Tag Archives: michelli

If Your Library Closed Tomorrow Would Anyone Miss It

There’s a clever Cronk of Higher Education post that pokes fun at how all of us working in higher education think of ourselves as being indispensable. Surely our students and faculty, not to mention our institutions, have no hope of surviving without us. Wrong. As the post suggests, in a humorous way, our institutions would probably get along just fine without is.

And some communities are learning to live without their library. Libraries are closing all the time. Not so much academic libraries, but branch libraries, school libraries and sometimes even entire library systems are closed for good – with the one in Camden, New Jersey among the most recently threatened with closure (fortunately given a reprieve) for now. In the world of consumer goods there are also products and entire businesses that disappear forever from the landscape. A blog post from a Harvard Business Review blogger raised a good question that we should all be asking ourselves on a regular basis. If our library closed tomorrow would anyone miss it? More importantly perhaps, what would they miss and why? Would what is missed reflect the business we think we are in.

When many branch libraries were about to close in Philadelphia, neighborhood residents protested. Even when there was a library branch within two to four miles from their own branch, they still insisted on keeping the library open (and many are despite greatly reduced hours and staff). But many residents wanted the library open because they needed a place for their children to go after school. Sounds like it was more about child care than connecting people with information. That may be presumputous because the afterschool activities could involve homework research, learning how to use resources or technology – not just babysitting. Nowhere did I hear or read anything to suggest the library workers at these branches would be missed – though that doesn’t necessarily mean that the neighborhood residents weren’t concerned about the plight of the staff members.

For whatever the reasons might be, those neighborhood residents felt loyal enough to their library to get out in the street to protest the plan to close it – and that’s the type of loyalty we’d like to instill in all of our community members. We want them to feel that their library is indispensable to the community. In an age when those same community members could get their information just as easily from other resources, how do librarians go about creating loyal community members? In a blog post about developing customer loyalty Joseph Michelli, user experience consultant and author of books about organizations such as Starbucks and the Ritz-Carlton, describes the customer engagement ladder. The bottom rung on the ladder is customer satisfaction. The highest rung on the ladder is “sense of loss” if the brand were to cease to exist. In this post Michelli discusses a recent study by Epsilon that revealed some interesting findings about industries that are moving customers up or down that ladder. The report indicates that consumers are primarily non-loyal to brands, and that they’ll jump ship readily with some products (e.g., credit cards) but will be more loyal to others (e.g., auto insurance). Given these realities Michelli asks, “So are your marketing and customer experience strategies resulting in something up the food chain from simple satisfaction.” How would we move our libraries up the ladder from good customer service to would they miss us if we ceased to exist?

If you think about it for a minute, you can probably come up with some product that you were quite loyal to which suddenly ceased being available for purchase. Just recently my local supermarket stopped selling a brand of pasta that was my favorite. Why? Just the usual competition for shelf space, and while I really liked that product apparently not many others did – so it became expendable. Then there was a brand of men’s clothing that I really liked, and there was a retail store in my community. But it just up and closed one day as the retailer went out of business – not even a web presence was maintained. We encounter these experiences from time to time when our favorites brand that have earned our loyalty just disappear. We may miss them, but eventually we just move on to other brands or give up on those products all together.

I imagine that’s what happens when our libraries close. The community just finds some other place to get their books, DVDs and articles. It might be a library farther away, it may be they depend more on their social network or they may make heavier use of Google, Wikipedia and Netflix. For me, the takeaway from Michelli’s post is that we need to be thinking about getting to a place beyond customer satisfaction on the ladder of customer engagement. Yes, customer satisfaction is good. We want them to be satisfied. But a satisfied customer, given the findings of the Epsilon study, isn’t necessarily a loyal customer. What we want, is the type of customer who would really miss us if we ceased to exist. Those are the library community users who will fight to make sure that never happens.

Expanding Our Touchpoints To Self-Service

Outside of references to societal trends pointing to the consumer interest in self-service and how libraries need to respond to that, we librarians rarely talk about the ways in which we offer or could offer self service – and what that would mean for ourselves, our libraries and our community members. Nor have I seen much in our literature or conference discussions about evaluating the quality of our self service (if you’ve seen or written about such research please let us know).

I got to thinking about this after reading a post over at Joseph Michelli’s blog “Joseph’s Blog” on “How to Execute Easy“. In discussing a new research study that examines customer use of self-service kiosks, Michelli points to a dilemma faced by organizations that use ATM-like machines to deliver service:

At the heart of the dilemma that prompted this research is a desire by business leaders to maximize technology – speeding-up service, delivering cost efficient service solutions, and even opening-up their business to new tech-savvy customer segments. At the same time these leaders don’t want to automate service to the point that it becomes impersonal and essentially decreases the emotional connections between the consumer and their brand. That outcome would fundamentally lead to commoditization and that defeats all benefits of the technology in the first place.

Libraries already offer self-service checkout, some are exploring vending machines for self-service book delivery, and we offer patron-mediated interlibrary loan – where community members essentially manage their own ILL transactions. But quite possibly the most vast application of self-service is our electronic information delivery. We give our user community access to a rich set of resources that they can mine anytime, at their convenience, with no need whatsoever to interact with a member of the library staff. But here’s the important point according to Michelli: are we making it easy? He writes:

The mixed finding indicates that if you attempt to make the experience easier and it really turns out to be easier – satisfaction increases and you make more money. If you attempt to make it easier and it turns out to more complicated, you lose customer loyalty and decrease the depth of your existing customers’ spend.

So we’re not trying to make money – that’s not the point. We do need to build community member loyalty so we keep them coming back to the library for more. The challenge is that our “self-service” databases often fail the “easy” test, and that may be the case as well for some of our other self-service solutions (have you tried your library’s self-service checkout?). One improvement that may help is the ability to integrate chat widgets into the databases. So far only one major vendor is making it possible (correct me if I’m wrong). That capability speaks to the importance of offering a good balance between speeding things up for the community member and providing the opportunity for a personal connection. Access to live help is likely to increasingly become a part of the online service experience. Michelli shares that “in the next 12 months, retail eBusiness professionals are planning to expand their online customer service touchpoints, with significant increases in live help, social, and mobile customer service.”

As libraries move more of their services into the online and mobile worlds, we will no doubt expand the opportunities for self-service – which is a good thing. But as we do so we will also need to pay attention to expanding our touchpoints in those environments.