Bringing Speed, Accuracy, and Empathy to Customer Support


Stored in her desk, Hilary Newman has a business card for nearly every position that she’s held at Innovative. From her first job answering help desk phones in 1994, to her current role as Senior Vice President of Global Customer Support—nearly fifteen dogeared cards catalog her impressive tenure with the company. 

“A few of them pre-date LinkedIn,” Newman jokes.  

For this interview, we sat down with Newman to learn how a budding junior high school interest led Newman to become an industry-leading library service professional.  

This interview has been edited for time and clarity. 

Tell us a bit about how you ended up in the library sciences? 

I spent so much of my childhood at the public library, it was like a second home. My grandmother worked at the Salt Lake County Library system, we were frequent visitors. And my mom loved to read, still does, and passed that on to me. Summers were spent checking out the maximum number of books allowed at a time (10) from the Sprague branch of the Salt Lake City Public library near my house.  

I started volunteering in the library in middle and high school and that continued into my work study job working the circulation desk at the law library at the University of Utah.  After college I continued in law libraries where I really enjoyed working with advancements in software and technology in managing information and research using tools like Westlaw and Lexis/Nexis.  Working with database and library automation software and how effective and productive it was at managing data, doing research, and handling content electronically —I was hooked. 

The University of North Texas had a program that combined my growing interest in technology with my core love of libraries, so I finally decided to go to library school. 

How did you find your way to Innovative? 

Looking for my first post-college job, I came across an opening at Innovative. I mentioned it to my library school professor and mentor, Yvonne Chandler. She had met Jerry Kline, the owner of Innovative once and wrote him a bold letter stating, “You should hire Hilary.” And they did. She was such an amazing coach, mentor, and advocate for her students.  

I work hard to live up to Yvonne’s expectations, both in delivering what she promised I’d do in my work at Innovative, and in following her example as a mentor and coach, unabashedly advocating for people they believe in. 

What do you enjoy about customer support work? 

I’ve had such amazing opportunities at Innovative to work across the business functions: customer support, product management, training, services, sales, engineering, and back into support. It’s been such a great experience. Today I’m so pleased to be back in customer operations – the team delivering on the customer experience. Working directly with customers, user groups, working closely with the teams who support our libraries. This is where I thrive and have the most to contribute.  

I strive to approach customer interactions and problem solving with empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of the person looking for your help. The person calling in a system problem might have staff who can’t get their work done or be at the desk with a long line of patrons waiting – causing them a lot of stress.  Then look to respond quickly and accurately. If we can stick to those three things: timely, correct, and empathetic support, our customers will have a great experience working with us.  

How have you been able to empower your team to be able to meet those expectations? 

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time travelling and meeting customers in their libraries and offices and at conferences. I could meet with them in their environment— see what it looks and feels like on their end and hear directly from them about their experiences working with Innovative. What I found were dedicated librarians who were experts at customer service and delivering the support needed by their patrons. What I learned was we could do better at the relationship between these librarians and our team members at Innovative. 

At the time, calling customer support a customer might get a one of 100 people answering. Then the next call, another one of 100, and so on.  

It’s a relationship-based industry, and knowing your customer leads to better service. So, what we did was change how we were structured. Customers are assigned to regional teams. Subject experts are also aligned with customers who utilize their products. So, customers work with the same team members repeatedly and build on the relationship started in prior calls.  

We also created a tiered approach to customer support. Our regional teams focus on day-to-day solutions, and our Tier 2 team tackles the more complicated problems. With this approach, we respond more quickly and accurately overall and can quickly pull in a deeper bench of subject matter experts and engineers to sort out deeper challenges that might take more time. 

Have there been other benefits to this approach? 

Because we’ve built these relationships, we are more efficient, we are faster, and we respond with genuine empathy because we know the background of our customer.  

If we focus on the customer, the other stuff falls into line. That’s an oversimplification, but it’s critical. We have been able to drastically decrease the number of old tickets in the past year. And it’s rewarding because we can see a direct correlation between the speed and accuracy of our work and our customer satisfaction.  

It’s also not just that we say we focus on the customer. We really do. We take feedback from surveys, customer calls, the IUG, and customer visits, and we act.  

What’s next for your team? 

We are looking to drive more customer engagement through high quality, relevant, documentation, videos, “how to” training guides, webinars, and other self-help materials. Our clients are librarians, in so many cases, they’re going to do the research before they ask. So, we want to provide them with those resources. 

Just a few months ago, we celebrated the one-year anniversary of the launch of the Innovative Training and Learning Center. We’re proud of what we’ve built, but we’re looking to add even more information and tools in the coming year. Anything that will help our libraries solve their issues faster and easier. 

Our team is also incredibly excited about Vega. As we continue to welcome and onboard new clients to Vega, we will take this as another opportunity to listen, adapt our support resources, and share what our customers are saying. Because after all, our success is library success.  

Is there anything else that you’d like to share? 

This is a really exciting time to be at Innovative. It’s also a really exciting time to be in libraries. You think about the impact that libraries have had on people’s lives during COVID-19; for many people it was a savior. Getting out of the house for curbside service, still being able to access online content and ebook services. Being able to help students like my daughter who spent her first year of college working in a back bedroom instead of being on campus. The extraordinary agility of libraries over the past year-and-a-half is impressive. And I think Innovative has also proven to be agile and resilient in our own way. So, it is an exciting time in the industry, and I can’t wait to see what we can accomplish next.