Great Expectations

Building understanding of the impact of service experiences.



3 minute read


How might great library services look? In order to answer that question, Newcastle Libraries first needed to learn what their services looked liked now. In a keynote talk and workshop, we built awareness of the libraries’ role in delivering important services, the characteristics of services and told them a story about accessing journal articles through their systems.


The Client

In collaboration with Headjam, a design agency specialising in health, education, arts and community projects, we worked with Newcastle Libraries. Through nine local branches, fifty employees offer an extensive range of services including online programs, children’s activities, book clubs, craft clubs, venue hire, computers, email and internet help, exam supervision, print, copy and scan facilities, elearning, research capabilities, local history archives and exhibitions, 3D printing and a cup of tea on a cold, wet day to name just a few.

The Challenge

As part of a larger program to reimagine public library services, Headjam invited me to deliver a keynote talk and workshop on the importance of service experiences. We discussed two important questions:

  1. How might we make sure we are delivering great service experiences through our libraries and library services?
  2. How might we ensure we’re delivering the right services to our patrons?

The Project

A secret mission

To build understanding of the impact of service experiences, I needed to make an example out of the library itself. I needed to show the library what it looks like from outside. As a patron.

Before our scheduled workshop I embarked on a secret mission. My goal; print a journal article that I accessed online. I documented that journey to use later.

The talk and workshop

During our workshop I broke down and described the anatomy of a service so that we could start to change the way we think about the activities we do every day. This included:

  • The relationship between service providers and customers
  • The Journey
  • Touchpoints
  • Before, Begin, During, After
  • Sharing time

We discussed:

  • Empathy as the primary tool for delivering great service experiences. What it is and how we can practise it
  • The importance of establishing expectations and delivering on these
  • Communication is everything

I presented my mission findings where I told a story about what it feels like to access research journals through the Newcastle City Library. We laughed together about my journey of 40 steps and 21 touchpoints!

And we rounded out the session working in small groups to put ourselves into the shoes of the other and work together to improve the experience of accessing journal articles. This activity generated over 140 ideas.

The Results

Over a two hour period, we were able to engage library staff on a topic that they intuitively felt strongly about. Their jobs are to serve their communities and they appreciated learning about some of the terminology and characteristics of services.

We built awareness of the impact of services and changed the way they think about how they perform their tasks with their patron at the centre.

Through the journal article example, we found common ground to laugh about and learnt an important lesson about opportunities to improve service delivery.

When does this make sense?

Learning about what services are and how they work makes sense for any organisation delivering a service.

Engaging in a secret mission (or service safari) allows you to raise awareness of how your service looks from outside your organisation, from your clients/patrons perspective.

Talking about services helps focus your attention away from internal processes and back towards your clients or patrons. Ultimately, it encourages engagement to build better services.

Methods used

Observations - Service Safari - Keynote Talk - Facilitated Workshop