Since October 2013, AIM has been running a free online benchmarking service called VisitorVerdict and hundreds of museums and heritage sites across the UK have taken part.
VisitorVerdict has helped many museums to better understand their visitors and their experiences and data gathered via the benchmarking has helped to improve marketing, strengthen funding bids, support business planning and create worthwhile staff and volunteer training.
The team at BDRC Continental have delivered the project on behalf of AIM and will be taking the initiative forward post funding from October 1st 2015. We sat down with BDRC’s Director, Steve Mills, to find out more about VisitorVerdict and what people can expect from it in the years ahead.
Steve Mills, Director of BDRC Continental and AIM VisitorVerdict expert!
AIM: What has it been like working on VisitorVerdict over the past two years Steve?
SM: Seeing the change in mind-set of some of these museums as they become more visitor-focussed has been incredibly rewarding. Many have never had any feedback from their visitors before, at least not as robust and comprehensive as VisitorVerdict can provide for them, so to chat with users of the service at the various workshops we have been running and to see their enthusiasm has been a real highlight. In particular, seeing users appreciate the power that benchmarking can bring to their organisation and the decision making within it, has been gratifying.
AIM: What positive impact have you seen on the museums that have taken part?
SM: Good insight into your visitors naturally leads to more visitor-focussed decision making within your organisation. VisitorVerdict has helped organisations move away from decision making based on ‘gut feel’ towards evidence-based decision making. Visitor insight should never be the sole reason for taking actions but at least provides that initial basis for discussion. VisitorVerdict has elevated the ‘voice of the visitor’ to the highest levels of some organisations, using key information to regularly report to Trustees for example.
AIM: Have you any good examples of how VisitorVerdict works best?
SM: VisitorVerdict tends to work best as a means of helping organisations to prioritise investment, whether this investment is in terms of money or time. We’re all short of resources, so VisitorVerdict helps us to focus our investment in the areas where they will generate greatest return for the museum. At Didcot Railway Centre for example, VisitorVerdict has worked well as an ‘issue raiser’, highlighting that the shop was under-used and that the range of merchandise needed attention. This prompted a major review and action taken to address the issue and a year later the shop has been making a significant profit for the first time.
AIM: VisitorVerdict is an online service for a number of reasons and it now has a new website – can you explain more about this?
SM: VisitorVerdict operates completely online, with the whole process of visitor survey invitations, data collection and reporting of results hosted on a single website. This keeps it simple for museums to use. To date this has been a functional site, but we have recently launched a new website http://www.visitorverdict.com/ which includes not only access to this existing online system but also hopefully accelerates the process of sharing good practice across the sector. It includes case studies from users (which we are always interested in adding to), blogs, ways of using VisitorVerdict and advice / videos on using VisitorVerdict in practice as well as ways of getting in touch with the VisitorVerdict team.
AIM: Why do you think AIM members should use VisitorVerdict Steve?
SM: In a nutshell, VisitorVerdict is a fantastic way of generating quick, comprehensive and robust insight from your visitors at low cost and with minimal burden upon your staff and volunteers. The national benchmarking facility that also comes with it sets participants’ results into the sort of context that can speed up decision making within organisations and help them take more visitor-focussed decisions.
AIM: What would you say to encourage museums to use VisitorVerdict?
SM: You can use VisitorVerdict to help you with all sorts of issues within your organisation, from the daily operational decision making to the less frequent, more strategic stuff. You will also be part of a growing community of museums who are using VisitorVerdict as a source of sector-wide insight which is improving not only their own museum but raising standards across the sector overall.
AIM: VisitorVerdict will be changing soon – how will it change?
SM: The main development is that we will be extending the VisitorVerdict service beyond AIM members, out to other museums and the wider visitor attractions sector – so more heritage attractions, gardens, wildlife attractions etc. Whilst AIM members and the museums sector overall will retain the ability to benchmark against their closest peers, this development also enables them to benchmark more outwardly against other attraction sectors, learning from the best practice of these attractions along the way. It’s a really exciting opportunity to allow all visitor attractions, whatever their size, to gain access to comprehensive insight about their visitors.
AIM: Can you please tell us all about the pricing structure that will be in place from October 1st?
SM: Although the Arts Council England funding period for VisitorVerdict comes to an end in September this year, we always planned a model for Visitor Verdict which allowed costs to be kept low in the long term. The online approach was key to this. You can find more details of the pricing structure on the website but AIM members will receive significant discounts – particularly if they sign up before 1st October. There is a tiered pricing structure depending upon the size of your museum, with discounted prices starting from just £95 for the first year.
AIM: Anything else you would like to add Steve?
SM: It’s been a real privilege to set up and run VisitorVerdict and the support that AIM has provided in that time has been invaluable, helping advise on its set up and in the ongoing efforts to encourage AIM members to benefit from the service, so a big thank you has to go to the individual executive team at AIM and also the members who have advised along the way. This is only the start for VisitorVerdict and we are really looking forward to even more AIM members and other museums and attractions joining and benefiting from the ongoing developments that are planned and from the shared insights that will results.
AIM VisitorVerdict is free for all members across the UK until the end of September 2015. To sign up or to find out more, please visit: AIM VisitorVerdict