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Having worked with so many of Ireland’s top heritage and visitor attractions I decided to compile a list of some of the things that don’t always get the attention they deserve. The best visitor experiences are those where the customer is to the forefront of decisions at every single stage of the journey; from the menu, to what staff wear, to how often toilets are cleaned! A whole host of factors influence a customer to recommend a visit or post a positive review. It’s not just the core product. It’s a sobering thought that while most of the investment goes into the core product – the building, the exhibition, the tour, the audio visual – it’s often the ancillary elements of the experience that are as big an influence on customer satisfaction.
In no particular order…
1. People often remember the café more than the very expensive exhibition
Whether the exhibition cost a few thousand or a few million, it’s can be quickly forgotten if the customer has a poor experience in the café. International visitors, in particular, want to try local food and will often spend more in the café than on their admission. Keep the menu short, use local produce and serve it to customers by engaged, enthusiastic staff. It’s easy to get a coffee and a muffin in a service station – make sure your café offering is the very best it can be.
2. Hide the wheelie bin
The old cliché; first impressions count. Look at your business as your customer sees it and you’ll see it differently. You know that Wednesday is bin day but make sure that a wheelie bin is not the very first thing the customer sees when they arrive. This was my experience at one of Ireland’s finest country houses at 3.00 in the afternoon. The rest of the visit was good but the first thing in view for visitors was a row of wheelie bins
3. The customer journey starts long before they arrive
How you (and your staff) handle pre visit telephone and email enquiries will either convert an enquiry to a sale or send the customer elsewhere. I’m often amazed at how badly email enquiries are handled – ranging from no response at all to a curt one liner with a sort of ‘take it or leave it’ message. When the phone is answered by a friendly voice who genuinely wants to help, the customer journey is off to a great start. When it’s not, you’ll probably never meet that customer – they’ll just go elsewhere.
4. Make it easy for customers to find you
On your website, give written directions as well as a link to Google maps. Not everyone uses a smart phone on holiday – some prefer printed directions. If someone gets lost because you don’t made it easy for them to find you, they arrive frazzled and the visit gets off to a bad start.
5. Customer care has a direct effect on profit
To paraphrase Michael O’Leary, being nice to customers doesn’t come naturally to him. But Ryanair has increased profits by 66% and they’re putting a good chunk of that success down to their “Always Getting Better” customer experience programme. How you treat customers has a phenomenal effect on sales and profit. Who you recruit and how you train them are key business decisions. Remember too that the best form of leadership is showing staff how to deal with customers by your own example.
6. What staff wear
Just like staff choose to wear a smile to work or not, the clothes they choose to wear influence the visitor’s experience. If there is no staff uniform, be sure to provide guidelines on what is appropriate. Or better still for heritage attractions, when staff are dressed in character it adds enormously to the authenticity of the visitor experience.
7. Get the visit off to a good start
For self-guiding tours, the customer will have a much better experience if you set the scene and put the story and the site in context. It’s not enough to hand a leaflet to the customer and point them towards a door. A brief introduction from staff or a three-minute video will help customers get a sense of what’s to come. Then they’ll have a better visit and will tell others about it.

None of this is rocket science, but it’s the little things that make the difference. Happy customers can be your best sales people, so it pays to put them first.

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