Friday, June 09, 2006

Is Ordering a Hot Dog Like a Library Web Site?

I was just reading the humorous (probably in hindsight) posting about Library Lessons from Unlikley Places by Steve Lawson over at See Also..... regarding interactions he had at the DMV and Sonic drive through window.

After recounting the interactions he states that it occurred to him that library patrons must feel a similar sense of confusion when confronted with a library home page or list of databases such as "TIGER catalog? WorldCat? Databases? Interlibrary Loan?" In the end he just wanted a hamburger book!"

In fact, I was equally confused the first time I went into Gold Coast Dogs in Chicago. The place was noisy, there was little signage, and in general it was a stressful experience. Think of a cross between the Seinfeld's "Soup Nazi" episode and Saturday Night Live's The Olympia Cafe "cheeburger" skit.

There was nobody there to help or guide me through the process of ordering a hot dog (if you have ever had a real Chicago dog it is not a simple task!). I was left to watch and learn by going through the experience. I went to Gold Coast many more times and I learned what to order, how to order it, and how not to get frustrated by the first timer standing in line in front of me. The reason I kept going back to Gold Coast is that they have a great product. The product was worth it.

When recalling this experience it occurred to me that their service was oriented towards the novice and advanced customer, not the first timer. The return customer can get in and out relatively quickly. After all, it is the repeat business that they earn their ROI. They do not orient their service towards the first timer. The placed the responsibility for learning the protocol required to order a hot dog on the customer.

So, what does this have to do with a library web site?

All too often libraries try to design web sites to be all things to all people. We try to design to appeal to the first timer, the notice, and the advanced customer. The problem is enhanced when libraries get their LibQual results back and see that customers have issues with the usefulness of the library web site. The assumption that is made is that the site needs to be redesigned to meet all the users needs. (I will not get into questioning why everyone I have talked to had a similar LibQual result and why libraries are thinking redesign).

I wonder if we should be putting so many resources into making sure that library web sites are usable to all customers. Instead, should our resources be spent making sure the sites be designed to get the returning customer in and out quickly, since after all, is it from the repeat business that we get our ROI? Shouldn't we be placing the responsibility for learning the protocol required to use the web site on our customers?!

I also wonder if Gold Coast would be as popular if their service was designed for first timer. Had employees been available to hand hold newbies through the process would the entire system slowed down? Would the business have been as successful if the return customers has longer waits? Would they have gone to a competitor that can get them in and out more quickly? (Google?)

As I recounted my story I mention it was worth going back and going through the process of learning the protocol since the product was worth it. In a similar vein, I wonder if most of our human resources should be spent on the management of content not the interface! If libraries focused on making sure the content was superior wouldn't that first time customer keep coming back even if they had difficulty dealing with the interface the first few times? Wouldn't the content alone serve as the motivation to keep coming back and to learn the protocols?!

While on the content thread, should libraries also be focused on making sure that the content is findable regardless of what tools our customers are using? Is the notion that our customers should be coming to our library's web site to get to our content antiquated? Sphere: Related Content

No comments: