Guest Post: How Libraries Can Benefit From Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Guest Post by Ava Cambellini

I’ve loved going to the library since I was a kid, and it seems that the number of library patrons has been growing and growing. Especially in a down economy, many people see the value in checking out a book rather than buying one. Managing a large number of library members can be a major challenge for any library. Leveraging the information from those patrons is often completely overlooked.

Most libraries have several databases. They have a basic database system that tracks their customers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, and checkout history. They have one that tallies fines and another tracks library holdings. At a very basic level, these are beginning CRM solutions. However, more sophisticated single CRM application can bring significant benefits to a library and make data much easier to manage.

One of the major changes going on society is the introduction of new technologies. Many libraries have already moved into e-books, but social media, texting, and leveraging customer information to assist with fundraising is uncharted territory. A more comprehensive CRM solution can assist your library with embracing these new technologies.

Benefits of CRM solutions

A library is often slow to adopt new technology due to cost and the struggle to transfer data and update hardware. However, a single-solution CRM application offers many benefits that can make that transition worthwhile. Here are just four:

  • Easily Share Information. The problem with most stand-alone systems is that data has to be manually entered to be transferred between databases. Old data is hard to purge. With a single CRM solution, all of this information will be centralized in an easy-to-use interface that all of your employees and volunteers will be able to understand. In addition, a good CRM application will store everything in one place, with no need to re-enter or manually transfer data. This will free up your workers and volunteers to do other more important work, and may allow you to hire less staff.
  • Fundraising. Public libraries struggle to raise money, like most nonprofits. You want maximum exposure for your programs and maximum attendance at your fundraisers. Having a better connection to your patrons through a great social CRM application can help you notify people of fundraisers as well as understand who is most likely to give. You can plan special programs for high-level donors. This information can be invaluable as you plan your fundraising year.
  • Reaching new patrons via social media. When you have a system that can store social media information from your customers, you have a way to send out updates and program information that will be seen by a majority of your contacts. In addition, social media allows your current patrons to share your information and programs with their friends, extending the reach of the library services.
  • Obtaining Details on Usage. Every library customer has a favorite genre or two. CRM systems can track this, which will help you decide what to order next and how many copies you will need, which will save you money overall. In addition, when new arrivals come into the library, wouldn’t it be great to be able to notify those patrons that are most interested? A good CRM solution will allow you to segment your customers based on what they check out most, allowing these notifications via email and social media.

Finding a CRM solution doesn’t have to be difficult. You can use programs that add on to your current databases as a temporary fix, like using MailChimp to email newsletters and library information to patrons. However, eventually you will want to move to an all-in-one solution to streamline your data. Companies like Salesforce have excellent service-oriented CRM solutions that can be of great help to libraries. You can pilot a solution like this to see if it fits your needs.

Due to cost and lack of manpower, many libraries are stuck using old systems where the data cannot easily be shared between databases. However, a comprehensive CRM solution can make a big difference in efficiency, customer contact, fundraising, and the amount of needed staff. It’s worth considering if a CRM is right for your library.