Why a Chief Experience Officer matters.

Shelley Bernstein
Jul 12, 2016 · 3 min read

If you didn’t know better, my last post would have given you the impression that my job is mostly digital. As “Deputy Director of Digital Initiatives and Chief Experience Officer” at the Barnes Foundation, I’ve got a funny old world/new world title with one foot firmly on each side of a divide. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the digital part of my title only demonstrates the position within the institution while the experience part explains how we are thinking about moving forward.

When people ask me what I do, honestly, my answer changes with whom I’m speaking and how short or long I’d like that conversation to be. People have a grasp of what digital is and how it might materialize for a museum — something not so true just ten short years ago — so, if I’m standing in the coffee shop and I’m not fully caffeinated, you’ll find me shortcutting to “digital,” but the real gem is in the newer idea of the “experience officer” because it explains how we are working at the Barnes, what we consider a key focus, and how digital may (or may not be implemented).

The Chief Experience Officer — quite literally — puts a leash on digital and, instead, shifts the focus to better experiences regardless of how they are implemented.

It’s a funny thing when you take a new job and you almost have to forget everything you know about the “right” way to do something. In this role, my responsibility is to walk through the life of the institution through the eyes of others; this means putting a lot of my own thoughts aside, so I can look anew through the eyes of both our visitors and our staff. In this journey, I’m finding that what I might have deemed the “right” ways of doing something may run counter to a good solution where “experience” is the mandate. In so many instances, I have to stop myself from what I know just so I can see the problem differently, and, provide solutions that I wouldn’t have before considered. It’s a new world.

How big is this scope? Big. Think about it this way…how many of you have watched, seen something that needed to be fixed, but just didn’t have the mandate to make it happen because it wasn’t in your “bucket” of responsibilities? At the Barnes, we’re changing all of that. Simply put, once you start looking through the lens of experience, everything is different and everything is connected. That scope can be small — Why are the names on our ID badges so small so they are not easily readable? — to large — Why are visitors having so much trouble getting through our ticketing process? As I move forward, you’ll start to see me outline many of the challenges we face and I think you’ll find “digital” running secondary in every conversation.

It’s of vital importance that a job like this one sit at the executive level because it touches almost everything you can think of. We’ve seen digital start to rise through the ranks in institutions; we can find plenty of examples where the digital officer is now part of the executive team. In some cases, these individuals are charged with more areas than digital, but they are “areas” all the same. A Chief Experience Officer isn’t in charge of an area; a CXO is in charge of an idea — an ideal experience on behalf of everyone who uses it.

This is a shift for museums and, one day, I hope we can drop the old world part of my title in favor of simply, “Chief Experience Officer.” Doing so would mean there’s an awareness in the industry that ideas are as relevant to an institution as the operations. I believe this day is coming and I feel privileged to be a part of change happening here and, what I hope will eventually be, greater industry change.

Barnes Foundation

Visitor experience, digital content, and strategy from staff and partners of the Barnes Foundation.

Head of Product/CTO @ofbyfor_all. Digital consulting @the_barnes and others. Living in Far West Texas and loving it.

Visitor experience, digital content, and strategy from staff and partners of the Barnes Foundation.

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