Can RFID Technology Help Build Customer Loyalty And Relationships?
Learning's From Singapore's 1997-2003 National Library Board's RFID Project
Ms. Mei Lin Fung
G-CEM Global Adviosr
This article is exclusively written for G-CEM.
The National Library Board (NLB) of Singapore has an important mission: To continuously expand the learning capacity of the nation. NLB oversees a total of 22 public libraries, including two Regional Libraries(1) , 11 rental libraries(2) located at the various shopping malls and nine stand-alone libraries(3). It also oversees several libraries belonging to government agencies, schools and private institutions like that of the Singapore Management University. Serving 2.1 million(4) library members, NLB has pioneered digital library access: eLibraryHub, provides patrons with Internet access to information resources and services ?Any time, Anywhere?.
In 2002, NLB launched the world?s first fully-deployed RFID-enabled library system, tagging over 9 million items: Books, magazines, music scores, CDs, DVDs and videotapes. By automating the loan and return of library items, average peak wait times at library counters dropped from 1hour to less than 5 minutes. Time savings for customers are estimated at 10 million hours in a year.
RFID technology has resulted in quicker returns of library items to the shelves. Stocktaking is faster and easier: Just do it by passing an RFID reader over the bookshelves. Over US $30 million in annual cost savings resulted. More importantly: Since 1995, library loans have risen from 14 million to 34 million in 2003 ? one of the highest loan rates among the world?s metropolitan library systems
Dr. Christopher Chia is the CEO of the National Library Board. He is unusually technically well qualified, having previously headed up the Singapore National Computer?s IT R&D Institute. He told me what they are doing to build customer relationships that support their goal of offering life-long learning opportunities for their members.
?Public libraries help inculcate the culture of reading and learning in Singapore. Building customer loyalty is important as we are serving life-long learners. We?ve adopted a personalized approach in providing on-site and on-line services. Our customer interfacing operations are centrally managed so that we can be responsive to increasing customer demands. Libraries have become the THIRD place, after home and work, as a weekend destination for couples and parents with young kids. Customer Relationships in the context of public services is really partnership, forged through active participation of members in the social and volunteer activities of the library. ?Libraries are social institutions with community ownership, hence it would be impossible to execute library programs and initiatives without the partnership of the very people whom we want to serve.?
NLB?s feedback mechanism involves running focus groups with different segments of customers to identify latent demand and align services to customer needs. Dr. Chia said ?We use ?Customer Capital? as an indicator of the strength of the customer relationship.? This is measured in philanthropic contributions and volunteer services. Philanthropic contributions may take the form of significant monetary donations (recently S$60M was received from the Lee Foundation) or in the form of donated or loans of private collections. Operationally, NLB uses the number of compliments and complaints as a monthly indicator. Annually they conduct a Customer Satisfaction Survey. Participation rates are tracked for customer segments grouped by membership tiers and loyalty programs. NLB?s customer management tracking provides many views of customer on-site and online interactions and transactions, so they can provide better services through understanding customers? and their needs over their lifetime of learning.
So how does NLB track progress toward the goal of expanding the learning capacity of the nation? ?Expanding the learning capacity refers to the ?desire and ability? of Singaporeans to become lifelong learners. We define our outcome in terms of how we are able to increase the desire to learn through effective programs, attractive learning spaces, through introducing a ?lifestyle? element to library services. National literacy is an obvious indicator? explained Dr. Chia. As an organization, NLB tracks how successful they increase usage, increase customer satisfaction, and increase their number of customers.
RFID And Customer Relationships
In 1995, 7 million library visits were recorded. NLB believes RFID was the single most important technology leading to catalytic growth of visitors: 34 million in 2003. RFID has expanded the library?s online public access catalog, allowing customers to ?Return Anywhere?, which would have been a logistics nightmare without an automated system for processing check outs, check-ins and tracking inventory.
RFID has been a significant enabler for NLB?s objective of being a world class library that is convenient, accessible and useful. With RFID-enabled asset management both employees and customers have found it more convenient to get their jobs done. Real-time tracking of loans and returns has allowed customers to focus on acquiring knowledge rather than waste time in locating and checking out library items.
Where Next With RFID?
Mass adoption of RFID is expected to pave the way for increasingly cost-effective components. However RFID technology adoption is limited by consumer health and consumer privacy issues. Such concerns will need to be addressed by design and usage, with clear, open, auditable accountability for responsible use of information. Total Asset Mobility is the next step after Total Asset Visibility. NLB expects more intelligent RFID, with ?re-write capability? on the chip. Dr Chia ends up with a note on the digital future ?In RFID circles, the ?Internet of things? is the next big goal.? Coupling RFID with wireless services, NLB is looking forward to developing enticing learning experiences beyond books ? through the tagging of ?learning objects? which could be physical or digital. A challenge to be faced in the future is ?Accuracy in digital representation?; RFID is just one form of ?physical tagging? like HTML is one form of ?Text tagging?, libraries most importantly need to be accurate in representing the physical object with their digital equivalent. The next step for NLB is intelligent filtering, which will provide more value to library customers by further saving them time in getting smarter, by screening out irrelevant answers.
The Singapore National Library Board is a leading player in harnessing RFID to develop a nation of life-long learners, and life-long customers. We can learn much from their early experiences.
1 Regional Libraries: Tampines Regional Library & Woodlands Regional Library
2 Rental Libraries: Bukit Batok Community Library, Bukit Panjang Community Library, Choa Chu Kang Community Library, Cheng San Community Library, Esplanade Community Library, Jurong West Community Library, Orchard Community Library, Pasir Ris Community Library, Sembawang Community Library, Seng Kang Community Library, Yishun Community Library.
3 Standalone Libraries: Ang Mo Kio, Bedok, Bukit Merah, Central , Geylang, Jurong East, Marine Parade, Queenstown, Toa Payoh
4 61% adult, 16% young people, 23% children
|About the Author|
Mei Lin Fung works with Oklahoma State University's Spears Business School to offer certificate and performance management programs in business-customer relations. She recently assisted communications firm Avaya in developing an innovative public and private customer relations partnership, honored with the American Society of Competitiveness' Phillip B. Crosby Golden Medallion. Fung was an early pioneer in CRM, having worked with both Tom Siebel, founder of Siebel Systems, and Marc Benioff, founder of salesforce.com in 1988 at Oracle at the very beginning of the CRM industry. Blog: Professionals Earn Customer Trust
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