When Customer Relationship Management is Pull Rather Than Push

Monday night I went to the library to return a couple books. I had finished the second book in a series and wanted to read the third, but I had checked and knew the library didn’t have the third book. I went to the reference desk to see if I could request the book from another one in the state.

I was told the system to check if another library in the state had the book was down, but if I wanted, I could request that the library buy it. That way, I could have the book for a month rather than 2 weeks via interlibrary loan. Since I read quickly and didn’t want the library to buy a new book on my account, I said I would request the book via interlibrary loan during another visit.

This is where things got interesting.

The librarian decided to check if they had already ordered the book given that they had the first two volumes. She discovered that not only had they ordered the book in the last week, but my name had been flagged as a person to inform when the book came in based on my borrowing habits.

I left the library muttering under my breath that I really needed to start looking seriously at customer relationship management (CRM) systems. Here was a library serving a rural county of 78,000 whose services I use for free that had bought a book for me based on tracking my use of their services. (Yes, I suppose other people may have read the series too, but they ordered it right after I took out the second book so as far as I am concerned, they bought it for me.)

The way I see it, if they invest so much effort into serving a person who uses their services for free, how much disservice am I doing to my patrons who are paying me $30-$50 to see shows if I am not closely tracking their preferences and trying to figure out how to serve them better?

The way I see it, that last sentence there is a crucial one. There is a difference between the way Amazon uses software to track my activities in the interest of trying to sell me a book and the way the library tracks my activities in interest of buying a book for me.

While I would certainly use the software to suggest shows a person might be interested in seeing based on past history, I would also want to think about ways I could use data we collect to shape our programming to serve their interests.

[N.B. Well, I wrote this post on Monday evening knowing I wouldn’t have time to do so on Tuesday because we had a show. I just happened to see one of the librarians after the show and asked her what CRM system they used. She tapped her head.

Turns out, she had noticed what books I was taking out and order the third book in the series. I had specifically asked on Monday night if it were she that had ordered the book and was given an answer that made me think it was all tracked by software. This just goes to show that the best customer relationship software is caring employees paying attention and making notes.]

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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1 thought on “When Customer Relationship Management is Pull Rather Than Push”

  1. I’m an arts marketer but if I had to do my life over again, I’d be in library science. Every librarian I’ve ever met has been brilliant, kind and beyond competent. The fact that your librarian knew you well enough to order the book warms my heart.


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