If we want to create connected, authentic experiences, we must shift away from a customer mentality and be of true service to our guests instead.

By Kelly HerrickKatapult

I roll my eyes at the number of articles, blogs and emails I read about customer experience (CX) being the biggest trend in the next 10 years. They have all missed the point. There is a fundamental mindset change coming and you can either be leading from the front or lagging behind.

Guests being entertained by actor with walking stick at The Shanghai Dungeon

Guests being entertained by an actor with a walking stick at The Shanghai Dungeon

The word ‘customer’ essentially describes a person as a resource. You expect them to give you time, money, loyalty. It’s a transaction-based relationship. What if we swapped that around and treated visitors as guests, focus on the guest experience? Guest implies that we are of service to them. It stops our relationships becoming transactional and instead moves them into the realm of collective experience.

Why Customer Experience has become so popular

The answer is simple: it generates the most value for the business and they get more.

Customer experience has its heart in technology and systems, in useability, touchpoints and data. It has traditionally been about digital transformation and frictionless experience. Frictionless experiences that drive you to an end purchase that is.

This made sense when we were in a retail economy. But now we are in the experience economy, that old thinking just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

We all know that an attraction ticket, dining, leisure or merchandise is a purchase. However, it’s a purchase as part of an experience and that’s the distinction we need to make.

Guests using MagicBands at Walt Disney World Resort

Guests using MagicBands at Walt Disney World Resort

When you Google ‘customer experience’ you get over 5billion hits. But Google ‘guest experience’ and you get 1.6billion. That’s 67% less. Try looking for customer experience jobs on Indeed and the result is 224,316 jobs. What do we get when we search for guest experience? 20,339 jobs. That’s 90% less, and those are mostly in the hotel industry.

Why are we so stuck in this rut? Out-moded marketers, retailers and C-suite Execs are hanging on to and desperately trying to reinvent this way of thinking in order to preserve the relationship they are happiest with;  I sell, you buy.

How Guest Experience changes the game

Guest Experience (GX) transforms relationships. When it is the true culture of an organisation, it puts guests first. It changes ‘I sell, you buy’ to ‘I delight, you enjoy’. The money paid, time spent or reviews given are a benefit of this relationship, not the driving force behind it.

It takes a relationship based on monetary value and swaps it for one based on joy and wonder.

Where customer experience wants its customer to be grateful for how well their frictionless systems work, guest experience wants visitors to forget it even exists, so we can focus on the best bit – the experience itself.

meet vincent van gogh guest experience 2017 thea awards

The Meet Vincent van Gogh Experience – guests delighted in going analogue with paper and pencils.

Five ways a shift to the guest experience mindset will shake things up

It changes how we are paid

If we take it to its ultimate conclusion, we could aim to entertain our guests so well that they generously pay what the experience is worth and everyone is a winner.

This pricing strategy has both succeeded and failed around the world. It works in circumstances where guests already have a connection to the venue, where there are last-minute spaces to fill or where profits go to charity. Studies show you earn less per sale but have a higher repeat visit. Surely someone in the attractions industry is eventually going to get this right?

It changes the role we all play

From front of house staff to the Board and everyone in between. We will find ourselves telling fewer people when the show starts and spend more time engaging them in activities. Maybe GXO’s (Guest Experience Officers) will join CEOs at boardroom tables around the world. CXO’s (Customer Experience Officers) already have their feet under the table.

We will ask different questions

All our questions will be from the guest’s point of view. So it follows that all our gains will be tied into the level of experience our guest has. It will change ‘we need to increase ticket prices’ to ‘we need to increase guest experience levels so guests are willing to pay more for tickets’.

Snorri Touren

Young guests enjoying the new Snorri Touren ride at Europa-Park

Metrics will be more complex

Measuring how happy, scared, or entertained someone is will be hard. There will be a greater need for multiple ways to gather and analyse data. We will need to speak to our guests more frequently and in a more human way, as well as exploring quantitative data.

It will open up competition

Suddenly the playing field is levelled. If you are one small, local venue and get it right, you could be demanding as much in sales per head as the big operator down the street. It becomes more about the authentic, guest-led experience. It becomes more about finding and entertaining your tribe and less about the rides and IPs you have.

So, think not what your customers can do for you, but what you can do for your guests!