Public libraries have seen potential in live chat as a customer service tool for a long time. However, in many cases technical and logistical challenges have limited its usefulness and popularity with patrons.
In this series of posts, we’ll address five common mistakes libraries make with live chat that hamper its utility as a customer service channel. Fixing these things will produce more chats, more patron activity (checkouts, downloads, visits, sign-ups), and fewer phone calls and emails for staff to deal with.
4. Limited Staffing
We see two common and often overlapping staffing models among public libraries that offer live chat. One is to have reference personnel monitor live chat at the reference desk. It’s easy to see why response times might be slow or inconsistent with this approach. If a patron comes to the desk or calls on the phone for assistance, or if the librarian(s) on duty roves away from the desk to engage patrons on the service floor, chats are going to get missed. Asking staff on the desk to respond to multiple channels of communication seems like the simplest answer but often results in a reduced quality of service for patrons.
The second model, sometimes used in conjunction with the first, is to participate in a cooperative chat service in which each participating library contributes a certain number of hours of coverage in exchange for 24/7 coverage from other libraries in the group. The flaw in this model is that while the coverage is a mile wide, it’s only about an inch deep. Librarians in other places answer your patrons’ questions based on a bank of FAQ’s supplied when your library joined the cooperative. This information quickly gets out of date, resulting in patrons getting inaccurate answers.
The cooperative model also does not allow for patron account needs (item renewals, hold requests, explanations of fines and fees, etc.) to be handled directly by chat operators because they can’t log in to your ILS. Across the library websites where we at Unique provide chat coverage, patron account needs represent nearly half of all patron questions. That means under the cooperative model, half of all chats don’t get resolved directly and require patrons to take additional steps to receive basic service.
Live chat staffing is tricky because, while chats are intermittent, they need to be answered immediately and resolved directly in order to provide value for patrons. Slow responses and ending half your chats by asking patrons to call or email for additional help is not a winning strategy. To improve response times and provide the best possible service, the ideal approach would be to assign a dedicated representative to handle live chat with no other competing responsibilities. Unfortunately, it’s also extraordinarily expensive when multiplied across your operating hours, and most libraries do not have the resources to do so.
The next best solution is to find a trusted partner with the capacity and experience to handle chats quickly and effectively at a price you can afford. This partner should offer on-demand 24/7 access to the chats handled on your behalf in the form of full transcripts with the ability to provide feedback on each interaction. This is important because it ensures you’re always in control of the information conveyed to patrons and keeps your provider accountable to provide the best possible service. v
An additional benefit of utilizing a provider is the ability to offer more service hours, which we will discuss in the final installment in this series.