Monday, September 11, 2006

It takes two

Marketing services is different from marketing tangible goods in many respects. One major difference is that in services, customers take part in creating the service along with the service provider. This means that if the resulting service offering is going to be any good, the customer needs to be prepared to do his or her part.

There's been quite a bit of discussion in several forums about simplicity vs. complexity, which hinge on whether not libraries should model Google/Amazon. However, this discussion represents only half of the equation. The other half has to do with preparing the patron to take part in the service. Let's face it, even "intuitive" services require some kind of learning on the part of the consumer. I doubt anyone is born knowing how to use an ATM machine or shop online. As service providers, we're responsible for teaching patrons the basics of using the library, such as reading call numbers, etc. Some would argue that if a task requires that someone be taught how to do something, that the task should be simplified to the point that no instruction is required. I disagree. Some of the most fun or enjoyable service experiences are so because we have to be taught how to use them. Take, for example, Starbucks (I know. It's an overused example, but it often works). Starbucks provides a guide for customers on how to order a drink complete with definitions for the "latte lingo" involved in the transaction. Does Starbucks need to call a "small" a "tall" or its staff "barristas"? Wouldn't it be more simple and easily understandable to ditch the specialized vocabulary? Perhaps. But here the language helps to build the brand and once customers know the lingo, they are "in" with the culture of Starbucks, which can give people a sense of belonging (a popular motive behind purchase decisions). To make sure that customers can engage in the service transaction successfully, Starbucks (and even its regular customers) offers instructions to novices. When the Starbucks Gossip blog posted one customer's complaint that too many choices made getting coffee there too confusing, Starbucks fans replied that people go to Starbucks because they can get exactly what they want. One customer stated, "The reason Dunkin Donuts has only "plain black coffee" is because they are a donut shop and not a coffee shop. That's like complaining there are too [many] kinds of underwear in an underwear store and comparing it to the small underwear section of a department store."

I don't want to suggest that we should make navigating our libraries unnecessarily complex or elitist in any way. I know that in our library, most people are here because they need to get time-sensitive work done and don't want any annoying holdups that impede their progress. However, it's important to remember that there are such things as market segments, and that we should be respectful of the fact that there are members of our patron base who don't want just any article-they want the best article. Finding the best article often requires time, patience, and tools that allow patrons to do sophisticated searches. The research process is complex and so is information. We can and should take steps to mitigate frustrations, but we shouldn't pare our offerings down to accommodate the segment of our users who want fast and good enough at the expense of users who want quality and the best fit. Training, then, is a vital marketing function needed to ensure that users can achieve the level of service that best suits their needs. Patrons, for their part, should expect that they will have do some amount of learning that is appropriate for what they hope to achieve, and we have a role to play in setting those expectations.

Update: I neglected to mention that I believe most patrons are used to having to learn to use services, even services as straightforwad as getting a haircut.

Categories: random_stuff | usable theories

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