Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Building a Loyal Following

I'm one of those unfortunate people who constantly have the script of The Office running through my head - whether it is because it is always applicable or whether I just watch it too often, is up for debate.

There is one scene where Ryan the temp is quizing Michael about business (I believe it is in the fire episode) and asks him something like, "Which is more cost effective, getting a new client or maintaining an old one?" For most business-minded people, this might seem like a moot question, but it something that runs through my head when I think about loyal followings.

When I made the move from retail bookstore to library, I was amazed how important building that loyal base still was, always assuming it was a retail/sales based issue only. At the store, we focused on return sales with our membership- and gift card-focused sales pushes.

But libraries are the same! We rely on remaining valuable to the community and our funding is based upon how much of that community we are able to sell on our services.

This is what leads me to two different business interactions I have had recently:

1) I was cat sitting for a friend and at some point, during a tv-inspired nap, the cat decided to eat the nose piece to my glasses. This made wearing them uncomfortable, resulting in a trip to Bella Vision (Bothell, WA). The staff helped me immediately and fixed my specks while I waited. What else is there to do but browse the wonderful selection (I LOVE their glasses, it is where I bought my current pair)? Of course I found the most spectacular pair that only my lack of money prevented me from buying. A few minutes later, my glasses were fixed and when I went to get my wallet out, I was stopped short as she said "You are good to go, have a great day!" Shocked, is what I must have expressed on my face because she quickly followed with, "We always do that type of this for free - it keeps our fingers nimble." As I walked out of the store, all I could think about was how I am going to afford those glasses that I am certainly going to come back and get?

2) The other night, I was returning home from a friend's house in the city when my front tire blew (random shout out to AAA - THANK YOU, and if you ever need them in the greater Seattle area and Andrew comes to help, tell me he is not the sweetest, handsomest person you have ever met!). A trip to the tire store was now in order, but I have never done that before. Shocking, I know. Anyway, a call to my mother started her on a 20 minute rant about the horrors of a certain tire chain and the blessings and praises of Discount Tire, Co (also in Bothell, Wa). Though not that close to me, I decided to make the trip, armed with all of her wonderful stories about how many times they have helped us and how wonderful the staff was. This was what was running through my mind when they informed me that the tire could not be saved (4 nails, 2 giant screws shredded the thing!) and I would need to get 4 new ones - I knew that they were not lying and that they were honestly trying to help me the best they could. That is why I didn't bat an eyelash when they, successfully, up-saled me a better tire.

In both these cases, the honesty, kindness, attentiveness, and effort these companies exhibited created a return customer. Actually, not only that, they created an evangelist. Isn't that who bookstores and libraries need?

A few years ago, a major book retailer started acquiescing to consumer demands for search terminals and new visual standards. That company took a beating because they lost sight of their true customers - loyal evangelists - who, whether or not they thought they wanted it, fell in love with the store because they were greeted, interacted with, and listened to.

Wow, if you read through all of that, then I thank you for putting up with my rambling stories... now to the real question: how do you build this in libraries?

Off the top of my head... 1) Caring staff, 2) Helpful staff, and 3) Honest staff. It is about the people!

Any other examples?


  1. Excellent! I agree, libraries are dealing in information and often, that information is available elsewhere. Be good to them, provide good service and they can be counted on to support the library when the time comes.

  2. Excellent work, Heather.

    Advice for libraries? Three things come to mind:

    * NO elitism. You know what I mean - sometimes there's that sense of condescension in the libraries. Have you experienced it?

    * In case of emergency: I'd love to see libraries - particularly public libraries - partner with their area government offices to be a shelter for patrons in time of snowstorm or other such emergency.

    * To the people! Love your take-it-to-the-students approach you mentioned here:

    Will look forward to your future insights, Heather. Thanks for being such a visionary!