Get In Touch With Your Touchpoints

Despite making multiple references to touchpoints in past DBL posts and in presentations, it is a real challenge to find any substantive information about touchpoints. What is their significance in the user experience and what do we know about assessing and improving what happens at the touchpoints across our service operations. Yes, you can find an entry for it in Wikipedia, which is short on details, but beyond that there’s little for those who want to better understand touchpoints.

That’s why I was pleased to discover an actual research article focusing on touchpoints titled “Service Innovation Through Touch-points: Development of an Innovation Toolkit for the First Stages of New Service Development“. It appeared in the International Journal of Design Vol.5, No.2 2011. The focus of the paper is to develop innovation in service design and development by focusing on touchpoints. The author, Simon Clatworthy, developed a toolkit based on a card system as a tangible way for designers to better understand the impact of touchpoints in service experiences, and how to potentially make improvements to those touchpoints. Clatworthy begins with a good definition of the touchpoint:

Touch-points are the points of contact between a service provider and customers. A customer might utilise many different touch-points as part of a use scenario (often called a customer journey). For example, a bank’s touch points include its physical buildings, web-site, physical print-outs, self-service machines,bank-cards, customer assistants, call-centres, telephone assistance etc. Each time a person relates to, or interacts with, a touch-point, they have a service-encounter. This gives an experience and adds something to the person’s relationship with the service and the service provider. The sum of all experiences from touch-point interactions colours their opinion of the service (and the service provider). Touch-points are one of the central aspects of service design. A commonly used definition of service design is “Design for experiences that happen over time and across different touchpoints” (ServiceDesign.org). As this definition shows, touchpoints are often cited as one of the major elements of service design, and the term is often used when describing the differences between products and services. They form the link between the service provider and the customer, and in this way, touch-points are central to the customer experience.

Knowing that touchpoints “are central to the customer experience” suggests that librarians should do more to identify and evaluate the touchpoints that combine to create the library user experience. Do we even know what our library touchpoints are, and if we do, do we know how they work to provide the desired experience – and ultimately how would we assess if they are working to deliver that experience?

Those are questions that drove Clatworthy to conduct this research. His article describes “the method for innovation for touchpoints.” To do this he and his team developed a method involving cards. You may be familiar with web design research that uses a card sorting system to help users identify their preferences for the organization of the site or terminology being tested for the site. In this research, cards were created to represent the touchpoints of an organization. Creating the cards also helped the team to identify and think through the touchpoints that made up the experience. The cards can then be used to identify a “pain point”, a touchpoint where the experience, from the point of view the user, falls flat or is inconsistent with the totality of the experience.

For example, a library pain point could be the directional signage in the book stacks. Up until that time, each experiential touchpoint, from entering the library to searching the catalog to asking for directions at the “ask here” desk, delivered the experience according to design. But when the user got to the stacks location and failed to successfully navigate to the book’s location, the experience failed. We need to identify the pain points and turn them into successful touchpoints. The card exercise could help to more clearly identify which unit or department in the library is responsible for or associated with a unique touchpoint – or when there is overlap.

So what are the key takeways from the reseach:

The first is that service designers focus upon the orchestration of a service in which the choice of individual touch-points and their relation to other touch-points is important. This requires an understanding not only of individual touch-point qualities, but also of their potentials when combined in particular ways. The second relates to the orchestration of touch-points over time. Common to both of these is an understanding of the parts and the whole and the innumerable alternatives that this affords in relation to how a customer might experience.

What is your next step if you want to get in touch with your touchpoints – presumably to understand better where they are and how they can be part of the overall experience design? The first thing may be to start a conversation in your library about touchpoints, and what they mean to the staff who serve at or create these points. Once there is general consensus about the value of studying and improving touchpoints, a more formal process may be called for to map the touchpoints and learn how they interconnect. A customer journey mapping exercise could help staff to identify the library touchpoints – and whether what happens at those touchpoints is adding up to the best experience or if there are various pain points that need attention. Clatworthy’s paper is a good start for better understanding the role of the touchpoint in the library user experience. It would be great to see more research and scholarly communication – or just practical advice – about touchpoints.

Exceeding Expectations Depends On What They Are

Have you ever publicly stated or even thought that part of what we should try to accomplish in our libraries is to exceed the expectations of community members? I know I have. I did a search of all my past posts here at DBL and discovered a number of them in which I either directly said something about designing an experience that exceeds expectations or shared information from some other source about ways to do so. I’m sure I’ve also said something about exceeding expectations during presentations. And why not? So much of what I’ve read about great user experiences is focused on doing something that gives the community member more than he or she expected to get. Whether you want to call that a wow experience is up to you (although I think there’s more to it than just expectation exceeding), but we know that when delivering services or building relationships librarians should seek to exceed the expectations of our community members.

Not everyone feels the way I do about exceeding customer expectations, and I think we should be challenged to offer a better explanation of what that means. In one of the most popular posts last year at the Harvard Business Review blog network, Dan Pallotta’s “I Don’t Understand What Anyone is Saying Anymore” took issue with the phrase “Let’s exceed the customer’s expecations” which he referred to as another meaningless piece of business jargon:

Another term that has lost its meaning is “Let’s exceed the customer’s expectations.” Employees who hear it just leave the pep rally, inhabit some kind of temporary dazed intensity, and then go back to doing things exactly the way they did before the speech. Customers almost universally never experience their expectations being met, much less exceeded. How can you exceed the customer’s expectations if you have no idea what those expectations are? I was at a Hilton a few weeks ago. They had taken this absurdity to its logical end. There was a huge sign in the lobby that said, “Our goal is to exceed the customer’s expectation.” The best way to start would be to take down that bullshit sign that just reminds me, as a customer, how cosmic the gap is between what businesses say and what they do. My expectation is not to have signs around that tell me you want to exceed my expectations.

If you’ve spent anytime interacting with your community members, if you’ve conducted surveys or focus groups, or made any effort to learn more about what they want from the library, then you may indeed know something about their expectations. Even if you haven’t done any of these things, or there are far more community members than you could personally engage, the research about library users, be it the OCLC surveys, the PIL research or user study research discussed in the literature, does provide a fairly consistent message about user expectations when it comes to libraries. In general, they have low expectations. They tend to perceive the library as a place to get books and not much else. Little is said about expectations for great service and personalized attention from library staff.

Even worse, college students, in particular, when faced with a research project perceive the library as an unpleasant place that’s sure to be a bad experience. According to the first report from PIL, when faced with a project that requires library research students report they experience anxiety, sadness, other negative emotions and even physical symptoms such as nausea. That may explain, in part, why they’ll do almost anything to avoid interacting with the library, even if it means settling for inferior resources and no help at all. With expectations so low, how can we fail to exceed them? Knowing the expectations are low doesn’t automatically suggest we can always exceed them. It still requires us to design an experience that will make it possible. Our goal should be to raise these expectations from something community members dread to something they desire. Creating the opportunities to raise, and then exceed, those expectations is part of the user experience challenge.

Another thing we should be mindful of, when it comes to gauging our community members’ expectations, is that in economic downturns expectations generally are lower than normal. According to Barry Schwartz, a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College, one of the positives of the recession is that it lowers expectations. In a recent essay published in the Chronicle of Higher Education Schwartz wrote that “By lowering expectations and keeping expectations modest, the downturn may actually enable people to derive satisfaction from activities and possessions that would previously have been disappointing.” Of college students in particular he writes, “Lowered expectations may also lead college students to feel less entitled than they have in recent years. They may seek what is good about their institution, and be grateful for it, instead of noticing the ways their institution falls short, and resenting it.”

With students having already low expectations for their library experience, it’s hard to imagine they could get even lower – if what Schwartz has to say is true. If it’s likely that students will lower their expectations in these difficult economic times that may bode well for library facilities that are showing their age. Now may be the perfect time, when expectations are generally lower, to make an all out effort in the library to give community members much more than what they expected when they walked through our doors. I believe that librarians should always seek to exceed expectations – whatever that means in your community – in order to achieve the best user experience. It would be easy enough to take the position that because the expectations of library community members are low there’s not much point in bothering to work at exceeding them. Heck, any minimal level of service might be appreciated. To my way of thinking that’s not an acceptable attitude. It’s up to us to gauge what the level of expectations is in our community, to raise it and to keep improving on it. That’s how you create a better library experience.

How To Tell If They Really Love Your Library

This is a profession that promotes the idea of loving a library. If you need some evidence just visit ILoveLibraries.org. If you find it difficult to express love for a building, then you can shift your affections to your favorite librarian – over at I Love My Librarian. Anyone ever heard of an “I Love My Accountant” movement? Maybe if he or she just saved you a bundle in taxes you would wear one of these.

We like the idea that a library or librarian can be loved by community members, and while I joke a bit with the concept we know it’s a great marketing strategy to encourage community members to show their appreciation and the value they place on libraries. It reminds me of that old Pee-Wee Herman running gag on the classic television show. Whenever Pee-Wee said “I love my/this _______” (fill-in-the-blank) another character would come back with “Then why don’t you marry it” which works great on all sorts of objects, such as fruit salad. Anyone out there want to marry their library?

But what does it really mean to love a library or any other inanimate object? There’s actually a study that attempts to answer this question. It’s a report titled “Shoes, Cars and Other Love Stories” and it’s actually a dissertation in the field of industrial design by Beatriz Russo. The research is based on an analysis of just twenty-four people who were asked many questions about products they loved. The author says the dissertation “describes a journey in unravelling and clarifying this complex, powerful and, sometimes, unexplainable experience people have with special products they love, own, and use.” The author sought to determine what are the qualities and characteristics of product love. Here are a few of the key characteristics:

* There’s a meaningful relationship
* The relationship is deeply rewarding
* The relationship is enduring
* It’s not just an experience but rather a container of experiences
* It can change over time – perhaps even towards dislike

Admittedly there is some vagueness to these ideas. What does it mean to have a ‘meaningful’ relationship with a product? Do those who love a specific product lust over a new competitor? What causes a breakup? Do human loved ones actually get jealous of those loved products? Being it’s a dissertation it can’t answer all these questions, but there’s some useful information that may enlighten us about what it takes to get someone to love our product – or in our case the library and services we provide. If you have only limited time for some browsing of the research findings, you may find the section on the phases of product love as interesting as I did (starts on p.121).

Like any love relationship, product love begins with attraction (e.g., “Wow, take a look at that laptop”). Then there is the build-up phase shortly after the product is purchased, which sounds a bit like the honeymoon part of the relationship (e.g., “I could work on this laptop all day – it’s so light and portable). The continuation phase is where most of the relationship takes place, and it’s at that point where the owner is completely comfortable with the product (e.g., “I couldn’t even imagine getting another laptop”). Now in all love relationships there are some rocky times, and here you can hit a deterioration phase in which the owner loses interest (e.g., “This laptop seems a lot slower than it used to be and those new models are really thin and light”). And you know what deterioration leads to of course – the end phase (“I’ve had it with this sucky laptop”). In some ways it sounds just like a real relationship, although we only throw out our products at the end of the road.

Does knowing the basic qualities and phases of product love make it possible for librarians to truly understand not only what community members mean when they tell us they love our library, but to create an experience specifically designed to facilitate such a passionate relationship ? I think you can make a case that it’s possible for members of a public or academic community to develop a meaningful relationship with their library and hopefully with the staff. What’s meaningful about it may be different to a mix of people. For some it may be the books, for others the sacred space and yet for others the interaction and conversation found there. Looking at the list of key characteristics that Russo developed, it is strongly reminiscent of my three core ways in which libraries can differentiate themselves (meaning; relationships; totality). While I’d like to think the connector between the library and the passionate user is a meaningful relationship, that could be an area for more involved research. What would the community members have to say about this?

What we do hear anecdotally (and all too often from non-librarian conference speakers) from individuals is that their fond library memories often stretch back to their earliest encounters with library books or a caring librarian. While the relationships change and the community members move on, their love for the library can endure and cross over from one library to another – unless he or she encounters a library with a truly poor experience. You can well imagine having a much loved product, and then encountering a new incarnation of or variation on that product that truly disappoints. That will probably end the relationship (think “New Coke” or “Qwikster”).

Thanks to this dissertation we can gain a better understanding of the relationship individuals build with products (or services), and how that leads to something along the lines of true love. With that knowledge we librarians might be equipped to provide the type of experience that leads to a true love for libraries. But there are occasions when the relationship changes and community members move on. For some, deterioration and the end may eventually arrive, which is why we need to constantly be finding new members who will become passionate about the library. That’s where marketing, promotion, branding and relationship building come into play. How can we create awareness and best present our library so others will fall in love with it? It may ultimately come down to designing a great library user experience that sets the stage for the blossoming of love.

Be Your Library’s Greatest User

Note: I wrote this a few days before the untimely and unfortunate passing of Steve Jobs. Jobs did so much to add to our understanding of what it means to deliver a great user experience – and a total, systemic experience. Although he is gone his presence will continue to have a lasting impact on the study of user experience and his accomplishments will no doubt continue to influence our thinking and writing on this subject.

There are many different ways a library staff can express its desire to become more focused on designing a better library. Some of them fall into the realm of improving the user experience. It might be something as basic as usability tests on the library website. It could be creating a staff position dedicated to user experience. It may even take the shape of a larger, staff-wide initiative to design an experience that emphasizes totality. Whatever initiative your library takes up to improve the user experience, it may be wise to step back and position yourself as a user of the library, and not the creator of its services.

Since Steve Jobs announced his retirement as Apple’s CEO numerous articles have both celebrated and critiqued his leadership of the world’s leading technology firm. More than a few could be said to go overboard in their praise of Jobs, and lead us to wonder if it isn’t all a lot of hype. After all, Jobs is but one more CEO of a technology company, albeit one whose vision and innovation has impacted many lives. One of the dozens of articles about Jobs that most captured my attention was featured in Fast Company. Titled “What Steve Jobs Can Still Teach Us” it too puts Jobs up on a pedestal despite a few obligatory remarks about his micromanaging and berating employees over minute product details. What it expresses well however was the way in which Jobs excelled at designing products for passionate users.

What Cliff Kuang eloquently points out is that in order for Jobs to do that he had to be Apple’s greatest user. He tells a story that shares, from Kuang’s view, the moment that more than any other shaped Apple’s future. When Jobs returned to Apple after a 12-year hiatus he found a company ill prepared to compete with Dell, IBM and others. Apple was only doing what all the others did but with higher priced, less competitive products. What happened? Jobs encountered an unknown Jonathan Ive (now Apple’s top designer) working on the iMac. That’s when their long-time relationship began, with an emphasis on great, user-centered design. Kuange writes:

That single moment in the basement with Ives says a great deal about what made Jobs the most influential innovator of our time. It shows an ability to see a company from the outside rather than inside as a line manager…That required an ability to think first and foremost as someone who lives with technology rather than produces it…It’s not clear that anyone else at Apple will possess Job’s same talent for looking at Apple’s products from the outside view of a user.

Therein may lie the important lesson that Jobs can still teach us librarians. We certainly use our own products – we have to – but we do so as the information experts not the typical user. While our expertise allows us to make things simpler for those who seek us out for mediated research assistance, it also prevents us from seeing our library’s facility, resources and services from the outside – as the user experiences it. How might we do a better job of becoming the library’s greatest user? For a start, we might try spending more time with users asking them to tell us how they see and use the library. That’s not a particularly new idea, and we already know what we’re likely to hear (too complicated; less useful than Google; intimidating; etc. ). Perhaps this story about Jobs can encourage us to become more passionate about using our own resources – and really caring about how they are making (or could make) a difference for people – and then demanding from them what any great user would.

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.