October 31, 2016
By Kate Neumiller Schureman
It doesn’t take much time on TripAdvisor to find the following review, “Great museum, horrible customer service!” I would guess that many of you might be thinking to yourself, “I am sure that is not part of a review for my museum,” or maybe, “That’s not about our museum store.” Well, you are not alone. More than 80 percent of American businesses, including museum stores, think they provide “superior customer service.”
If that is truly the case, then how do we explain the $41 billion per year that American businesses lose due to poor customer service?
Research done by American Express in 2011 revealed that 78 percent of U.S. consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase due to poor customer service. Other studies show that for every customer who bothers to complain, 26 other customers remain silent. And as for the “superior” customer service illusion, the reality is this: Consumers think that only 8 percent of American businesses provide “superior” customer service.
That means that, on average, just 8 percent of your museum store customers think you are providing superior customer service. That is not good news for museums or museum stores—especially since museum stores depend on people choosing to use their discretionary incomes to pay for admission to the museum, to donate or to make a purchase in the store. Can your museum’s ancillary income centers survive with that percentage? Don’t you think there are opportunities to develop loyal customer relationships with the remaining 92 percent?
The good news is it is never too late to implement Visitor Service Standards, and there are lots of materials available to help you do just that.
Visitor service is so important to the Peoria Riverfront Museum that in 2014, the board of directors included it as a primary goal for the museum’s updated strategic plan. Based on that strategic decision, I was tasked with developing our first ever Visitor Service Standards.
I used the book “Zingerman’s Guide to Giving Great Service” by Ari Weinzweig as a starting place for developing our museum’s Visitor Service Standards. The book provides an overall structure for Visitor Services that is divided into Five Stages we have adopted at the Peoria Riverfront Museum:
- We Define It
- We Teach It
- We Live It
- We Measure It
- We Reward It
That meant that our starting point had to be “defining it,” as in, determining what our Visitor Service Standards should look like.
We ended up with a printed guide of 15 Visitor Service Standards. Internally, we refer to it as “GLAD+ Plus 10.” In our Standards Manual, each standard is defined and examples of expected behavior are provided.
We start with Standards 1 through 5, referred to as the GLAD+ standards. These are the top four from which all other standards flow:
- GREET all visitors with a positive, welcoming attitude.
- LISTEN actively and intentionally.
- ANSWER visitor questions, needs and requests.
- DELIVER the extra touch that invites visitors back.
And the “+”?
- + (PLUS) – Always acknowledge Museum Members
The remaining Visitor Service Standards are:
- Be Likeable. We all like to be around someone who is upbeat and cheerful.
- Be Proactive. Be present and not distracted by personal issues.
- Turn a Mistake Into an Opportunity to Go Above and Beyond. All efforts should be made to remedy mistakes.
- Handle Complaints and Difficult Situations with Grace. Be prompt and remain professional when handling difficult situations.
- Understand the Levels of Empowerment. When situations arise, personal judgment is important.
- Personal Appearance Sets the Stage. A clean, neat appearance tells visitors that you care, and it will make you more approachable.
- Make the Phone a Welcoming Experience. The visitor experience starts on the phone.
- Serve Visitors with Disabilities. We welcome all and provide service that respects the dignity and independence of all of our visitors.
- Educate Yourself About the Museum. You must be prepared for all types of questions from visitors.
- Appreciate the 21st Century Visitor. Great visitor service equals great TripAdvisor reviews.
To fulfill the additional four stages:
- We Teach It. With monthly visitor service training for our front of house staff, we provide annual visitor service training to the rest of the museum staff via monthly staff meetings. We also require all new employees to review and sign off on the Visitor Service Standards.
- We Live It. How? By posting Standards 1 through 5 (GLAD+) at all point of sale registers. Get in the habit of MBWA—or, managing by walking around. Watch and note when your staff delivers great visitor service. Deliver the standards by “walking a mile in your staff’s shoes.”
- We Measure It. We constantly ask our visitors, “How are we doing?” We do post-visit surveying via on-site kiosks and paper ballots, as well as Survey Monkey opportunities with members and teachers. We developed a Secret Patron Program to help review our visitor service efforts.
- We Reward It. We do this through membership sales incentive programs, as well as monthly contests with gas or restaurant gift cards as rewards for providing great visitor service. This is one reason visitor surveying is so important. And, don’t forget to thank your staff.
So how is it all working out for the Peoria Riverfront Museum? While we have yet to achieve a 100 percent rating, our surveying reflects that 93 percent of our customers experienced “exceptional” visitor services.
How does all of this apply to your museum store? Are you part of the 80 percent of American businesses that assume they are providing superior customer service? Or, due to your standards and collected data, do you know that your museum store is in the 8 percent of businesses that actually do provide superior customer service?
Kate Neumiller Schureman is the VP of Administration and Chief Operating Officer of the Peoria Riverfront Museum in Peoria, IL. She served 12 years on the Board of the Illinois Association of Museums, including 3 years as President.