Do libraries, particularly academic libraries, have loyal customers? Do our library users come back again and again to use the library building, and if so, why? In every academic library I’ve worked in I’ve gotten to know the regulars, and beyond that are students and faculty you see again and again – if not frequently enough to gain “regular” status. But I have to ask if that loyalty is earned or if it’s because those library users have no choice. While academic libraries, and even public libraries to some extent, have a captive audience by virtue of being the only game on campus (well, there might be a Barnes & Noble in the vicinity) it doesn’t mean our users – even the repeat ones – are making use of, let alone being aware of our resources.
One characteristic of delivering good user experiences is that it typically results in return business. Whatever that experience is, it is something the user wants to experience again. The idea of the Wow Factor is another way of describing a good user experience. According to Brandon Schauer, an experience design director for Adaptive Path, the Wow Factor (or Long Wow as he refers to it) “is a means to achieving long-term customer loyalty through systematically impressing your customers again and again. Going a step beyond just measuring loyalty, the Long Wow is an experience-centric approach to fostering and creating it.” Looking at it from that perspective I do think librarians are capable of providing that impressive experience again and again. He also points to the importance of empathic design:
Deep customer insights and empathetic design pave the pathway to wow moments. By diving deep into a customerâ€™s life and closely observing their behaviors, you can wow your customer by addressing needs that theyâ€™d never be able to articulate. By immersing yourself in the customerâ€™s wider world of emotion and culture, you can wow them by attuning the offering to practical needs and dimensions of delight that normally go unfulfilled.
As a profession we appear ready to accept that much more information is needed about our user community. More librarians are getting interested in ethnographic methods that can provide more detail about our users and how they make use of or ignore what the library offers.
Even if we don’t yet know our users as well as we should the opportunities to provide the wow factor are available to us. While we have loads of folks that never come into the library, some who only use our resources online, others who just use the building as a shortcut or a place to grab a quick nap, librarians are making great impressions every day.Â Just recently I found a document for an administrator that he didn’t think could be obtained in time for his meeting; he had a PDF version of it in his e-mail within 15 minutes. Think about the many students who come to the library expecting that getting a research project started will be a truly painful experience, only to find a librarian who has them sailing smoothly in no time at all; you know they are impressed by the totally unexpected ease of the process. An unexpected level of service, like when the Nordstram sales clerk offers to carry your packages to the car for you, is one way to provide “wow” user experiences. You just didn’t anticipate getting that much help and personal attention. I don’t doubt that we have the capacity to wow our users, but I am concerned that it doesn’t happen often enough.
What we could use is a more systematic design approach to delivering Wow experiences. Schauer recommends these four steps:
1. Know your platform for delivery. Recognize the palette of touchpoints that you can combine to deliver wow experiences.
2. Tackle a wide area of unmet customer needs. Find an area of the customer experience that has long been overlooked and is teeming with potential for new insights.
3. Create and evolve your repeatable process. Discover the organizationâ€™s approach to delivering wow moments regularly.
4. Plan and stage the wow experiences. Developing all your ideas at once is a risky undertaking. Instead, organize a pipeline of wow moments that can be introduced through your platform of touchpoints over the long haul.
I especially like that last point. Many academic and public libraries will have a number of facility and technology developments in the pipeline. Instead of just making them available, we need to look at them as opportunities for wow moments. As in so many other areas of our profession that need change, another critically important one is to change our own ways of thinking about how to do business. We absolutely must pay more attention to how we can impress our user communities, and what must be done to leverage that to increase our visibility, community buzz and word of mouth about the library.