Friday, September 29, 2006

Why WOM?

I mentioned earlier this week that I wanted to revisit the idea of word-of-mouth (WOM) communications and why WOM is a particularly important concept for librarians to understand and put to good use. Today, I'm offering a brief intro into this idea that I'm going to develop further.

First of all, I have to say that I think every librarian should be required at some point in his or her career to take a course in services marketing. I'm doing just that this semester and though it's still early on in the course, I can't tell you how valuable what I'm learning is. We've covered topics about what makes a service a service, how customers form their expectations, and how to manage service operations, to name just a few useful topics - good stuff!

The piece that's relevant for this post has to do with service models, namely, a model for understanding service qualities. In a nutshell, this model suggests that there are 3 kinds of qualities for goods and services: search, experience and credence. Search qualities are those that you can easily evaluate before you consume a good/service. Tangible goods are usually high in these qualities. For example, it's pretty easy to figure out what the features, design, speed, etc. of a computer is before you buy one. Services/goods high in experience qualities can be only be evaluated during or after purchase. A good example of this would be a haircut. You don't know if it's good one until after the deed is done. Finally, goods/services high in credence qualities are hard to evaluate even after you've purchased them. How, for example, would you evaluate medical services? How do you know you got the best check-up possible? Tricky...

The point of all this is that I would argue that most library services are rich in credence qualities. To use reference as an example, most patrons have no clue if they received the "best" answer (and a lot of librarians struggle with that issue too!). This ambiguity makes the reference transaction a somewhat risky one because patrons don't know how to evaluate the help they're given. How do they reduce the risk and figure out a way to assess us? Answer: word of mouth. As authors of one research study state, "The role of WOM communication is considered to be particularly significant in a service context because the predominance of experience and credence qualities in services suggests that consumers experience a higher degree of perceived risk in making a purchase decision." It makes sense to me that patrons rely on other patrons to help them figure out how good of a job we're doing. Not only that, but social technology like blogs and online communities helps them spread the word fast and to a large number of people. For those of you who are regular LM readers, you know that WOM frequently pops up in business news as marketers try to figure out how to manage WOM in an increasingly connected world. WOM, then, is important. And it's very important for librarians. For these reasons, I'm going to dedicate a substantial amount of this blog's real estate to investigating WOM further. I'm aiming for a post a week dedicated to WOM research, news and strategies to help us get a handle on WOM in a library context. I'll also look forward to hearing about your own WOM insights.

Categories: neat_trends | promising_promotions | usable_theories


tomaz said...

On a college campus, where about 25% of the population changes every year, keeping the WOM moving and being heard by the new members of the community is important. We managed to get the student tour guides for new and prospective students to be excited about the library so that we weren't a pointed at feature of the tour, but a regular stop on the tour. It helped to have the WOM of the tour guide help spread the word.

Jill said...

Hi, Tomaz,

I'd be very interested to learn more about how you were able to rally the tour guides. How did you spark their enthusiasm? You make a good point about WOM and turnover - how can we keep the momentum going? This suggestion is a good one, thank you!

tomaz said...

My recollection is that we got in touch with the folks who trained the guides and offered them a tour of the library. Some of them hadn't been in the library for quite some time and were shocked when they went in and saw what had happened to the first floor. We had florescent signs, a coffee bar, a large information commons, and the place was alive. The next time the orientation of guides took place, we were on the program. The first floor of the library became a stop on the tour.