‘Improving organisational performance through visitor feedback’

Author: 
Barbara Wilson
James Backhouse
Joey Lansdowne
Tim Shields
Denise Officer
Publication date: 
Thursday, 1 January, 2009
Abstract: 

Research aims

To research and address current practices to strengthen the quality, quantity and management of visitor feedback received by cultural institutions.

To provide

  • Enhanced visitor experience
  • Clearer understanding of visitor expectations
  • Streamlining processes that allows staff to deal effectively with feedback
  • Increased communication within and between the institutions
  • Visitors and staff contributing to improving the institutions’ services
  • A uniformed process for collecting, researching and processing data

Methodological Approach

Interviews were held with front of house staff, visitor’ services, marketing, governance, security and management staff.

Informants: the National Gallery of Australia, the National Archives of Australia, QUESTACON, the Museum of Australian Democracy, the National Film and Sound Archive, the Australian War Memorial, the National Portrait Gallery.

Findings

Visitor feedback - institutions have their core business outcomes focused on public satisfaction, development of knowledge and understanding, and accessibility to the institutions’ collection. They all recognised the importance of visitor feedback in achieving this core business outcome.

Our findings showed there are a myriad of ways of collecting feedback. For example, market surveys, observation, exit and entry surveys, online forms, verbal, written, unsolicited, complaints, service charters, visitors’ books etc

Current practices used to manage visitor feedback found that each institution has a unique plan of gathering, processing and managing this information. In most cases Outreach programs, Marketing, Education, Visitor Services and Visitor Programs look after their own feedback.

Many staff consider visitor feedback management to be peripheral to their job. It is time consuming and perceived not to be central to their task of delivering programs that display and enhance the collection.

Feedback data is not shared, analysed or compared institution by institution or internally section by section.

Visitor feedback was found to be rarely provided to all staff and appears only in formal reports.

Some institutions are developing visitor feedback processes and some institutions have quite sophisticated systems. Those in development were keen to see that this project was underway.

Recommendations

  1. A dedicated budget to allow for Centralised Management of feedback – including a “Visitor’s Experience Manager” in each Institution
  2. Provide staff training together with individual performance agreements. Staff should be afforded contact with professionals to understand the importance of the visitor experience, and, how this fits into the business plans of the institution
  3. Provide stakeholder training
  4. Adopt the VIP Business Flow Chart – Best Practice (see below)
  5. Implement regular and timely reviews to track improved performance with a feedback loop

Introduction

The focus of the project sponsored by Mark Nash, Business Manager of the National Portrait Gallery is ‘to better understand how to manage the plethora of feedback received from visitors to cultural organisations and how to extract value for both the visitor and the organisation.’

The Visitor Improving Performance team (Team VIP) consists of:
Barbra Wilson—Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House
Tim Shields—National Archives of Australia
Jo Lansdowne––Questacon
Denise Officer––National Gallery of Australia
James Backhouse––National Film and Sound Archive (See attachment A for full details)

Research aims

The project aims to research and review current practices in order to strengthen the quality, quantity and management of visitor feedback received by cultural institutions.

This research will provide recommendations on:

  • Guidelines to manage feedback
  • A model of best practice

The benefits to cultural institutions that strengthen strategies and improve efficiencies will be:

  • Enhanced visitor experience
  • Clearer understanding of visitor expectations
  • Streamlining processes that allows staff to deal effectively with feedback
  • Increased communication within and between the institutions
  • Accountability with transparent record keeping
  • Reporting systems that identify trends
  • Allows visitors and staff to contribute to improving the institutions’ services
  • Support for the planning and maintenance of continuous quality improvement

Approach

The approach involved team members contributing their perspective and experience, researching cultural institutions and third party publications, consultation, collection and analysis of findings. The final step was the development of recommendations, the production of a project report and a presentation.

Initial research covered the review of the team member’s knowledge of current methods for the collection of visitor feedback. This provided the foundation for the planning of the consultation process. Stakeholders were identified and allocated to groups of two within the team. The team determined how the institutions would be approached, who would be consulted, what information would be collected, analysed and how the findings would be recorded. To ensure consistency of analysis a uniformed process for collecting, researching and processing data was put in place. This included the development of a comprehensive questionnaire of 24 questions that broadly covered how feedback is currently collected and managed. There was flexibility within the questionnaire to allow for variations between institutions and personal follow up after the initial consultation.
(Attachment B consolidated responses to questionnaire).

Stakeholders consulted varied between institutions and interviews were held with front of house staff, visitor services staff, marketing, governance, security and management. (Attachment C)

Questionnaire responses were uploaded onto the team’s Wiki site for analysis. The results were compared and areas of commonality and variations were identified. A best practice framework was constructed and recommendations were drafted.

Findings

The following key areas were investigated within the seven cultural institutions interviewed:

  1. Visitor feedback
  2. Market and exit surveys
  3. Service Charters
  4. Current practices used to manage visitor feedback

1. Visitor Feedback

The research found all interviewed institutions have their core business outcomes focused on the public satisfaction, development of knowledge and understanding, and accessibility to the institution’s collection. They all recognised the importance of visitor feedback in achieving this core business outcome.

Most of the institutions interviewed displayed a consistent lack of follow through of submitted visitors’ feedback. This may be a result of inaccurate documentation, inconsistent feedback, a low level of detail in feedback and poor feedback management practice. Some staff members interviewed exhibited disinterest or viewed the task as a low priority.

Visitor feedback was found to be rarely provided to all staff within institutions. This is an issue that institutions have recognised that needs to be addressed in order to support and track continuous improvement.

2. Market surveys and exit surveys

Our research showed that there are many ways of collecting feedback within institutions.
These include: Formative evaluation, summative, observational, exits and entry, online, verbal and real world, written, random, complaints and service charters.

Many institutions have a number of teams that collect data separately through surveys and are not coordinated from a whole of organization point of view for maximum benefit.
In most cases each area looks after its own feedback for example; Outreach programs, Marketing, Education, Visitor Services and Visitor Programs.

Many surveys are pro-active asking for information such as: are we meeting the needs of special groups of people? Are we getting our messages across? They are tick and flick surveys with room to comment – mostly wanting information that is negative or positive and statistical.

It was found that some exhibitions/galleries were not analyzed prior to development - largely, this is a consequence of the curator's perspective and premise and gut reaction. However, some institutions have a very effective evaluation process during an exhibition and pre-development.

These surveys/evaluations are wide in scope and produce reliable and valid information. This evaluation starts at the beginning of the project and tests the ideas with the audience. The evaluation continues through out the life of the exhibition. In some instances, the visitors are tested during the exhibition to see if themes, styles, layouts etc are working. This is allowing some institutions to gain up to date knowledge and embrace the visitor’s opinions and ideas to effect change. Consultants are generally used as they are quick with the data entry and the analysis.

In addition to improving organisational performance, the information collected from surveys may be used for annual reports, council reports, awards programs and the Government through the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics are suggesting that there is a uniform collection method for all Institutions so there can be consistent reporting against measures and other indicators.

3. Service charters

Our research found that all interviewed institutions either had or were developing charters; however it was clear that many required a process to ensure follow through back to the visitor and staff.

Many Service Charter feedback forms were not available at point of service locations. When available they are sometimes long and confusing to read, not targeted well, not reviewed regularly and information that is obtained is often not acted upon. Some are active and online. These shortcomings impact on institutions as visitors are less likely to fill in Service Charter feedback forms.

From an institutional point of view, Service Charter feedback forms were found to be time consuming to process and report on the information. In the majority of cases studied, there was little action taken on information collected unless the visitor had a specific complaint and ‘some one’ was dedicated to the particular complaint, feedback resolution.

The results of information collected as feedback from the Service Charter feedback forms in most cases was not communicated regularly if at all to staff.

4. Current practices

All interviewed institutions have a unique plan for gathering, processing and managing this information.

Practices communicated to the Team showed that cultural institutions are aware of the benefits of visitor feedback, but most are unsure how this information is managed or is to be managed and acted upon. They are not using this information efficiently or effectively.
This creates problems within the internal culture of the institution: some staff considers visitor feedback to be peripheral to their job. It is sometimes a subject of avoidance and there is no staffs ‘buy in’.

Each institution and some sections within, process their own information, thus creating a non uniform set of data. (The data collected is usually in the form of paper or electronic databases) This data is not shared, analysed or compared Institution by Institution or section by section.

This unstructured or fragmented practice within the organisations contributes to poor decision making processes as well as reactive management of feedback.

The research has also shown that there is a lack of accountability and traceability with little follow up to confirm if action was taken on specific visitor feedback.

Fragmented decisions are being made about similar issues or concerns and difficulty has arisen in analysing and implementing findings within general staff duties.

Staff have shown to have limited confidence in some strategies applied especially qualitative research that challenges their beliefs, knowledge and assumptions which adds to the low level of interest from staff regarding visitor feedback.

All Institutions have room for development of a system that allows this to happen i.e. compatible and comparable data moving between organisations internally and externally enabling ease in sharing information. This would go in some way to closing a gap in communication, creating efficiencies in data handling and its use, towards the improvement of organisational performance.

Organisations have shown little interest in the value of personal and professional development in training staff in collecting and handling feedback in all its forms. Generating interest in and the importance of feedback is a challenge that was apparent for all organisations.

Although newer organisations are developing processes, there needs to be time to regularly review, develop and upgrade any systems developed to effect positive growth and change.

Recommendations

In consideration of the above findings and taking into account the complexity of business flow within the cultural organisations, Team VIP provide the following recommendations focused on strengthening organisational performance utilising visitor feedback.

These recommendations are introduced as guidelines and a business process flowchart that support and complement each other.

This will enable organisations to customise a preferred practice model and consider implementing a VIP (Visitors Improving Performance) business process for addressing visitor feedback.

Guidelines

These guidelines can be used to build a preferred practice to meet the needs of the organisation and allow for the natural evolution determined by the requirements of each organisation. We suggest the following:

  1. Dedicated Budget
  2. Centralised Management of feedback – with A Dedicated “Visitors Experience Manager” in each Institution
  3. Stakeholders and staff buy in
  4. Review and Innovation

1. Dedicated Budget

A dedicated budget ensures resources to capture and manage feedback

  • within each organisation and
  • within and between cultural organisations i.e. centralised feedback

As cultural organisations budget and performance efficiency ratings are required to be met it would be complementary, cost effective and efficient to implement these recommendations with centralised management.

2. Centralised Management of feedback– with a dedicated “Visitors Experience Manager” in each Institution

A centralised management of feedback would include:
A dedicated “Visitor’s Experience Manager” to deal with all aspects of visitor feedback that feeds through to all cultural organisations.

A guide to implementing this is by incorporating a standardised and centralised electronic database (your institution may have a system inplace already for ticketing etc) and management tools that all organisations have security privileges to.

This will allow instant access to data and improve record keeping techniques, accountability, transparency and accuracy of reports.

The sharing resources would include:

  • production of feedback forms
  • collection and analysis
  • communications and reporting

This position would be in charge of contributing to the centralised feedback system, directly liaising with colleagues in the same role in cultural organisations, as well as performing the day to day operations of their own position including driving the process of continuous improvement. Appointing a Visitor’s Experience Manager in each Institution will optimise the collection of visitor feedback and ensure that results are communicated widely and understood.

The tools to manage the feedback data will require an interface. A database platform that allows the recording and cataloguing of feedback received.

3. Staff and stakeholder buy in

Senior management will be required to be formally and holistically proactive in the implementation of the system and the ultimate delivery of all requirements adjusted to suit the myriad of reporting and governance requirements.

Management should offer the opportunity to staff to acquire new personal and interpersonal skills in the welcoming, reception and the acknowledgement of feedback that is integral to the Visitors Improving Performance process.

Staff should be afforded direct contact with professionals in the field of visitor feedback to understand the importance of the visitor, and their experience, and, how this fits into the business plans of the institution and why we want the visitor to experience excellent customer service. Training staff in the theories of feedback will allow them to implement the theory in practice, and have a sense of personal and professional achievement.

Behavioural requirements can be negotiated and imbedded in a staff member’s Individual performance agreement, much like the standard OHS requirements.

Scheduling of regular staff meetings focused on visitor feedback, whether, electronic, public domain, or personal and verbal, as praise, or as constructive criticism, will ensure staff feel valued and informed.

4. Review and Innovation

Over time staff and the public will become aware of the process of visitor feedback and review that leads to continual improvement of customer service. They will be given the opportunity to liaise with the central feedback system and review the way visitor feedback is managed and implemented.

In addition Management should be active in directing the results of visitor feedback throughout the institutions and implementing changes arising from the new feedback system into strategic plans.

Review of all the recently adopted VIP processes should be undertaken each year with calls for public participation widely advertised via all forms of communication, e.g., paper, electronic and verbal.

Conclusion

In an ideal world there would be a dedicated sectional position that administers and sits within the Executive Management team (e.g. AWM and the NGA), for the physical implementation of a process that administers visitor feedback towards enhancing the organisations performance.

Initially and with budget constraints considered, a committee of sectional staff could roll out the framework and encourage collaborative participation until management secures resources As team VIP, we have tried to consider the impact of a new system in an organisation, from the extra time required to introduce and manage; to the acceptance by the staff and visitors and the ripple effect that will vary in strength and distance.

Noting in the beginning within the instigating facilities, that there will be negative aspects, e.g. lack of interest and enthusiasm by staff and visitors, sabotage, and that other elements ‘things’ will be discovered unintentionally as the system is implemented.

’We have tried to create an idea / concept that can be the system, or contribute favourably to a system, that impacts widely and can produce change for the better, while realising that one size does not fit all and some elements will not as useful or adaptive as others.

With the uptake of a version of the VIP system each Cultural Institution could be mandated to work collaboratively with other national collecting institutions to explore operational efficiencies through shared frame work or services such as this.

Team VIP considers that this project has been time well spent and it has been worth striving for the result provided in the time allocated.

We think that we have produced a process that can enhance customer satisfaction and drive continual improvement.