Who Is Your Library’s Chief Customer Officer?

Chief “anything” officers are rarely found in libraries of any type, but the concept of a single administrator who takes responsibility for the end-to-end implementation or responsibility for some part of the operation has found a home in some library organizations. Perhaps the most common one is the Chief Technology Officer. One “Chief” position that I am not expecting to see in libraries anytime soon probably has more to do with the other “C” word in this post’s title than the possible value of the position itself. Despite the general resistance to the customer concept in our profession, the idea of a Chief Customer Officer strikes me as an important organizational commitment to achieving a total user experience.

According to the article “How Chief Customer Officers Orchestrate Experiences” there are over 700 U.S. firms with an executive leading the customer experience effort. It’s a relatively new position at most firms with 44% having spent two years or less in their current positions. What we might be seeing is an elevation of the experience focus at these firms. It is more commonplace to find positions like user experience specialist or even a director of user experience in retail and service firms, but it appears more firms are deciding to add an executive level position dedicated to full accountability for the customer experience.

The big question concerns what these CCOs actually do. What makes their position unique with the organization? According to the article the function of the CCO is to:

Design experiences rather than processes. Customer experience transformation involves changes in the fundamental ways that a company operates and delivers value to customers. The big uptick in CCOs with operations backgrounds signals an awareness of this fact. These leaders need to reframe problems and opportunities from the customer’s perspective, not the internal point of view that business process improvement takes too often.

While that’s short on specifics it suggests to me that the CCO is tasked to shift the organization culture to one in which the customer experience is at the center of decision making so that there is a more customer experience centricity to the work of that firm. I can also see the advantages of having an executive with the resources to bring together the different operating units to work towards totality in the experience so that it works well across all touchpoints.

While it would be interesting to see some libraries devote an executive position to the user experience, and I think the Columbus Metropolitan Library may be the only one that has, for now it may be reasonable to anticipate more user experience positions at the departmental level – although I suspect many of those positions will be more focused on usability and library assessment as opposed to changing the experience culture of the library. But if the library world follows what happens in the corporate world, and occasionally it does, as the focus on user experience continues to build in libraries, we may eventually see more CCOs in the library C-suite.

Small Details of the Library Experience May Matter the Most

There’s a new book garnering attention because it brings a new perspective to design thinking. What makes it stand out is that it’s a really small idea. Micro-small in fact. That certainly has a refreshing appeal when what usually gets hyped are really big ideas. This approach may be of value to librarians in helping them to think small – and we’re unaccustomed to hearing that sort of advice. I have to admit to being guilty myself of suggesting that it’s the big idea that helps our libraries get attention. If we intend to design a library experience based on achieving totality, it makes sense to consider all of the individual, micro-design elements that ultimately contribute to the total experience.

In his new book Microinteractions Dan Saffer encourages us to focus more on the small details that add up to the bigger moments of our user experience. In other words, the success of the outcome of the product or service is in the details. The microinteractions are the small elements of the overall process or service that can determine its unique features that make for a great experience. Microinteractions include functions such as silencing a cell phone, filling out a webform as part of a larger process (e.g., requesting an article from the library), or any small component of a larger experience. Saffer shares a good story about how a cell phone alarm ruined a concert because its owner didn’t know that the phone issued a time alarm even when set to silent mode. The design of that feature is perhaps a good one but its existence, or how to override it, certainly wasn’t clear to the phone’s owner.

There are four parts to the microinteraction:

1. A trigger that initiates it; something the user has to do such as pressing a switch or choosing an option.

2. A rule that governs the operation of the trigger; when a light switch is turned to on (the trigger) the rule states that the light stays on until the switch is set to off.

3. Feedback that the rules generate; visuals, sounds or sensations that let you know the rule is operational – such as the light that goes on when the switch is flipped or the visual cue that informs you the form was submitted.

4. Loops and modes that make up the microinteraction’s metarules; think of them as smaller helper functions that support the microinteraction, such as a sub-function to change the location for a function that provides a weather report.

As we go about designing different elements of our library services and products how could a better understanding of microinteractions and their part in the success or failure of a more involved experience help us to improve the total library experience. While I imagine that what Saffer mostly has in mind is our experience with interfaces and technology design – and that appears to be the case based on the examples he provides in the (free-to-read) first chapter. What I’d like to contemplate is how we could apply the microinteraction process to various areas of our library operations. For example, try applying it to a face-to-face reference interaction.

First, we need a trigger – something to get the community member to activate the service. As we design the microinteractive pieces, let’s remember delivering a superior experience is the desired outcome. What about something physical, such as a smile, big greeting or eye contact (or all of them) that sends a trigger to signal the initiation of a service process. Second, we need a rule and it should be natural for reference librarians. The rule would state that the librarian stays engaged with the community member until the request for information is resolved. Unfortunately, the micro-design missing in the reference interaction is follow up; we rarely know if the assistance offered actually solved the community member’s need. Third, the feedback generated by the rules would be verbal in nature, with the librarian providing oral feedback to let the community member know how the interaction is proceeding and where it is headed. And fourth and finally, the metarules would focus on demonstrating a research skill as a microfunction that supports the microintereaction.

You might be questioning if this application of Saffer’s microinteraction methods helps us to improve the total library experience. But if we can regard many of our routine activities as microinteractions within a much larger system, you can begin to see how designing each microinteraction in the individual service or product can eventually add up to the totality of the library experience, it makes a difference. It may also be easier to get there by focusing staff energy on the design and effectiveness of each micorinteraction that is incorporated into the total library experience. Perhaps the most valuable outcome from this new book is that it will get us thinking about service interactions – and designing them – in a whole new – and micro-detailed way. That, I think, is why Saffer’s work is sure to gather more attention.