British Library 5-year CRM project 'delights readers'

The British Library's five-year CRM project is delivering significant customer benefits after consolidating 37 customer databases into one system.

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The British Library is synonymous with knowledge, information, the printed word and academic learning. But the term “customer relationship management” does not spring automatically to mind.

British Library worked on 37 separate systems One of the world's largest research libraries, the British Library loans documents to readers, business and industry, researchers, academics and students, in the UK and worldwide.

In its vast collection it holds around 14 million books, 920,000 journal and newspaper titles, 58 million patents and three million sound recordings.

Each year six million searches are generated by the British Library online catalogue and nearly 400,000 people visit its reading rooms. The Library also takes on a copy of every book and periodical published in the UK.

The Library staff are trained to help readers and researchers every day, answering everything from basic queries about opening times, to in-depth requests for access to rare or obscure documents. Its customers range from large pharmaceutical firms researching patents to students working on an assignment and authors writing a novel.

Servicing its customers and the mountains of data the Library accumulates is a major challenge and five years ago, the organisation found itself with 37 disparate customer related databases. The databases and the systems they supported tended to work as silos, with little interaction between many areas.

"We have around 50 staff within Customer Services, of which 30 members actually answer questions. They are all very knowledgeable seasoned hands," said Andy Appleyard, head of document supply and customer services at the British Library.

But, he said, the staff had a tendency to not record this knowledge and little information was systematically gathered after exchanges with customers. This lack of process was partly because of the number of disparate databases in use.

"With so much customer data spreading across a number of different databases, it was becoming hard for our team to maintain the required level of service expected from an institution such as the British Library," said Appleyard.

The lack of central information also meant meeting legal requirements was a hurdle for the Library.

"Any challenges associated with legal requirements, such as Data Protection Act and Freedom of Information were very difficult to manage given the spread of databases. Put simply, we had to consolidate data."

The Library's executives decided they needed a customer relationship management (CRM) system that would help record information on interactions with customers and help the organisation gain a transparent view of those interactions.

A key aim of the CRM implementation was to bring the information on its 37 databases into one system.

Appleyard described CRM as a "step change" for the Library. "Streamlining all systems into one single point of customer contact has made a huge difference. We are now able to tailor our service provision in order to achieve our aims of delighting end users and reducing internal costs."

Having decided to invest in CRM, the Library chose to install Microsoft Dynamics CRM, with the help of their system integrator Vodafone Applications Group, formerly called Aspective.

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