There is an undeniable connection between customer service and successful marketing and to ignore the role that a personal, caring interaction with a customer can have for your library is dangerous. Don’t take your customers for granted. Help them solve their problems–even when the problem is your library–and keep them loyal for a lifetime.

I started to really think about the role customer service plays in my library when I stumbled across a podcast a few years ago called Focus on Customer Service. Host Dan Gingiss interviewed marketers from brands which are known for outstanding customer service in the social media area. Those conversations are enlightening and, although the podcast is no longer in production, I would suggest you go back and listen to the archives. They’re really worth your time.

Meanwhile, Dan has gone on to write a new book, Winning at Social Customer Care: How Top Brands Create Engaging Experiences on Social Media. It is the best marketing book I’ve read recently. I reached out to Dan to ask him some specific advice about libraries and customer service and he was kind enough to give his advice.

Dan’s 20-year career has consistently focused on delighting customers, spanning multiple disciplines including social media, customer service, marketing, and digital customer experience. Dan has hands-on experience as an executive at multiple Fortune 300 companies, including as the Senior Director of Global Social Media at McDonald’s Corporation, the Head of Digital Marketing at Humana and the Head of Digital Customer Experience & Social Media at Discover Card. A frequent conference speaker, Dan holds a B.A. in psychology and communications from the University of Pennsylvania, and an M.B.A. in marketing and strategy from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. You can find him on Twitter at @dgingiss.

Libraries often do things by committees and many have a long and bureaucratic approvals process for everything, including responses to customer service issues. Can you tell us why libraries should consider empowering their employees to surprise and delight customers by resolving issues in a more expedient way?

What libraries — and all organizations — need to remember is that customers are comparing you to every other customer experience they have with companies. You’re not being compared to another library; rather, you are being compared with Amazon, Wendy’s, Zappo’s, and any other brand with which the customer has engaged recently. Customer expectations are higher than ever, and a speedy response has become table stakes to competing with other superior experiences.

Libraries have such meager budgets, and many focus solely on getting the most product (books) to customers as possible. They don’t want to spend any money on providing good customer service. There are a lot of products out there that can make it easier for libraries to enhance their customer service. If you had to pick one thing that libraries should spend money on to improve their customer service, what would it be (software? More agents? )

Self-service capabilities. Most customers are willing to pursue self-service solutions if they are available, and many even prefer it. In the case of libraries, this could be used both in person at computer terminals and online, where like other industries much of the customer interaction is now taking place. Considering that libraries are still physical structures and much of the experience is still enjoyed in person, it’s also critical that they hire friendly and helpful staff who are willing and able to help readers who have no idea how to navigate the archaic Dewey Decimal System, for example. (Think about how people search for things today; it certainly does not involve decimals!)

Training for customer care, particularly in social media, is not always a strong suit for libraries. They train mostly for front-line customer service. Can you explain the difference between training for front-line interactions with customers and online customer care, and why there is a value in providing specific training for online care?

First of all, it’s critical to remember that social media is still the “front line”. It’s just another channel in which your customers have chosen to engage. So just as you wouldn’t leave a Help Desk unattended or let the phone ring and ring, you also shouldn’t make people wait for answers on social media either. That said, there are some key training differences (explained in Chapter 7 of my book) between online and offline Customer Service agents. The two most notable are writing ability and social media platform knowledge. Agents must have good spelling and grammar, as mistakes cast a poor light on the organization, and they must have at least a working knowledge of each individual social media platform so they understand the culture, norms, and limitations.

I think community building is a good strategy for libraries to engage with cardholders and offer customer care. Based on your book, I assume you agree. Can you explain how building an online community might benefit an organization like a library which is looking to improve customer service?

Online communities are especially helpful in answering questions that are likely to recur over time. For example, I recently learned that libraries often have passes to local museums but that they are reserved quickly. I wanted to know the process of obtaining such a pass from my local library. While calling the library worked just fine, an online community could have provided the same answer without leveraging paid library staff. In addition, I’d point out that books, by their very nature, are community-building in that people love talking about their similar interests and experiences. So I think an online community hosted by a library could be very successful on several fronts.

What do you think the future looks like for customer service? Is there anything libraries should be considering as they plan for the future, so they can stay competitive with bookstores and offer excellent service to cardholders?

Libraries have a huge advantage over bookstores because they provide the product for free! If they were also to provide a consistently superior customer experience, the discussion in the media might not be about Amazon undercutting brick-and-mortar bookstores, but about how libraries are experiencing a great resurgence at the expense of Amazon! Like any industry, libraries must adapt to changing technology and customer expectations. In some ways, they have, like the availability of e-books, but I’ve never found those to be either marketed effectively or easy to use. Libraries should learn from for-profit businesses to become better marketers of what is already a competitive product, to draw in new card members but also to remind existing ones why they signed up in the first place.

Bonus Secret: Go to, click on “Buy Now”, then enter the code “Winning” to get a signed copy of Dan’s book for the best available price.

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