Creating the “Hyper-Relevant” Digital Library Experience Will Require Trust

While a “hyper-relevant” digital library experience is futuristic today, librarians should consider the ramifications and possibilities of systems that make extreme personalization possible – but need hyper-private data to run.

Librarians have at one time or another attempted websites that allow community members to personalize the digital library experience.

One experiment that comes to mind was conducted at North Carolina State University, circa 1999. MyLibrary allowed a student or faculty member to customize their library home page.

It certainly seemed like a cool idea at the time. For one reason or another it never caught on. Perhaps the community members were fine with the existing page and found little added value in taking time to set up a personalized library home page.

I suspect personalization technology is now far more advanced. We can probably offer some even cooler forms of customization. The cost it comes with is privacy – and earning consumer trust.

In an article about consumer digital experiences at Digital Content Next, Michelle Manafy writes “Today’s consumers are more worried about data privacy than they are about losing their income. At the same time, they expect increasingly personalized digital experiences.” If fear of giving up too much personal data is what kept MyLibrary from catching on, then the “the more things change the more they stay the same” speaks volumes.

Manafy points to user studies that claim the majority of consumers are willing to share their data with companies – but with a caveat. First, they want something of value in exchange for giving up their data. To me that sounds like some sort of rewards system where consumers earn points redeemable for free goods and services. Second, it only works if the system is completely trustworthy.

In an age of data breaches, just how much can consumers trust corporate data systems? They could hardly be blamed for having doubts.

There’s also a considerable difference between “MyLibrary” and today’s personalization. It’s called “hyper-relevance”. It’s more than just allowing your community members to customize what appears on their library web landing page. What makes it hyper-relevant? It’s always on. It is a dynamic type of personalization, constantly changing to reflect the user’s latest activity and always evolving.

What might that look like for a library? Let’s say a faculty member’s Research Information Management system profile changes to reflect a new interest or collaboration. The hyper-relevant website would adapt itself to accommodate that change and immediately start serving up relevant content.

Here’s the catch. Hyper-relevance requires hyper-data collection. Here’s how Manafy describes it:

Data gathered from website visits, social media posts, or previous purchase histories will not suffice. Rather, what’s needed is information that is much more personal in nature—such as health data transmitted via wearable biometric technologies. Needless to say, that’s getting highly personal. And when things get that personal, the potential rewards go up immensely. However, risk also rises.

Now that may require a level of technology not yet found in most higher education institutions. But with rapid technology change and the type of data available about students and faculty, it’s hardly farfetched.

Achieving hyper-relevance requires three actions on the part of those seeking to build hyper-relevant digital portals:

1. Look beyond the traditional customer journey. Get creative about what this new world of personalization could make possible. Just miss your flight? What if you immediately received an email or text providing all the possible options – and making it easy for you to pick. While the hyper-relevance system is at it, why not rank the options from best to worst (let’s say using “hassle-free” as our rating criteria).

2. Rethink data to the point where users have full control over it at every touch point. Hyper-relevance will absolutely require predictive analytics based on the latest user information, behaviors and preferences. As stated above, it will also require a level of data security that wipes out the possibility of data breaches. Otherwise, how can data trust be achieved. In a world where hackers are constantly upping their game, this is no easy task.

3. Trust is the key to it all. Delivering on the hyper-relevance personalization experience means establishing a level of trust between data owners and data collectors that just doesn’t exist right now. The first organization that can deliver on sustainable data security, especially when handling the type of data needed to drive hyper-relevance, may be able to build the type of trust that makes it all work.

It’s exciting to imagine the type of personalized experience that a hyper-relevant library could deliver. In our current environment, with many librarians expressing their privacy concerns about big data, analytics and other services that depend heavily on collecting and manipulating community member data, hyper-relevance will be a tough sell. It also requires getting students, faculty and community members on board and feeling totally comfortable sharing the type of real-time data on which hyper-relevance depends.

My guess is that we’ll be looking to the business world to see how this hyper-relevant digital experience scenario evolves. If it works there and the necessary level of trust can be built, then it may be that librarians would find their community members expecting a similar hyper-relevant experience. We should try to be ready…just in case.

Delivering an Amazon-Like Experience

I’m not quite sure what an “Amazon-like Experience” is but I think I can figure it out. Is that the model librarians should aspire to?

Does your library deliver an Amazon-Like Experience?

Assuming we even knew what that was, would that be the experience you’d want to deliver at your library?

“Amazon-Like Experience” is a phrase that is relatively new to me. I first encountered it when reading a higher education newsletter and came across this article.

Out of curiosity I did a Google search to see if “Amazon-Like Experience” is an actual thing. While “a thing” is probably not the best way to put it, there are certainly a number of references to the phrase. One comes away with the impression that “Amazon-Like Experience” is some sort of user experience gold standard.

What is the experience? If you’ve ever used Amazon – probably everyone reading this blog has – you have a good idea. Convenience. Ease of Use. Vast selection. Quick problem resolution. Usable and user friendly website. Overall, it’s an experience that is tough to match.

According to this article on online education, “Amazon has set the standard for eCommerce engines. Non-traditional, adult learners, expect an Amazon-like experience since they are searching for, and purchasing, courses online.” Granted, user expectations are definitely shaped by high-quality experiences received at both brick-and-mortar and online retailers and service providers that excel at user experience. But when we say that someone is expecting an “Amazon-Like Experience” what exactly do they want? What does it look like?

Start with ease-of-use. Literally anyone can use Amazon with a single instruction or prior knowledge. We talk about an experience being based around “the jobs to be done” and Amazon allows users to do their jobs with a minimal number of clicks. They can find what they need and order it quickly. There are features galore that allow users to see past activity, to identify future purchases or have items recommended to them.

There’s no question that for online retail, Amazon sets a mighty high bar for user experience. Most library search systems, from the local discovery layer to the largest global database, are currently far from an Amazon-Like Experience. That said, Amazon is a good model in many ways for great online learner experience. Except for one thing.

I’d venture to say that most Amazon customers feel little personal connection with the company. It can be a challenge to get personalized assistance when you need it. Problem resolution is quite good, but sometimes human intervention is needed and that can be difficult to get with Amazon. If that is also part of the Amazon-Like Experience, then librarians can do better.

That said, Amazon is branching out into brick-and-mortar retail with its Whole Foods acquisition and the establishment of some physical bookshops. If Amazon can develop the Amazon-Like Experience at their physical locations, that may give entirely new meaning to delivering an Amazon-Like Experience. I suspect Amazon will seek to make sure it’s physical experience is every bit as Amazon-like as what its customer have come to expect.

Planning Experiences Around Moments

When I saw that the Heath Brothers new book was about experiences and the importance of singular defining moments I was excited by the prospects of a book on this topic. We need to learn more about how to design defining moments into the library user experience.

When I received an email a few weeks ago from Chip and Dan Heath, I was pretty excited by the news they shared.

It announced that after several years since their last book, Decisive, a new one was on the way. For a fan of their books, that’s already great news. But it gets even better. The subject matter of this new work has me eagerly awaiting the book.

What topic did the Heath brothers decide to write about this time? Experiences!

That alone would be incredible for someone, like me, who is student of user experience. As an added bonus, Chip and Dan Heath are exploring the “moment” and the power of a defining moment. This resonates strongly with me because my leadership book is based on this idea of the importance of moments, which I refer to as crucible moments.

In the email they described this new book, titled The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact, this way:

Research in psychology teaches us that our memories of experiences are not like films that we can rewind and watch beginning to end. They are more like snapshots or snippets. Fragments. In memory, we cling to particular minutes or hours that rise above the surrounding weeks and months. What makes those moments so memorable and meaningful? That’s a critical question for anyone who wants to improve the experiences of others: the customer experience, the employee experience, the patient experience—not to mention the experience of your kids. Because what you’ll soon discover is that when we talk about “experience,” we’re really talking about moments. Moments that serve as peaks in time.

I’ve written about the link between experiences and memory previously at DBL. We not only remember things differently from what actually happened, but we selectively remember parts of our experiences more powerfully than others.

The tendency is for people to remember how the experience begins and how it ends more strongly than other parts, which is why we want to design the experience so it gets off to a good start and ends on a high note – particularly the finish because that’s an opportunity to recover from anything less memorable or negative that happens after the start.

The book’s intent is to both help us to understand the important of these defining moments to the success of an experience – and to develop insight into how to design them into experiences so they are more likely to occur. They define “defining moment” as “a short experience that is both memorable and meaningful”.

Those are two word that figure prominently in numerous DBL posts. Is it possible for librarians to create user experiences that are memorable, meaningful and that build emotional connections with community members that lead to loyalty? With help from the Heath brothers, we may learn more about how to do this.

I finished reading chapter one (a preview sent only to those on the Heath mail list) and I’m eager to learn more about the four elements that go into creating a defining moment: elevation; insight; pride; connection. As with other Heath brother books, based on this first chapter, it should be immensely readable, chock full of stories and examples (these are the guys who wrote Made to Stick) and offer takeaway ideas that you can put into practice.

After I read the book, I hope to have more ideas to share on how we can create defining moments for library user experiences – but I hope other librarians will read it as well – so that we can come up with even more ideas for designing better libraries.

There’s a Reason Why Eye Contact and Smiling Improve the Experience

Simple gestures that communicate attentiveness and a willingness to establish a personal connection are something every library worker can deliver on. When we fail to do so, particularly when there are technology distractions, it’s a missed opportunity to establish trust with community members.

It is almost a cliche for good customer service in libraries.

Smile. Make eye contact. Signal to the community member that you are engaged and eager to help.

We want our community members to feel like they are the most important person in the world in that moment.

Let’s treat them as if they are world famous.

Have you heard that one before? It sounds good. It certainly would communicate to a staff member that their job is to give each community member their undivided attention, to allow no distractions to interfere and through our verbal and non-verbal gestures to deliver the best possible experience.

And if we do that well, again and again, they will return and tell friends about the good vibe they get at the library.

I stole that “treat them as if they are world famous” experience statement.

It’s actually the experiential brand statement that the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle came up with when they were working with Joe Michelli on their statement. That’s how they wanted the experience to feel for the customer. That’s the experience they decided to deliver on – and we all know how that turned out.

Of course, it helps if you can come up with something clever and interactive, like having your customers throw and catch fish. That doesn’t translate particularly well to a library.

So what can librarians do to treat people as if they are world famous? How about more eye contact, smiles and nodding.

How would that make a difference you ask?

According to Baruch Sachs, in the article “How Smiling and Nodding Affects Our Interactions“, it can make a significant difference and leave community members perceiving library workers as more trustworthy and deserving of a relationship. That could turn a routine transaction into a memorable experience.

Sachs shares his own experience with smiles and nods as critical elements of an interactive exchange. But what he’s learned about these actions is more than just anecdotal. “There is plenty of research out there to back up the notion that our small gestures are important—not least in the area of building trust. Sometimes building trust takes just a smile and a nod.”

With computers, tablets, handheld devices and other distractions at our library service points, it’s easy for library workers to fail to quickly and adequately acknowledge another person’s presence. According to the research Sachs references, when subjects in a social experiment received no acknowledgement from a stranger they felt disconnected and rejected. It only takes a small trigger or gesture, such as a smile, nod or eye contact to avoid communicating rejection and establishing a foundation for rapport.

That sounds like the exact sort of aura I want to give when a stranger approaches me to ask a question, whether it’s just giving directions or assisting with a more complex research question. In a way, these simple gestures are a microcosm of user experience for the entire library organization. The totality of a library user experience fails if it is unexceptional at any service touch point.

If I, as an individual library worker, fail to connect with a community member through my lack of appropriate gestures or inattentiveness, then everything else I do from that point on in the interaction could fail as well. My smile, eye contact or welcoming nod gets things off to the right start by building that basic trust needed for a relationship to happen – even if that relationship exists only for the time in which we engage at the service point.

Library workers in public service contact points need to recognize that their behavior has a significant and contagious impact on others. That’s why our service principles document, in the “five steps of service” starts off with “make eye contact; give a greeting; share your name” and then in step two states “be in the moment; eliminate distractions”. These reinforce Sachs’ message about establishing trust (which just happens to be step three).

Delivering on a well-designed library user experience is no easy task. Simple gestures like eye contact and smiling, on the other hand, are among the easiest things any library worker can do to contribute to the totality of the library experience.

Happiness or Meaning: A Library Experience Can Deliver Both

We want happiness. We want meaning in our lives. They need not be mutually exclusive. What they have in common is a life of giving more and taking less. Being a library user is one way to pursue both.

Achieving happiness and meaning are two different things.

Different, but not necessarily mutually exclusive. It is possible to have an experience that results in happiness but also contributes to a life of meaning.

Finding and borrowing a book from the library could certainly qualify. For those who enjoy reading, finding a good book at the library could certainly deliver some happiness. Depending on the book, it could have a mind opening, life altering impact that contributes to an individual’s search for meaning.

It helps to have a better understanding of what we mean when talking about both happiness and meaning. What contributes to each? What have researchers learning about happiness? How would we know if a community member has a meaningful interaction with the library?

In this article I shared insights into what researchers have learned about happiness. While material objects and money can deliver some happiness, those things tend to have only a limited impact.

It’s really the small things that count. Helping others. Enjoying a walk. Memorable experiences count too. Do these experiences also deliver meaning, or is there more to it than just satisfying the search for happiness?

The answer is…it depends.

According to Emily Esfahani Smith, author of the new book, The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, finding meaning trumps experiencing happiness. On further inspection, the two have some commonality between them.

Esfahani identifies four pillars of meaning:

* sense of belonging – being in a relationship or a member of a community
* purpose – having a mission and pursuing it
* storytelling – your story; who you are; where you are from; where you are headed
* transcendence – resilence; having the ability to overcome adversity

You start to get the idea that the difference between the two is about direction and effort. Happiness is about something happening to us versus meaning being about making something happening for others. Esfahani states that “the big distinctions between a meaningful life and a happy life is that a meaningful life can be a hard life. When you’re giving back, you’re making sacrifices.”

In that sense, the library is a place that can serve to facilitate both happiness and meaning. If we are seeking some happiness, we can get it at the library. Finding a good book and enjoying reading are the type of small, everyday pleasures that bring happiness. I don’t think that Esfahani thinks there is anything inherently wrong with seeking happiness. She just wants us to transcend happiness as we pursue meaning.

And the library is a place where it can happen. It’s a place you can belong to and be a part of your community. It’s a place where you find and pursue a mission. It’s a place where you can discover your story. It’s a place where you transcend the ordinary and the meaningless.

Happiness or meaning? Why choose when you can find both at the library.