Longwood Gardens: Understanding Guest Service Excellence – Part 1

Chuck Ross discussing the importance of institutional buy-in and planning for providing excellent guest experiences.

Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA has long been known as a world-class garden attraction. However, it wasn’t until 2006 that the organization turned its attention to creating guest experiences that matched its award-winning reputation and ethos of excellence. Chuck Ross, LWG’s Guest Experience Manager and instructor for their Guest Experience Academy visited our “Creating Visitor-Centered Museum Experiences” course on February 17, 2016 and discussed the “journey” the organization has undertaken to create a “culture of guest excellence” that now delivers industry-leading visitor experiences.

His session, drawn from LWG’s professional training curriculum, was the first part of a two class workshop to demonstrate the many steps–global benchmarking, planning, systems development, training, staff management, guest feedback, communication, technology–involved in delivering consistent and excellent guest experiences.

Following Ross’ detailed and interactive session, I asked each student to reflect and share a brief takeaway from the experience. These are their responses:

Wenlu Bao – The first thing that impressed me is the change of name, from “visitor” to “guest,” because this shift represents that the institution is becoming more welcoming and inviting. The lecture kept me excited and inspired all afternoon because I gained first-hand knowledge and experience about more than guest services. It’s also about how to deal with problems and how to work with people. And I found the strategy development model, Sharepoint, and other materials to be really helpful.

Elena Bras – It was compelling to hear Chuck discuss the steps behind their system of guest services. This is something that is immensely important and seeing a step-by-step process of working to incorporate an entire organization on one shared platform was immensely beneficial. This is a system that I would like to learn more from so to incorporate into my future work. I have been a part of museums in the past where a similar attempt was made but not on the same scale. Seeing a fully functioning model was rewarding. This also demonstrated shortsighted mistakes from the past in these museums. Adapting these models is something that I will be taking with me for my own work as well as possibly implementing in the future as its own benchmark for another institution. Intentionality and interacting with guests on every level is vital. It was also reassuring see a system that actively manages a culture of guest services and has proven with data how effective it can be for an institution.

Business Case
A “business case” for developing excellent guest services.

Jeremiah Myers – During the lecture, it was made so clear how important the visitor is to non-profits. From the smallest detail, Longwood Gardens plans its day to day operations focused around how they can better serve their visitors. However, it first starts with the staff by creating a culture of visitor priority by and making experiences that are not fueled by selling tickets. By creating this personalized relationship, both internal and external, evidence has shown it makes for genuine impressions and loyal guests.

Kaitlynd O’Doherty – Chuck Ross, Guest Experience Manager for Longwood Gardens, really illustrated that visitor experience is an all encompassing concept. You have to engage all entities within your museum – volunteers, full-time employees, membership team, gardeners, operations staff, etc. – if you want to deliver the best product to your guests. The concept of the Guest Experience Academy was a particularly interesting.The idea of treating all types of employees equally, engaging with them so that they become stakeholders in the visitor experience and have an understanding of what is needed of them, seems essential but easy to bypass. Overall, this presentation reinforced that implementing exceptional guest services management is a time-intensive, involved task that has enormous benefits – both in terms of finances and reputation.

It was an intensive and highly informative workshop and we are looking forward to visiting Longwood Gardens for the second installment, where we will see the guest experience systems at work and gain greater operational insights for delivering excellent, visitor-centered experiences.