The customer experience has always been crucial to tourism and the attractions industry. With new technologies and an ever-broadening array of consumer options, enhancing the customer experience has never been more vital. Fine-tuning the experience can make the difference between creating a loyal repeat customer who boosts your business via word of mouth and word of mouse and one who drops out at the online booking stage. In fact, 25% of brands expected that, by the end of 2023, they would integrate marketing, sales, and customer experience (CX) into a single function, according to research by Gartner.
I sat down with Matt Heller, founder of Performance Optimist Consulting and co-host of AttractionPros, and David Rosenberg, Vice President at Monterey Bay Aquarium, where they delved into the world of engaging consumers with a Gen Z mindset and the importance for leaders to invest in creating remarkable customer experiences.
Digital-first. The term has been thrown around a lot these days, but what does it mean, and how does it relate to brands? In trying to decipher this, I sought Matt and David’s opinions on what some of the best-in-class attractions are thinking about the customer experience through the eyes of consumers from varying generations.
Matt explained, “You could have somebody who is digitally first, and they could be 65, right? You could also have somebody who is 20 years old and they prefer their experience to be over the phone; they’re over the digital experience and they want human interaction. So, what I’m seeing is that the best brands that are doing this well are really trying to appeal to everybody. This approach recognizes that the digital and physical landscape as well as the consumers’ expectations are changing faster than ever, and that businesses must innovate to keep up with them.”
Matt continued, “Consumer expectations are driven by things they see online. The word of mouth that they’re getting from their friends. But just thinking about all those things, that kind of perfect storm of what happens in someone’s head when they get to a facility, and now, they’re there to experience it. And you better, if not meet, exceed their expectations. Because if you don’t, those folks with that mindset will be very quick to go to someone else or at least explore that in their mind. They can think, “I can go someplace else, get this for the same price, and by the way, have a better experience.”
David Rosenberg elaborated, “We’ve done a lot of research surveys on our visiting public and it was really interesting to see how the generation shift has happened over the years. What we found is that people over the age of 35 often have a very different mindset. They want the free admission, they want easy access, parties, member discounts, and of course they want to be part of the [Monterey Bay] Aquarium. But when you do that same survey over those same questions, over people 18 to 34, it’s a different paradigm. They’re becoming members because they want to belong, they want to support, they want to support conservation and they want to make a positive impact. And so the lesson there is to make sure that you understand what each generation wants to make sure that you’re staying relevant to those different generations.”
From a business perspective, the number of available digital channels can seem perplexing, as is the speed with which a user moves between platforms and channels during a single journey. Customer journeys can be complex, with consumers switching channels multiple times as they move from awareness to purchase. Since the consumer is starting this journey long before they physically show up, I asked what the best brands are doing to make sure they stay connected when consumers physically show up. What do brands do to ensure that once the journey physically starts, there’s equilibrium instead of disequilibrium?
Matt shared, “So I think it boils down to a couple of things. First, your facility must look as good, if not better, than it did when they saw it on their phone. It’s too often when you have one nice picture that you’re able to post, and then when people get there, it looks different. You have to make sure there are no pinch points, right? Is it friction free? When you get in there, are you able to buy a ticket easily? Are you able to navigate that experience intuitively so you know where you want to go, and what it is that you want to do? One of the big things that people overlook is the employee experience. So how are the employees treating you when you get there? Can your team members provide the kind of experience you want your guests to have? These are all questions that need to be answered in a positive way.”
With this in mind, I asked, “So based on your experience, how are leaders and organizations recognizing people at scale since that’s a key component?”
Matt responded, “I think the same mindset that you talk about from a consumer standpoint happens with the employees. You can have people that will say, I can make a certain amount of dollars over here, or I can make it here. Where am I going to have the best employee experience? I also think we’ve changed from an employer driven economy to an employee driven economy. Employees know that they can go to different places and kind of try it out and see what that experience is going to be like. Leaders really must take that into consideration. Are you showing your employees that you’re loyal to them? Anybody can pay them a wage, right? But are you showing them they are a human being, that you’re loyal to them, that you invest in them even if they’re a frontline team member who may not last more than a couple of months because it’s a seasonal business?”
From David’s perspective, he had this to say, “One of our favorite talking points with our staff and over 700 volunteers are people come to see the animals, but they leave remembering the people. And that’s just such a powerful term because people are coming to have a good time. We provide that by interacting with these amazing animals. We have over 35 live programs throughout the day, everything from feeding programs to theatrical programming. It’s more than just seeing the animals, talking about them, and building those connections. And once we build those connections, visitors leave inspired. So, it’s a little bit of that recipe. There’s also just the opportunity to incorporate components in the exhibitions.”
Furthermore, the digital customer experience can be seen as a jumping point for many consumers, the physical experience, and what that jumping-off point looks like for that aspect. So who’s doing this well, and what are they doing it well? Matt shared some insights on this fundamental question.
“Universal Studios Orlando has a seamless interaction to get from the parking garage, which is a long walk right from the parking garage into the park. But there’s so many things going on that can grab your attention and make you forget about the fact that you are walking a long way. There are so many things to see and to hear and all those types of things. And then when you walk up, if you are going to a kiosk, it’s pretty intuitive. This has been my experience just about every time. And I think consistency is really important here. Every time I walk up to the turnstile, or I walk up to a team member, they’re smiling and they’re presenting a great image. And I think brands like Disney are doing a good job when it comes to the overall experience. But I think there’s some size and scale concerns there in my experience. But I will also say there’s places like Scene75 that are not as well known, but really work hard to get the employee experience right so they can get the guest experience right,” concluded Matt.
With today’s consumers spending more on experiences than ever before, the ante to attract and retain them will be rooted in applying guest insights to innovate customer experiences that build emotional guest connections.