Photo courtesy Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library

The best customer service experience I ever had was with a cell phone provider. No kidding.

I was having issues getting my contacts to transfer to a new phone. The provider’s website offered no solutions. So, with great trepidation, I called the customer service line.

The woman who answered was a delight to work with. She welcomed me in a friendly manner and assured me she wouldn’t hang up until she’d solved my problem. She was patient with me as I explained my issue. She was friendly, asking me questions about my day as she worked. And she thanked me with sincerity when our call is over.

A successful and delightful customer service interaction is rare. And it’s increasingly difficult for people to contact a human customer service agent. Earlier this year, Vox published a story about the death of customer service lines. Companies like Frontier Airlines, Facebook, and Amazon are cutting costs by eliminating their phone-based customer service lines in favor of email forms and chatbots.

When I read that, I thought, “That’s a huge opportunity for libraries!”

Our community is our customers. And our unique value proposition is that we offer personalized service provided by a real-life person, always.

Library staff is not chatbots. We’re not email forms.

We listen, and we help solve problems. In fact, we’re proud of our problem-solving skills.

So why don’t we spend more time marketing our unique, valuable customer service experience?  

Good customer service is a competitive edge for libraries. We can build a reputation as a warm and inviting space. When was the last time you heard Amazon or Best Buy described in those terms?

Building your library’s reputation for customer service will increase visits and use of your library. And for many of you, that can be valuable in budget and funding discussions.

And delighted community members are more likely to spread the word to their friends and family about our system and the services we provide. They are compelled to talk about us positively on social media, give us great reviews on Google Business, and support our work through donations or volunteerism.  

Here are 3 ways to use your library’s customer service as a marketing tool. Scroll to the bottom of the post for a great real-world example of customer service guidelines for staff from the University of Illinois.

Make it incredibly easy for people to contact you.

Your library’s address, phone number, and email address should be easy to find on our website. I’d recommend adding it to your page’s footer, as well as your “about” section. You might also add a “Contact us” page to your website.

It’s okay to have your contact information in more than one location! Don’t make your community members jump through hurdles to reach you. Remember, your competitive advantage is the ease of using the library.

You must also keep your library’s information updated on Google. And add your contact information to your bio or “about” page on all your social media accounts.

Finally, consider sharing your contact information at the top of your email newsletters, at the beginning of each video you produce, and even at the beginning of each program you hold. A simple statement like, “Our library is here to help you! Ask us any question, anytime by calling 555-5555 or emailing us at” is sufficient.

And if you do this anytime you interact with a group of community members, over time your concerted and consistent effort to share your contact information will convey the message that your library is a place where community members can seek help.

Promote your library as a place that helps people solve problems.

In your marketing, emphasize that your library is on the community’s side.  

Your promotions should drive the following messages:

  • That your staff works collaboratively with users.
  • That you take your time to listen to problems and find the best solutions.
  • That your community members’ problems are your problems!
  • That you care about the outcome of your interactions. 

One way to do this is to collect stories of the library solving patron problems. You might have to get out of your comfort zone to ask after a casual conversation but it’s worth it. Most people will be more than happy to allow you to use their feedback as a jumping-off point for a story. People love to talk about themselves. Use that to your advantage! 

You’ll likely need to train your staff on how to do this. It sounds complicated, but here is an easy framework for staff to keep in mind.

If you think there is an opportunity for a patron to share a story with you, don’t wait until the end of your interaction to ask. Ask questions when the moment presents itself, even if that’s toward the beginning of your interaction. Listen for the community member to say something like, “Oh that was helpful!” That’s your cue to ask permission from the community member to share the story of your interaction.

Avoid broad questions that can be answered with a simple yes or no, like “Would you recommend the library to friends and family?” or “Did you benefit from our work together?”

Instead, ask the patron specific questions that require a bit of engaging explanation.

  • “What are some reasons you’d recommend the library to your friends and family?”
  • “How is your life different now that you’ve received help from the library?”

When you ask these more specific questions, you’re setting up your patron to offer a bit of narrative and a back story. Remember that hearing more about another person’s journey can help a potential library user visualize the difference their life could have if came to the library for help. 

Look for stories everywhere… in emails to your library, in social media comments or messages, and of course, in person. When you actively look for stories, it will get easier and become second nature.  

Finally, create a story bank. Collected stories have little value if they can’t be molded into something you can. Use whatever technology your budget will allow.

You can keep track of all the major details with a simple spreadsheet in Excel or Google Docs. Some libraries even use Trello, which is free, to gather and share patron stories. 

Promote your staff as problem solvers

Other companies have employees. Libraries have experts who truly care about the work they are doing and the impact they have on the community.

That’s why your staff is one of your most valuable resources. They are what makes your library stand out from your competitors.  Augusta Public Library did this in a fantastic Facebook post.

And when you highlight specific staff, your community members will begin to feel as if they know the employees. They’ll be more comfortable coming into your physical buildings because they’ll recognize the face at the desk or in the stacks. They’ll feel more open about asking you for help!

Bonus: Here is a great set of customer service guidelines for staff from the University of Illinois.

More Advice

You Don’t Have to Choose Between Print and Digital Books: How to Promote Your Collection to Patrons Who Use BOTH Formats

6 Simple Steps to Create the Most Important Asset in Your Library Promotional Arsenal: A Powerful Library Brand Style Guide 

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