We’ve observed notable changes to perceptions of the guest experience at both exhibit and performance-based organizations since the onset of the pandemic.
A critical goal for visitor-serving organizations is to provide a satisfying experience. We see many organizations undertake significant efforts to monitor and track changes in onsite satisfaction, and we conduct research to better understand and improve satisfaction metrics as well. And since a critical aspect of providing a satisfying experience may be to not provide a dissatisfying experience, we watch those trends too!
We’ve long been tracking the top dissatisfiers for both exhibit and performance-based cultural organizations. We’d even made a short video about it a while back! Since the pandemic started, however, we’ve been noticing some additional sensitivities showing up.
It’s time for a data update on dissatisfiers.
The data below are shown organized by both exhibit-based organizations (e.g., zoos, aquariums, museums, historic sites, science centers, botanic gardens, etc.) and performance-based organizations (e.g., theaters, symphonies, ballets, live music organizations, etc.). These data come from the National Awareness, Attitudes, and Usage Study and contemplate upwards of 11,400 recent visitors to these respective types of organizations. The findings are supported by a process known as lexical analysis, which enables IMPACTS Experience to deliver open-ended queries that people answer in their own words. This aids us in getting to the root of barriers to attendance and avoids framing, anchoring, or otherwise skewing the responses as is often the case when people are provided a set list of possible responses as is typical in many survey methodologies. In other words, we didn’t give folks a list of possible dissatisfiers and ask them to choose their response. Instead, when folks notified us that they weren’t satisfied with a visit to an organization, we simply asked them “Why not?”
These charts compare pre-pandemic (i.e., EOY 2019) and contemporary (i.e., EOY 2022) findings alike. These data are quantified as index values, which is a way of showing proportionality around a mean value of 100. Items with index values over 100 are particularly worthy of consideration, and it would be fair to consider factors with index values of 100 twice as dissatisfying as other factors with index values of 50.
Are we all onboarded? Great! Let’s look at the top dissatisfiers for exhibit-based and performance-based organizations in the United States:
While there’s a great deal of information to observe in the data outcomes alone, let’s zoom in on some important overall takeaways:
On the whole, factors contributing to a dissatisfying experience have grown.
We’ve emerged from the worst of the pandemic into a world that is more targeted and personalized, and more competitive for out-of-home leisure activities. These factors both contribute to increased sensitivities among the people who’ve had a negative guest experience. We’re even more connected online than we were in 2019, and thus have access to increasingly personalized information as the norm. When we combine this with the growing lure of the couch and the increased competition for out-of-home activities as people re-engage with the activities that they’ve missed, one of the results is greater dissatisfaction when it turns out a person may have chosen to spend their precious leisure time in a way that wasn’t as positive as they’d hoped.
It’s true. Rude people are truly the worst.
Rude staff members/customer service issues were the top dissatisfier for guests before the pandemic, and that remains the case. And for performance-based organizations, “rude patrons” and rude staff run neck-and-neck. This elevated sensitivity may also have a thing or two to do with the pandemic and redistribution of demand. If someone is stuck sitting next to a coughing patron or someone who chose to attend a performance while obviously ill, there’s little another patron can do about it. However, other rude patrons were a top dissatisfier even before the pandemic. Whether it’s talking during performances, loud chewing or drinking, or ringing or buzzing phones, people are sensitive to the rudeness of other people and how it negatively influences their experience.
While rude staff members and patrons are the single biggest dissatisfier among people in the United States who had a negative experience at a cultural organization, it’s important to remember that positive interactions with staff members can have the opposite impact. In fact, positive interactions with staff and volunteers are often one of the most effective ways to elevate guest satisfaction.
The top dissatisfiers are the same for both exhibit and performance-based organizations.
While there are certainly differences in the index value rankings, the top dissatisfiers are the same for both organization categories: Customer service issues (rude people), parking issues, and physical access issues take the lead. Parking issues have increased (or, at least, the perception of parking as an issue has increased), and there is evidence to suggest that this, too, is a symptom of shifts in consumer behavior. We simply don’t need to leave our homes as often as we once had to, and our tolerances for the hassles and inconveniences of our former commuter lifestyles have evolved.
As for access issues, these are specifically physical or technical access issues (purchasing tickets, traffic, responsiveness to inquiries) rather than DEIJ-related access issues regarding welcoming perceptions. (Those are a whole different ball game.) We’ve seen notable changes in access issues for cultural organizations due to the pandemic, and it’s a metric that we’re watching and have published before.
It’s worth reminding folks again that we’re discussing dissatisfiers among recent attendees rather than barriers to attendance among potential attendees. Dissatisfiers show us what upset folks while they were actually onsite, while barriers show us why people with interest choose not to make their way on site at all.
The market is more sensitive to crowding perceptions.
This finding is hardly the headline of these charts, but we’d be remiss not to take the opportunity to point out another broad trend we are observing in the United States that manifests itself in several other metrics as well – heightened sensitivity to crowding perceptions. Our perceptions of what being “crowded” means seem to have shifted.
Even though many spaces are technically less crowded overall when compared to 2019, there’s generally a greater perception that experiences are crowded. As we live alongside the pandemic, a few hundred people in a space feels different to many Americans than it did before.
There are some interesting possible implications of these findings ranging from how museums plan space to the viability of variable pricing models in the future.
We know that more satisfied guests and patrons are more likely to return within one year, to positively endorse the organization, to act in the interests of an organization’s mission, and to become members and subscribers. No doubt about it – guest satisfaction is important.
Some of the things that most satisfy visitors have evolved due to our new way of living, no doubt influenced by the pandemic. It stands to reason that some of the top dissatisfiers have changed, too.
After all, one thing that has not changed is that cultural organizations strive to satisfy their guests by providing educational and inspiring experiences.
Understanding changing conditions around top dissatisfiers can help.
IMPACTS Experience provides data and expert analysis to many of the world’s leading organizations through its workshops, keynote presentations, webinars, and data services such as pricing studies, market potential analyses, concept testing, and Awareness, Attitude, and Usage studies. Learn more.
We publish new national data and analysis every other Wednesday. Don’t want to miss an update? Subscribe here to get the most recent data and analysis in your inbox.