Interpreters and Customer Service: The Importance of Good Service in Museums

We’ve all experienced it at one time or another: horrible customer service.  For those of us in the museum world, it is especially offensive when we encounter bad service in a museum.  For those of us working in museum education and interpretation, it’s almost unforgivable to get a cold shoulder, dismissive glance, or a curt/uninformed answer from interpreters– our own people!  We’ve all experienced it—maybe at our own museums.  I hope we never get over it when we do.  Experiences like these should strike fear into our hearts.  Think of all the work, dedication, passion, blood, sweat and tears (I may exaggerate about the blood) that go into our work.  Consider all the great, transformative stories we prepare for our guests.  Think about all of the “aha” moments we imagine people having as they engage our interpreters.  All of this can be ruined with one bad interaction.


An interpreter at The Henry Ford
An interpreter at The Henry Ford


Compared to other front-line staff, interpreters spend long periods of time with guests.  Guests look to interpreters as authority figures—spokespeople for the museum and experts in its stories.  A bad experience with an interpreter will leave lasting impression of the museum as a whole.  Therefore, it’s essential for us to recognize interpreters as customer service ambassadors.  Those who manage interpreters must become customer service zealots.

The Customer Service Revolution, by John DiJulius of the DiJulius Group offers an engaging approach to customer service.  DiJulius uses examples from Corporate America—Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, Ritz Carleton and others—for what he calls

revolutionary customer service.  At first glance, DiJulius’ brand of customer service seems anything but revolutionary.  Instead, it seems rather basic: treat people well, with empathy, with respect, with compassion.  However, this type of service works.  It fosters relationship-building and customer loyalty.  How many of our institutions wouldn’t benefit from more loyal guests and members? In The Customer Service Revolution, DiJulius is both theoretical and pragmatic.  He is engaging and dynamic.  While The Customer Service Revolution is geared towards for-profits, its message is vital for nonprofits.  For those of us who work in interpretation, especially for those who manage interpreters, The Customer Service Revolution is required reading.