Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.
Photo courtesy Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Click on the image to visit their digital library.

For most libraries, the end of the fiscal year is here. I think this is the perfect time to implement two new areas of focus for library promotions.

As discussed last week, libraries are at a critical moment. As we emerge into the post-pandemic world, we should not go back to doing things the way we were doing them before the crisis. That includes the way we do marketing and promotions.

Libraries need to start thinking beyond simply churning out flyers, posters, emails, and social media posts. We must devote time and energy to two primary areas of marketing focus: customer service and content marketing.

Here’s why.

Excellent customer service as marketing

We can create the truly engaged library cardholder by offering consistent, personal support.

Customer service is an extension of marketing because nothing compares to the first-hand experience of a real person having a great experience with your library, and then sharing that experience with their friends and family.

Customers are comparing you to every other customer experience they have. Expectations are high.

A library with frontline staff who are friendly, courteous, and dedicated to personalized assistance will hold the key to customer retention. You want to retain cardholders because it’s less expensive and takes less resources to retain engaged and active patrons than it takes to get new cardholders.

The good news is that most libraries excel at customer service. There are two ways to take those excellent, basic skills to the next level so you can create those loyal customers.

Respond as quickly as possible to patrons, wherever they interact with your library

Customer service consultant STELLAService released a report a few months ago that found that 62 percent of companies ignore customer service emails. The average wait time for a customer service email is 12 hours! And only 20 percent of companies follow up to see if their original answer was satisfactory for the customer.

This is an area where libraries can do better than for-profit brands.

  • Make it a priority at your library to answer every email, phone call, and chat request in a timely manner.
  • Institute a policy to send a follow-up email or make a follow-up phone call to ensure that the original answers you gave to the patron are satisfactory.

For instance, if a parent requests a book bundle for their child, be sure to send them an email or call them a few days after they’ve picked up their hold to see if their child is enjoying the books you provided. Keep a spreadsheet where you can make notes about what the patron liked and disliked.

The next time that person calls the library for help, your front-line staff can consult that database and provide more valuable help to that patron.

That kind of deeply personal customer service is the best kind of marketing you can do because it builds a relationship with the patron that is meaningful and shows that you are deeply committed to creating the best library customer experience possible.

Listen to your community

To provide the most meaningful services, collection, and programs, we need to know exactly who is using the library and how they are using it. We must also anticipate our community needs.

You can do this by enlisting front line staff to ask three simple questions during every patron interaction for a three-week period.

  • How could the library better help you this year?
  • What services do you love?
  • What services do you need?

The answers will give you valuable insight into the services your library can provide that will truly create an engaged community.

If you notice a service that isn’t mentioned by patrons in these interactions, consider dropping that service, even if it’s been something you’ve been doing for a long while. You want to provide what your community wants and needs.

You can also survey patrons by email. If you’ve never created a survey before, this post will help you.

Content marketing deepens community relations

Content marketing is promoting your library, not through advertisements or push promotions, but through education.

By providing answers to your community’s main questions, your library builds trust and loyalty. People will come to see your institution as a valuable resource with services that can’t be replicated by other institutions.

Content marketing breaks through the noise and the clutter by providing compelling, useful information for your cardholder. It addresses whatever pain points your cardholders have. It positions your library as the go-to place for information. It builds trust.

And through content marketing, your library gets a better and deeper understanding of your cardholders. You can use that understanding to do an even better job of addressing your cardholders needs. It’s a constant circle of giving. It carries more weight for a longer period than a flier or a poster.

You don’t have to be a trained marketer to understand how content marketing works. In fact, my contention is this: since more library marketing departments are run by trained librarians, you’ll do better at implementing a content marketing strategy at your library than most people with a marketing degree.

You tell stories. You read stories. You review stories. You love stories. You’re the perfect person to tell stories about your library, its staff, and its users.

Stories stick. A good story will stay in your brain longer than a good ad. And once you’ve told a great story, your cardholders will remember your brand. Stories build a connection which leads to customer loyalty, which leads to customer action.

Next week: Content marketing basics for libraries: easy ideas about how and where to tell stories about your library to deepen community loyalty.

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