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Designing Better Libraries by steven j bell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Customer Service vs User Experience

When talking to other librarians about user experience, the question/observation that invariably comes up is “but isn’t that just another way of saying we all need to give great customer service”. I admit it’s a good question. I don’t doubt that organizations that have mastered the user experience all incorporate great customer service into the process. A talk I attended recently got me thinking about the difference between great customer service and great library user experiences. I would say there is a difference and that it can be explained.

Good customer service is important to any service organization, and that includes libraries. To my way of thinking, good customer service must be a given. It’s not added value. We might even describe good customer service, for library organizations, as a core value service. Without it we fail to fulfill our mission. But if every library provided great customer service there is nothing about great customer service that differentiates an individual library. Most library users would then (and I would argue should) have the expectation to get good customer service in any library they visit.

User experience, on the other hand, is all about creating a difference. As was explained in the talk I attended, so many competitors can now offer exactly the same products, at exactly the same price, with exactly the same customer service. Differentiation is a critical strategy in any highly competitive environment. For many businesses and services the only way to now achieve differentiation is to create a unique experience for their customers. And that experience can’t be random. It should be the result of a carefully constructed design.

I’m not saying that consistently delivering good customer experience is easy. But I do think our staff working in those areas of the library operation that are expected to offer good customer service know what they need to do and some basic ways in which it can be accomplished. Designing a good library user experience, on the other hand, is going to take a more strategic effort to determine how and in what ways the library can differentiate itself through a variety of customer interactions. It’s not going to necessarily be the same for every library. At one library the experience might be designed around total simplicity – making the library and its systems as easy to use at every possible touch point. At another library it might designed around academic success – always communicating the message that the library helps students and faculty achieve success on their terms – and delivering on it at every touch point. Why will those library experiences be different? Because, as our speaker told us, all user experience design eminates from an organization’s core value system. Each library, as it develops its design for the user experience, must first grasp and be able to articulate what its core value propositions are.

Fortunately, quite a few of my library colleagues attended this talk. I’m glad they heard these messages about designing a user experience for a library, why it’s important in our competitive information landscape, and why it’s about more than good customer service. Together I think we can begin to discuss what our core values are, and then use that knowledge to design our library user experience.



Pingback from Columbia University Libraries FYI » Good customer service = good user experience?
Posted: July 15, 2008 at 3:29 pm

[…] recent entry “Customer Service vs User Experience” in the Designing Better Libraries blog challenges readers to think about their ultimate focus: good […]

Pingback from Designing Better Libraries » Service Design Vs. Experience Design
Posted: August 29, 2008 at 11:53 am

[…] I previously stated that customer service is not that same as a user experience, and gave some reasons why user experience goes beyond the concept of customer experience. Innovation Playground is a blog I’ve been directed to a few times recently, and Idris Mootee offers some pretty interesting discussions about experiences and designing them. In a recent post Mootee explains what he sees as the relationship between service design and experience design. Are they one and the same? It’s not all that clear, but I think I get his point. […]

Comment from sharla norlander
Posted: February 5, 2009 at 4:12 pm

I agree that creating an overall customer service experience is what adds to the lasting impression made on customers. By first determining what the strategy of the establishment is, this will then lead to creating this experience, and ultimately making the lasting impression desired.

Pingback from Designing Better Libraries » Managing The Higher Ed User Experience
Posted: April 24, 2009 at 11:54 am

[…] at the start Sevier makes an important point that we’ve also made here at DBL: user experience is not the same thing as customer service. He says “experience management is […]

Pingback from Designing Better Libraries » Good Library Customer Service
Posted: September 18, 2009 at 11:25 am

[…] shares some useful thoughts and observations about customer service in the library – and as DBL has stated previously, customer service is an important component of any library UX […]

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