Reflections on The Dowse Visitor Experience Hui
On Friday 29 September, The Dowse hosted a hui geared towards front of house and customer service staff in museums and galleries.
We organised the hui as a one-day professional development get-together, that would give staff in visitor-facing roles opportunities to meet each other, reflect on their roles, and develop new skills and ideas through presentations and workshop sessions facilitated by industry experts.
Long story short, it went extremely well!
We saw a gap in industry development for front of house staff, and we were overwhelmed by the number of people who agreed. 55 staff from 20 different organisations from Auckland down to Dunedin attended, and the atmosphere on the day was buzzing. We kicked off with a presentation on welcoming disabled visitors to create an inclusive experience from the incredible Robyn Hunt.
It was an opportunity for everyone to examine how their organisations are currently performing in this area, and share ideas with each other - what a way to start the day! Robyn was informative, inspiring, and gave us all some realistic and useful ideas for how we could initiate change.
We also had workshops on Manaakitanga and Cultural Awareness, thanks to our in house expert – Jay Houpapa, and Creating and Measuring Excellent Customer Experience, thanks to Chris and Lorraine from First Retail. Much like Robyn, Jay, Chris, and Lorraine gave everyone a lot of ideas for how they could take some of these lessons back to their institutions and use them in the real world.
The final session of the afternoon was, in my mind, the most exciting and most aspirational part of the day. We invited a number of senior museum professionals from across the Wellington region to participate in a ‘speed dating’ session, where we rotated the senior museum people around groups of the hui attendees to chat about career journeys, current roles, and whatever else may come up in the 10 minute timeslot. Not only did this give everyone a chance to interact with people within the industry that they may not often get a chance to talk to, but it was a great way to consolidate the learnings from the morning through conversation. I sincerely hope that this session has paved the way for potential mentoring relationships, and opened up some new possibilities for museum careers that may not have been obvious or visible to the front of house staff in the room.
In my closing remarks of the day, I referenced an article by Colleen Dilenschneider (https://www.colleendilen.com/2017/02/22/data-reveals-the-worst-thing-about-visiting-cultural-organizations/). I used this to demonstrate to everyone in the room just how important front of house staff are to an organisations success. I truly believe that front of house staff have a lot more power that is often acknowledged, and that was the real purpose of the hui, to foster and inspire, to empower those in the room to take ownership of their roles and make real, positive change to the visitor experience in their organisations. We are currently collecting feedback from everyone who attended the hui, and I’m hoping that this event can carry some momentum and happen again. There is no point identifying the power that customer service or front of house can have, and then not developing it to its greatest potential, so bring on the next one!