Walk the Walk...
A visit to a local coffee shop recently caused me to pause and think. They had a sign on the door “toilets are only for the use of customers”.
Nothing radical there – and certainly not the first time I’ve seen it. But it honestly made me wonder why.
How does that decision benefit you? Granted, it will mean that staff won’t have to be annoyed by those people who will chance their arm, and try and use your facilities without buying a cup of coffee. And yes, they will be using your water, soap and toilet paper. And you might have to clean up after them.
But should we just bite our lip, and get over it? By being right, are we actually wrong? When I read that sign, it shifted my opinion ever so slightly. Not massively. But I went from having a warm and fuzzy feeling for the brand, to thinking they were a bit mean spirited and petty. It’s not like the centre of Belfast is overwhelmed with public conveniences after all. Is it that much of a crime?
This train of thought then took me to other places, and other signs. And the notion of being family friendly, or open to everyone. We know that cultural venues can be intimidating spaces for some people. The fear of feeling out of place will stop them from ever opening our door for the first time and discovering there isn’t anything to be scared about.
So, do we go out of our way to be truly welcoming to everyone or are we in danger of simply talking the talk?
Colleen Dilenschneider is an authority on engagement practices that help organisations maintain their relevance by building an affinity with their audiences. Her website, Know your Own Bone, is certainly worth a look over a lunchtime. She argues that for cultural organisations, higher customer satisfaction rates result in a better reputation, more visitation, and a greater intent to revisit. So for us, making sure our visitors have a fantastic experience onsite is business critical.
Colleen flips the question on its head, and looks at the National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study for some answers. This piece of research, although US-based, helps venues such as museums, zoos, botanic gardens, and performing arts groups better understand their current and potential audiences, and use data-informed decisions around strategic planning, pricing, and the visitor experience.
So for performing arts audiences, what annoyed them most about their visit?
Not access, parking or price. But rudeness from both staff, and other visitors.
It’s the truth we come back to time and time again. Bad customer services leads to a poor audience experience, and potentially to someone not coming back. We also know that around three quartersof our audiences attend once a year, so we must make sure we don’t damage attendance levels more.
Look around your venue. Look at your signs. Are you setting the right tone, or telling people what not to do? Think about how those signs make customers feel or act.
Being family-friendly means more than having somewhere to change a nappy. Those who do it well get it right because they have put themselves in their customers’ shoes, and try to pre-empt their needs. Spending small amounts of money providing not only changing facilities, but wipes, nappies, and nappy bags will make an impact far beyond the cost.
And while the practical things are important and easy, look at your product too. What happens with latecomers to a family show? It can be hugely difficult to get adults and children to an event on time – is it family-friendly to then turn them away if they are late?
But perhaps most importantly, the friendly experience must come through at every interaction with staff. Are visitors welcomed every time, or sometimes are they an inconvenience keeping us away from the myriad of other things we need to get done?
If we want our cultural venues to be busy and full of people, our visitors have to be our focus rather than a distraction.