Get closer to “customer first” in seven days


Over the past year or so, I’ve started to see new ‘customer experience’ job titles (like Chief Customer Experience Officer and Deputy Director of Customer Experience) pop up in libraries that have been present in the consumer space for some time. Makes sense. Having someone focus on how people use your products and services across the entire range of your organization and throughout their life with you is such an important part of doing business today.

And while developing a truly user-centric strategy may sound like a big, strategic move, you can start to plan small changes that inspire broader transformation in just a week.

Where your community and library intersect

A recent discussion on community discovery and ideation at OCLC’s Americas Regional Council Meeting (ARC) put this idea of customer first in perspective. Mary Lou Carolan, Director at Cornwall Public Library, spoke passionately about how to collaborate with communities on creating great library services and spaces. Instead of thinking about the library as the “heart of the community,” she advocated that the “community is the heart of the library.”

“The juxtaposition of a library-centered and a community-centered focus presents an entirely different depth and breadth of influence and impact to the innovative role the library can play today,” said Mary Lou when I reached out to her after the conference. “Community-centered puts the customer first.”

This mind shift can be brilliantly simple. When customers’ needs are met consistently, they are delighted. And delighted customers are more likely to come back and recommend services to others—helping you deepen your impact with patrons and the community on the whole.

The community is the heart of the library. #OCLCnext Click To Tweet

Seven-day challenge

If you’ve been thinking about being more customer centric, I’d like to suggest seven quick steps pulled from my own experiences and conversations with libraries to help build a foundation for future success. Apologies in advance…there will be homework on the weekend.

  • Monday: Validate what you know. Do you use tools like surveys, focus groups, committee reports, and feedback forms to gain insights into your community’s diverse needs and perceptions? List them, gather recent examples, and note any gaps.
  • Tuesday: Ask, “Who don’t I know?” Based on the review of your metrics, who are you not hearing from? Write down a quick plan to get out and talk with 3–5 types of users you need more information on for a simple, starter conversation. Ask broad questions and be prepared to listen. “How do you perceive our library overall? What are your interests? What challenges do you have?”
  • Wednesday: Map out key user journeys. List your five most frequent user types and create a map showing how, when, and where they use your services. Pay special attention to those times when life changes might shift them from one category to another: from student to faculty, new parent, worker to job-seeker. If you have data to quantify some of these maps, that’s great. If you don’t, note where you can improve.
  • Thursday: Review what you’ve learned with someone else. Discuss your thoughts and look for simple, broad trends. Don’t get overwhelmed; just pull it all together and see what you’ve got.
  • Friday: Take those trends and use them as headers to build out your customer-first strategy. Staff involvement is invaluable at this stage. Ask what they know, how they feel, and get their buy-in for change.
  • Saturday: Prepare to test and learn. What prototype or new service or community-building idea can you implement within one month? A customer-first strategy involves many iterations of do-test-review-modify. A perfect plan isn’t the point—a plan that incorporates rapid cycles of customer input is.
  • Sunday: Plan the call. Mary Lou suggests meeting customers where they are. That means taking your library, or a specific resource, into the community where patrons (or potential patrons) spend time. Who do you need to contact to make that happen? What will you tell or ask them?

Listen, adapt, repeat

Listening is the main ingredient in a customer-first strategy. When you ask, “What counts as success?” it makes it easier to define and achieve. Mary Lou sums it up nicely, saying, “Our programs, services, and collections reflect the expressed needs and interests of the community… We see ourselves as an integral part of the ecosystem of our town and, as a result, the community responds and supports us.”

Give it a week to think and plan…to start. Then take the next step. Because that’s all a user-first strategy is; a continuous journey of next steps.

You can find additional community engagement resources at