The second part of our Creating Visitor-Centered Museum Experiences class with Chuck Ross, the Guest Experience Manager at Longwood Gardens took place at the gardens. The visit was designed to connect what he had shared about the “journey” the organization has undertaken to create a “culture of guest excellence” that now delivers industry-leading visitor experiences.
Students, wearing the hat of visitors as well, were able to observe and experience first-hand how the LWG staff delivers excellent guest experiences at all levels, from facilities, to communications, to the collections, to staff interactions. Following Ross’ tour throughout the campus, I asked, as I did the previous week, for each student to provide a brief reflection of their the observations and experience. These are their responses:
Visiting Longwood Gardens, has only solidified Chuck’s talk last week on how visitor-focused they really are. From the approach to the finale, staff are truly dedicated to their work – giving the best experience they can. As a first time visitor to Longwood Gardens I am impressed about the pride of place and how well maintained and groomed the gardens are. Major renovations are occurring in the gardens, but instead of blocking the view of the construction with high fencing, it is exposed for visitors to see along with an outdoor exhibition about the future plans. Clearly the staff at Longwood Gardens gives great consideration as to what the visitors want to see.
Visiting Longwood Gardens was an excellent experience in seeing the facilities as well as the visitors experience and services we learned about in in person. Touring the facilities helped put the system described by Chuck Ross into context and demonstrated the success and benefits of the system he and his team manage. One point of interest was learning and viewing the construction for the fountains in the gardens. Presenting a small exhibition on what was occurring at the site was a great way to communicate to visitors and members what was in the works, as well as a show of transparency that works for an institution instead of against it. With a steadily growing membership base and attendance rate, this kind of foresight is an important takeaway that more non-profits could benefit from.
The two-day journey of learning and experiencing Longwood Garden’s services and care for guests was incredibly valuable and fruitful for me. A thanks goes to Chuck Ross, the generous guest speaker for these classes. He brought all his information and knowledge, as well as the the thoughtful planning process Longwood Gardens undertakes to plan for the visitor experience to our class. The first class, on Feb 17th, was a lecture to demonstrate how their great staff works as a team within an intelligent system that includes, benchmark research, strategic plannning, staff training, and the most essential part, the execution of the plan. It showed me an ideal working model on theoretical level. The second class took place at Longwood Gardens a week later and to witness how the model worked in the real world, on practical level, perfectly linked with what was shared in the first class. The visit offered me a wonderful chance to hear from staff of all kind, from different perspectives, who were working in the gardens, and thus gain a better understanding about the working process described during the first class. Taking the identities of a student observer and a visitor, I was absorbing and analyzing the garden’s success, as well as enjoying my own experience. I also found that the garden is touching not only because of the beauty of the plants, but also for the thoughtful details it includes, such as attractive brochures designed to be distributed by hand or by mail.
Overall, these two classes provided me with informative knowledge and in-depth thinking about how to optimize the guest experience.
Our trip to Longwood Gardens reinforced all of the ideas and best practices that Chuck Ross put forth in our first class session. Every aspect of the visitor experience is considered – i.e. How to reduce traffic in the lobby to ensure that guests arrive and immediately begin having the optimal experience. The approach,as well as the rest of the grounds, are immaculate – clearly showing the level of care and detail that goes into ensuring that visitors have an ideal impression of Longwood. As we walked through the conservatory and grounds, it was also clear that every staff member – gardeners, continuing education staff, visitor center employees – are all knowledgeable and dedicated to preserving Longwood Gardens’ reputation as a world class destination. It was very apparent from our tour that Chuck practices what he preaches and it was abundantly clear why other institutions look to Longwood as a model of excellence.
These student reflections on the site visit show how effectively Chuck Ross was able to connect what he shared in the classroom with what happens “on the ground” for visitors at Longwood Gardens. As Kaitlynd O’Doherty put it, “…it was abundantly clear why other institutions look to Longwood as a model of excellence.” We want to thanks Chuck Ross and his peers for their generosity and inspiration in considering and delivering exceptional visitor experiences throughout the arc of their visit.