Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa
Te Rau Herenga O Aotearoa

Life as a tourist

I don’t really consider myself a GLAM customer service aficionado – I maybe attend one or two museum exhibitions a year, and I tend to do the bulk of my library borrowing online – so I am rarely in a library space as a user of services.  However, in August my best friend got married in the United States – so my partner and I took a trip of a lifetime to the US – and suddenly I became a museum expert.   We landed in Chicago and road-tripped to Memphis and north again getting as far afield as Missouri and Ohio. 

I went from barely stepping foot in a gallery or museum to seeing two or three a day.  Highlights included the Civil Rights Museum, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s homestead, The Gateway Arch in St Louis, The River Museum, and the Cleveland Fine Arts Museum.  Lowlights included the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Ulysses S. Johnson’s home. 


So here is what I learnt during my time as a tourist:

·         Great customer service predicts what the customer will need

Attractions were easiest to navigate when the people doing the planning had clearly thought about what users were going to need and made it easy to find.  Whether this was on the website where buying tickets was sometimes a major mission, or in person when brochures and signage sometimes just didn’t cut it, if frequently asked questions were actually answered it made life a LOT easier.  There were a surprising number of attractions where crucial information wasn’t provided until you had already brought tickets.   “Oh by the way the elevators are out so you’ll have to climb ten flights of stairs – are you okay with that” to “You can’t take your bag in but cloakroom services are offered by our sister museum half a block away”. 


·         Superlative customer service doesn’t just answer the question asked

Often our questions would be quite detail focused – “We want to do your next tour.  What time does that start?” or “How do I get to tourist attraction?”.  At a lot of venues people would just answer the question and go back to their work.   The places where we had the best time was where they went above and beyond – For example – the tour starts in half an hour but while you wait we suggest you go and see “insert item here” – it will take about 20 minutes and you’ll be done in plenty of time for the tour – or you can get to tourist attraction via x route and on the way we suggest you stop and see y – it is really amazing.  


·         It doesn’t matter how amazing your content is if the visitors can’t get at it

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sucked.  It was far too crowded – you couldn’t actually get access to a lot of exhibits due to the crush of people, there was a long queue for anything interactive, and the walkways went between seating areas and tv screens so you couldn’t watch their informative videos.   Sound clips were drowned out by the band playing in the main foyer, and there were so many competing sights and sounds that I didn’t take anything in.



·         Clear signposting and logical flow matter

If a museum bounced all over the place or a gallery didn’t group items logically it was hard to understand and take in what you were seeing.   In one particularly poorly laid out museum I swear we saw the same exhibit three times but missed content we’d been looking forward to viewing.


Logical flow also helped in managing crowds.  If people were moving through a space in multiple directions it increased the feeling of chaos even if there weren’t many people in the space.


Signposting was crucial too – it was really hard to navigate a venue if signs weren’t clear and visible – increasing our frustration and lessening our enjoyment of a space. 


One of our best experiences was at a Baseball game – after experiencing the Caketin in Wellington (Westpac Stadium) during an All Blacks Game I wasn’t looking forward to this as the game was sold out and the stadium a similar size – but the Americans had this nailed.  There were multiple entrances – food on three levels with key services duplicated, and that worked to thin the crowds out.  Lines were never more than three people deep, walkways clear, and navigating the stadium was a pleasure.  Westpac stadium could learn something!


·         It doesn’t hurt to smile

Where the customer service people smiled and said hi we felt welcome – when they didn’t we didn’t.  That feeling of being welcome had an amazing impact on our enjoyment of a space



·         Technology used well does enhance the user experience

We saw some amazing apps and use of technology that provided additional information about tourist attractions and assisted visitors in efficiently viewing the items they wished to see.   Cleveland Art Museum had a touchscreen that let you view every item in their museum and design a personalised tour that would download to your phone and turn your phone into a Museum Tour Guide.   Nearly every place we went offered you the option of headset or other device that provided additional information and talked you through what on display, adding anecdotes and sound clips.  Some museums, like the Civil Rights Museum, merged video and audio with their displays enhancing the learning and experience.


Of course – there were also the sites that used technology appallingly badly – like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that had multiple exciting exhibits but little (if any) sound proofing and too many people to let you access them easily.  That museum was more like a torture device than a source of learning and entertainment.


·         There are a lot of guns in America

We saw a no guns sign at almost every attraction we went to – weapons could not be brought in – and many locations (especially in the bigger centres) put everything through x-ray and a metal detector.  We really are lucky in NZ that we can still just wander in almost anywhere.


By Joanna Matthew, Executive Director at LIANZA

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