Museums + Heritage Awards for Excellence 2014 – Customer Service Award sponsored by BDRC Continental

And the shortlisted projects today are in the Customer Service category. This award celebrates and rewards volunteers and staff. It’s not the size of an organisation that determines the customer experience but the attitude and commitment of those who work within it. Nominations for this award can be made for a team or an individual, from the boardroom to the ‘shop floor’ and should detail the extra lengths that the nominee(s) went to enhance their customers’ experience and the positive impact that this has had on the department or organisation as a whole. It could be as a result of innovative measures taken to understand and improve customer experience or new and special steps taken to ensuring that each and every visitor leaves with a smile and returns again.

Wordsworth House and Garden in Cockermouth is the childhood home of William Wordsworth, now restored and run by the National Trust.

This Georgian townhouse is brought to life by knowledgeable 21st century volunteer guides and paid costumed servants who cook, clean and gossip about life with the Wordsworths, just as the original staff would have.

The focus is to ensure that everyone who visits receives outstanding service tailored to their individual needs and interests and as a result experiences something unforgettable. A team of around 20 staff and 80 volunteers work as one team. All receive extensive pre-start and on-going customer service training tailored to their roles.

Visitors are helped to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of our working kitchen, where they can join in chores, while in other hands-on rooms they can write with quill and ink, dress up in replica costume, rifle through cupboards and even play the harpsichord.

Feedback is very complimentary about customer service and Cumbria Tourism gave the team 5 out of 5 for admission process, friendliness and staff presentation with a bonus for ‘Friendliness of all staff”.

Rochford District Council, Rayleight Windmill
Rochford District Council, Rayleight Windmill

Rayleigh Windmill, is owned and managed by Rochford District Council. However, the day to day running of the Windmill, including guided tours, is carried out by a team of approximately 50 volunteers, led by Trevor Rand. Each floor is fully staffed with knowledgeable and friendly volunteers, passionate about the Windmill and delivering excellent customer service.

The council believes that the volunteers’ enthusiasm, knowledge and expertise in the projects that they are involved with helps to achieve the council’s objective of ‘Making a difference to our community’. Not only do they contribute to making Rochford a thriving district, but the extra lengths that they go to has a positive impact on the community as a whole.

Volunteers have been creative and innovative and have taken time to understand and improve customer services. They have developed a history briefing for all volunteers, put together scripts for each floor and have developed their own guided tours. They have developed a booklet for customers and another volunteer has created a hand drawn internal diagram of the windmill. All of these new steps really help to bring the Windmill to life and ensure that each and every visitor leaves with a smile.

Their enthusiasm has led to it receiving VAQAS status from Visit England four years in a row, as well as Accreditation from the Arts Council.

Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, Libraries and Heritage Service, Preston Park Museum and Grounds
Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council, Libraries and Heritage Service, Preston Park Museum and Grounds

Preston Park Museum and Grounds is the flagship visitor attraction for Stockton on Tees Borough Council. Their Visitor Services Team, supported by over 190 volunteers, is responsible for the interpretation of Stockton’s Collections and the delivery of a first class visitor experience for the residents of the borough and the wider region.

Over 230,000 visitors have visited the museum since July 2012, many of which are return visits. The Visitor Service Team’s passion for the museum and telling the story of Stockton’s history have all contributed to this. Improvements to physical access have opened the venue to a whole range of new users; the museum and grounds now sees families, special interest groups, schools, disabled support groups and regular social clubs amongst its visitors.

Visitor Service Assistants are at the heart of the delivery of a great experience. They are enthusiastic, efficient and informative and are always looking for ways to make customers’ time in the museum memorable and unique. Remembering regular visitors’ names, giving tailored information, even telling funny stories to young visitors all adds to the visitor experience. The Visitor Experience Volunteers underpin everything that is offered to visitor from costumed interpretation, guided tours, trails, picture quizzes, object boxes and even full scale exhibitions.

They have been recognised with regional awards, including the North East Museum Awards for Visitor Experience as well as being shortlisted for the ArtFund Museum of the Year Prize in 2013 where the great visitor experience was much commented on.

Edinburgh Museums & Galleries, Writers' Museum Volunteers
Edinburgh Museums & Galleries, Writers’ Museum Volunteers

The Writers’ Museum Volunteers are the next on the shortlist. The Writers’ Museum celebrates three of Scotland’s most beloved writers – Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. The Stevenson Rooms have an impressive collection of rare books, artworks and personal possessions on display. The team that welcome you on a visit all share an incredible knowledge and a fervent interest in all things Robert Louise Stevenson.

The team understands the value of making the extra effort to enhance visitors’ experiences, including one volunteer who speaks fluent French and Italian, allowing her to engage with some who may otherwise be unable. The personal touch is what makes this set of volunteers so special and the feedback bears this out. One lengthy conversation with a Chinese tourist led to a translation of ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ being sent museum in the mail.

Volunteers often make long lasting international connections which have taken the group around the world participating in tours, events, dinners and celebrations. These eleven volunteers play an incredible role in the museum, taking extra steps and making an incredible effort to ensure that every visitor has a special experience.

Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire, Channel 4's
Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire, Channel 4’s “The Mill”: Fact v Fiction

Quarry Bank Mill in Cheshire has recently been part of the Channel 4”s “The Mill”, a drama which focused on the stories of apprentice children and workers who were employed in the mill.

Working closely with the producers, the team supported “The Mill Speaks” website and encouraged viewers to tweet their questions and comments during transmission. The Mill supplemented this with its own website, blog and social media activity. An exhibition provided background information about the period and they displayed costumes, props and video footage of the making of the series.

The transmission of the series during the summer holidays generated significant extra visitor number and the team wanted to ensure that visitor enjoyment and customer service was not compromised. This involved developing a service improvement plan; introducing new systems to improve internal communication; regular updates to the team on feedback, Trip Advisor reviews etc; sharing the publicity generated by the series; and ensuring that there were enough volunteers and staff on the rota to provide a great welcome, minimise queuing and deliver high standards of presentation.

‘Very enjoyable” scores rose from 59% to 71% on the previous year, the “great story” score rose to 84% and there were record visitor numbers – up from 144k to 170k. The team has managed to deliver excellent customer service to a record number of visitors.

Winners will be announced on on Thursday 14th May. You can follow the action live on the night on Twitter using #MandHAwards.