Michele Stratton - Guest Blogger: Web Communications Specialist
Here at Conner Prairie, we love to connect with our guests. If you are a regular visitor, perhaps you recognize the blue-shirted staff, always ready to help with directions and answers to your questions. Conner Prairie utilizes surveys, comment cards, focus groups and other methods of inviting feedback and ideas from our guests in order to make your visit a phenomenal one. Our Guest Services department works hard to provide answers to your program and event questions, and other details to help you enjoy your day at Conner Prairie.
I work in our marketing department, in a typical office setting. However, one of the perks of working at Conner Prairie is the having the chance to go outside and walk the grounds. Hot or cold weather, when the outdoor grounds are open, I try to get outside several times a week. Not just for some fresh air or to pet a sheep in the Animal Encounters Barn, but also to observe our guests as they enjoy and explore Prairietown, Lenape Camp, Conner Homestead or the 1859 Balloon Voyage area. I take my observances back to the desk and incorporate them into my daily work.
The same approach is taken at special events. One of the best experiences was working at Headless Horseman and chatting with guests in the hayride lines, answering questions and directing them to the entertainment areas. It was a festive atmosphere and talking to the kids waiting in line was priceless – they have plenty to say about the Headless One! A benefit to being on the grounds, at an event, is observing how guests navigate their way around and hearing their questions (“Where is the nearest restroom?”, “Why isn’t the balloon flying?”). We take what we learn from watching and interacting with the guests to make the next special event an even better guest experience. Maybe we develop more signage for instance, or move an entertainment experience to another area of the park for better traffic flow.
Our focus and mission at Conner Prairie is to bring the past to life. One of the best ways to do that is to use 21st century means to reach out and talk with our guests and inform them about upcoming events. Whether you use the Conner Prairie website, Twitter, Facebook or our printed materials such as the seasonal Events Guide, please follow us, share your thoughts and feedback, and ask questions. You can even check in at Conner Prairie on Foursquare! In just several short months, (June 4 to be exact), we will unveil our newest exhibit, 1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana. I’ll be out there, in the Civil War area, mingling with guests. We hope to hear your thoughts on the new exhibit before and after the grand opening and aim to make it a not-to-miss experience for you.
Throughout 2010, we spent some time looking at how our guests move through Prairietown
– which buildings they visit and in what order, and how long they spend there. While there were many interesting results from our analysis, one of the most intriguing findings involved Mr. Whitaker’s Store.
It turned out that the store was one of the most frequently visited places, but guests spent, on average, a much shorter amount of time at the store than at the other frequently visited locations. This implies that the store experience as it is currently designed does not fully meet guest expectations – somehow, guests are influenced to move more quickly through that space and, we assume, engage less deeply than they do at other locations in Prairietown.
Of course, this could be caused by many factors. For one thing, the Prairietown store is laid out as one long, dark, narrow corridor. This design means that if more than one group is in the store at once, it begins to feel crowded and can make people feel like they need to move through more quickly.
However, as we analyzed the situation, we began to realize that there is one big difference between the store and every other post in Prairietown: the store is the only place where you can’t really do what you would have done in that place in 1836.
By that I mean, at the school, you can pretend to be a student, or someone interested in sending their children to the school. At each of the homes, you can easily take on the role of someone just out visiting or passing through town. At each of the trades’ shops, you can pretend to be a potential customer or someone seeking advice. But at the store, we haven’t traditionally encouraged you to pretend to be a customer – when you enter the store, you know you don’t have the right kind of money and that you probably won’t be allowed to actually buy anything there.
So, what if we changed that? What if we designed things so that you could have some authentic money and could buy something in the Prairietown store?
We experimented with this idea on a couple of days during 2010 and plan to test it in more detail in 2011. And while there are many factors that we need to think through, we would LOVE to hear your thoughts on one of our biggest questions:
What would you want to be able to buy in Mr. Whitaker’s Store in Prairietown if you had the chance?