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November 21, 2008


Paul Orselli

Hi Susie,

Thanks for this post. I'm glad (I guess) that I'm not the only one getting worked up! Hopefully if more museum folks get worked up about these sorts of results, we can start dealing with the issue instead of avoiding it.

If, as in many museums, the only staff you interact with during your visit are people who take your money, or guards, and if those same people are cranky and/or bored, no wonder visitor satisfaction numbers are so low!

(My wife says she'd rather go talk to the counter people at the local 7-11 than most of the counter people she comes in contact with at museums!)

Leaving that aside, how should museums address this problem? One way would be to provide better front-line staff training and consistent follow-up on that training. (Of course paying front-line staff better wages might attract less bored/surly people, too!)

Liz Bleiberg

In my 25-year plus experience with science museums, it is my humble opinion that most folks DO NOT HAVE THE TIME to accomplish anything except what they have been asked to do. Think about it--most folks have large shoes to fill, have plenty to do, and NEVER get enough time to, like, go to the doctor, take exercise, etc. I recall that I took a call when I was in the delivery room 14 years ago, and the person on the other end of the line was OUTRAGED that I was having the baby 'early.' (Did the baby have a calendar in there?)

Technology is helpful to folks, but it was not until I left the field that I had any real TIME to explore those options. What do YOU say?

James Chung, Reach Advisors

Hi Liz,
You raise a really good point: Where does the time come to demonstrate more care for the visitor?

As some of you know, I spend my time working with clients across a few different fields, and I've spent a lot of this week with a major travel-industry brand that is in the value range (not the high-end range with high staff levels), but scoring well in JD Power satisfaction ratings and leaving guests with a sense of caring for them.


They took themselves through a process to identify the touch points that mattered the most to their customers and really drilled down on delivering those better than anyone else in their category.

How did they find the time?

They call themselves a focused-service operation … in other words, they identified what brand attributes simply didn’t make a difference for their customers and they engineered those out of the process so they don’t distract them from what matters most to their guests.

It will be really interesting to carry on this discussion via the blog and perhaps in some of our future public presentations or Museum Conversation conference calls. We'd love to hear more comments / questions / concerns / ideas on this issue since we're been hearing that it's struck a nerve!

Mary Ann Colopy

I think there needs to be a very strong distinction between customer service, community service and "staff cares, museum brings people together" The museum is not staffed with social service agency experts.

frank nave

If we don't have over 100 comments by weeks end I think we may have one of our answers. We identify words like passion, love, fervor and enthusiasm when we speak of our role in the museum experience. Caring (or whatever word you choose) about our audiences should be a reflection that comes across to our guests effortlessly. In the Corporate side of our permanent business those involved with the direct interaction of people go to extreme lengths and training to be sure the guests or visitors FEEL positive about the experience. Paul is right on target when he says "they would be curbside in the corporate world". The audience of today is NOT the audience I remember a few decades ago (designing exhibitions) and we as a group must understand that we have to change to meet their expectations.


Paul Orselli

Just out of curiosity --- have you found any correlations between the "size" of museums (large vs. small) and the satisfaction of their customers?

It seems that the larger a museum becomes, the more it is viewed as less "visitor-centric."

James Chung, Reach Advisors

Interesting strand of comments here. One of the things we've seen in our work is that instilling a feeling of staff caring about customers is not solely dependent on live, one-on-one contact. There are other mechanisms that organizations have deployed to instill that feeling even when personal contact is limited...worth the effort since they've found that feeling is one of the most important factors for driving repeat visitation.

If this topic is of interest to enough people, we'd be happy to organize one of our upcoming Museum Conversations conference calls around this issue. I have a few people in mind we can invite into that discussion, although if there are any organizations that you'd really like for us to invite as guests, please feel free to let us know!

James Chung, Reach Advisors

Paul (and Charlie):
Great question. Examining the correlation with size of museum is in the work queue, as soon as we have an open window between client work. Will post the findings to the blog, so stay tuned!

Susie Wilkening, Reach Advisors

To quickly answer Paul's question, yes. Generally, smaller institutions tend to do better on "staff cares" than larger institutions . . . but not always. Additionally, institutions in smaller communities tend to do better on "bringing community together" than institutions in larger community . . . but not always. And the type of institution also drives these answers to some extent, as noted above.

As James mentioned, we will examine this more closely. I will likely be spending an afternoon geeking out with these numbers from all four surveys and seeing what we find!

John Durel

There are several books in the corporate sector that assert that how people FEEL about a company is as much a driver of value as what they think about the products and services. "Firms of Endearment" has great examples of the practices of businesses that are very successful because they pay close attention to the relationships between employees and stakeholders (customers, suppliers, distributors, investors, etc.) "Human Sigma" is a Gallup study that makes this point: EVERY encounter between an employee and a customer has the potential to enhance or hurt the company's reputation, and it is the company's reputation above all that drives profits.

Jim Collins in "Good to Great and the Social Sectors" suggests that for cultural organizations, reputation is the single most important driver of financial sustainability. If you have a good reputation, more people will visit and more will give money. If you have a bad reputation they won't. There are two things that drive a good reputation. The first is being able to demonstrate that you have a positive impact in your community or among your constituents - that you really make a difference. The second is how people feel about your organization and its people.

Cultural organizations need to be concerned not only about what people think about them, but also how they feel.

That's why the statistics presented in your study are so important. We need to capture the hearts as well as the minds of people if we are ever going to be widely valued as central to the wellbeing of our communities and nation.

James Chung, Reach Advisors

Thanks for your insights on this topic. Part of the reason we felt it was important to flag this point stems from some of the work we do outside of the museum field. For one of our tourism industry clients, we found that one of the factors with the highest correlation for converting someone into a repeat visitor was, guess what? A visitor feeling like the staff truly cared about them.

The good news is that while most corporate entities have to 'manufacture' reputation, impact, and a reason to care . . . for many museums, those points are at the core of why they exist. It's not something that museums have to 'manufacture,' but it is something that takes tremendous focus, care and feeding in order for visitors to feel that difference.

Thanks for sharing John, and we look forward to continuing the dialog!

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