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22 Aug 2011 / Julie

your customers- in two years.

“virtual reference” is a misnomer. it’s not just internet chat for reference librarians, it’s really the symbol for the idea that your customers should have the option to contact you however they wish. and as a customer-driven service profession, we should give a shit about how our customers want to do that.

the August 2011 issue of CRM (Customer Relationship Management… that free magazine/sales pitch you can get from Information Today) talks about the research on “how consumers will contact customer service within the next two years.” While you’re not “customer service” you are Customer Service and you need to pay attention. So here- pay attention to what I think you need to read:

  • 70% of consumers globally and 75% in the U.S. have used voice channels to contact customer service centers most often in the last three months. This number is expected to drop to 56% globally and 50% in the U.S.
  • 40% of global consumers and 32% of U.S. consumers would prefer alternate methods of contact- including web chat, self-service, and text messaging- to phone-based customer service.
  • 55% (globally), 56% (U.S.) said that in two years, they will use email regularly to reach customer service centers, compared with the 15% (13% U.S.) that use email now.
  • 86% (globally), 90% (U.S.) are likely to tell friends, family or colleagues about poor customer service experiences.
  • Consumers are willing to pay 20% MORE for goods and services if they come up with better service (up from 5% from a few years ago).

What does all this tell you about your customers, your library staff and services, and the relationships between the two? Here’s my take:

  • You will need to stop screwing around on self-service. Also pay attention to the different ways your customers can choose to help themselves. (can they pay their fine with a credit card at the self-checkout? can they pay a fine via text or paypal online? can they place and cancel holds on their phone? etc)
  • You will need to step it up on multi-mode communication choice. Can your customers reach you without navigating more than two levels on a phone tree? How’s your hold times? Can they email you with quick response? Text? IM/chat? Smoke signals? Are your tech options mobile-friendly for a range of smart and dumb phones?

Frankly i think the biggest take-away on this is that people are willing to PAY 20% MORE (that’s a 15% increase over the last few years) for better service. We’re all broke, but we’re willing to pay more money if we are going to be treated like we matter. Your library is in the people business and for the most part, we do a good job at this BUT WE HAVE ALL SORTS OF ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT.

It’s not enough for your f2f interactions to be upbeat, helpful, above-and-beyond, and delightful. Our online communications as well as our customers’ interactions with the things we have that speak to our brand (THIS INCLUDES OUR LOVELY VENDOR INTERFACES AND EXPERIENCES) have to follow suit.

So how is your library holding up? Prepared to meet your customer’s changing demand? I know you are – you just have to keep the Customer Focus.

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