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"Making the Customer Experience (______)"

Richland County Public Library
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Innovation Summary

Through a series of intentional activities, idea-sharing and playful approaches, staff worked together to fine tune our collective understanding of what makes our library’s customer experience outstanding (or incredible, or memorable…). The result? Brand promises for the library that reflected the creative input from all 300 full-time employees.

Problem Statement

In 2010, The Richland County Public Library Board of Trustees approved a strategic plan that positioned the library toward a more customer-centric approach. In fact, the first focus area of the strategic plan is to “Enhance the Customer Experience.” We found that our library had two major barriers to meeting our customer experience objectives. First, we found that distinguishing the broader concept of “customer experience” from “customer service” was a necessary leap we needed to make in order to fully explore what it means to offer full-bodied, well-connected customer experiences throughout our library system. Historically our library placed the most value on the face to face interaction with the customers (where “customer service” is given and received) but failed to understand that there are innumerable touch-points of service and encounters that make up the total customer experience. We needed to convey the concept of customer experience (CxP) through means others than words alone. Secondly, we lacked universal acknowledgement and agreement on what qualities were most essential to an exceptional customer experience. Which qualities would be at the core of every RCPL customer experience and evident in every touch-point? We knew we needed to move our staff from thinking of the customer experience as staff led to thinking of it as customer-centric. We knew that in order to confidently explore “customer experience” in an authentic and original way we would need to work with the histories, expertise, insight and ingenuity of our staff as well as standards, practices, trends and innovations outside the library field. The “Making the CxP (______)” initiative was developed so that all staff could be a part of a transformation—building outstanding promises to our community that we could deliver on.


Following are samples of what took place during four, four-hour workshops in October, developed and lead entirely by staff: The workshop name “Making the Customer Experience ( )” was a way to convey from the beginning that this was a discovery process and all staff would help us “fill in the blank” as we explored the subject together. In addition, the “fill in the blank” became a motif we used throughout to illustrate the many ways in which the customer experience should always be personalized. Knowing that the customer experience (CxP) generally is explored more assertively in businesses and companies outside of libraries, we created a foundation of CxP insights from innovative companies and drew the connections between these and the public library. We asked our staff to talk about their own customer experiences, good and bad, and made connections to how library users think and talk about library services. To take many of the abstract ideas involved with customer experience building, personas were crafted that included specific backstories on customer types. The personas conveyed the uniqueness of each customer encounter and need. Staff was given common customer tasks, questions or encounters and asked to apply them to specific customer personas. They were encouraged to “throw out the rules” in creating personalized responses (based on their unique persona) even if the question being asked each time was exactly the same. To explore the many possible qualities of the customer experiences, we crafted a unique CxP card game that helped us dig into various approaches. This card game helped teams create “CxP hierarchy pyramids.” Keeping the CxP conversation going, each department received a custom made CxP Toolbox filled with items for inspiring further exploration of CxP post-worshop. A CxP staff webpage has been developed to further online conversation and document successes.


Several outcomes and deliverables emerged from “Making the CxP ( ____).” “Making the CxP( ____)” helped facilitate many perspectives, priorities and qualities that formed the basis for new brand promises for the Richland County Public Library. The language of these promises sets the tone for every customer encounter, at every touch point. They are aspirational while authentic to our organization. The brand promises are the basis for our rebranding efforts. We are currently at work to take our promises and use them to refresh everything from our logo to signage to our website. A key idea that has emerged and spread through our library system: “The better we know our customers, the better we can serve them.” We see this manifesting in discussions about building programs to meet target audiences as well as “The CxP” being added as a standing item on many team agendas. Through the process of “Making the CxP ( ____)” a set of five customer engagement standards which give actionable recommendations for setting excellent in-the-moment encounters were introduced and have been adopted throughout the library. All library staff have access to a set of unique tools and learning games to assist in their exploration of “The Customer Experience.” “How will you approach customer engagement differently after our CxP activities?” The following are illustrative of staff feedback: • “I will [now] approach customers as library users who can be cultivated to become superfans of the library.” • [I realize] every customer may not [need] the same level of service, but can still leave with a good experience…” • “…established specific expectations for us in public service and I have a clearer understanding of the customer experience as a whole. I can now see myself giving more personalized service - being more flexible where we haven't been in the past.”