Mapping the Journey

Engaging with customers, identifying touch points, and developing recommendations at Edmonton Public Library

The Edmonton Public Library (EPL), Alta., wanted to shift its customer approach from a service-based to an experience-based delivery. In pursuit of that aim, EPL assigned two interns, recent MLIS grads from the University of Alberta, to undertake a yearlong project evaluating EPL’s customer experience (CX). They would establish the current state of CX at EPL, identify painful touch points, and develop recommendations for improvement.

Public libraries must critically examine what contributes to an outstanding CX and how it can be developed across all operations. CX can be difficult to grasp and evaluate because it focuses on highly subjective factors, including personal narratives, relationships, and emotions. Some of this understanding can be gained through traditional methods such as surveys as well as metrics. However, numerous aspects of public library service are intangible and must be assessed in other ways.

After completing a literature review and industry scan of library CX evaluation, the project was divided into two parts using the ethnographic approaches of customer journey mapping (CJM) and service blueprinting (SB). To gather data for CJM, the authors conducted interviews with research participants while observing them as they completed various activities in the library. Observing and asking questions as customers engage in different activities allow their thought processes, decisions, and emotions to be recorded for analysis. This provides richer customer data than what can be collected through surveys or comment forms.

Through the creation of such maps, positive and painful touch points were identified. Pain points develop when customers become confused or frustrated or fail to have their needs met. They were unpacked through interactive focus groups and interviews with staff. Data from these sessions was used to develop corresponding SB. The creation of CJMs and SBs established five overarching concepts that create painful touch points for EPL customers. As a result of the findings, a number of recommendations have been proposed to improve customer experiences.


A CJM is a visual representation of what customers are thinking, feeling, and doing at every touch point during their experience with an organization. Touch points can range from opening a door to searching the catalog to posing a question to a staffer.

In order to create CJMs, the authors conducted 41 data collection sessions with 45 research participants in the form of a CX Safari. Each participant was given a tour of the library before completing a number of activities while the authors observed and recorded what the participants were doing, thinking, and feeling. After the sessions, audio recordings were transcribed and aggregated with observational notes and edited to remove irrelevant content. The authors used NVivo qualitative data analysis software to organize the data for coding and analysis.

A template with components adapted from Nicholas J. Webb’s book What Customers Crave: How To Create Relevant and Memorable Experiences at Every Touchpoint (AMACOM) and other CJM projects was developed containing five categories: Pre-Touch, First Touch, Core Touch, Last Touch, and In-Touch. For each stage, the safari captured:

  • What the customer is feeling
  • The different channels (such as website, signage, catalog, or staff member) customers encounter
  • What the customer is doing and saying
  • What the customer is expecting

CJMs have traditionally been organized by personae. However, persona creation is time-consuming and requires clearly defining and categorizing customers into narrow types while remaining broad enough to include the entire community. By creating activity-based CJMs instead, the authors were able to scale the study to match organizational needs. The eight maps include getting a library membership (card), placing a hold, borrowing a physical item, borrowing a digital item, attending an early literacy program, making a family visit to the library, accessing the website through different devices, and submitting a question to library chat.


Service blueprints add depth and an internal perspective to how an organization supports and sometimes unintentionally undermines CX. Through the creation of eight corresponding SBs the painful touch points identified were examined. An SB is a visual representation of everything that impacts a particular touch point, internal and external. Internal influences include specialized staff, policies, and branch layouts. External influences include customer expectations and vendor constraints.

EPL staff were engaged through interactive focus groups and unstructured interviews. Five focus groups were conducted with 43 staff. Participants analyzed CJMs in small groups, completed design activities to brainstorm potential solutions, and shared their results with other participants for further discussion. The authors facilitated, took notes, and selectively audio-recorded. In addition, 17 meetings were conducted with EPL managers, team leads, and specialists to gain a better understanding of relevant projects currently being run within the organization, recommendations, and potential limitations.

The SB template contained five categories:

  • Customer pain points from a specific CJM
  • Frontline employee actions that the customer can observe directly that contribute to the pain point
  • Organizational practices, procedures, projects, and work flows that influence employee actions and contribute to the pain point
  • External influences on EPL and/or the customers that contribute to the pain point
  • Suggestions and questions to explore, refined per organizational feasibility.


Five overarching concepts were identified through the combined process that negatively impact the CX at EPL: lack of customer personalization, limited use of technology for accessibility and wayfinding, customer dependence on staff for accessing and navigating digital content, frontline staff’s perceptions of workload, and limited engagement of frontline staff with customers. In response to these findings, 20 service changes were recommended, from quick fixes that can be achieved at a relatively low cost to those that will potentially require more substantial resources. They propose changes to staff on-boarding and training, increased educational opportunities for children and their parents, more identifiable catalog stations, and redesigned website FAQs and library chat to improve accessibility.


Through creating CJMs, painful touch points were identified and subsequently dissected through development of corresponding SBs. This study provided EPL with the necessary insights to reduce pain points and create exceptional customer experiences. The use of CJMs at EPL can serve as a model for other public libraries. This type of project is best carried out with clearly defined objectives to structure the study. Without them, the number of potential areas to investigate can become overwhelming. Once objectives have been established, construct a time line for each stage. If staffing and financial resources are limited, start small and gain experience with the techniques before broadening the study. This could involve focusing on a single library activity over a short period of time. Existing customer data can inform the scope and scale of the investigation.

For public libraries interested in using customer journey mapping and service blueprinting, it is important to establish a clear project design, use multiple techniques to recruit participants that reflect the full diversity of your user base, focus on specific library activities, and actively promote the project internally to ensure organizational buy-in. It is crucial for librarians to let go of assumptions in order to have the perspectives of the customers shine through. Taking a customer-centered perspective allows organizations to understand how collections, services, and programs are used by real patrons.   

David Mucz and Céline Gareau-Brennan are Customer Experience Intern Librarians at the Edmonton Public Library (EPL), Ont., Canada. EPL was the 2014 LJ Library of the Year.

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