If we are serious about enriching and enhancing our visitor experience, we’d do well to adopt a culture of continuous improvement and go beyond the goal of best practice to better practice. Setting our goals at best practice hints of a destination.
Better practice reflects a journey of striving to be better, and this is a must in the rapidly changing service-based world of Interpretation.I’m not saying that a destination doesn’t play a part … it definitely helps us celebrate wins and achievements. It also serves as a breather whilst we take stock of where-to-next. It helps us ask questions of how we can improve and ensure relevance in the offer we are facilitating for our visitors but I believe not continuing with the journey, is not respecting our inherent talents and the opportunities to realise the same.A focus on continuous improvement is easy if it pulls from a motivation that is congruent. Simon Sinek (who wrote the widely acclaimed book ‘Start with Why’) writes that we should start our journey with the question ‘Why’. ‘Why are we doing what we are doing?’ Be clear on this, fulfil activities that ‘naturally flow’ from this,
and it’s game on.Once we nail the Why, we move to the What and How. Within an interpretive landscape the Why equates to the purpose behind the experience, the What to the messages being communicated and the How to the strategies used to communicate.
Our quest is to align the Why, What and How so that they are relevant to the interpretive experience we are communicating. An experience that also needs to be relevant to us (the interpreter), the place (attraction, event or other focus), and audience (our visitors).
The exciting aspect of interpretation is that it can never get boring. Each of these elements are in a continuous dance, and as interpreters we have to facilitate the cadence of this dance to ensure a relevant and meaningful outcome.
This relevance extends to virtually all visitor touch points including our positioning activities, product placements and even during periods of good old fashion customer service. Words and phrases such as ‘we provide great service’, ‘we are recognised as having the best service in the country’ or ‘high quality customer care’ are having less cut through than ever before. In a marketplace where the customer is becoming increasingly sophisticated, customers expect a service that dare not deliver much below excellent.
Such levels of service are becoming an accepted norm, leaving us to become clever in how we now deliver the value-add that goes beyond excellent customer service. Relevance is particularly important, as customer service can be highly contextual. Great customer service in one retail outlet might be a smile while leaving customers to browse while in another, it might require constant individualised attention. An important element of delivering excellent customer service with a twist of value-add is individualised customer service; the micro and niche-focused customer service.
Such a focus reflects what is happening in the broader marketplace where service-based industries are providing extremely personalised experiences.
The challenge this brings to the Interpretation profession is finding the balance between an authentic experience and polished levels of customer service. At what point does the value tilt too far toward the visitor and away from the interpreter and place? The answer adds to the cadence discussed above.
To keep abreast of the rapid changes around us can be challenging. How do we find the time to implement the changes? How do we maintain capacity to deliver what our visitors are seeking? How do we continually build our skills?
One approach is to embrace the practice of Kaizen, which was adopted by Japan following WWII in an attempt to rebuild her industries. It simply refers to a culture of improvement but has taken a western slant to express a culture of continuous improvement at both a micro and macro scale and how the same can build compounding benefit.
How do we practice Kaizen? The simple answer is to survey all the aspects of interpretation that we have available to us and select the most relevant (these can include the elements of relevance, experience and service discussed above) and then seek to improve these.
As an example, we might commit to learning a culturally appropriate greeting for 5 different cultures relevant to our site and then improve these in ‘real time’, as well as share them with colleagues.
In the words of the naturalist John Muir “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe”. So if you do well in one area, it will ripple through to help other areas. If we commit to improving and bettering ourselves on a regular basis, then we’ll surprise ourselves in what we achieve and in realising the talents we have … and visitors will move from being just a customer to loyal advocates.