Archive for April, 2006

Practical tips on creating a positive customer experience

For the next month or so I’m going to do a series of posts offering practical tips for creating a positive customer experience. Many of the tips will be ideas that can be immediately implemented, while a few will require a little bit of planning. I offer these tips as a smorgasbord, not a laundry list. They are born out of my own experiences as a library customer, from the experiences of friends and family, as well as from ideas generated at a recent organizational planning day I participated in.

Before I get into the tips, a caveat: Everything I suggest hereafter will specifically address the customer experience, but the uber-tip is that employees must be treated well, and with a basic level of trust. I don’t just mean that management must treat employees well. I mean employees must also treat management well, and co-workers must treat co-workers well. I’m talking 360 degrees. There should also be some shared sense, organizationally, of being on the same team, united for the same general purpose. I believe that a strong commitment to the customer experience in no way conflicts with a strong commitment to employees, and in my experience the two commitments correlate highly with each other.

One other point before getting into the tips: I am consciously using the term ‘customer experience’ rather than ‘customer service’. For me this not just a semantic difference but a reflection of how I’m beginning to think about these issues. ‘Customer service’ focuses on our behavior and offerings and looks at service from our perspective. (i.e. did we say “thank you”, do we offer a decent phone menu system, do we have convenient hours, etc.)

‘Customer experience’ focuses on the customer’s perception, and looks at service from the customer’s perspective (i.e. were they able to use the catalog, was the library open when they needed it, did they receive help from someone who treated them kindly.) I am finding it more useful to look at and think about the customer experience, and then “reverse engineer” to craft the organization’s services, offerings, and policies with an eye on improving the customer’s experience.


Practical tip #1: Start thinking about your customers’ experience. What do they experience when they walk in the door? When they visit your webpage? When they call your phone? When they email you? Ask these questions and encourage co-workers to do the same. Get some pizzas for lunch and brainstorm in the lunch room. Make a list, pick one negative customer experience, and find a way to improve it.

April 14, 2006 at 3:07 pm 9 comments

"Levee for Life" Pictures from Princeton

This is such a cool project that is happening just up the street from where I work that I want to give it some more PR.

Leslie Burger, President-Elect of the ALA and the Director at MPOW, wrote about it in great detail earlier this month in her blog. Information on how you can donate books to the cause is found on the Katrina Project page. The before and after pictures of the library in New Orleans will break your heart.

Special Thanks to Bob Keith for taking a walk to campus today to get these pictures for this post.

April 13, 2006 at 6:22 pm 1 comment

MySpace and Social Networking Sites

Thank you, Karen and Janie, for your posts earlier this week which mentioned MySpace,IM, and other social networking sites as primary means of communication among high school and college students and other patrons of our libraries, especially teens and young adults. I totally agree that if we want to better connect with many of them, we need to at least be familiar with these “tools” for communication and sharing. If you are not familiar with and have little interest in MySpace, Facebook, and other social networking sites, you might reconsider:

These interactive networks of photos, blogs, user profiles, groups, and internal email systems have been interconnecting people for a few years now and their use and popularity have been explosive! Believe it or not, these social networks have become some of the highest traffic sites on the Web in 2006. Millions of people, especially high school and college students, have joined them because of the ease of interactivity between the site’s users. Consider these stats from Alexa Internet:

In February 2006, MySpace was ranked as the world’s 7th most popular English language website and the most popular English language social networking website with higher traffic and over 56 million users–now, as of April 2006, it is ranked 5th in the world. Facebook, another very popular social network was listed as the world’s 66th most popular English language website, but in April, it has risen to number 28.

As a librarian and professor, I joined Facebook last year when I found out that the students in my public speaking class were communicating with each other via that tool, instead of our university’s email system. It was amazing how much more open and willing the students were to sharing information about each other and their individual and group projects in our class, via Facebook. They were thrilled that I was willing to join Facebook, and they loved that I used it to find out and celebrate their birthdays, for instance, as they came up during the semester.

Anyway, I for one, am quite interested in seeing how Karen, her library, and other libraries incorporate and use MySpace and other social networks to better connect with their patrons and students.

April 11, 2006 at 4:08 am 3 comments

Opening Day for Webaroo

For those who travel to remote locations or just travel a lot and are never sure when or where they will be able to find a connection a new service being launched today promises a solution for finding information when you can’t get online. Webaroo is a new search service that relies on caching to bring the Internet to mobile devices even when there’s no Internet connection. The ZDNet blog and CNET News both offer up more inforomation on Webaroo — a company that I will definitely be keeping my eye on.

April 10, 2006 at 8:10 am

Bringing in the Big Guns for Fines!

An interesting article about libraries hiring collection agencies just got posted on MSNBC. It provides a balanced view of the issue. Personally, my gut reaction is that this flies in the face of everything that I would like a library to be to its community. Realistically, I can understand the temptation to take such a drastic step.

It seems that most libraries who have resorted to using a collection service are using Unique Management Services, a company based in Jeffersonville, IN. I had never heard of them before I read this article. A quick bit of sleuthing reveals that they have partnered with TLC. You can have the services of Unique as an enhancement to your online catalog. According to the TLC web site:

Unique Management Services, Inc., a company in Jeffersonville , Indiana that partners with libraries to recover overdue funds and materials, offers its Debt Collection service to TLC customers – an efficient yet gentle way for libraries to recover funds.

I am really curious how they are more effective if they only use gentle means to collect the fines or overdue materials. It almost makes me want to get a fine at a Unique library to go through the experience of dealing with a “gentle” collection agent. I have never dealt with a collection agency, but from what I hear they are usually quite annoying and relentless and far from “gentle”. It seems that others share my doubts.

Back to the original article… they do interview the director at MPOW and it seems as if she is against the idea of a collection agency. whew.

April 9, 2006 at 11:27 pm 7 comments


Sometimes less is more when it comes to titling a post and writing the entry. This will be one of those times.

If you are reading this and you work at a library that is resisting I.M. as a means of providing reference service or if your library will not allow installing I.M. clients for either staff use or on public computers, then I urge you to show this article on the I.M. Generation from the NYT to the powers that be.

My favorite quote from the article:

e-mail is woefully inadequate for guaranteed message delivery, and clumsy when it comes to conducting business in real time.

Nuff said.

April 8, 2006 at 11:03 pm 1 comment

Library CE: What We Want v. What We Need

In my day job, one of my core responsibilities is to provide continuing education opportunities to the staff of all 630 libraries (of all types) in South Jersey. My goal is to provide a slate of classes and workshops that will help library staff develop the skills they need to provide excellent library service to their customers. But what skills do they need? There’s the rub.

One of trickiest parts of my job is doing needs assessment. I use the basic tools: evaluation forms, online surveys, etc., but I’ve found that what people tell me they want/need is not always what they sign up for. And more interestingly, I’ve found that classes/workshops that NO ONE asked for are often the ones that fill up immediately and demand repeated encores for the next year or two.

That’s where the fun comes in! The Dylan lyric, “Your debutante just knows what you need, but I know what you want” comes to mind, but in my case it’s the reverse: Library staff tell me what they want (and I schedule it), but sometimes I also give them what they need (even though no one asked for it.)

A perfect example of this is a recent class I scheduled on Web 2.0. I hadn’t heard Web 2.0 mentioned in any of many interactions with library staff, nor on any of the hundreds of workshop evaluation forms I’ve collected where I ask students for future class suggestions. But I had seen Web 2.0 (and Library 2.0) being discussed in many blogs, and the principles seemed highly relevant to the current and future health of library services. So I found a promoter who nearly fell off the floor (oops, Dylan on the brain) a super competent instructor (Sophie Brookover, PopMeister and recent LJ Mover and Shaker) and scheduled a class. It immediately filled up, and we’ve just about filled the encore class scheduled for June from the waiting list alone. Score!

I’ve seen this phenomena before, generally with semi cutting-edge topics. No one asked for blogging classes, but they filled immediately. No one asked for RSS classes. Again, filled. The same with classes on wireless a year or two back. What’s next? (um, that’s not a rhetorical question… someone please tell me what’s next.)

Blog reading, and the ability to track headlines through RSS has given me a keener eye for what’s coming down the pike, and helped me to broaden the scope of classes that I offer. Ever since I started following a few blogs through RSS (Firefox toolbar did it for me) I’ve been better informed and my knowledge and awareness of trends, tools, and timely tips is broader and deeper than ever before. I love the way RSS has made it simple, simple, simple to stay on top of an immense amount of information, not to mention the exponential serendipity of finding one great blog and being led (through blogroll or post) to other great blogs.

Getting back to the question, “What’s next?” I’d like to put that out there to you. What classes or workshops do you want? What do you need? What cutting-edge trend or tool do we need to know about today to give great service to our customers the day after tomorrow? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

April 8, 2006 at 9:54 am 1 comment

Screenagers and the Future of Libraries

Last night I spoke at the “Archons of Colophon” of NYC, meeting in an Irish bar called Rosie O’Grady’s in Times Square. The title of my presentation was “Far out or forthcoming? Foreshadowing the future of library service excellence. ” I spoke about “screenagers,” the 12-18 yr. olds who have grown up with computers and a life full of looking at screens. Their preferred mode of communication is Instant Messaging and SMS texting. They are busy chatting away loads of hours after school with school aged friends. I also talked about how libraries need to be present in cyberspace (through email and live chat reference) to be responsive to the needs of this cohort. In a recent focus group with screenagers from rural Maryland, I found out that this group distrusts print (ouch!), really distrusts librarians (double ouch!) and looks first to friends and Google for all their information needs. They rarely check anything found in Google and only seek librarian help as a “last desperate resort.” I posed the question of how we can morph and deliver service excellence to these students and how libraries can be responsive and relevant to this group. I believe that we need to be invested in cyberlibrarianship, in email and chat reference and we also need to be much more receptive to this group and to value their need for immediacy and respect.

I also showed video clips from 3 feature films featuring views of librarians in the distant future: Star Trek, Star Wars (Attack of the Clones), and the Time Machine. Librarians are portrayed in each of these films as stereotypical icons: judgmental, contemptuous of users, and totally condescending. Is this our fate? Can we change with the library users of the present and future or remain on the periphery of information seeking as we cling to traditional practice?

April 4, 2006 at 11:28 pm 19 comments

Do they Count?

A quick follow up to my post yesterday about libraries and Sundays.

I did a seat count again at 3 pm and got very similar numbers to what I reported in my original post even with the sunny weather ( which actually sort of surprised me). But here is what I am left wondering:

Can I count the 9 people who were sitting outside the library on the public plaza using their laptops from our wireless connection?

We usually have anywhere from 10-30 people inside our library taking advantage of our wireless network. Late last fall the Borough of Princeton installed park benches and lovely tables on a newly built plaza that is right next to our library. Our signal reaches just far enough for those sitting in the plaza to log on. I guess with the sunny weather, our laptop users preferred to do their surfing in the sunshine.

So, can I count them?

April 3, 2006 at 9:05 am 17 comments

Sundays and Libraries — they go together like PB&J!

Here it is high noon on the first really beautiful sunny Sunday of spring in New Jersey and I am already at work preparing to open the library doors in an hour. Part of me really wishes I was outside with the rest of the world enjoying the weather, but the other part of me really values and believes in public libraries being open on Sunday all year round.

I read an article this week about the library system in Mesa, AZ being forced to close their branch libraries on Sunday. [Budget woes close Mesa libraries on Sundays] I have seen all too many articles of a similar nature over the course of the last few years. It often seems that the big solution to budget problems for a public library is to simply close up shop on Sundays. Why is it that Sunday is the first to go? Why not close on Mondays or another day of the week instead if the budget is really so tight?

I think I know the answer to this question — because of union rules, or else libraries have contracts with employees that pay them extra for working Sunday so that makes the cost prohibitive. But we just have to accept the fact that our world has changed and (even if you don’t like it) Sunday is no longer considered to be different than any other day of the week by the majority of the population.

Librarians often talk about how they can attract the underserved or reach out to the non-user. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for attracting new library users and serving the underserved. But when I read about Sunday closings of public libraries it seems to me that what we are doing is alienating a significant portion of active library users and closing the doors on them during one of the few times they can use the library. Sunday is increasingly becoming the only day of the week that many people have time to visit the library and it is also the day that most students are trying to do their homework after procrastinating all weekend. I know for a fact that at MPOW our usage statistics would drop significantly without Sunday hours.

Like many public libraries, Sunday is our busiest day of the week. We are open 1-6 pm on Sundays year round. In those 5 hours that we are open we answer more questions and have higher circulation and door counts per hour than we do in any of the 12 hours that we are open on Monday (or some Tuesday for that matter). We have been taking seat counts on Sundays at 3 pm for a few months and even though we knew it was busy, we had no idea how busy until we started these seat counts. Consider this, 2 weeks ago at 3 pm on Sunday we had:

  • 137 people actively engaged in activities on the 2nd floor (tutoring, studying, reading magazines, doing research, using the computers, etc)
  • 102 people attending a program in our community room
  • 37 people browsing the collection on the first floor
  • 112 parents, children and teens on the 3rd floor
  • 20 people in the library cafe
  • 14 people in the conference room

If you are keeping track, that is 422 people in our 58,000 square foot building. I for one think that is impressive and I am sure many other libraries will be able to chime in with similar numbers. If you are not impressed yet, let me offer up these other statistics for the months of February and March 2006:

  • When we open the doors at 1 pm on Sundays we have an average of 48 people lined up waiting for us to open. They start lining up around 12:45 pm or earlier and many wish we would open at noon.
  • Our average gate count for the 12 hours we are open on Mondays: 3,390 or 282/hour
  • Our average gate count for the 5 hours we are open on Sunday: 2,628 or 526/hour

Our gate count is almost double on Sunday when taken on an hourly basis. To me, that statistic alone should be enough to convince others of the value of being open on Sundays.

We have recently changed the way we staff on Sunday. We used to operate with a minimal staff of mostly part-time employees and one or two full-time employees. We have since added extra staff to each service point on Sundays and staff with as many full-time employees as possible. To accomplish this we had to do something that wasn’t easy or popular. We totally eliminated the concept of “Sunday Pay”. We had staff meetings to debate this issue and formed a committee to look at alternatives and (in the end) the reality was that Sunday was important to our users and we needed to staff it to best serve their needs.

I actually don’t mind working Sundays. I get time off on Monday in exchange when the grocery stores are less busy and I can do my other errands without the weekend crowds. I often accomplish a great deal more on a Monday off than a Sunday off, plus I can watch daytime tv or go to the gym in the early afternoon and not fight for a treadmill. To me, becoming more accepting of working on Sundays was just a matter of mind shift. Look for the positives and then the Sunday shift looks much better.

One more Sunday story before I get off my off soapbox:

When we built our new library 2 years we installed 105 computers for public use. We felt pretty confident that we had several years to go before we reached “computing capacity”. But it was less than a year after we opened that we actually had all 100+ computers in use and people waiting in line for a turn. When did this momentus event occur? On a Sunday, of course! To this day, we have only reached capacity a few more times… and it is always on Sunday.

April 2, 2006 at 11:00 am 9 comments

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