The Guiding Principles of Guest Experiences, Part 1: Definition

What is a Guest Experience?

A Guest Experience is an interaction between an organization and a Guest. It is a blend of an organization’s physical performance, the senses stimulated, and emotions evoked, each intuitively measured against Guest expectations across all memorable moments of contact.    – Beyond Philosophy (modified)

Let’s break this definition down:

Interaction – when an interaction takes place, you are communicating. The interaction can be a split second, as when a Guest is looking at your website or print materials. It can also span a period of weeks, as the Guest continues to explore your organization at increasingly deeper levels. In an interaction, you are trying to attract attention and convey a message, hoping to receive a message in return and process it. The longer you hold your Guest’s attention, the more likely your message will get across.

Guest – an individual who is experiencing your organization for the first time, or at least is still very uncertain about moving any deeper with you. Taken to the next level, a Guest can also be an existing individual who is in your circle of influence, but not committed to become a part of the organization.

Blend – a Guest Experience is not just the physical, or just the emotional, or just the senses; it is all of these blended together.

Physical Performance – factors such as location, facilities, phone calls, digital experiences, quality of services provided, etc. While a business might consider this the end of their experience, for the church this is just the beginning; emotions and senses play a huge part in delivering Guest Experiences

Senses – human beings take in information by or senses: sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell.  In our day-to-day existence we use our senses to gather data about the world around us. Therefore, a Guest Experience is about the senses that are being stimulated. Organizations, to a large extent, can control what senses to stimulate, and this is the goal: to define how and when to deploy senses in your Guest Experience.

Emotions – the combination of physical aspects, the data received by your senses, and your expectations all contribute to evoke emotions.  Forward-thinking organizations understand more than half the Guest Experience is about evoking emotions, and then plan how to evoke specific emotions.

Expectations – when you wrap all the preceding together, your Guest develops expectations. Their perception is reality, framed by the past and hoped for the future. Everything feeds our expectations, which are constantly being updated or confirmed.

Intuitively – these expectations are measured intuitively; they are within your Guest. One person’s shyness is another person’s exuberance.  My definition of “loud” is probably different from yours. We all have personal measurement yardsticks within us.

Across all moments of contact – your guest can (and will ) touch your organization in many ways before they physically present themselves at your place. Through the web, direct mail or other print information, talking to a neighbor, etc. All of these are moments of contact that are Guest Experiences in their own right while together making up a complete Guest Experience.

As you see, there is a great deal behind the simple question, “What is a Guest Experience?”

Understanding more about what a Guest Experience is begs the next question:

Why bother?

I thought you’d never ask…

Tomorrow: Purpose

This post is part of a journey translating Customer Experience learnings in the corporate world to Guest Experience in ChurchWorld. Material in today’s post was inspired by and adapted from Revolutionize Your Customer Experience by Colin Shaw.

Revolutionize Your Customer Experience


Are the Guest Experiences a “Natural” in Your Church?

Part 4 of a 4-part series exploring Beyond Philosophy’s Customer Experience Orientation, as applied to Guest Experiences in Church World

Natural Orientation – a church where focus on the Guest is total. It is very proactive and is naturally focused on the complete Guest Experience. In order to produce memorable and captivating Guest Experiences it uses specific senses to evoke planned emotions. Research shows that only about 2% of organizations exhibit a Natural Orientation.

In this orientation, the Guest Experience is in the church’s DNA. It does not have to consider what to do as it does it naturally. It understands the critical role that senses play and had deliberately built these into its guest Experience. It understands that Guests have sensory expectations and then uses the senses to creae captivating and memorable experiences. It involve the Guest in the design of the Guest Experience and has defined its own Guest Experience “recipe.” It is totally proactive to Guest demands and undertakes many activities, which event the Guest does not see, to build a great Guest Experience.

The Natural oriented church recognizes the amazing power of “stories” and “storytelling,” both inside the organization and outside, and it uses these to great effect to build its unique Guest Experience. Its leadership, and everyone in the organization, has been selected to meet its deliberate Guest Experience.

The culture of a Natural oriented church is aligned to the Guest Experience and is seen as an enabling tool. It uses theater as a method of producing consistency of its Guest Experiences. It has aligned the brand and its Guest Experience and one supports the other. It has very sophisticated methods of collecting Guest data, which it constantly uses to improve its Guest Experience.

Natural churches are masters of details. Each part of the Natural church has a measured focus on achieving the Guest Experience, and these include measurement of emotions and senses. The high-level journey of a Guest has been plotted into an experience map and the sublevels have also been defined. For the Natural church, details matter.

Traits of a Natural church:

  • Complete focus on the Guest
  • Focuses so much of the Guest Experience that it is in the church’s DNA
  • Deliberate Guest Experience and a clearly defined Guest Experience Statement
  • System built to improve the Guest Experience
  • Culture that is designed and aligned to the Guest Experience
  • Focused on depth of emotion
  • Consciously uses senses to provide a captivating experience
  • Recruits people who are good at acting
  • Integrated approach to the Guest
  • Understands Guest sensory expectations

For more information on this subject, check out Revolutionize Your Customer Experience by Colin Shaw, pp. 20-21; 148-160

You can also find more information at Beyond Philosophy’s website.


Here’s a recap of the previous orientations:

Now that you understand more about the four possible orientations of your church’s Guest Experience, what actions are you going to take? What are the obstacles in your way? How are you going to embed the changes needed in your organization?

The Power of Story in Guest Experience

Stories can be very engaging. We fill our lives with stories. When we tell our friends what happened on our vacation, what we say to our coworkers after the big meeting, talk about our kids’ activities, what happened at the grocery store, we are storytelling. Stories are powerful methods of communication.

The concept of “story” is coming together for me in several areas of my life. While doing research for a work project, I read the following by Robert McKee in his book Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting:

Stories fulfill a profound human need to grasp the patterns of living – not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience.

The last phrase of McKee’s quote reminded me of the importance that emotion plays in a Guest Experience. Extending that thought, the power of stories and anecdotes should not be underestimated as you consider how you might weave them into the design of your Guest Experience.

The power of stories is very captivating. When you are sitting down and watching a good movie you can become captivated (in the same way discussed here). Movies and theatre are just stories in another form. What’s your favorite film? You can probably recite the story line in great detail. As you are doing that, you can even remember how you felt when you were watching it. The movie captivated you, you were laughing and crying with the characters – you were the character, you were in the film.

You feel the emotion they do. People talk about being “on the edge of their seats.” Movies evoke emotions in powerful ways. Recently, a group of friends, my wife, and I saw the movie “Argo,” based on the true story of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979. Since all of us are about the same age, we were young adults in our early 20s when the story was news, not a movie. In a discussion following the movie, everyone could recall what they saw and felt and talked about during those tense times. The movie took us back over 30 years to bring back memories that were vivid.

That is the power of story – it is an experience that enables us to escape to another world, to be captivated and be in the moment.

So ask yourself this:

What are the stories that your Guests would tell about you?

Remember that those great movies that you remember every detail about don’t just happen. They are planned and scripted. In the same way, organizations that aspire to WOW! Guest Experiences spend hours planning that Guest Experience. Every detail is considered and the senses are used to evoke emotions. In the same way a movie uses music, a tender love scene, and great dialogue to evoke emotions in the viewer, you must use the same principles to create a great Guest Experience.

Over the last few weeks I have been referring a lot to the work of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading experts on customer experience. In conversations with their staff and in researching their great resources, I have been able to “translate” the world of corporate customer experience to that of Guest Experiences in ChurchWorld.

In Beyond Philosophy founder Colin Shaw’s book Revolutionize Your Customer Experience, expert storyteller and story coach Doug Stevenson tells of the power of story. I have modified the language to that of Guest Experience:

For a Guest Experience to come alive and captivate an audience, the content, structure, and performance must be crafted strategically. The Guest Experience itself is only a beginning. Guest Experience is an art and the designer of the Guest Experience, the artist. And all artists need tools. The actor needs a stage, props, and costumes. The musician needs her instrument. The artist needs his brushes and paint. And the Guest Experience designer needs form, content, and presentation skills and techniques. The great designers of Guest Experiences distinguish themselves not just by their talent, but also by their dedication to their craft. They think about their Guest Experiences constantly. They structure the sequence and flow of the Guest Experience, and experiment to find the right words that are genuinely theirs. They work on a gesture or movement until it is just right. Then they rehearse if over and over again until it becomes second nature – the line and the gesture effortlessly married together. The incorporate acting skills and turn their Guest Experiences into little theatrical events. In order to have an end result that is amazing, you will have to spend many hours working on your Guest Experience. Your Guest Experience must be worked and re-worked, formed and re-formed. You’ll want to find the drama and comedy of your Guest Experience and let them shine.

Can you see that stories are essential enablers of the Guest Experience?