Libraries and the customer experience

I find the day after a conference has finished is a good time to let the knowledge gleaned from the previous days flow through the brain without reference to notes. I like this type of unstructured post-conference flow because it allows key themes to emerge by themselves in my thinking.

A key theme for me (and I mean a theme that I have been thinking about in response to the combination of information and experiences from the conference) is that libraries and organisations need to go where to the clients are in a way that is meaningful to them.

Amy Sample Ward started this thought in me when she emphasised working with the community, not for the community. Working with a community or a client group means working with them in consideration of what they want and how they want it. How they want their information may be different to how the organisation believes it should deliver the information.

Michael Clarke (no, not the Australian cricketer) from Silverchair (no, not the Australian band) presented on “the great unboxing”. Libraries had to start thinking more about content than just the format (the container the information was in). The focus on content is something I have emphasised in my workplace as well. Other presentations, particularly around library catalogue search and the library catalogue GUI, also emphasised the need to provide the traditional library service in a way that was effective, but also both familiar to users and appealing to users. In some cases being like Google was important because Google is a familiar and well-used information search option. If we want users to use the catalogue, then we must make the catalogue as appealing to use as Google.

My thinking around this is that whilst as librarians we have a range of library tools and information technologies at our disposal, they don’t really mean much unless we meet the needs of our clients in the way the clients want their needs met. And information needs are becoming more focused on content from a multitude of sources and networks than ever before – and libraries and organisations need to be there in all those places. In marketing speak, you go to where your customers are and meet with them in a way the customers have determined. So, if your customers are on Facebook, then that’s one place you need to go. Interestingly, at the Web 3.0 conference I attended last year in Sydney, the same sentiment was expressed: using social media is fine but it only really means something if it means something to your audience. The Web 3.0 conference is on again in June.

The upshot (take-home?) of this is that if libraries or organisations want to push a system that their clients won’t use, but go ahead with it anyway because the library or organisation sees some other “benefit”, then we are wasting time and resources because the clients aren’t going there. We need to consider the customer experience!

And if your clients aren’t going there, then it doesn’t matter what the system can do compared to something else, it just isn’t going to work!

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