Children are notoriously difficult to engage for long periods of time. They’ve got permanently itchy feet and tiny attention spans. And yet, children’s museums can capture their attention and imagination for hours on end. How do they do it?
And if museums are able to engage and educate these mercurial children, can any of their tactics be used by businesses to better engage and educate customers?
We decided to find out.
Children’s museums: Creative whimsy or careful strategy?
Jack Rouse Associates is an attraction design company. Over the past few decades, JRA has planned, designed, and realized a wide variety of kids’ attractions and immersive museums around the world.
Most of us would assume that a children’s museum is pretty easy to set up. Just put up some interactive exhibits and let the kids run wild!
For JRA VP of Business Development Shawn McCoy, however, that’s not how things are done at all.
Taking a more business-like approach, McCoy describes the core design philosophies that go into creating children’s museums; elements which allow children to get maximum value from their time in the museum, to make the experience as meaningful, instructive, and enjoyable as possible.
Children’s Museum Design Philosophies
- Provide familiar, inviting, and fun physical context
- Let the child be the hero
- Assist the child in facing the world around them
- Introduce the child to the world beyond them
- Incorporate challenge and reward
- Accommodate various personalities, learning styles, and attention spans
- Provide experiences that children and caregivers can enjoy together
Show of hands—who recognizes these exact same principles from the business world? From the customer experience world? Most of these children’s museum philosophies can be directly applied to the art of customer experience within for-profit businesses. Let’s examine a couple of them in more detail.
Provide familiar, inviting, and fun context
Your customers are real, emotionally driven human beings with personalities, impulses, and a sense of humor. To make them feel comfortable with your business, it’s important to create environments and contexts that feel familiar to them.
You need to understand your customer well enough to know the best way to communicate with them, to lay out your website, to brand your products … all with the goal of engaging this target customer as well as possible.
Your prospects are just like kids: a dynamic, inviting environment will engage them far better than a bland wall of text! This empathy for the person is what many companies miss when planning CX. It’s something that kids museums focus on heavily (primarily, even) and it’s definitely something businesses can learn from.
Let the customer be the hero
This is already a famous marketing philosophy. Most companies set themselves up as the hero, ready to save the day: “Look at what our amazing product can do for you!” But we’re learning (and what the designers of children’s museums already know) is that making the customer the hero is a far more successful strategy.
A children’s museum doesn’t tell kids that water hoses put out fires; they let the child extinguish the fire using the hose! Your company shouldn’t tell prospects how great your products are, it should show them their brilliant future after using it.
Apple’s groundbreaking slogan wasn’t “We’ve built the world’s best music device with 5GB of storage!!”—it was, “1000 songs in your pocket.” The first is completely accurate, but the second captures the imagination of the user and shows them what their future looks like with this product.
Assist the customer in facing the world around them
This one is a bit more of a stretch, but hear us out. Most of your customers will come to you with a specific problem that your product or service solves. Once they’ve got one foot through the door, you can explore all the other problems you can solve, and the other ways your business can help them.
For children, museums use this idea to help them understand the physical world around them. For businesses, it’s about expanding the tiny little world their customers live in—the one in which your business can be much more valuable than they initially thought.
Make sure to consider this when interacting with prospects. Just because they came to solve that problem doesn’t mean that’s all you can help with. Explore their broader world and see what else you can do.
Taking things back to basics
Before creating any specific attraction, McCoy also stops to consider what all children need in general. Things like:
- To play and learn
- To try new things
- To learn self confidence
- To learn how to play well with others
- To learn how to solve problems
- To learn about the world around them
This is another principle that businesses can apply to their own contexts. What are the things that all of your customers need?
- To be confident in the durability of the product?
- To believe in the integrity of the company?
- To make a decision quickly?
- To see the solution in action, before buying?
- To believe in your ethical story?
- To see the lowest possible price?
It will depend on your business and its exact audience(s), of course, but keeping these simple priorities top of mind will help you plan your CX and remind you what to prioritize most.
Giving customers freedom to “play”
A crucial element of the children’s museum is freedom: freedom to play and roam and develop skills like curiosity, confidence, and creativity.
Part of running a children’s museum is having a clear purpose behind seemingly innocuous activities. For example, an exhibit where children play at being dentists has been designed to teach children the importance of oral hygiene and that dental tools aren’t scary. By introducing these ideas in a pressure-free environment (through play) children learn crucial skills more effectively than, say, by reading plaques like in an adult museum.
This is another lesson that many businesses are already applying with their customers. Consider the free demo or free trial for SaaS companies. Rather than preaching about how amazing their product is, companies put their customers in the driving seat and let them play around with it themselves.
By introducing this solution in a pressure-free environment (through using the tool) customers learn about the platform more effectively than by reading bloated paragraphs on a website.
What’s the big takeaway here?
What this short exploration of kids’ museums does is remind us that customer experience is always, always, always about the person. And it’s easy to forget that. We plan complex CX flows and strategies, but don’t stop enough to think about what the person behind the purchase really wants. What they feel and think; how they act.
For Shawn McCoy and the designers of children’s museums, that’s the starting point for every concept and exhibit. They ask themselves: what do the children want or need? What do we know about them that will help us create more engaging and valuable exhibits?
As you incorporate essential insights from children’s museums, you can also explore our blog on the tips and tricks we learn from museums as well, giving businesses insights into delivering exceptional CX experiences from an industry focused on experiences.
Businesses can’t afford to do less!