For as much 2020 was a year of challenges, for Eric Bruce, CCXP, it brought opportunities--and a pathway for professional growth.
Eric was the Head of Visitor Experience and Insight at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) when the COVID-19 pandemic hit--and everything was shut down. It was a job he “grew up in,” and in March he found himself involved in the biggest challenge of his career – leading the museums’s COVID response for both staff and visitors.
“I was chairing a cross-functional team of staff across all divisions, thinking about COVID-19 and safety, and how to reopen the building for everyone,” he said, “And that was an incredible learning moment because I not only learned a lot about the pandemic, but also about the needs of the organization and person at every level.”
Eric recognized that staff, volunteers, and visitors most needed grace to deal with the unknowns related to the pandemic and its accompanying anxieties. “I think COVID-19 renewed the organization's focus on deep listening with our audience to understand where they were, which led us to make changes for both staff and visitors quickly so that everyone felt comfortable, safe, and welcomed.”
When the opportunity to move into the newly-created job of Head of Visitor Experience and Evaluation at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. presented itself later in the spring, Eric took what he’d learned and expanded it to a new role that included the responsibility for embedding customer-centric thinking at the gallery.
The Gallery, which offers free admission to the public and serves over 4 million visitors per year, designed the leadership position to create a stronger organizational focus on experience, with Eric overseeing the strategic, operational, cultural, and measurement components of that work. He came into the job with big questions: "What does it mean to be the nation’s art museum? What does it mean to be created for everybody and to be accessible to everybody and to listen in a deep, holistic way to what that audience experiences?”
The position was not only new to Eric and the gallery staff, but also for art galleries in general, which provides fertile ground for innovation even as the pandemic injected uncertainty.
“It’s been an interesting time because the museum has been closed to the public and then re-opened in phases,” he explained. “I came in just as they were starting the re-opening process, and the focus was on operational realities on the ground and learning from the stakeholders involved.”
From those learnings, the gallery instituted a timed admission process in order to focus on making sure people felt safe--and to do that in a way that was, as Eric says, “welcoming and elegant” and as “good as it could be given all the restraints of the pandemic.”
For the National Gallery, the pandemic along with concurrent racial justice protests has created space for conversations that travel beyond the realm of operational improvements, but into deeper ones about equity. In addition to Eric’s newly created role, the Gallery has created new positions to help the institution become more welcoming to all audiences. Eric looks forward to collaborating with new team members and exploring the intersectionality of CX and D&I, saying “it will ultimately reshape our business practices and our way of thinking about our audiences.”
CX professionals, Eric says, are uniquely suited to respond to business challenges, whether they're caused by a public health crisis or deeper social concerns. “You have to come from a place of understanding," he said. "CX professionals know that we are not our target market and that we are creating things for people other than ourselves. We have to be good listeners to do that, and we have to be able to respond to those things to create lasting value and real change."