The woman on the right in the picture is Ruth.  She is one of the Tour Guides at The National Quilt Museum. She is posing for the picture with a museum visitor.  They didn’t know each other before the day the picture was taken.  Ruth doesn’t just give tours of the museum; she creates meaningful life experiences for everyone that interacts with her. Another museum Tour Guide named Bryan has become so well known for his tours, that people call the museum in advance to make sure he is working before they attend.

Tour Guide Ruth Baggett with a visitor at National Quilt Museum. Quilt by Janet Stone entitled, “Muttons & Buttons & Perils…oh my.”

For most museums, to sustain, we can’t just rely on a constant flow of new visitors. Repeat visitation and long-term museum involvement are critical to our business models. We can’t afford to have a high percentage of people visit once and never come back. Marketing to potential new visitors is much more expensive than marketing for repeat business. Most of us can not afford to be in a constant state of ‘new visitor’ marketing. As such, we must take visitors from the first visit to engaged, raving fans of our museums. To achieve this level of loyalty requires creating memorable experiences that delight the senses and trigger emotional connections. Visitors must have meaningful interactions with staff, be awed by our exhibits and storytelling, have meaningful interactions with staff, feel special, smile, laugh, and ultimately have a memorable experience both intellectually and emotionally.

According to the article, The Magic That Makes Customer Experience Stick by Stefan Thomke of Harvard Business School, “Emotionally engaged customers are less price-sensitive, less likely to buy from competitors and three times more likely to recommend and repurchase.”

I want each of you to make a three-layer cake on the top right corner of the whiteboard in your office. Label the bottom layer ‘bad experience,’ the middle layer ‘mediocre experience,’ and the top layer’ delight.’ Now I want you to take the red marker and draw a line between the delight layer and the mediocre layer. That is the pass/fail line. Your visitors either leave above that line, or they represent an expensive missed opportunity for your museum. You spend a lot of money marketing to get them to come in the door once, and the likelihood of them coming back again is quite small. You did not make a meaningful impression.

As managers, it is often in our nature to give the majority of our attention to bringing the bad experience people up to the mediocre experience level, but at the end of the day, focusing on the bottom layer will not get you where you need to be. People that visit your museum and have a mediocre experience are most likely not coming back, and even if they do, they are not becoming raving fans any more than the bad experience people. Instead of working to bring the bad experience visitors up to mediocre, spend all of your time bringing everyone up to delighted, because the delighted audience is going to be the key to your long term sustainability.

Going into 2020, reframe all of your staff discussions around creating delightful experiences. Reward employees that consistently connect, engage, and inspire. Tell stories about successes. Create a tack board for every thank you note or review you receive that demonstrates the visitor enjoyed a multi-sensory meaningful experience. You have to create a culture of delight within your museum to ultimately increase repeat business, increase donations, and turn your visitors into advocates.

Article by Frank Bennett

Citing: The Magic That Makes Customer Experience Stick by Stefan Thomke, Harvard Business Review. 2019

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