Searchlight Partners was delighted to work with the Royal Ontario Museum this past spring, to identify and recruit a new AVP of Visitor Experience for the Museum. We recently caught up with Kelly Harper about her thoughts and impressions, since joining the ROM in her new role:

1.  What most excites you about the opportunity to work with the ROM?  What are you short term priorities? 

It is a particularly exciting time to be at the ROM as the Museum embarks on a new strategic direction with a focus on expanding the boundaries of knowledge, innovation and public relevance at the intersecting worlds or art, culture and nature and the goal to become one of the foremost cultural institutions anywhere in the world.

With a new strategic plan as the backdrop, I think I am most excited about having the opportunity to influence change.  Coming from a large Financial Institution, initiating change was difficult; the organization was complex, there were many stakeholders and in some instances the organization just wasn’t ready. The ROM has a naturally inquisitive culture where trying new things is encouraged.  The ability to look at a situation, brainstorm ideas and then implement a new idea, in a short period of time, is very appealing. 

One of the first priorities I’ve identified is to aggregate our visitor feedback and create a ‘Voice of the Visitor” program.  Our best source of feedback are the stories that our visitors tell our employees and volunteers each and every day.   Developing a more robust way to share feedback will help us identify where there are opportunities to improve the visitor experience; eliminating pain points and identifying the things that we are doing well that we can do more consistently across the organization. Every department has lessons learned that can be shared that we can all leverage and bring to our individual areas of accountability. 

2.  What do you think one of the larger opportunities might be for the ROM in the area of visitor experience?

The visitor facing employees, combined with our hundreds of dedicated volunteers, do an excellent job of making visitors feel welcome and make the most of their time spent at the ROM.  The biggest opportunity, like in many organizations, is helping all employees see and appreciate the role that they play in delivering a great visitor experience.  The further removed you are from the end customer or visitor, the harder it is to connect your work to them.  Helping all our employees, no matter what department they are in, connect their role to the visitor experience will be the first step in fostering a visitor-centric culture.

Great experiences don’t happen by accident. They are intentional and need to align the expectations and outcomes our visitors seek with what we have to offer.  Putting the visitor at the centre of everything we do – from exhibitions, to programs, to events – requires the entire organization to deepen our understanding of our visitors and make decisions with them in mind.

3.  You spent many years at BMO becoming an expert in the world of visitor experience.  What learnings have you taken from there and are now applying to your new role with the ROM?

I’ve been a customer experience professional for over a decade. To bring the skills and knowledge that I’ve learned & developed to a new organization, one that is committed to building a visitor-centric culture, in a vastly different industry, is very exhilarating. 

I was very fortunate to transition to customer experience as the discipline was emerging.  Over the last decade customer experience has matured as a discipline and we’ve seen exponential growth in the field.  With that has come the identification of six customer experience management disciplines:  culture, measurement, customer understanding, experience design, experience delivery and prioritization.  Within each discipline there are a set of practices.  I have the opportunity at the ROM to further develop these practices in an environment that is open to trying new things. 

4.  For any organization working in the arts & culture arena, what common themes might exist in the area of customer and visitor experience?

Many of the themes in customer and visitor experience are universal. Experiences need to be differentiated, repeatable, intentional, valued and, most importantly, emotional.  It is on the emotional side, working in the arts & culture arena, that I think have we have the greatest opportunity. 

The visitor experience is the cumulative residual impact of all the touchpoints a visitor will encounter.  That experience beings with understanding the triggers that brings them to the venue. At the ROM, our mission is to transform lives by helping people to understand the past, make sense of the present, and come together to shape a shared future.   A visitor may be a tourist to the city where the ROM is one stop on their list of places to visit; an iconic Canadian destination that is both historic and focused on the future.   

Our member visitors may be looking to deepen their understanding and appreciation of a topic or area of interest.  Recent ROM exhibitions such as Out of the Depths:  The Blue Whale Story, Christian Dior and Here We are Here:  Black Canadian Contemporary Art are examples of the intersection of the worlds of art, culture and nature that matter to people and communities. 

Knowing who our visitors are and what they are looking for in their experience, helps us to design and deliver an experience that meets and exceeds their expectations.  An experience that they will remember and share with their family and friends. 

5.  What is your current favourite ROM exhibition?

Zuul: Life of an Armoured Dinosaur just closed at the ROM and it was incredible.  Zuul is one of the most complete skeletons of its kind ever found and was recently identified by ROM paleontologists as a new species.  The exhibition was a on a hands-on, interactive journey into Zuul’s world; from its discovery in 2014 and the fascinating research to further our understanding of these powerful animals, to Zuul’s life in the lush Cretaceous period 76 million years ago, where its body armour and tail club were crucial for defence.

It’s going to be a very busy summer at the ROM where we will have three unique exhibitions running at the same time:  Treasures of a Desert Kingdom:  The Royals Arts of Jodhpur, Indi;  In the Age of Rembrandt:  Dutch Paintings from the Museum of  Fine Arts, Boston; and It’s Alive!  Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection.  All of these exhibitions are going to be great, but I think I am most excited about the seeing the Kirk Hammett Collection.  To see the collection of classic horror and sci-fi movie posters that he has personally amassed is going to be something unique!