Super Library Marketing: All kinds of marketing ideas for all kinds of libraries.


customer service and libraries

The Best Thing You Can Do is Leave the Safety of Your Desk

I had an amazingly and scary experience this week.

My library is in the very first stages of comprehensive facilities plan. With money from a levy passed by our county voters in May, we’re going to renovate or rebuild ALL 41 library locations.

I’m trying hard not to not have a panic attack reading that sentence back to myself.

When complete, these projects will likely change the course of our library forever. As a first step in that massive undertaking, our board of trustees hired an architectural consulting firm to gather ideas and insight from our cardholders. As part of this opinion-gathering process, our library is holding community forums and structured question-and-answer meetings at each branch over the course of the next year. If you’re counting, that’s 80 plus chances for us to interact with the public and ask them directly what they want their library to be. MY GOSH, what a gift. Am I right? It’s a huge task but it’s also a huge opportunity!

I volunteered to work the forum boards during the first of our community meetings, and to help with logistics at the second one. Both opportunities gave me the chance to get out of my basement office and actually talk face to face with the people who receive, consume, and respond to my marketing messages. And it was amazing.

I’m serious. I learned all kinds of interesting stuff just from talking to people. I found out what they think about the layout of libraries, the frequency of email messages, the reasons they got a library card, their favorite parts of the collection, their impression of our staff, and their dreams for the services they want us to provide. It was gold mine of information.

Honestly, I’ve never actually done drugs, but I felt high was I left my first shift. I ran into one of my good friends who works as front-line staff and I gushed to her about how amazing it was to actually talk to people. She said, “Hey, you should just come hang out at the desk with me. People will tell you exactly what they think of our marketing if you ask them, and you’ll learn so much about our cardholders.”

And I realized in that moment, for all the research and thinking and strategic planning and data analysis that I do, I might be missing one of the most important aspects of library marketing–my cardholders. I *think* I know what they want and need. I’ve got survey results and conversion data and social media engagement statistics that tell me about the people our library serves. But, before last week, I cannot remember the last time I actually talked to a customer about the library.

That changes now.

I don’t really have to worry about forcing myself outside my comfort zone over the next year. All I must do is sign up to be a part of each of those community forums as they are scheduled. But after that, I’m going to have to make sure that I get out and talk to people. I have learned that direct interaction with customers is exceedingly valuable.

I hope you are better at this than I have been. Maybe you’re reading this and saying, “Duh, Angela.” If so, my hat goes off to you. I’m learning this lesson late. But I thought it was important to share it with you.

Don’t be a dummy like me and stay locked in your basement office, separated from your cardholders. Get out of your comfort zone and talk to your cardholders. Set up a regular calendar reminder and spend an hour with your front-line staff. You could just observe. Or you could ask questions. You’ll learn so much. You’ll make the cardholders feel valued. And you’ll be demonstrating your commitment to customers to your fellow staff members. You can’t be any more engaged than that!

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn. I talk about library marketing on all those platforms!


The Best Library Customer Service Advice from an Expert

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.

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button on the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter and Snapchat–it’s where I talk about library marketing! I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedInInstagram and Pinterest. Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

Six Tips to Make Sure Your Library Does Remarkable Customer Service

Unforgettable (1)

Your job as a library marketer is to ensure good customer service. If you don’t believe me, read this blog by Jay Baer. He makes a clear case for why good customer service is crucial to the long-term success of any organization. I also recommend the Focus on Customer Service podcast. It features marketers at top companies, who talk about the essential connection between customer service and marketing.

These one-on-one interactions with the customer are crucial marketing moments. 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.

This connection between marketing and customer service was clearly demonstrated to me in a personal way when I found myself on the customer side of bad customer service. Maybe labeling my recent interaction with the U.S. Postal Service as a “bad service” is pushing it a bit. I didn’t lose any mail. No one died. But the encounter left me scratching my head–how could a business or agency unapologetically make so many mistakes? The encounter made me feel like my voice didn’t matter. And you never want to leave a customer feeling like that.

Here’s what happened and what I learned from it.

I went to the main post office at about 5:30 p.m.,  to drop off some letters. I knew the building would be closed but the drive-thru mail boxes are picked up every two hours until 9 p.m.

When I pulled into the drive thru, all three boxes were overflowing with mail–literally. There were also bins full of mail piled on top of and around the boxes.  I wish I had thought to take a photo!! It was kind of amazing.

I could not fit my letters into the boxes. I started to worry about security. It would have been  easy for someone to steal the mail. The boxes weren’t scheduled to be cleared until 7 p.m. I have no idea what was inside those hundreds of envelopes and I realize it wouldn’t have been my fault if they were stolen–but I could not sit back and do nothing.

So I decided to call the post office. I figured someone must be inside the building somewhere. Even if all I could do was leave a message, surely someone would hear it and come collect the mail early. I used Google to find the number and dialed. The phone picked up–and I heard this message.

“You have reached a non-working number for the U. S. Postal Service. Please check your number and try again.”

Lesson #1: Keep your information updated on Google. Check to make sure addresses, phone numbers, and websites for all locations are up to date and accurate.

I decided to call the main 1-800 number for the postal service. I thought maybe they could send a message to this specific location.  I Googled the number and dialed. This time, I had to listen to a recording about severe blizzard conditions in the Northeast and their effect on the mail. This emergency message lasted one minute and three seconds (I know because I took the phone away from my ear when it was finished to see how long I’d been on the call!)

Lesson #2: If you have a special alert about service issues for a portion of your customers, make your message short and simple. Give customers an option to go elsewhere to learn more about the alert. 

Next I navigated a complicated directory designed to route my call to the appropriate department based on my problem. But there was no option that came close to matching my issue. In fact, the list of choices was quite short. It left me feeling like the post office was deliberately trying to make it difficult for customers to register a complaint or concern. When I finally got past the irrelevant questions, I was transferred to a line of waiting phone customers. The wait, I was told, was 30 minutes to two hours.

Lesson #3: Make it easy for customers to register complaints and concerns with you–in whatever form they choose to contact you. The customer is taking time out of their day and their information could potentially help you to improve service.  Don’t make them jump through hurdles of burning fire and dodge dragons to give you a heads up about a problem.

Unwilling to wait two hours, I decided to turn to social media. I sent a Tweet to two USPS accounts, @USPS, the official Twitter account of the United States Postal Service, managed by the PR staff at USPS HQ, and @USPSHelp, which is for customer service.

I should have noticed a problem right away.


They’re not manned 24 hours a day. And apparently, they don’t use the account to actually answer problems–at least not in public.

I tweeted the accounts around 5:45 p.m. that night… and again an hour later.


And… I never received a reply. Never. Not the next day, not a week later… never.

Lesson #4: Man your social media accounts as much as possible. Answer ALL complaints in public, even if the message is just “We’re sorry you are experiencing this problem. Can we send you a private message for more information so we can help?” And do it in a timely manner. Try to respond within one hour of the post but certainly within 24 hours. Don’t ever, ever ignore complains on social media.

FInally, I decided to email the post office.  Then I went to bed and hoped for the best for that abandoned mail.

One week later, I received a voicemail on my cell phone.  It was from a postal worker.  He said that he had received my email, had forwarded it on to the person at the appropriate postal location, and thanked me for looking out for the agency.

Lesson #5: Personal contact is always best. It makes the customer feel special.

Later that day, I received a detailed and very well-written survey asking for feedback on my experience.

Lesson #6: Ask customers for feedback on their experience and use that data to improve customer service.

All six of these lessons are easy to implement, inexpensive, and essential. Libraries should review their customer service, by phone, text, email, and in-person, at least once a year to evaluate and improve. And marketing departments should certainly be at the center of any customer service improvements. There is no better way to market your library than to give someone a fabulous experience!

Are you interested in writing a guest article for this blog or do you know someone whose insight would be helpful to my readers? Leave a message in the comments or email me at  

Subscribe to this blog and you’ll receive an email every time I post. To do that, click on “Follow” button on the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Connect with me on Twitter and Snapchat–it’s where I talk about library marketing! I’m @Webmastergirl. I’m also on LinkedIn, Slideshare,  Instagram and Pinterest. Views in this post are my own and do not represent those of my employer.




A Website.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: