Alchemical Thoughts

Booknote: Blackshaw on Satisfied and Angry Customers

Posted on: September 22, 2008

These are mostly my reading notes for Pete Blackshaw's Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3,000 (link to WorldCat record). This was definitely a pretty good read. Some of the points he makes are pretty much common sense, and there are some lessons here that I think are applicable to libraries. Blackshaw also provides a lot of stories and examples to illustrate his points.

The three truths that inform the book, according to the author:

  1. "Businesses no longer hold absolute sway over the decisions and behaviors of consumers."
  2. "The longer companies refuse to accept the influence of consumer-to-consumer communication and perpetuate the old ways of doing business, the more they will alienate and drive away their customers."
  3. "To succeed in a world where consumers now control the conversation, and where satisfied customers tell three friends while angry customers tell 3,000, companies absolutely must achieve credibility on very front" (11). 

Now, as I am reading this book, I am asking myself how can this apply to libraries, especially in terms of marketing our brand as well as developing credibility with our consumers, in this case the faculty, students, and staff which make our academic community. There may be a thing or two to learn in here. The author addresses the use of blogs and social networks, but one has to keep in mind that a lot of the feedback generated in those places, which is part of what he labels Consumer Generated Media (CGM) is not going to the company, but to other people who could be potential customers. In other words, the companies (libraries) are often getting all sorts of bad publicity and feedback, and they are not even seeing it. And in the case where companies develop their own blogs, credibility becomes crucial. One has to be authentic, credible, reliable in keeping a corporate blog. Worse thing a company can do is have a fake blog or making it look like customers are generating the content when they are not. If you do that, you will be busted sooner or later by consumers who are very adept at detecting the bullshit. And I think a lot of this can apply to libraries that keep library blogs as well.

Author defines four types of key CGM generators. The techno teen sounds pretty much like the stereotype of the eternally plugged-in teen that the technolibrarians love to promulgate. Nothing new there. However, the Gadget Guy caught my attention. One of the Gadget Guy's key attributes:

"The Gadget Guy is also a search engine animal. He'll search, research, and analyze every topic, from health and medical issues to electronics, entertainment, video games, pet products, computers, telecommunications, and more. And because he's so tech savvy, he knows how to track down most information available, then add his own input" (55).

On the one hand, I kind of question how truly analytical this guy is. On the other hand, if you read that definition closely, that is pretty much the description of what a good librarian in this day and age should be: able to track down any information, analyze it, make sense of it, and then put in his own input. By the way, that's a lot of what information literacy is about. Notice though they did not label it IL.

Another idea is to keep track of what others may be saying about your business (in my case, the library) online. If I recall correctly, Tame the Web had a short post on searching up your library on a search engine to see what is out there about your library. I checked ours for curiosity on Google, and I did not find much that was substantial. Once you got past links to our library pages, the library blog, and some campus pages, other than the Wikipedia page for UT Tyler, which mentions the library, nothing much. To be perfectly honest, this town is just not the demographic of people who go online and post a review every time they use some online service. I am not saying it as a bad thing; it's just the way it is. Now, I am sure the students might mention us on Facebook, so I do keep an eye on that when I can.

Blackshaw goes on to discuss how businesses can measure CGM. He writes about businesses starting blogs initially as ways to learn how the process works. Technorati is mentioned as a tool for searching blogs, but personally, I am not placing as much stock in Technorati as I used to. For one, in a few times the site has either been too slow or just literally down, making it not too reliable for searching. I can always do a blog search on Google; their blog search is not too bad. There is mention of BlogPulse and IceRocket, which I admit at this moment that I have to look over sometime. But regardless of the tool, searching out what blogs are saying is important.

Blackshaw also defines and discusses key metrics that businesses should measure when measuring CGM. The list, found on page 70, is:

  • Volume: How many comments are there about your company?
  • Reach: What is the depth of exposure? How widely are the comments viewed by others?
  • Issue: What specific issues are being discussed?  
  • Sentiment: To what extent are messages favorable or unfavorable?
  • Emotion: How do consumers feel about your company?
  • Dispersion: How viral is the issue or conversation? 
  • Source: Where is the conversation ocurring?
  • Author: Who is the source? Are his or her comments credible?

Volume and reach may be a bit much for a small library like us. On the one hand, we can certainly see how many comments the library's blog is getting, making the volume pretty low at the moment. What interests me more would be issue (what are they saying specifically), their sentiment, and their emotion. In a different scale, we are about to launch LibQual+ here (the big library survey), which measures a lot of perception about services and how students feel. This is different than CGM, but it measures some of the metrics listed above, which is why I mention it. However, LibQual+ does not capture CGM per se, but rather responses to a survey (a very good time) at a point in time. There is no ongoing conversation so to speak.

On the metric of emotion, this caught my eye:

"Emotion is central to word of mouth, and this is why companies need to understand and embrace consumers' emotional responses not only to their ad campaigns but also to their customer service, business practices, and products. Consumers reward not only brands that work and perform but companies that connect on an emotional level" (82).

Now I think is very applicable to libraries, especially to smaller libraries like mine where word of mouth is still crucial. It is important to connect on an emotional level to our patrons and users.

Being transparent is also important, and the importance of transparency has been discussed as well in various librarian blogs. Transparency helps to foster credibility. This also caught my eye, as I think it is a gutsy move, and one that libraries should not be afraid to keep in mind:

"It's okay to a consumer occasionally see a negative review about your brand on your own Web site; this transparency is more than compensated for the trust and loyalty it conveys. In the same way, a waiter who occasionally wrinkles his nose at a menu item will have more credibility when he encourages you to try a different entree; acknowledging criticism lends more credibility to the positive reviews" (94).

It may well be a matter of balance. Sure, let them see the positives for the most part, but if constructive criticism, which may be negative, comes around, let your users see it as well, and respond to it to show that you are acknowledging as well as acting upon it.

Blackshaw also talks about the importance of the website itself. Often, customers go to a corporate website to find company information first. For us, the website is basically a virtual location or branch, which makes it important to keep it relevant, up-to-date, and accessible. We just did a major redesign, and although we are running into some initial resistance (the "we liked it how it was" syndrome), we are starting to see some positive feedback. It is a work in progress. This definitely should apply to any library's website:

"A Web site needs to act like a trusted expert who is always there to serve needs, answer questions, provide directions, and offer advice" (109).

No one is saying we need to replace librarians with a website, but we certainly should be making our library websites so they serve as portals to information, so they serve our users needs, answer their questions, and direct them as needed to other services (say, a reference librarian) as needed. We need to make our sites authoritative. Right now, librarians on their blogs commonly bemoan how students go to Google for their information needs. Sure, many of them will likely continue to do so, but if we can make our websites be the authority, to be the portal they want to start on for their research, we may get a step ahead. Once you have the website, marketing and promotion becomes important as well as inviting your users to participate and interact with the site. On an interesting side note, Blackshaw tells stories of companies that make their websites fun or add interactive elements. Libraries, unfortunately, are afraid of such risk. For instance, placing a small avatar on a website in lieu of a photo. I have seen some librarians that do it for their personal blogs (I do it here), and some even do it on their presences for their library websites. It can generate a bit of talk with users for one, but if the library is more worried about "image," then the idea might not fly, and you probably have a lost opportunity. I think ideas like these may spark some conversation amongst librarians who may consider experimenting and trying to use a bit of fun to be more accessible. Just a thought. This also goes with the idea of making the website a listening platform, as Blackshaw suggests, tools for patrons, in our case, to be able to give us feedback. Blackshaw writes, "it's common sense that the easier it is for consumers to find the portion of the site that solicits feedback, the more likely they will be to utilize it" (112).

Other things I would like to remember:

  • "The fact of the matter is, consumers will always trust the word of other consumers over the word of companies or marketers, because consumers are perceived as more objective and authentic. Luckily, thanks to all the new participatory Web 2.0 technologies, consumers can be part of the conversation right on your company Web site" (113-114). For one, we do have a library blog, and I also think we can, in time, exploit our LibGuides to serve a bit more as platforms where some community can be nurtured. I am toying with the idea of creating a Facebook page for the library, which Blackshaw says it's fine, but go beyond that by creating your own spaces. That is where our blog and our LibGuides can come in for starters.
  • On corporate blogs: "The most credible corporate blogs include open privacy statements, clear definitions of acceptable user behavior (including commenting guidelines), and a steady stream of interesting and vibrant content. If content is just a rehash of corporate press releases or company news sanitized to the point that no life remains, bored readers will shy away" (115-116). This is part of being transparent and of having credibility, and applicable to libraries as well. Crucial to note that it is important to have fresh and new content regularly. What is not noted by Blackshaw, or often by librarian bloggers, is that generating the interesting and neat content does take time and effort. Contrary to what some non-blogging colleagues may think, for the librarian doing the blogging it is a continuous effort that includes research, keeping up, and writing. It is not a cruise or simply recreation. A library blog is not an extension of the local campus information office (they can do the sanitized news releases; those have a different purpose). A library blog is a tool not just to inform the users, but to build a community.
  • You do need some balance on blogging: "However, a corporate blog that is too free-swinging and 'out there' runs the risk of being seen as unfocused. Corporate blogs must walk a fine line between being interesting and informative and not going too far off message" (116). Again, think of library blogs, which must also walk somewhat of a fine line. Now, I think library blogs, unlike corporate blogs, can be a little more free-swinging since that can help build some sense of community and connect with patrons at the emotional level as well as at their points of need. Walking the line takes some effort as well, but it can be well worth in terms of the rewards down the road.
  • Your brand does have to work and deliver on what it says it does. Blackshaw points to Starbucks, which may have detractors, but in the end, they do well because people like their coffee. He writes, "and if you have a great brand or product, consumers will want to recommend it to other consumers" (124; emphasis in original). This should go without saying for us in libraries. All it takes is one library website where databases are not very accessible or hard to find, and your users are headed to Google. "If a product doesn't do what it is supposed to do, no fancy marketing or public relations spin can make up for it" (127). If a library, to use a random example, lacks an up-to-date and attractive book collection, no amount of marketing is going to make up for that fact. If that were the case, that library is already failing on what the brand, the library, is supposed to be delivering.

Overall, the main message of the book is that companies need to cultivate and maintain their credibility. They need to deliver on what they promise, and yes, their product has to work. Companies have to be transparent, but they also have to listen and be responsive. Some proactivity is also desirable. Though the book is geared to the business world, there are some valuable lessons here for libraries as well. This may be a good example of one of those outside of librarianship that librarians should read, especially for those librarians who work in public services and in areas promoting their libraries.

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