Is it true that the longer folks stay, the more satisfied they are with their visit?
It’s close, but there are some critical, often overlooked factors at play regarding length of stay and guest satisfaction.
“Length of stay,” or how long people stay at a cultural organization such as a museum, is a popular metric that several organizations monitor. It can help manage flow through the facility, underscore the need for food service and other options, and reveal where visitors are spending the most time.
It’s good to know how long visitors are spending at your organization. In speaking with audience research folks within some cultural organizations, though, we’ve noticed an assumption being made: The longer folks stay, the better.
Is this necessarily true?
The “longer is better” line of thinking relies on a second assumption: that the length of time someone stays is solely influenced by how much they like the exhibits. We wanted to know if it is really this linear. After all, if “longer is better,” than one would think that the longest movies would be the biggest blockbuster hits, and the longest theater performances and symphonies would have the greatest attendance. Despite the length of epic films like Gone with the Wind, this isn’t always true.
If it were, we’d all most certainly have all seen Logistics, the longest film ever made. It’s 35 days long.
Today, let’s examine the relationship between length of stay and visitor satisfaction for cultural organizations, and what influences this beyond simply being engrossed by particular exhibits. We’re looking at exhibit-based organizations wherein length of stay is at the visitor’s discretion. This means that we’re not including performance-based organizations in this article, as these engagements tend to have set run-times. (Sit tight, performance-based organizations! We’re on two weeks in a row focusing on exhibit-based organizations, and we know it. We’ll get back to you next week!)
The data below contemplates length of stay for 54 exhibit-based cultural organizations (museums, aquariums, zoos, science centers, etc.) in the United States in 2018. All 54 of these organizations have an admission charge of $10 or more. Why only admission-based entities? Because, as you’ll see, pricing psychology influences length of stay.
Oh look! You’re already learning that there’s more to length of stay than exhibit quality alone. We better hop to it and share the findings, then…
Length of stay and satisfaction by method of entrance
Does method of entry influence length of stay? If it’s really all about the exhibits, a member would stay as long as a person who receives complimentary access because they are seeing the same exhibits at the same place!
Let’s “bust” that myth first.
How a person accesses the organization – and their relationship with it – absolutely influences how long they stay. On average, a person who paid full admission to any of these 54 organizations stayed a full 41 minutes longer than a person who entered for free and is not a member. That’s 46% longer!
Those full-price admission visitors may be aiming to maximize their admission cost compared to those who pay nothing. But even those who get in on a discount (any percent discount is included here) don’t stay as long, either.
Members stay longer, on average, than those who visit on discount or for free. This may be because the ability to return anytime without charge is a popular benefit of membership. It is likely that these constituents know that they can come back without charge at another time and may feel less pressure to “do it all” in one visit. Members are also more likely to care about your mission and often consider themselves to be supporters. This relationship may influence the time they spend onsite.
Now let’s look at visitor satisfaction. Again, if exhibit quality were a sole influencer of length of stay, then we’d expect full-price paid guests (who tend to stay longest) to have the highest visitor satisfaction metrics. That’s not the case.
For context, the satisfaction charts in this article use 1-100 scalar variables. In these charts, the aim is to be over 64 to get out of “meh” territory and into perceptions that an experience is satisfying. The sample size in this data is high, so a difference of one number is statistically significant, but a difference of two points or more is notable. The difference in average satisfaction rates between members (78) and those who access an organization via complimentary admission (69) is a dramatic one. (A satisfaction rate of 78 in itself is very high!)
Members, folks. They matter. And it’s no secret that members generally have notably higher visitor satisfaction rates.
Satisfaction is one of the most important audience research metrics an organization can monitor. It correlates with greater intent to re-visit and intent to endorse an organization. After all, if you don’t provide a satisfying experience, there’s little excuse to visit let alone come back.
The steeper the discount, the less satisfied people are with their visits. If you’re a regular KYOB reader than you know this well: When we discount our experiences, visitors discount them right back.
Length of stay (or engagement with the exhibits, such that total length of stay measures this) does not necessarily correlate with visitor satisfaction. The visitor’s relationship with the organization and how that visitor accessed the organization also plays an important role in how long folks stay.
Length of stay and satisfaction by visitor provenance
How far people live from the organization influences these metrics as well, because the distance traveled to get there often influences their relationship with the organization and how they are experiencing it.
Let’s take a look at the average length of stay for local residents living within 25 miles of these 54 organizations compared to those visiting from out of state.
No big surprises here, right?
The difference is a big one, as one might expect. Out of state guests stayed 24 minutes longer, on average, but they may not as easily return to the organization as those for whom the entity is more or less right in their backyard.
As a note: This data includes the folks who are in the first two charts shown above, but they are sorted and cut by only local vs. out of state visitors here. Thus, these findings include members, full-paid, discounted, and complimentary attendees.
When we look at visitor satisfaction, it may be surprising to some to see locals are generally less satisfied with their experiences than out-of-state visitors, especially because we know members have the highest levels of visitor satisfaction and many organizations aim to secure local audiences as members.
First, remember that not all local visitors have chosen to become members, and not all members are local. (Interestingly, 20% of members do not visit, on average, which is not necessarily a bad thing.) Local visitors and members aren’t the same groups. Most importantly, local visitors are less satisfied with their visits to cultural organizations than non-local visitors, on the whole. This is often due to a cycle of organization-created local visitor entitlement. They may be frequent visitors, but they are often the hardest to please.
These findings do not suggest that length of stay doesn’t matter, or that there isn’t a sweet spot for length of stay (more on that in upcoming weeks). These findings suggest that length of stay – in and of itself – doesn’t tell a whole story about content or exhibit interest, or satisfaction with an organization. How people access the organization and their pre-existing relationship with it play an important role as well. There are other reasons why people may or may not spend time within your exhibits that don’t relate to the exhibits alone.
If you’re tracking a metric, make sure that you know why. Don’t use it as a proxy for something else completely, like how satisfied people are with their experience. Length of stay can be a helpful and interesting measurement, but humans are tricky. As an organization, aim to steer clear of unfounded underlying assumptions.
Longer stays don’t always mean better visits.
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