According to visitors, the primary role of museum frontline staff members right now is to help keep people safe. And there’s room for improvement.
As the coronavirus rages on, mask requirements are becoming increasingly commonplace across the nation.
When it comes to cultural organization visitors, mandatory mask requirements remain the top thing people say will make them feel safe attending. Even likely visitors in more politically conservative states and regions want cultural entities to require masks. But just putting up a “mask required” sign or checking as people walk in isn’t enough. Not by a long shot.
Visitors expect frontline staff to speak up, act, and enforce mask mandates and social distancing requirements onsite – and are notably upset when they don’t.
The research in this article is from IMPACTS Experience and our ongoing monitoring of 224 visitor-serving organizations in the US. The sample size for these particular charts is 3,127 adults across the United States who have visited a visitor-serving organization within the last six months of 2020. That is, during the pandemic.
The single most important role of staff members right now is to actively keep visitors safe.
What’s on view is important, folks. But right now, safety takes the cake.
Frontline staff members make or break the experience – they still do.
If you follow our work, then you already know how deeply important personal interactions are for a positive onsite experience. Even brief encounters with friendly, helpful staff have the power to skyrocket visitor satisfaction – a metric that correlates with the likelihood both to endorse an organization and to foster repeat visitation.
But a single interaction with a rude, inattentive, or unprofessional staff member can similarly break the visitor experience. For the last ten years that we’ve been mining the data, customer service issues have been the top reason for a negative experience.
The chart below is populated by a process called lexical analysis, which allows us to broadly categorize responses in people’s own words. The technologies that enable this process help minimize the risks of unintentional biases that occur when facilitators translate or summarize a respondent’s statements. (In short, we don’t brainstorm options for people to choose from. They come from respondents themselves.) In this case, we asked recent visitors who had reported an unsatisfactory experience to tell us why.
The data has been quantified using index values, a way of assigning proportionality around a mean. Index values allow us to accurately consider the “weight” of factors relative to one another. The baseline measure for comparison purposes is 100. Barriers with an index value above 100 are especially worthy of consideration. As an example, it would be reasonable to consider a barrier with an index value of 100 as being proportionally four times more important in the minds of visitors than one with an index value of 25.
With an index value of 179.4, customer service issues remain the top dissatisfier amongst visitors to cultural organizations during the pandemic. This is not new.
But something is new to our current situation. The number of visitors reporting dissatisfaction with their most recent visit borne of a customer service issue has increased by nearly 17% when compared to this same time last year. That observation is remarkable in and of itself. Does this suggest our staff and volunteers have somehow become ruder, less professional, or otherwise inclined to customer service failures? Not necessarily. The issue seems to be less with our internal resources, and more to do with our response to the behaviors of other visitors during the pandemic.
Staff members not actively enforcing safety protocols is the biggest source of onsite visitor dissatisfaction in the United States.
Get this: Staff members not enforcing mask rules when they see people disobeying them is nearly a 3.3x bigger dissatisfier than their directly being rude to a visitor right now.
The top three factors contributing to customer service issues as of January 2021 didn’t even make the list in early 2020 before the pandemic became big news: Not enforcing mask mandates, not enforcing social distancing rules, and not enforcing crowd limits.
The fact that the index values are this high for not enforcing masks or social distancing suggests many organizations may be dropping the ball when it comes to compliance-related issues. Some staff may be shirking hard conversations or avoiding confrontation. We get it – these are potentially challenging encounters with visitors… but they are necessary. More to the point, a failure to enforce your own rules (and abide by prevailing public health recommendations) risks harming both a museum’s market potential and its reputation. Even worse, people may feel that these staff members are actively contributing to putting visitors and their fellow staffers in danger.
Beliefs about the primary roles of staff and volunteers have changed during the pandemic.
In January of 2020, 34.5% of US visitors within the last six months believed that greeting and wayfinding was the most important role of frontline staff members and volunteers. Today, it’s only 19.7%. Similarly, the belief that interpretation and demonstration is the primary role of staff members and volunteers has plummeted. In January of 2020, 40.6% said this was the most important role. Today, it’s decreased dramatically to 7%.
Now, guests believe that the priority of staff and volunteers should be the safety of visitors. This includes managing crowd capacities, ensuring mask compliance, and enforcing social distancing.
No doubt about it: Things are different now than they were before the pandemic, and that includes the primary role of staff members and volunteers. Despite many museums having mandatory mask requirements, research shows that some entities may not be enforcing them. When coming at this from a traditional museum leadership standpoint, this reluctance might make sense to certain executives. Employee courtesy is a critical element of visitor satisfaction! Some leaders may wonder if confronting people who aren’t wearing masks – or who are wearing them improperly – might decrease visitor satisfaction for those individuals who are breaking the rules. We don’t want to be perceived as mean, right?
But jeopardizing the safety of everyone who sees that individual is worse and has a more severe consequence for the perception of the organization. And it is certainly worse for the health of other visitors – not to mention the staff members and volunteers themselves!
If your organization needed the push to train staff and volunteers to stand up for its safety protocols, here’s your data-informed evidence to do it.
Please do it.
Coronavirus-related concerns are the top reason why people with an interest in visiting are not attending cultural organizations right now. This means that many of the people onsite may have done an internal analysis of the risks of visiting your organization – and they decided to go for it. This is likely because cultural entities are trusted institutions who may show both online and onsite that they have strict safety protocols.
The temporary discomfort of a staff member confronting a person who violates stated safety protocols is not more important than ensuring the safety of the balance of your (rule-abiding) guests, staff, and volunteers. When people see someone violating the protocols without anyone addressing the misbehavior, the message may be that the organization does not value safety. Increasingly, your visitors may view silence as a lack of concern – if not outright negligence. At minimum, a lack of enforcement risks eroding that vital trust our visitors place in our organizations to safely serve our communities.
Some people trust museums enough to brave a pandemic.
Let’s not make them wish that they didn’t.
We can help. IMPACTS Experience provides data specific to organizations or markets through workshops, keynote presentations, webinars, and data services such as pricing recommendations, market potential analysis, concept testing, and Awareness, Attitude, and Usage studies. Learn more.
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