Sensation, Common Sense, and Finale in Visitor Centric Experiences
The final three chapters in Stephanie Weaver’s book Creating Great Visitor Experiences discuss how to use sensation, common sense, and finale to engage your audience and enhance visitor experience. These chapters are focused on all visitor centric experiences, not just museums. Due to this, some of the author’s discussion and suggestions are not immediately noticeable as relevant in museums settings. However, a lot can still be learned regarding these topics.
Designing great visitor experiences should include fun, the five senses, and surprise. Fun and play are essential parts of human well-being and can act to refresh visitors which can increase their likelihood to return. Creating areas where visitors can interact with others through conversation or activities will foster fun.
Experiences that engage all five senses are more likely to be remembered and rated highly. Using visual effects in all aspects of the experience, such as uniforms, bathroom decoration, website, etc, can stimulate sight and enhance experience. Sounds can be utilized to foster different actions, for example music can hinder reading but enhance problem solving. Taste can be incorporated into themed food at café’s or providing free samples of food sold in gift shops.
The element of surprise in this chapter takes a page from Disney’s playbook, creating ‘practical magic.’ These are repeatable surprises that organizers and workers expect but that are surprises to visitors. This could be in the form of occasional upgrades, free tickets to events, or special tours and experiences for members.
I was lucky to be able to visit the Sherlock Holmes exhibit in Seattle which used all these ideas of fun and sensation ranging from learning Morse Code and using it to send secret messages to my friend across the room to identifying blood splatter in the slaughterhouse. This culminated in solving the mystery just like Sherlock Holmes, and it is not an experience I will soon forget.
Do you have a favourite sensation experience from a museum visit?
This chapter speaks to exactly what is in the title, using common sense to create great visitor experiences. This includes using common sense with regards to how an experience will be operated, how it will be experienced by different cultures, and how it aligns with your company’s values and mission. To achieve these goals, the author suggests talking to all levels of staff but paying particularly high attention to staff who interact directly with visitors and those who are engaged with operations, such as janitors or security.
An interesting suggestion made by the author was to track trends and implement trends that are applicable to your site to keep the visitor experience current and fresh. The website trendwatching.com identifies trends that can enhance customer experiences. For 2017, Trend Watching identified five consumer trends including virtual experiences, globalization and interconnectedness, incognito individuals, reduction of wasted resources, and increased personalized service. Can you think of ways these could be implemented in a museum setting?
To determine the success of your experience the author suggests using audience feedback, either through observations or interviews, to inform decisions as another aspect of common sense planning of great visitor experiences. The author notes that you shouldn’t assume what the visitor wants, so it is important to ask them directly. This communication with your visitor should be two-way and can utilize new technologies such as blogs, podcasts, or other internet-based communications that encourage customer response.
Another aspect of common sense discussed in this chapter is creating smart partnerships that can increase revenue or improve experiences. This can be through organizations such as schools or institutions that have a similar mission. Additionally, you can partner with large companies that may be able to provide resources in exchange for creating goodwill with their customer base. Finally, organizations can partner with similar sized business that have different missions to achieve mutual benefit, such as a yoga studio that partnered with the Quail Botanical Gardens to provide yoga classes at the garden; this incentivises visits to the garden and increases outreach for the yoga studio.
What do you think are some partnerships that would benefit museums?
In the final chapter, the author discusses the importance of ending the experience in a memorable way, comparable to the ending of a good movie. The ending of the experience should be the natural end to the story your experience is meant to convey while inviting the visitor to return. The main way which the author discusses the finale is through provision of souvenirs. Souvenirs apparently originated through the collection of authentic holy items on religious pilgrimages. Current motivations for collecting souvenirs varies and includes proving the guest visited your site, defining their self-worth, documenting an important personal moment, and collection of items by children. Making sure your souvenirs are ‘collectible’ is important for the experience’s finale.
These souvenirs can be in many different forms. One category of items are those which visitors do not purchase, such as photo opportunities with iconic items or well-designed, high quality tickets and brochures which accurately portray your brand. Additionally, gift shop items should be high quality so that visitors want to keep them. Overall, ensuring that souvenirs, either free or purchased, authentically reflect the experience are important to help the visitor feel connected with your site.
One of my favourite souvenirs I have received was a fake leaf from a tree in Hobbiton. Specifically, the oak tree above Bilbo’s home Bag End. Between the Lord of the Rings movie and the Hobbit movies the original tree had to be cut down and a fake tree put in its place because the tree in the Hobbit had to be younger than the tree in Lord of the Rings. However, the fake tree leaves fell off in storms and were sometimes found on the ground. We all looked around for the leaves and when none could be found the tour guide gave some away. I will never look at that tree the same again and will always remember my experience there when I look at my little fake oak leaf. Do you have a favourite souvenir that always reminds you of a fun experience?
Overall, this chapter treats museum experiences like a business exchange which needs to entertain guests instead of an educational organization which functions to inform visitors. At first, I was confused by many of the author’s examples, which did not seem to relate to museums at all. However, through writing this blog post I have noticed that many of these concepts could be implemented in the museum context and that sometimes visitors should be treated as customers, because without them museums would not exist. More studies should look specifically at how these techniques can be used to enhance visitor experiences in the museum setting.
What do you think about the blurred line between business and education that this chapter suggests?
Citation: Weaver, S. (2007). Ch 12: Sensation; Ch 13: Common sense; Ch 14: Finale. In: Creating Great Visitor Experiences. Left Coast Press, Walnut Creek, California. pp. 102-135.