Visitor services

 13 March 2013

Visitor service staff at heritage sites work to make visits enjoyable and worthwhile. Customer service is the most important element of the job.

Providing customer service can make a real difference to visitor's enjoyment and learning. Image: RBG Kew.
Providing customer service can make a real difference to visitor's enjoyment and learning. Image: RBG Kew.

What do visitor services staff do?

Visitor service staff at heritage sites are often the first point of contact for visitors to the venue. They make visitors feel welcome and ensure their visit is enjoyable and worthwhile.

Visitors may be members of the public or, in some cases, heritage professionals wanting to research or value heritage items or buildings.

Wherever you work in visitor services, and whoever your visitors are, customer service is the most important part of the job.

Visitor services staff duties can include:

  • answering visitors’ questions, face-to-face or on the phone
  • greeting visitors
  • issuing tickets
  • using till systems
  • showing visitors round the site
  • developing a knowledge of the site and its exhibits
  • being aware of health and safety
  • meeting groups and taking them on tours
  • helping at special events
  • asking visitors for feedback on their visit.

What is the job like?

The day-to-day duties vary from venue to venue. They may depend on the type and size of heritage site.

In large venues you may work as part of a team of visitor services staff. In other, smaller venues you may be working alone.

You need very good customer service skills and a positive, customer-focused attitude.

In some venues you may be responsible for:

  • admissions and bookings
  • retail
  • catering staff.

It is important to read the job description before you apply for the job.

Other points to consider are: 

  • Your working hours will be linked to the opening hours of the venue. They are likely to include weekends and bank holidays and possibly evenings.
  • You could work full-. You may work shifts on a rota basis.
  • Some jobs are seasonal. For example, some venues only open in the summer.
  • You will be expected to dress smartly. There may be a dress code. You may have a uniform, provided by the employer.
  • The job may involve sitting at a desk or counter or may involve walking around.
  • Depending on the venue, you may work indoors or outdoors. Some jobs involve both.
  • Some heritage venues may not be near public transport links, so you may need your own transport.

How do I get into visitor services?

You need very good customer service skills and a positive, customer-focused attitude. Employers may look for previous experience in a customer-facing role. They may also look for an interest in heritage generally and in the history and theme of the venue in particular.

There are often voluntary roles available in museums, galleries and other heritage sites, for example, as an invigilator. Experience as a volunteer can be helpful when applying for visitor assistant jobs.

As you will be working almost entirely with the public, you need to have a smart appearance and good communication skills. You also need to be able to work under pressure and be able to deal with any situation which may arise, including emergencies or people who are upset or difficult.

As you will have contact with the public, including children, you are likely to need a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) check (previously CRB Criminal Records Bureau).

Training and qualifications

There are no set entry requirements. Employers may look for a good standard of literacy and numeracy so GCSE maths and English will be useful.

  • There are qualifications in customer service at all levels.
  • You may be offered a chance to take a qualification, such as an NVQ, once you are in the job.
  • There are cultural and heritage apprenticeships or more general customer service apprenticeships.
  • The Institute of Customer Service offers its own training courses and different levels of membership.

With experience you could become a senior visitor services assistant supervising a team of assistants. You could then progress to visitor services manager for a large heritage site (or group of sites).

As well as managing staff, you would have responsibility for developing services.

What will I earn?

You may start on the minimum wage (or an apprentice wage). Visitor services staff start at around £12,000, rising to £14,000 with experience.

A senior visitor services assistant can earn up £17,000. Visitor services managers may earn £19,000 to £25,000.

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