the LibQUAL+ data between “knowledgeable” and “caring” or “courteousness.” I was partially correct.

I looked at the undergraduate data from 84 schools (mostly ARL) and ran the correlation formula on the perception ratings for all of the customer service questions. I compared them with “employees who have the knowledge to answer user questions” and here is what I got back:

  • .8225 “Employees who understand the needs of their users.”
  • .7707 “Employees who deal with users in a caring fashion.”
  • .7555 “Readiness to respond to users’ questions.”
  • .7525 “Employees who instill confidence in users.”
  • .7332 “Willingness to help users.”
  • .7185 “Employees who are consistently courteous.”
  • .7112 “Dependability in handling users’ service problems.”
  • .6622 “Giving users individual attention.”

So there you have it. Show someone that you understand their question, their problem, or their need, and you will appear more intelligent. Just because you have a PhD or an advanced degree doesn’t mean you are an expert in a patron’s eyes. It is the person who is empathic and guides them along that is perceived to have the answers. With the new semester starting, maybe this is a good time to brush up on the reference interview.

It is interesting that the “individual attention” correlation scored so low. For years it seems that librarians have been pushing the one-on-one research consultation, but maybe that is not as important as we thought. It’s convenient for us with our busy schedules, but when looking at all the other factors, it had the lowest connection to being perceived as knowledgeable. Something to think about.

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