Libraries Could Use An Experience Design Hub

I never thought I’d be writing a post that points to something McDonald’s is doing, but I recently discovered they maintain an Innovation Center that allows the fast food company to study and potentially improve the McDonald’s user experience. It’s an idea worth exploring. I have had an occasional experience at McDonald’s, usually when there are no other options. For example, two years ago I was visiting a library and needed to take a break for lunch. Given the location and the time available there was not much else to choose. I ordered a salad (pre-made) and a cup of coffee.

As one might expect the experience was about convenience, speed of delivery and low cost. The most significant barrier to having a good customer experience at McDonald’s, I think – and there probably more than a few from which to choose – is the limited options and a “take it this way or go elsewhere” design. If I wanted a little milk for my coffee instead of the standard creamer packet I would need to buy a bottle of milk. For the customer, convenience comes at a cost.

Times have changed and McDonald’s is struggling to grapple with its longest sales decline in company history.Competition on one end of the spectrum from cheaper fast-food restaurants and on the other end from healthier restaurant options is putting the squeeze on McDonald’s profits. As many other organizations do, when competing on price or product alone isn’t working, look to improve the experience. That’s the gist of this article that was reprinted in Sunday newspapers around the country. To that end McDonald’s has run an Innovation Center since 2001.

What’s changed is that instead of simply finding ways to cut ten seconds off the time it takes to fry, package and deliver a burger, a diversified staff now works to improve the service experience. “The focus is really on what customers are looking for” said Melody Roberts, senior director of experience design innovation. I was looking for a small container of free milk for my coffee. Who knew that McDonald’s employs a senior director of experience design?

What I thought was interesting about this article, and I’m sure McDonald’s is not alone in developing such a facility, is the idea of creating an entire replica of the store and setting it up to maximize the testing of customer service options and the collection of data about customer experiences. Just imagine having the capacity to make on-the-fly modifications to experiment with a minor change and the ability to bring in real people, not paid actors, to engage with staff and the environment for the purpose of studying actual customer transactions.

Now imagine some type of design hub for libraries. What if we could create a working model of a library where we could invite in people to have service interactions, use the study spaces or work collaboratively, and openly capture information about how the library is being used. A lab-like setting could also allow for experimentation with new types of services. The people using the library could be instantly polled about their likes and dislikes, and we could ask them to try the service again after having made user-centered adjustments.

Harvard University operates the Library Innovation Lab, and the intent is to experiment with new ideas that could prove beneficial to libraries and their member communities. Most of the innovations tend to be technological in nature, such as new software to enhance the discovery process. It’s a lab that experiments with innovations that could be useful to all types of libraries. Have the folks who run it ever thought about using it as a hub for researching the library user experience? I doubt it’s set up to tackle that type of work.

Chicago’s public library received a Gates Foundation grant to explore new innovations and configurations that would improve the library experience. The Next Library 2014 Conference invited librarians from around the globe to learn more about service innovation. These two efforts are steps in the right direction, but they fall short of providing the library profession with a true experience design hub. The value of these initiatives is that they demonstrate we can put resources into experimental labs where the outcomes can benefit all librarians, not just those working in a single sphere of the profession.

I’m not suggesting that creating such a hub would be an easy thing to do. Creating, organizing and staffing a mock library innovation and experience center would be no simple task. It would require some sort of national effort and funding to set up, staff and maintain the operation. Perhaps it could be set up within an existing library and staff from different regional libraries would be tapped to participate in various experiments and service testing.

What’s learned could give librarians better insights into what community members are looking for from their library. That information could help libraries of all types to improve the customer experience, whether it was service at a desk, by virtual modes or through websites. Who knows what else could be accomplished with an experimental service design hub?

I would like to know what our community members’ “milk container” request is. What’s that minor but crucial element that could make the difference between a decent experience and a truly great one. Do we, as a profession, have the desire or grit to create a library experience design hub? I’d like to know what you think. Crazy idea or something worth pursuing?

Convenience Trumps Qual..Wait…Library Experiences Should Transcend Fast Food

When Ranganathan stated his fourth law of library science, “Save the Time of the Reader” he probably did not intend for us to create a library experience that operates under the same principles as a fast food restaurant – whose fourth law just happens to be “Save the Time of the Eater”.

What Ranganathan most likely intended was for us to be efficient and knowledgeable so as to avoid squandering the time of our community members, yet not be so overly hurried that we deliver a rushed and impersonalized interaction – one that might seem more at home at a fast food restaurant.

Ranganathan lived in a rather different world than our own. In 1931, when he developed his theory of the five laws, the world moved at a much slower pace. “Save the time of the reader” was an encouragement to be well organized and efficient so the reader would be able to efficiently access needed resources. We live in a world where people expect instant gratification, instant access and instant support. Their lack of tolerance for waiting almost demands that libraries are designed to save time.

Perhaps we ought to give this some thought. Maybe the library should look for exceptions to the fourth law. Quite possibly there are times when we should break the fourth law and do things to encourage users to expend and not save time.Libraries could offer a different experience that encourages slowing down, being leisurely – forgetting to check the clock for a while.

Researchers at the University of Toronto found that the presence (and patronage) of fast food restaurants can contribute to a heightened impatience and a lowered tolerance for waiting. Their experiments, which prompted participants just to think about or see reminders of fast food chains, revealed that these stimuli cause people to rush through their reading, express a desire for timesaving products and express less happiness from certain types of slow music. While acknowledging there are multiple factors in our lives that contribute to our impatience and need for speed, they believe we can take steps to improve our patience and appreciation for taking more time to savor life – such as avoiding stimuli like fast food joints or intentionally seeking out spaces or experiences that reward slowing down the pace.

It’s been said that convenience trumps quality every time. That may explain why fast food restaurants stay in business. I’m not suggesting we can improve the library experience by making it inconvenient. I do believe there might be something of value in being the place in our communities where people can get that counter-stimulus, the one that contributes to an appreciation that it takes time and some effort to achieve high quality outcomes.

The library as the place that invites you to slow down and enjoy some browsing. Come in and talk to a librarian about your reading or research interests. Sit in on a lecture or book club discussion. Get absorbed in a new idea and immerse yourself in the literature. There will no doubt be times when efficiency and saving the time of the reader takes priority. I think we can aspire to be the place where there’s more to life than getting the fast food treatment.

How about a library law for that? Give the reader quality time.

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.

Getting Community Members Beyond The Level One Library Experience

Among the more recognized and often repeated findings emerging from Ithaka S & R’s faculty research studies, including the recent 2012 report, is the revelation that faculty primarily perceive the academic library as their purchasing agent. When given a list of choices for identifying how important the library is to them, faculty have consistently, since 2003, selected “buyer.” The librarian’s role in facilitating access to journals and books is for many faculty the essence of the library experience.[See figure 38 on pg. 67 in the 2012 study] That’s a pretty dismal way to think of the library experience. If asked the same question, I suspect that many of our students would respond in a similar fashion – as might those who use their public library.

Some members of our professional community might be just fine with this state of experience. We give them what they want. That should suffice. Perhaps it’s fine if your idea of the library future is being replaced by a content acquisition and delivery algorithm. I think it should concern us that many of our community members’ perception of the library is primarily about the content it delivers, not its educational role in helping community members learn new skills or any of the many other non-content services that are part of a robust and connected library experience. According to Bill Lee, what libraries deliver is a level one experience – and we need to do better than that.

In his column titled “Building Customer Communities is the Key to Creating Value“, Lee describes four levels of the user experience. In Level One the organization is perceived by its customers as simply the supplier of some commodity – in the case of the library – the content (and typically at the best price and what’s better than free to the user). In Lee’s hierarchy of customer experience Level One is the least desirable experience to deliver because community members care only about what they can get from you – not about you or the added value services offered. It’s strictly a one-way relationship.

A Level Two experience would represent an improvement for librarians because it moves beyond content to a state where community members believe you help them accomplish something, but it’s more than just basic productivity. At Level Two the librarian is perceived as adding value by saving time, delivering something not easily obtained elsewhere (e.g., expert advice on getting to the best content). If they can get past the content delivery focus, delivering solutions would serve as a good way to start connecting with community members.

If we do that well then we may, for some segment of our community, achieve the Level Three experience. At Level Three there is more engagement, emotional connection and relationship building. This is the level where trust gets established and in turn it leads to deeper community engagement and member loyalty. Now the experience is far beyond connecting with the library to get a book, article or movie. It’s about wanting to be at the library, to spend time there browsing the stacks or working with a librarian on a research project or just being comfortable in our community space. The experience at Level Three instills loyalty in the community members, and they tell their friends about the great experience they have at the library. While Lee spends most of his column discussing the Level Four experience, I’d be glad to see most of us getting to Level Three – that’s a big enough challenge.

What happens at Level Four? The way I’d describe it is to say that the library achieves platform status. The library is actually offering an experience that helps its community members to build their own networks and communities. The library acts as a platform upon which its members can build their own social presence. He provides a few examples of organizations that are achieving the Level Four experience. Whether librarians can create that Level Four experience is less clear because achieving trusted platform status involves more complexity and investment. One library example, in the academic sector, could be the library research award competition. Prize winners may use this to enhance their presence and build their network. Anyone who offers such a prize knows it’s a complex initiative that requires both personal and financial investment.

Given that many of our libraries are stuck at Level One, Level Three strikes me as a reasonable target goal.To get there we will need to do some rethinking about the value we deliver – or could be delivering – and how to get past being seen primarily as a content provider. I hope Lee would consider taking that up as a topic in a future column – what to do to move beyond Level One experiences. In the meantime, we need to start assessing our own library experiences to honestly know the level at which we currently operate and what we can do to move up the experience level ladder.

What Goes Into A Great User Experience

In the past I’ve contemplated on the outcomes of a total user experience for libraries – and have identified what that experience of totality would be like: memorable; unique; create loyalty, etc

But when I talk with others about the library UX the conversation often turns to questions about what are the qualities of a good user experience – or any great experience for that matter. That is, what more specific things should we be trying to offer? What exactly should we deliver to the community member so his or her reaction would be “I’m having a great experience at this library?” An answer to this question requires us to have a better understanding of the characteristics or qualities of a desired user experience.

To provide that answer I refer back to “Discovering WOW –A Study of Great Retail Shopping Experiences in North American” which I discussed in this post. In that post I mentioned the following qualities:
They are:

* Engagement – being polite, caring and genuinely helpful.
* Executional Excellence – having product knowledge and the ability to patiently explain and advise while providing unexpected quality.
* Brand Experience – good interior design and making customers feel they’re special and get a bargian.
* Expediting – being sensitive to customers’ time in lines and being proactive to streamline the process.
* Problem Recovery – helping to resolve and compensate for problems while ensuring complete satisfaction.

In a recent research project, reported on at the ACRL 2011 Conference, titled “Delivering a WOW User Experience: Do Academic Libraries Measure Up?” Brian Mathews and I asked students about their library user experience and had them compare it to a recent retail experience. Would the student compare their library experience favorably to their retail experiences? You can read the paper for the answers. But we identified nine variables that we think are relevant to defining the qualities of a library user experience:

* Product Availability (book)
* Ease of Finding Product
* Greeting/Acknowledgement
* Were the Right Questions Asked
* Were the Staff Interested in You
* Evidence of Executional Excellence
* Sensitive to Your Time
* Patient and Caring
* Problem Resolution

If librarians can master these qualities and integrate them into the delivery of service wherever a community member connects with a library touchpoint that could be the best way to consistently achieve a great library experience. I recently learned about another way of defining the elements of a great user experience. I found them in this piece on “The Total Experience: Customers Deserve Better”. According to this essay there are three fundamental qualities to the total experience:

* Functional: How well did the experiences meet their needs?
* Accessible: How easy was it for them to do what they wanted to do?
* Emotional: How did they feel about the experiences?

This is according to Bruce Tempkin, the author of the article and individual behind the Tempkin Experience Ratings. The goal of the ratings is to identify those companies delivering a good or great user experience – and very few actually succeed. Tempkin writes:

There are a lot of reasons why some companies outperform others. But one of the underappreciated areas is customer experience (CX). Sure, companies often say they are customer-centric, but only a handful put the time and energy into becoming customer-centric. That’s why it was not a huge surprise to find that only 16% of companies received “good” or “excellent” ratings in the 2011 Temkin Experience Ratings.

What could companies and organizations do to improve? Most do pretty well on the functional area; the experience meets the consumer’s basic needs. You needed a hotel room for the night – and you got one; that’s meeting a functional need. Improvement is needed in the other two dimensions. We’ve got to make it easier for community members to do what they want to do, and we’ve got to do better at creating an emotional connection. Put that into the context of your library. The content, whether it’s a book or journal articles or film, is being delivered. Was it easy for the community to access these materials? Do we know enough about how they felt about getting the content, and was there any interaction with the library staff? Did we have a chance to create an emotional connection, and leave that person feeling great about the library and staff?

Tempkin offers four tips for delivering the total experience that get closer to achieving the qualities of the good/excellent experience. They are:
1. Purposeful Leadership – If the executive team doesn’t behave like it’s important, then why should the rest of the organization?
2. Employee Engagement – If employees are not aligned with the goals of the company then there’s no way they will be able to deliver great experiences for customers. So any CX effort that does not engage employees will likely fail.
3. Compelling Brand Values – Brands are more than marketing slogans and advertising campaigns; they represent the organization’s raison d’être. So companies need to understand their brand promises.
4. Customer Connectedness – Every time a customer interacts with the organization, it leaves an imprint on them, pushing them either towards higher loyalty or further on the path to abandonment. That’s why we need to develop systematic approaches like “voice of the customer” programs for collecting and responding to customer feedback.

Consider taking a closer look at the Tempkin Experience Ratings. Between the information from the Retail Shopping Experience study and these ratings, a stronger sense of what it means to deliver a library user experience emerges. It should enable us to begin a conversation in our libraries on how we go about designing the right user experience. This new information helps to put the pieces into place.