Quick tips to improve conversations with patrons

QuestionPoint recently hosted a brief 30 minute webinar with quick tips to improve chat reference conversations. They also shared several follow-up questions and answers from the session.

In the webinar, a public and an academic librarian share general tips that can be applied to any chat reference question, from in-depth research to circulation. Three tips that stood out were:

  1. Follow the chatter's lead
  2. Think beyond the chat
  3. Give the patron's question the benefit of the doubt

Follow the chatter's lead

Erin Callahan from Hennepin County Library encourages you to follow the chatter's lead. By doing so, you let them decide how much information you provide, how fast the chat and the search progress, and where to go next. Set realistic expectations and provide options, but let the learner guide the interaction as much as possible. As you're working with a learner, you could ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are they in a hurry? Or should you move slowly?
  • Do they want a little bit of help to get started or are they looking for a deep dive?
  • Are they done with their research or should they be referred for further help?

Think beyond the chat

This tip is all about setting the patron up for success. According to Callahan, chat reference is a conversation and each conversation provides an opportunity for the library to build a positive relationship with the patron. Although at AskAway, library staff don't follow-up directly with patrons after a chat, we can still provide the patron with the information they need to continue their search or seek further help:

  • Point to other resources that the learner can check out later on their own time
  • Share search tips and suggestions as you go
  • If necessary, refer them and provide them with the information they need for a successful referral

As always, encourage the chatter to email themselves a transcript so that they can revisit the chat and draw on it during any follow-up.

Give the patron's question the benefit of the doubt

Have you ever received a question that catches you off guard? It might sound like a question that's not related to coursework or it might sound like a prank. Lisa Hartman from Frostburg State University has some interesting examples of these types of questions and encourages you to give the patron the benefit of the doubt.

When a learner comes in with an unexpected question, a reference interview can go a long way. If you don't understand the question, it's okay to say so and to ask for further information and clarification. Sometimes, you'll need to draw a line and explain what services you can provide.

If the patron has a legitimate information need, they will be thankful that you took their question seriously and took the time to help. If their question is outside the scope of AskAway or the library, they will learn something about the library and its services.

Tips to share?

If you have any more tips to share or any comments, feel free to contact the Admin Centre!