Outside of references to societal trends pointing to the consumer interest in self-service and how libraries need to respond to that, we librarians rarely talk about the ways in which we offer or could offer self service – and what that would mean for ourselves, our libraries and our community members. Nor have I seen much in our literature or conference discussions about evaluating the quality of our self service (if you’ve seen or written about such research please let us know).
I got to thinking about this after reading a post over at Joseph Michelli’s blog “Joseph’s Blog” on “How to Execute Easy“. In discussing a new research study that examines customer use of self-service kiosks, Michelli points to a dilemma faced by organizations that use ATM-like machines to deliver service:
At the heart of the dilemma that prompted this research is a desire by business leaders to maximize technology – speeding-up service, delivering cost efficient service solutions, and even opening-up their business to new tech-savvy customer segments. At the same time these leaders don’t want to automate service to the point that it becomes impersonal and essentially decreases the emotional connections between the consumer and their brand. That outcome would fundamentally lead to commoditization and that defeats all benefits of the technology in the first place.
Libraries already offer self-service checkout, some are exploring vending machines for self-service book delivery, and we offer patron-mediated interlibrary loan – where community members essentially manage their own ILL transactions. But quite possibly the most vast application of self-service is our electronic information delivery. We give our user community access to a rich set of resources that they can mine anytime, at their convenience, with no need whatsoever to interact with a member of the library staff. But here’s the important point according to Michelli: are we making it easy? He writes:
The mixed finding indicates that if you attempt to make the experience easier and it really turns out to be easier – satisfaction increases and you make more money. If you attempt to make it easier and it turns out to more complicated, you lose customer loyalty and decrease the depth of your existing customers’ spend.
So we’re not trying to make money – that’s not the point. We do need to build community member loyalty so we keep them coming back to the library for more. The challenge is that our “self-service” databases often fail the “easy” test, and that may be the case as well for some of our other self-service solutions (have you tried your library’s self-service checkout?). One improvement that may help is the ability to integrate chat widgets into the databases. So far only one major vendor is making it possible (correct me if I’m wrong). That capability speaks to the importance of offering a good balance between speeding things up for the community member and providing the opportunity for a personal connection. Access to live help is likely to increasingly become a part of the online service experience. Michelli shares that “in the next 12 months, retail eBusiness professionals are planning to expand their online customer service touchpoints, with significant increases in live help, social, and mobile customer service.”
As libraries move more of their services into the online and mobile worlds, we will no doubt expand the opportunities for self-service – which is a good thing. But as we do so we will also need to pay attention to expanding our touchpoints in those environments.