Sunday, 12 February 2012

Personalising services: snippets from the diary

Co-editor, Andy Priestner, and I very recently deliberated a tweak to the name of our forthcoming book to be published by Ashgate. The original title referred to personalised services but almost without realising it, Andy had started to use the word 'personalising' instead. This gives the process and concept a more active, and engaging feel to it. It made me think a little harder about what helps us to create a service that is 'personalised', but is also 'personalising'; where the established mindset of providing a 'personalised' service sits within a dynamic 'personalising' environment.

The 'personalised' mindset in a library service means that we should be pre-disposed to acquire knowledge about our users, show a genuine interest in them, display empathy, and be flexible and adaptable, with library staff possessing a fair degree of autonomy in the decision making process.

But I think that 'personalising' a service means more than this. It implies that in any given situation an individual student or library user should leave feeling that their visit was special (not just to them, but also to us) and that their specific needs and requirements have been addressed. Is this possible? I think that this is precisely why personalising services is an active, growing, organic 'thing'. Your first interaction with a student in a new job is likely to be less 'personalised' than one six months later. We are always gathering information and knowledge (or should be) about our users that we can use in our interactions with them. Just because all students have the same borrowing time frame doesn't prevent us personalising our service on a daily basis with them depending on our knowledge of their needs.

Two really obvious snippets from my diary:
1. I know that a particular elderly academic rarely reads email and so will not receive their system notice reminding them the book is due back. I pop the details in my diary and get in touch with them personally by phone to remind them it's due back and/or personally renew it for them. I would be unlikely to do this for the same reason for an undergraduate but that's because their needs are different. (Question for myself: what current procedures and process can we change so that we operate more like this?)

2. I have a new resource coming out on trial. It may well be useful for a broad spectrum of people, but I know that there are two postgrads who specifically requested it some months ago. Their emails will be included in the general email list that they are a part of, but they also get a personal email from me letting them know about it. Their names went down in my diary some months ago for this purpose. (Question for myself: although I use my personal email address rather than any generic ones to send information out, many emails still go to student 'lists'. If email is still the preferred means of receiving information, the challenge is to become more personalised and targeted.)

I'm sure that we all do this sort of thing but the challenge for me is to consider how much more we can do? And how much more can we afford to do? Conversely, how much more can we afford NOT to do!

Not everyone wants the red carpet treatment - but it's our job to know who doesn't and to treat our users as individuals.

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