Customer Service–Library Style

It was a pleasure to make a presentation today about customer service for the Indiana Library Federation (District 2) conference held today at the Kokomo Howard County public library.

The title of my presentation was “How to upgrade your library’s customer service.”

Here are some notes from the presentation.

Customer service as persuasion

In this section, I framed customer service as a persuasive activity. In particular, the library can use persuasive methods to enhanced the customer service experience of patrons.  The foundation of our discussion was the book by Robert Cialdini entitled Influence: The psychology of persuasion (Amazon link).  I highly recommend this book because it gives rich insight into how people attempt to persuade us and how we can more effectively persuade others.  This line of research draws on Petty & Caciappo’s 1986 Elaboration Likelihood Model– a framework that explains how people are either persuaded by paying very close attention to a message or by looking at shortcuts as they make their decision.  If you want, you can read more about the model here.  For our purposes, libraries can persuade patrons to become more engaged with the services of the library by using both the logic of well-thought-out content and the types of thinking shortcuts that Cialdini discusses in his book.

Here are the 6 weapons of influence–or persuasive strategies–that we briefly discussed today:

  1. Reciprocity:  This is where you give somebody a small gift and then later ask for something in return.  In short, it creates a sense of obligation. For example, let’s say that your library was hosting a poetry reading on Friday night. So maybe on Wednesday afternoon, you pass out free cappuccinos in the library and as people are drinking the free cappuccinos you asked them if they would be willing to come to the poetry reading on Friday night. The assumption here is that people are more likely to come on Friday night because they feel obligated based on the free drink. Is that manipulative? Probably. Is a persuasive? For many people it would be. I am not suggesting that you use reciprocity in any particular way in your library. However, there may be some ethical and non-manipulative ways to use the strategy to the advantage of both the library and the patron. It will be up to you to determine, first, what you want to ask the patron to do, and second, what “gift”  you could give them in advance of your request.
  2.  Commitment and consistency:  This is the classic “tie-down”  in sales lingo. Here’s the way this one operates: You get somebody to make a series of small commitments to you–and then you hold them consistent to those initial commitments. While this strategy works, you also have to be very careful with it because people today  have a much better sense of when they are being manipulated–and you don’t want to come across that way. I could see this being effective in a long-term campaign to create a core group of patrons who would support the library financially. For example, you could get those individuals involved in activities that demonstrate their commitment to the library. You can also find ways to get those individuals to voice their commitment to the community. You might also design a meeting that allows those individuals to articulate the need for financial support for the local library. Once those smaller commitments are in place, the way has been paved to then asked them to commit to a higher level, which would be to become a sponsoring patron of the library. This is just one example, and it might not even be a good one. But that at least gives a sense of how this principle operates. You could contextualize this principle in different ways to your particular location.
  3. Authority:  In this section, I encouraged you to draw on the expertise of staff members as a means to being seen as a voice of authority regarding particular topics in your community. This can be especially powerful if your staff members are able to tap into the library social media channels as a means of voicing their expertise regarding specific topics. Sure, citizens can go to the Internet  or the Food Network to learn about culinary arts,  but if they know that Robert at the public library knows his stuff when it comes to cooking, the library is more likely to become a resource for personal looking for culinary training.
  4. Liking and friendship:  Simply stated, we are more likely to be persuaded by people that we find friendly and likable. There is likely a strong positive correlation between the perceived friendliness of a library and the perceived level of customer service. Many of the tips for customer service listed at the beginning of this entry touch on liking and friendship.
  5. Social proof:  This is sometimes called the bandwagon effect,  and the idea here is that since everyone else is doing it, so should you. Framed in terms of customer service for the library, you could give the impression that your services are very popular with the public.  Facebook makes this easier to do because it shows how many of one’s friends have already “liked”  the library’s Facebook page.
  6. Scarcity:  This is the idea that there is only so much time left before an event is over.  Or that there are only 2 of these books at the library, so you better pick up your copy while you can. Giving patrons a sense of urgency can spur them to action. The question for you is what action do you want them to do?
 These 6 tips of persuasion can be very useful for getting people to do short-term actions.  However, to engage patrons at a deeper level, your library needs to find ways to get them thinking deeply about their connection to your library services. Put other way, this means that you would be helping your patrons engage in Petty & Caciappo’s notion of elaboration. Okay, I’m sure that didn’t help much. So let me put it this way: In order to get people to makes long-term commitments, you have to  help them to think deeply about your message. In the case of a library, your message could be that  they should take advantage of your outstanding customer service and all that this offers. How can you best communicate this message?  Probably through your libraries social media channels–especially your blog, which allows you to unpack a richer message.  The focus of the next section is on social media.


Social media as a tool of customer service

There are many excellent  social media channels available for communicating content with your patrons in addition to building relationships. Novice users of social media channels tend to focus their efforts on pushing content rather than building relationships. Try not to think of your social media channel as just another handout in the reference section. Instead, use these channels as a way to tell the rich and unfolding story that makes your library and your patrons unique.

In this section, I will provide some links to libraries that are using various social media channels and effective ways to present their message and build relationships.


At present, Facebook is the cornerstone of most organizations’ social media activities–and rightly so. That’s where most people live their lives online.  For a great example of using Facebook, check out the page of the Kokomo Howard County public library.  They do an excellent job of keeping the page up to date with current announcements,  and they have almost 1,000 people who have liked the page.  To take a page like this to the next level, you could draw on some of the design instruction offered by websites  such as and   Another good example is the page of the Boston Public Library.


There are many excellent examples of libraries using Twitter effectively. Here is one by the Somers Library.  This library has over 3,000 followers and does a great job making consistent postings throughout the day. They also have harnessed the power of the retweet, which is where they post someone else’s tweet on their own page.  Not only can this be valuable to share information with your followers, but increases the chances that other people and organizations will forward your future messages. In other words, it uses reciprocity.


Fewer libraries use blogs effectively compared to Facebook.  The example that I mentioned during today’s session is the blog maintained by Jasmine Star.  Granted, not everything that she does will apply to your specific library social media needs. However, this is a good example of putting a personal face on an organization. In the same way, you could use social media to feature the unique personalities that make up your library staff. Some universities do exactly this by inviting a handful of freshman to blog during their freshman year. These blogs are often feature prominently on the University’s homepage. Some students are even given video cameras.  The goal here is to create a type of reality TV show that is more likely to engage some visitors to the webpage then simply clicking on the tab labeled “academics.”  New blog post should be mentioned on Facebook and on Twitter.


Some of the most innovative ideas I have seen lately have come via Pinterest.  Here is a brief article with advice about how libraries can use the social media channel.


Leadership and customer service in an organizational setting

I didn’t address this part in my presentation, but I want to mention that effective customer service cannot be sustained throughout an organization without the commitment of leadership. I highly recommend The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner (Amazon link).  in short, these experts on leadership state that all effective leaders follow 5 basic principles:

  1. Model the way:  First, leaders must demonstrate a passionate commitment to customer service. If frontline workers don’t see this commitment from the top, then any efforts to  improve customer service will be short term at best.
  2. Inspire a shared vision:  Effective leaders must create a vision for why customer service is important in the library setting. They must find creative ways to secure buy-in from the library staff.
  3. Challenge the process:  Upgrading a library’s customer service means that some things will need to change. Being able to manage that change is essential.
  4. Enable others to act:  This one is key. It is not just enough to say that we are going to do customer service more effectively. Employees must be trained and encouraged.  We can talk about the importance of greeting every customer, but it’s possible that many workers lack the social skills to effectively pull this off. Additional training may be needed.
  5. Encourage the heart:  Celebrate successes.  it is crucial for leaders to recognize the improvements that staff has made when carrying out the shared vision of the organization. Failure to recognize upgrades in performance will lead to a downgrade in morale.

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