How the Sierra APIs Gave Us Seven Days Back

Our guest blog post today comes from Ted Fons, Principal Consultant at Third Chapter Partners

One of the strategic goals at The Ferguson Library in Stamford, Connecticut is to constantly add new patrons to active participation and to keep the patrons who already hold library cards. A Sierra library since 2014, Ferguson’s leadership team works actively to make the library a vibrant part of the city’s learning and cultural life; with frequent events by nationally-known authors and compelling program content like citizenship and new technology. Their goal is to provide a library experience that engages their community of more than 120,000 people in southwestern Connecticut.

With a focus on keeping existing patrons, we worked with the library to develop a Renewal Happiness program. Renewal Happiness is an email-driven program that features a compelling message for why patrons should renew their library cards. Our experience is that effective programs of this type require well-timed and frequent reminders, so we designed a program that would gently, and at the right moment, remind patrons of their pending card expiration date.

As we built our plan we agreed we should notify a patron when they were about a month away from their card expiration date, then remind them again when they were a week away and then two gentle reminders a week and month after their cards expired. The goal was to have politely worded, but frequent messages with increasing urgency around the expiration date. We do all of this through a marketing automation system that gets a regular batch feed of key patron data including name, email, address and current expiration date from the Sierra system.

For most applications, a periodic update of data would suffice, but for Renewal Happiness we knew this wouldn’t be enough. We knew we could send the 30-day message with high confidence, but not the message seven days before card expiration—those patrons might have renewed their card since they got the 30-day message. So, we needed a more frequent update to eliminate the risk of sending a patron a reminder after they renewed.

In our discussions with Alice Knapp, the President of The Ferguson Library, Alice was very clear that she wanted only the best customer experience for her patrons. We needed a system that had zero risk of sending a patron a reminder after they had already renewed. Alice told us “We have no tolerance for a bad customer experience—we need to solve this problem.” Her standards for customer service are high so we knew we needed a sophisticated solution. None of us wanted to give up on an accurate seven-day reminder so somehow we had to get our seven days back.

We discussed this problem with Maisam Nouh, Ferguson’s Technology and Cataloging Librarian, and she suggested that the Sierra APIs were the perfect technology for our challenge. The Sierra Patron API provided exactly the expiration data we needed so we could send emails only to patrons whose cards were truly expiring. The Sierra Patron API was going to give us our seven day message back!

We discovered quickly that the Sierra APIs use up-to-date API methodologies so the development time was kept to a minimum. The thorough documentation provided all the technical specifications we needed. We are now in the final steps of implementing this workflow – all built around the API interaction between the Sierra Patron API and the Ferguson marketing automation system.

What’s next?  As soon as we saw how efficient the use of the APIs is we started talking to another library who had a need for a regular update from the marketing automation system to their Sierra system. So we’re now brainstorming on how we can do two-way synchronization using the Sierra APIs.

In the meantime, the Ferguson synchronization goes live this week and we are all grateful that we have our seven days back.

 

Ted Fons is Principal Consultant at Third Chapter Partners – a consulting and technology company that helps libraries reach their strategic goals through improved marketing and workflows.  Ted can be reached at ted@thirdchapter.com.