by columnist Madeline Karp,
Welcome to Dispatches from the Mid-Atlantic’s new series Meet the Museum! where we interview museum professionals in the Mid-Atlantic region to get a feel for who they are and what they’re up to.
Today, we’re talking to the Please Touch Museum’s new Manager of Visitor Services, Patrick Wittwer.
Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get into the museum field?
Back in high school, a friend of mine had a part-time job at the Franklin Institute and suggested I apply. I was hired to work the overnight program there and have been working in museums ever since.
What do you do at the Please Touch Museum?
I am the Visitor Services Manager, and I am responsible for the quality of the guest experience at PTM. I oversee a large staff, and work on developing the programs and training that ultimately improves our ability to serve our guests.
What is the most challenging thing about working in Visitor Services?
With a large staff, learning everyone’s name has certainly been challenging. Beyond that [I think] dealing with unexpected issues can be a challenge.
Any crazy customer services stories to share with us?
When I worked at Disney World, we were encouraged to go above and beyond Disney’s guest service standards whenever we could. One of my favorite things to do was to give birthday kids a special message. There was an extension you could call and Goofy would pick up the phone and wish the child a happy birthday. The reaction that this call garnered was one of the many highlights of working for the Mouse.
Do you think Philadelphia museums have a particular “personality” in comparison to institutions in other cities/regions?
I think that the spirit of collaboration amongst Philadelphia institutions is higher than that of their counterparts in other cities, but do think a museum’s “personality” depends on what audience they are catering to.
What are some of the ups and downs about being a manager? We understand that PTM’s Visitor Services department is upwards of 70 people.
One of my goals as a manager is to bridge the gap between the floor staff and back-of-house staff that exists in just about every business. At PTM, there is an enthusiasm from both sides to create unity, which is very refreshing. On the flip side, every manager whose primary responsibility is guest service has to deal with dissatisfied guests, which at times is unpleasant, but the ups definitely outweigh the downs.
You’ve posted a March Madness bracket of children’s television shows and asked the staff to vote on their favorites all month. What inspired you to start this tournament, and what are you hoping the Visitor Services staff will gain from participating?
I had two goals with March Madness. One was to break up the day for the floor staff. My main goal was to use it as an icebreaker. I wanted to get to know my staff and assess their feelings about their jobs, the department, the museum, and get a feel for their personalities. With the tournament being posted on my door, it brought people into my office that may not have been comfortable approaching a new manager. It also prompted discussions that started with the [children’s] television shows on the board and inevitably segued into a chat about the job they do at the museum.
[Update: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles won the 2013 Children’s Television March Madness Tournament, with The Muppet Show coming in a close second place. Reading Rainbow and Hey Arnold! rounded out the Final Four slots.]
What advice would you give to someone looking to break into the museum field?
Never settle for anything less than what you truly want to do. People who go into the museum business don’t do it for the money; they do it because they have a passion that they are pursuing. Networking helps. Joining a group like Philadelphia Emerging Museum Professionals (cheap plug – phillyemp.com) is a great way to get to know other people in the field.
Any last thoughts?
Sure, two little nuggets of wisdom:
There are a tremendous amount of resources out there for people in the museum field, use them as often as possible.
If you are not enjoying your position or you are no longer fulfilled in your job, find something new that challenges you and keeps you engaged in your work.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us, Patrick!
Got a question for Patrick? Post it in the comments!