Two recent trends have captured my attention: the success of indie bookstores and the renaissance of travel agencies.

In both cases, brick-and-mortar businesses that were mainstays of American culture were threatened with extension by new paradigms. Independent bookstores were diminished by mega bookstores such as Barnes and Noble and Borders. Then came Amazon and e-retail, which appeared to be too much for smaller shops to overcome.

A similar fate befell travel agencies. Once the mainstay for most people traveling by planes and trains, they were replaced by e-retail and DIY alternatives in the Web era.

Or so it seemed.

Interestingly, in recent years, people have returned in significant numbers to independent bookstores and travel agencies. It seems the DIY culture that looked to eliminate these businesses has worn many customers thin. Today’s customers are struggling with:

  • Information deluge – When it comes to finding good products and services, many people find that there really is such a thing as too much information. They want solutions that are simple. They need help combing through the websites and dealing with the many options. Moreover, the availability of so much information also creates stress for customers. There is a good deal of anxiety about what they don’t know.
  • Algorithm-based personalization – From movies and books to news and shopping, more and more companies are “personalizing” user experiences via algorithms – “if you liked that, then you will also like this.” But this personalization is generally surface deep and customers find themselves longing for suggestions that are based on a real human interaction and a genuine understanding of who they are;
  • Help beyond the initial decision – Product and information sites today are designed to drive customers to a decision. Unfortunately, once customers make a decision, there is often little help available to assist with additional options or to address problems that arise. This is creating a growing demand for services that address what happens when things don’t go well or when people want to make changes to their decisions.

At EdBooks we spend a good bit of time discussing these trends and issues, and have worked to come up with solutions that are truly customized. We’ve settled on a goal of having products and services that come with a genuine, personal connection. We want our faculty partners to feel like there is someone there who is willing to support them throughout the entire lifecycle of course preparation and delivery.

So how do we translate that lofty goal of concierge service into concrete activities? Here are a few examples of what we’re doing.

1. Creating a personalized decision process – Faculty members have more choices than ever when it comes to selecting learning materials for their courses. They are inundated with information about publishers, technology providers, affordable content resources, and OER. We believe there is real value in helping faculty understand this information flow as well as their actual content needs (what will help them achieve their learning goals for students). Much to the dismay of our sales staff, providing this assistance may result in recommending that a faculty member opt for a product other than EdBooks.

Our services around the decision-making process focus primarily on learning design and content requirements. We work with faculty to gain a deep understanding of their learning environment needs, course emphases, and teaching preferences. Based on that understanding, we provide suggestions and options for course content and delivery. We’ll also create prototypes to ensure that the final solution is the right one.

2. Being a partner for planning and customizing the final product – Once a decision has been made, we begin working with the faculty member to curate content, customize Lessons, and design the right implementation strategy. The goal here is for each adopting faculty member to feel that they have their own personal guide. We’ll set up friendly checklists and personalized project plans, and hop on the phone or a video conference at any time to help with the process. The real objective is to make sure everything is ready when the students are.

3. Delivering support at the beginning, middle, and end of a semester – Interestingly, the adoption of learning materials for courses is much like the tip of an iceberg – it is only a small, visible part of all the massive enterprise that we call “a successful course experience.” Faculty also need personalized training on technology and help with course onboarding and documentation for students. Faculty may also decide to do further course customization while a class is in progress. And, of course, all of that is on top of the actual teaching and learning taking place dally.

With that context, we believe it is crucial to act like an actual partner in the teaching process, to demonstrate that we are personally invested in the success of faculty courses. At a minimum, I believe that means providing high levels of personal contact and support throughout a course. It means communicating regularly and proactively. It means passing along success stories from other partners. It means suggesting additional resources. Most important, it means asking what else we can do to help students be successful in the moment.

4. Assisting with ongoing, collaborative research around efficacy – We realize that, as much as we like and believe in the products we’re providing, the real proof of their value lies in the success of the learning experience they support. That means we need to work with individual faculty to identify success criteria and to help design evaluation methodologies and research related to those criteria. Perhaps most important is the need to incorporate feedback from this evaluation into course modifications for the future. The ability to work with faculty and to evolve their learning environments toward greater success is one of the things that excites us most.