Some Thoughts and Quotes about Authenticity

I’m reading Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want, by James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine III (same guys that wrote The Experience Economy). I love this type of book – the focus is still on Pine and Gilmore’s favorite topic, that of the experience economy. But this time, they have narrowed that focus a bit, to how those experiences can be perceived as authentic experiences. I’ll be sharing thoughts and random quotes from the book as I read it.

The first quote comes from the preface of all places! “..too many [businesses] have latched onto that single word – experience – without changing core business practices. Too many companies say they’re offering ‘experiences’ without actually staging experiences” (page xii).

That actually answers a question I’ve had as I have started to check out some of these businesses that claim to offer an experience of some sort. For example, I’ve visited Cold Stone Creamery twice now. They have amazing ice cream (and their watermelon sherbet is to die for – it’s that good)… but the experience they tout? Not so much.

What have I actually seen in my two visits? Teenaged staff paying next to no attention to me while quickly making my ice cream concoction, not making a big deal of the cold stone marble mixing board at all, and quickly hustling me out of the way – even when there’s not a crowd. What gives? Well, apart from me smelling bad or something that day, somehow the corporate message of the Ultimate Ice Cream Experience wasn’t translated down to the Cold Stone Creamery workers in Topeka, Kansas. Did those employees receive the “hey, this is an experience we’re serving” message during initial training but decided against the practice? Were they even trained in imparting that staged experience at all? I have no idea. But in this case, the actual delivered experience did not match the experience the corporate office wants to provide.

Libraries and other organizations sometimes do the same thing – the experience we want to provide often doesn’t match what we actually dole out daily. Think about it for a sec – does your mission statement match what happens in your building on a daily basis? And… does “what happens in your building” match what goes on on your website? For example, some libraries think of themselves as community gathering places. But then when the community actually gathers, they’re told to be quiet, to turn their cell phones off, and to please drink that coffee outside the building. Or, the staff and the physical building both do a great job of offering a physical community gathering place, but doesn’t do a good job of offering a digital community gathering place. Their digital community tries to gather, but quickly finds no place to gather at all, because the website is no more than an electronic brochure with links and a catalog database – so they gather elsewhere (ebay forums, yahoo groups, myspace). They “have left the building.”

If this describes your library, maybe you need to take a step back… step back and give some hard thought to:

  • what you want the end result to be
  • even better, ask your customers what THEY want THEIR end result to be
  • then create a strategic plan, mission statement, vision, etc that focuses on reaching that desired end result
  • teach your staff how to create, mold, or otherwise deliver that end result (or at least work towards it) physically AND digitally
  • redesign that website so it does the same thing – so it focuses on providing the desired end result

If we plan on offering experiences, let’s start changing those core business practices so we can actually deliver engaging experiences to our customers.

Salt Lake City Public Library Presentations

Salt lake city public library Yesterday, I spoke at Salt Lake City Public Library’s staff day. I actually gave three presentations – one keynote and two breakout sessions… all three were extremely fun talks!

Salt Lake’s staff day theme this year was “Transform.. Adapt… Grow.” Transformation is a strong theme with them right now – for example, take a peek at what one needs to submit for their current Library Director opening: “The package should include a paper resume and directions to your digital presence, blog, or social networking Web site.” Wow.

Anyway, here are some links to the two presentations I gave:

And as promised, here are the links to all the websites I mentioned in the keynote (in the order they appeared, I think):

Valuing Users by Allowing Comments

Casey Bisson said this during his Internet Librarian 2007 presentation: “sites that allow comments value their users.” When he said that, my mind started making connections… what a great way to illustrate why the ability to comment is such an amazing thing to include on a website! So riffing off that quote, here are some thoughts (and I encourage you to continue riffing and see what more you come up with – if it rocks, I’ll add it to my list).

When you allow comments by users/customers/patrons, you are valuing them:

  • You are validating their voices: By offering a way to let customers comment, the library becomes an enabler for conversation. You are saying the library cares about customers, and the library wants to hear from customers. And any voice or thought is valid – praise and criticism, complaints and suggestions.
  • You are saying you want to listen: no cold shoulders! How many companies actually want to hear you? Have you ever hunted for hours for a 1-800 number for eBay or gone through their complaint/get-your-money-back process? I have – and I came away with the feeling that eBay, cool business that it is, didn’t really want to listen, and was more interested in getting my money than in helping me have a successful selling/buying experience.
  • You are asking them to participate: opening up the possibility to comment is a form of invitation to participate. It allows actual interaction with real, live people. it also sets up a type of digital town hall meeting where someone’s expressed opinion can be heard, discussed, debated, and distilled by others within earshot (ie., other readers)
  • Users can add value to website content: Libraries hire smart people. Your customers are ALSO smart people, and libraries are just starting to use those amazing customer brains to add to the value of library content. Some libraries do this by allowing customers to create book reviews. Others allow customers to comment on blog posts or on wiki pages. A few libraries allow customers to add relevant content and notes to local history projects (ie., seeing an old photo and telling others who is in the photo, etc).
  • You are valuing their time: In my eBay example above, I wasted a lot of time trying to find that 1-800 number. By allowing comments on most pages of a website, you are saving the time of your users. They no longer have to hunt for a single online comment box or find the “contact us” page to find the phone number. Instead, they can leave their comment or question right there, right then – in a place that makes sense (the page where the question or comment came up)
  • You are adding value to their words: By not hiding a customer’s words, thoughts, questions, or comments, you are getting more bang for the buck – you are adding value to the content on that page. Value is added by giving the customer a digital megaphone – since the comment fits contextually on the same page as the comment, and might even visually use the same colors and font sizes, you have just given the customer’s comment the same weight as the website content. Words that before the web might have been said in a private phone conversation or in a private letter now have been given the added benefit of reaching a much larger audience (potentially a global audience).
  • You are adding value to their experience: You improve the customer’s experience by allowing comments in as many places as possible. Steve Krug’s book says “don’t make me think” many times. When the customer has easy-to-reach comment boxes on every page of a blog or a website, they don’t have to think about website functionality or about how to find a way to contact the organization – that part is done. Instead, it frees the customer up to think about what’s REALLY on his/her mind. And that creates a positive experience for the user.

Again, some thoughts. Do you have any to add?