Can libraries adapt this idea?

February 13, 2008 at 9:27 am 16 comments

Yesterday was my birthday and I was home for the day due to my preschooler having a fever. Had I been at work I may have missed out on this great customer service idea that really brightened what was otherwise a dreary winter day cooped up in the house.

For 5+ years I have been a member of a very large health and wellness center run by a local hospital. It is a beautiful facility and I’ve always been impressed with their exceptional customer service, especially in comparison to other gyms that I have belonged to in years gone by. In prior years I have received a postcard in the mail from them wishing me a happy birthday. It was not personalized in any way and, although a nice gesture, usually just went straight to the recycling bucket.

I did not get a postcard this year, instead I got a phone call wishing me a happy birthday, thanking me for my five years of membership and asking for feedback. I have not been using the facilities as much lately (and they noticed) and they wondered if there was a reason why. I explained that it was mostly a child care issue and a lack of time. We chatted for a few minutes and by the end of the call I felt a new sense of resolve to use my membership more frequently and get back in to my gym routine.

Is there a way that libraries could do something similar? Would library customers appreciate a birthday phone call or would it feel too intrusive? I am honestly not sure. The phone call yesterday from my gym made me feel like they valued my membership and my opinion. Would library patrons welcome the same chance to provide solicited feedback?

At the very least this type of birthday call is a way to systemically ensure that you make annual contact with your members for feedback and input. I would imagine that the gym would have left me a voice mail had I not been home asking me to call back if I wanted to talk.

If a birthday phone call is not appropriate or feasible for libraries, then perhaps an annual campaign where you call a percentage of those in your community with library cards to thank them for using the library and asking them for feedback. It is simple, personal and would likely generate lots of good ideas as well as constructive advice.

At MPOW we have done focus groups and we have done a variety of surveys over the years to get feedback. While very useful, they require the customer to make the effort to either show up for the group or to fill out the form. If it is the library calling them, they can simply talk for a few minutes (or not) and it requires no effort on their part. It makes the conversation easy. I am going to be giving this some thought and trying to devise a plan for how we can implement something similar to get feedback on our public programming. Let me know if you have done this before and have any advice.


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  • 1. Angel, librarian and educator  |  February 13, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    In my case, it would not work for me. We screen all calls and any calls that even look like commercial (i.e. not from family or friends) pretty much get ignored. Library doing calls for that would pretty much be ignored as well in my house at least. I suppose it depends on how people view being called at home. For me, that would be almost as intrusive as some telemarketer (and those we hate with a passion).

    Best, and keep on blogging.

  • 2. Janie L. Hermann  |  February 13, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Thanks for the feedback. That was my concern precisely. I had a great experience with this concept yesterday, but I can also envision how it might be viewed as intrusive.

  • 3. Cynthia  |  February 14, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Happy Birthday–hope you have a wonderful year!

    I love the idea of this, but I think execution would be hard. First, I agree with angel–most calls that come to me from non-family/friends are ignored.

    Second, phone calls are a very expensive way to communicate. I think library budgets would feel the hit of such an effort.

    That said, I do think we need to collect feedback more than we do. In both libraries where I work, we regularly ‘tick’ off the type of service we give at the desk. We have no system in place to record the feedback we are given.

    When I work the Welcome Desk at PPL especially, I regularly get both good and bad feedback. I thank the patrons for the good, and do what I can depending on the negative comment. At the very least, I actively listen and repeat back the comments so the patron knows they have been heard.

    These comments rarely are heard by anyone else because there is no real system in place to share the information. Something as simple as a log where I could write a brief (very brief) note about the comments would be a good way to start. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated, and nothing mandated–just a quick note.

  • 4. Heather  |  February 14, 2008 at 10:49 am

    I hate the phone — I can’t even stand speaking to my mother on the phone, let alone strangers! But I would probably appreciate a personalized email from my public library on my birthday.

  • 5. Peter Bromberg  |  February 14, 2008 at 11:24 am

    The mode of communication is a non-issue, especially if the library allows the customer to specify a preferred method of contact (phone, email, text, candygram, whatever.)

    Janie’s point transcends the medium. The question stands: Can libraries figure out a way to initiate regularized, personal contacts with customers and use that opportunity to solicit some info on “how may we serve you better?”

    I now return this comment space to its regularly scheduled programming.

  • 6. melissathelibrarian  |  February 14, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    I’d start by talking to whoever is in charge of customer service/marketing at your gym and asking them if you could use their script or just discussing how it has worked for them. I’m with you, it sounds like a great idea.


  • 7. Lisa Coats  |  February 14, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    I agree with Pete: personalizing the contact with library patrons is a great idea. Some people wouldn’t answer the phone; others wouldn’t want an email. Asking them their preferred method is a great way to go. Personally, I like getting a card on my birthday from my financial advisor, dentist and other service providers. Some years, they are the only ones who remember! 😉 But having a phone survey (or email questionaire) is a great idea, too. This way, the contact is potentially two-way.

  • 8. lemasney  |  February 15, 2008 at 10:07 am

    Happy Birthday, Janie! You said “
    Is there a way that libraries could do something similar? Would library customers appreciate a birthday phone call or would it feel too intrusive?”

    I think that outreach is great – I think assessment is great, and I think goals, review, and feedback are all fantastic.

    I think it’s essential to choose the right communication channel for this, and possibly do a stakeholder analysis to determine who should get one level of contact vs. another – in other words some patrons should be getting a phone call, some should be getting a thank you gift with a personally written note, and some should be getting a hey how’s it goin email message.

    Choosing the right channels is key, but the idea in general, and your valence of contact from the organization were key in its success.

    Here comes March! j.

  • 9. Sara Weissman  |  February 15, 2008 at 11:24 am

    >>Would library customers appreciate a birthday phone call or would it feel too intrusive? .. Would library patrons welcome the same chance to provide solicited feedback?

    Feedback, yes, birthday call, no.
    Patrons reactions to this would probably be as mixed as they are ..stages of life, frequency of library use, etc. Some want us to be their friends and buddies, to know their concerns and needs. Others very much want to drift through wrapped in their veil of privacy ..and part of what we have to do is navigate that, know who is who.
    But here at least they love! to tell us what they think, when asked. Free form comments in our last (biennial) Service Survey were added to over 80% of returns, up 30% from preceding survey.
    In our experience the key to getting useful input is patrons knowing you will *do* something with it. We are careful to explain, in our Survey intros, what their input led to the last time around. (Or, if you can’t execute, explain why.) Patrons will talk–if they think we are truly listening.

  • 10. booklady  |  February 15, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    I, for one, would not want a phone call. I don’t like to receive calls from businesses unless there is a really good reason, and I think that a birthday call would seem intrusive instead. I would also feel on-the-spot with having to come up with reasons for why I haven’t been going lately.

  • 11. Janie L. Hermann  |  February 15, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    I have come to two realizations thanks to this conversation.

    1. That the phone call felt so wonderful on my birthday for a specific reason: I was in the midst of a pity party because I was cooped up with bad weather and very sick preschooler it just felt good to speak to speak to another adult and feel that I had been remembered. My virtual friends had sent me lots of lovely greetings on Facebook, etc., but I was still feeling rather neglected. If it had been a more normal day, I may have not welcomed that phone call.

    2. Pete hit the nail on the head, and the method of communication is not really the point at all. It is about finding a way to communicate regularly with all our patrons by whatever means they prefer.

    I especially like how John (commenting as lemasney) suggested that we might want to differentiate based upon each individuals relationship with the library.

    I am now thinking that perhaps sending out a birthday card with a coupon inside for waiving $2 off of any fine or for a free DVD rental and on the back of the coupon having a space for feedback that needs to be filled for the coupon to be redeemed. The feedback could be anonymous or not, depending on user preference.

    Sara’s point that patrons will respond if they know you act upon their suggestions is very well taken. Follow up is key and I wonder if my gym will call me about my request to expand the hours that they open the daycare room at the gym on weekends.

    Hmmm… keep the conversation going. I like the ideas that this is generating.

  • 12. Tess  |  February 15, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    Yeah, I think outreach is a good idea, but email might be the better way to go. I too HATE the phone, but love email *g*. But soliciting feedback and suggestions is always a nice idea, as is acknowledging the annual milestone.

    Come to think of it, I’m not sure my library has my exact birth date on file. Then again, it’s been almost 2 years since I joined, so maybe they do have that info.

  • 13. lemasney  |  February 15, 2008 at 1:25 pm

    Janie thought of “sending out a birthday card with a coupon inside for waiving $2 off of any fine or for a free DVD rental and on the back of the coupon having a space for feedback that needs to be filled for the coupon to be redeemed.”

    Now you’re talking – that’s pretty cool – mailed (or not), printed paper might cost you, and the coupon may definitely make you take a revenue hit (haven’t seen those numbers to see what is flowing currently due to fines) – but for the feel good effects and patron relations – priceless. j.

  • 14. Anonymous  |  February 15, 2008 at 8:00 pm

    Like getting a birthday card from your insurance agent, the real reason the gym called you on your birthday is to keep your money coming in. And what about libraries’ much vaunted stand on privacy of information? This is not merely annoying but an intrusive and unprofessional use of personal data. It’a bad enough that such humbug is worked upon us by the corporate world.

  • 15. Connie  |  February 17, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    Instead of birthday, what about library card renewal time? That way it reminds them about the library, provides a service, and hopefully gets them back in the door, too.

  • 16. trukth  |  March 3, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    I believe communication is the key to our patrons but by trying to personalize the message, via email, phone, etc. It creates another cost because the staff time required to prevent “cross postings” and following the communication could become a problem.

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