March 19, 2018

Exceptional Customer Service as Your Brand

As I’ve said many times in this space, a brand is more than a logo. Much more. A brand is a promise that you make to your customer. For retailers that can mean lowest price, fastest service, highest quality. What does it mean for libraries?

I’ve always believed that the promise libraries can make to customers — a promise that is low-cost and financially possible — is exceptional customer service. And now I’m excited to share with you an initiative at my library (CML): Exceptional Customer Service.  Here’s the low-down.

CML has always focused on good customer service. This year our public service staff wanted to take it to the next level. So our PS team put a Best Practices stake in the ground to level-set customer service expectations. Built off of our values of Respect, Excellence, Passion and Trust, they crafted this:

Creating Exceptional Customer Experiences at CML

We strive to surprise and delight customers by exceeding their expectations.  
We treat all library customers fairly and respect their reasons for using the library.   
We explore different ways to create an exceptional customer experience.
We actively promote the library and our services to customers.

We work as part of a team that supports one another as we create an inviting environment for all.

They identified behaviors that make these exceptional customer experiences possible. Some of them include: anticipate, focus, be knowledgeable, approach, engage, and so on. Download the full list here.

Next, staff at all of our branches developed their own Exceptional Customer Experience Plan. I have hard copies of all of them here in my hot little hand, and I’m impressed with their passion, sincerity, expectation to do the right thing, ownership — and commonality.  Urban or suburban, nearly all say something like:

Temporarily neglect our other duties to spend extra time with a customer in need
Customers First: give customers the attention they want
Be customer-focused

Other plans include:
Smile at customers
Greet all customers appropriately
Realize we have as much to do with the tone of a customer transaction as the customer does

Maybe it seems like this is a far cry from marketing. To me, it is the essence of marketing. It’s about defining the customer experience as a behavior, not a program. With this approach I can promote the library as an experience, and not worry that I haven’t covered the needs of a special interest (seniors, teens, small businesses.) Exceptional customer service is applicable to all those special interests.

How do we do that? We focus on our people. They — and their customer service — are our brand. That’s why we put photos of our staff on everything.

What the promise you make to your customers?

Alison Circle About Alison Circle

Alison Circle is director of marketing communications for Columbus Metropolitan Library. Previously she was an Account Director at Jack Morton Worldwide, a global branding agency, and her primary client was Target Stores. Prior to that she was the National Marketing Director for Minnesota Public Radio and "A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor." She has advanced degrees in English and Fine Arts, and is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant.



  1. Canadian Librarian says:

    The term “customer” is to be avoided. Ikea and other mega-retailers have abandoned the word, now considered dated and rather ‘inappropriate’, in favour of “guest” or “visitor.” Libraries, that are so quick to adopt the business model, should follow the business model lead and leave this term behind!