Episode 8: Why A Great Guest Experience Isn’t Optional


Creating a great guest experience is much bigger than what happens inside your venue. It’s actually a culmination of a bunch of little touch-points that visitors have with your brand over time – from their very first interaction with your website, to their experiences inside your venue, all the way through how you engage with them after they leave.

Robbie Jones is the Lead Insights Analyst at Katapult – a company specializing in creating great guest experiences across physical and digital channels. In this episode of People in Places, he’ll shed some light on his approach to designing creative and engaging experiences for major brands.

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Read the Transcript

John Rougeux: Hi everyone, and welcome to another episode of People in Places. I’m John Rougeux, VP of Marketing here at Skyfii, and your host for today’s episode. Our guest for today is Robbie Jones, who is the lead insights analyst at Katapult, a design agency that helps create amazing guest experiences for the digital and physical world, based in Derby UK.

John Rougeux: Robbie, it’s a real pleasure having you today, thanks for being with me.

Robbie Jones: Thank you, thanks for having me, John.

John Rougeux: Yeah, you bet. You know, Robbie, I was going through your Linkedin today and I was noticing some of the interests that you have, and you’re following companies like Lucas Film, Lego, Disney world, Six Flags, and I thought, “Man, Robbie must have a ton of fun at his job.” So I’m a little bit jealous, and even more interested to hear a little more about what you’re up to at Katapult, and a little bit more about yourself.

Robbie Jones: Fantastic. Well, Katapult, as you said, we’re based in the UK, and the big thing for us is guest experience. The experience that the agency has got has been in the leisure industry. So we’ve been working with attractions and theme parks for going on for 15 years now. So we’ve got real deep relationships with our clients, and we’ve been really, really fortunate enough to work with some really, really big brands. Probably not all of those that you listed, it would be great to work with someone like Lucas Film one day, but for now we’ve got a really good base of clients, where we’re working with them on really exciting attraction and theme park guest experiences around the world. So, you’re probably right to be jealous, but there’s a lot of hard work behind there as well.

John Rougeux: Good stuff. Well, you know, as we already touched on, Katapult, you’re all about guest experience and in a moment we’re going to explore some of the projects you’re working on, and some of the trends you’re seeing in guest experience. But maybe to set the stage for that, could you tell me how you define guest experience?

Robbie Jones: Yeah, of course. The one thing that we live and breathe by is that guest experience isn’t just limited to the visit anymore. It’s not just that thing that you do in a theme park, it’s not that thing that you do in a shopping mall, it’s a lot bigger than that. We like to define the guest experience into three stages; pre, during, and post visit. We believe the guest experience starts when someone goes onto your website, or someone gets to see your brand or your theme park for the very first time. That first touchpoint starts the guest experience in our lives, and it goes all the way through to someone buying a ticket to your theme park or attraction, it goes all the way through to the journey, pulling up at the car park or the parking lot, handing your ticket over to the receptionist or the person on the ticketing booth, going to enjoy yourself. Then the post visit; coming out of that theme park, or coming out of that experience and driving home, and those post communications that you get in the form of emails.

Robbie Jones: All of these little touchpoints, we define as guest experience, and something that we’re really, really passionate about is making sure that every one of those touchpoints is as best as it possibly can be. Put simply, down to the fact that it’s very easy for people to be disgruntled about an experience that they’ve had. Take, for example, going to a theme park. You’ve had the most amazing time going on five, six, seven rollercoasters, have great food, but the one thing that you’ll remember is that it was hard to get out of that car parking space just as you were about to leave. That’s the recency effect. It’s the last thing you remember. You might have had a brilliant experience, but it’s that one little thing that could trigger a bad experience, and therefore you miss out on, of course, loyalty and potentially an increase in spend.

Robbie Jones: So that’s the reason why we’re so big on viewing guest experience in those three things; pre, during, and post visit.

John Rougeux: I think that’s really smart how you mentioned the recency effect of whatever that last experience you had is, and if that’s a negative one, then that can undo a lot of the goodwill that you’ve developed during the pre experience and the experience itself. I’m curious, you work with all sorts of different clients, and I know you’ve got a lot of interesting projects going on at the moment. What are some of the novel guest experiences, or innovations in guest experience that you’ve observed with some of your own clients at the moment?

Robbie Jones: Yeah, absolutely. And something that we’ve picked up on as a trend is that people like to be active when they’re doing something. It’s no good having a experience, whether you’re in a shopping mall or whether you’re in a theme park, that is passive. People want to take control of what they’re doing, they want to be active in the experience that they’ve purchased, and as a result, we’re seeing a balance that our clients want between both high tech and low tech integrations. So to give a really good example, you can get high tech integrations that are selfie areas within theme parks, that offer you a chance to take your selfie, and that photo can then be sent to your mobile phone. On the other side of it, there’s low tech integrations that we’re looking at for clients on their behalf, which are things that kids can get involved in. They can build things with building blocks, they can build toys, they can build different things within the experience, meaning that they’re taking more of an active approach to the experience, and that’s something that we’re seeing a real trend for at the moment.

John Rougeux: Yeah, that’s interesting. You mentioned that idea of kids building blocks and playing with things in person. I can easily imagine that putting smiles on parents faces, but what I am not so sure about is how a retailer or an attraction measures the value of that experience. So, it’s not like in marketing, you can put on a sale and you can see an uptick in revenue or some other KPI, but with experience, it’s such an intangible. So how do you talk to clients about measuring the value of experience and justifying the investment?

Robbie Jones: I think it comes down to brand loyalty. That’s got to be the one thing that brands have really got to take notice of. There’s a really good example from a few years ago actually, in London, which is not too far away from us here in Derby, and it was the shoemaker Doc Martens. They actively took part in a local music festival within London. They cleared out most of their shop, they opened up a space for performances, and had a physical stage within the building that meant that they could host music as part of this local festival, and I think what that’s shown is that they were trying to foster a relationship, and foster brand loyalty with their guests, or with their personas, or target market, or whatever terminology people like to use.

Robbie Jones: It didn’t matter whether people were going to the music festival, going to Doc Martens to experience that, and then buying a pair of shoes, that wasn’t the idea. The idea was to be seen to be cool, to be seen to be down with their target market, and ultimately start to build that relationship that makes them a longterm customer. It’s very easy to get pulled away from the bigger thinking when it comes to building relationships with clients. Often retailers are stuck in trying to get those short term fixes, those quick transactions that obviously boosts income. But for things like guest experience, even if it is holding a music festival in your own shop, it creates that brand loyalty that will hopefully last forever.

John Rougeux: So that kind of reminds me of something you guys wrote about recently on your blog. You mentioned, and one of the trends that you were looking at for 2019, that shoppers have new competitors, sorry, retailers have new competitors in that they’re not just competing against other retailers for shopping dollars. Shopping now, it’s considered a leisure activity, and so retailers and attractions are having to compete against new areas that maybe were previously outside their scope. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Robbie Jones: Yeah, of course, yeah. So, there’s a really good example that’s actually just happened a couple of weeks ago from recording. There was a news article that came out about Netflix, and they were asked who their biggest competitors were in terms of viewership, and they came back and said it was the game Fortnite, and that gives you an idea of how, certainly the western world are divulging in media and divulging in experiences on a daily basis. We’re not just competing, whether you’re a retailer or a theme park, with your common retailers and theme parks that you would normally go up against. This is moving into the experience economy. It’s a case of a family choosing between shopping at the weekend, or going to a theme park at the weekend.

Robbie Jones: So it’s very much blurred lines when it comes to who competitors are anymore, and I think that’s why we’re seeing shopping malls are focusing more on experiences, and that’s down in part to the fact that there is a lot of competition between people that want to shop, and people that want to do something fun with their kids at the weekend, particularly if you’re looking at family economy. Everywhere from the US, to the UK, to the middle east, we’re seeing a trend of leisure operators actively going into shopping centers to meet that demand. So if I take the UK, there’s a really good example. There’s a shopping mall in Manchester, which is north of where we are, they’ve got a sea life center. There’s, in Birmingham, which is not too far away from us as well, there’s a Lego discovery center, and these are big brands that are actively seeking shopping malls in order to meet that family market, and almost build a shopping mall into a theme park experience.

John Rougeux: Yeah, I think that’s really important how you focused on these retail properties that are transforming, like the example you mentioned of a shopping center turning into more of an amusement park type experience. I think what maybe some of our listeners might be curious to hear is, how do you get over the mindset of a traditional, either retail mindset where you’re just focused on selling stuff, or maybe a traditional amusement or attraction type mindset where you’re just focused on the experience there, but not pre or post like you said, because there’s a lot of companies that are doing this well, but there’s even more companies and brands that have a long way to go. So, what’s holding them back? Is it fear? Is it lack of awareness? Is it not having technology or expertise? What are you seeing there as the barriers?

Robbie Jones: A lack of change or a lack of willingness to change. We’re in a tough market in the retail industry, where big brands are starting to decrease the amount of footfall that they’ve got around the world. 2019 is a case of you change or you die, and a great example of that is Toys R Us, where they have completely gone. This was a toy company that had footfall around the world, and now, apart from website presence, they’re not anywhere, and they’re certainly not here within the UK, and that’s a sign of retailers that now is the time to change, now is the time to think about your target market, about your buyer persona, and thinking about what is it that’s really going to stimulate them to come to your shop? They can purchase online. Amazon as a company have got us thinking in the mindset as consumers that transactional things are absolutely fine, and transactional purchases can be made online, you don’t need to go into a shop.

Robbie Jones: It’s up to retailers to turn that on its head and think about what’s going to make people go into that shop, because as many retailers know, people come through the door, there’s a better chance of selling something to them. What I would say is that shopping malls present a different sort of opportunity to a retailer working by themselves. If you imagine a shopping mall with even just 50 stores, if you had every brand trying to do some sort of experience or festival, or even someone doing standup comedy, whatever it is, it will be a very messy place to be with lots of noise pollution. So shopping malls themselves, they’ve got to think about how they can get brands to collaborate together, work on something that’s for the greater good of all brands within their property, and come up with something that is ultimately going to drive footfall and spend.

Robbie Jones: For retailers, it’s obviously a little bit different. If they’re within a unique building, or a building on their own, they can certainly go down the route of creating their own experiences. But for shopping malls, they should be working with the brands to make sure that these kinds of things, experiences, helps to drive that footfall and spend.

John Rougeux: Right, so in the case of shopping centers, you’re talking about collaboration in the case of retailers, you’re talking about building out new ideas on their own, but I would have to imagine in either case, Robbie, that there needs to be new skills and new jobs that are coming about to really make interesting guest experiences happen. So are you seeing new skills that are showing increased demand in the retail and attractions space, or even new job titles that are coming up that didn’t exist a few years ago?

Robbie Jones: I think we’re still within its infancy. It’s certainly not a big trend that we’ve seen of job titles changing, or additional staff being taken on. When we certainly think about retailer as a client base that we’re working with, we see marketing managers of shopping malls that are being stretched. Not only are they doing offline techniques, in terms of printing posters and flyers, they’re also doing online marketing with Facebook and Twitter advertising, and now they’re expected to do experiences as well, which many marketing managers do very well within shopping malls, but if you’re dealing with three strands of marketing to try and increase that footfall and increase that spend per head of each person that comes through your doors, you can see where people may be getting a little bit stressed out. So, it’s not something we’re seeing a trend for, but we certainly expect that over the next 12 to 18 months there will be some sort of a change within the accountabilities of the people that work in shopping malls especially.

John Rougeux: Yeah, that makes sense. I can imagine how if you’re trying to do offline, online, and experiential marketing all together, that’s hard to do all of those three things well. Well, Robbie, so many helpful insights today, it’s obvious that you really know your stuff. I’ve learned a ton from you, and I’m sure our listeners have as well. So, to cap things off, I want to ask you for a book recommendation, and I know you have a favorite one that you want to share with me. So, if someone wants to learn a little bit more about guest experience, or just get their mindset in the right place to go down that road, what would you suggest?

Robbie Jones: The book I’d go to is a book by Richard Thaler, which is called Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness. And it’s not technically a guest experience book, but what it talks about is the psychology of improving a positive reaction within the brain, and if guest experience isn’t about improving the positive experiences that we have within our brain, I’m not sure what is. So that’s certainly a great place to start. It’s called Nudge, and hopefully people would really enjoy the read.

John Rougeux: Good deal, I’ll definitely check that out. Now, if one of our listeners wants to get in touch with you and talk about guest experience, Robbie, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Robbie Jones: Have a look at our website, which is katapult.co.uk. That’s Katapult spelled with a ‘K’, and you’ll be able to see just some of the clients we’ve worked with. Obviously we can’t say all the projects that we’re working with at the moment, but hopefully it’ll give people a real good feel of who we are, what we do, and the kinds of people we work with.

John Rougeux: Alright. That’s it for today’s episode of People and Places. I’m John Rougeux at Skyfii, and if you like what you heard, you’d be doing our team at Skyfii a huge favor by leaving us a review at Apple podcasts. To get notified of new episodes, just follow Skyfii on Linkedin, or subscribe to our newsletter at Skyfii.com. That’s S-K-Y-F-I-I.com. Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next time.

People in Places is a podcast dedicated to helping today’s shopping centers, retail outlets, airports, museums, universities, and other physical locations optimize the experience of their visitors. Get in-touch: podcast@skyfii.com. See all current episodes on our website here.

Show Notes:

  1. To learn more about Katapult, check out their website.
  2. The book Robbie recommends is Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard Thaler.

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