Samir Bitar and I had a very spirited discussion about his role in leading a transformation of the Smithsonian visitor experience. Like many folks who attain a Chief Customer Officer level type role, Samir had been developing a robust visitor experience for just one of the 19 museums on the Smithsonian campus. His success there earned him his role to lead the work across the entire Smithsonian campus.
Samir heads research and design of the visitor experience at the Smithsonian. As a Director for the Smithsonian he leads special projects that improve visitors’ experiences across the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, galleries and the National Zoo. In his work with the Board of Regents, the National Board, senior staff, volunteers and external agencies and partner firms Samir advocates for visitor-centric and market-oriented strategies across four functional areas: service design, visitor studies, marketing, and experience design. Recent projects include the development and launch of Trip Planner™, and the redesign of the Smithsonian Visitor Center. In addition to working at the Smithsonian Samir dances with Jonah Bokaer and Erica Rebollar, with whom he performs modern & contemporary dance. Prior to joining the Smithsonian in 2008 Samir was the Executive Director of Noemie LaFrance’s SENS Production in Brooklyn, New York. Samir has a Masters of Arts Management from Carnegie Mellon University, a certificate of training from the Merce Cunningham Professional Training Program, and a bachelor’s degree in Humanities from the New College of California. Samir currently rows crew with Washington D.C.-based DC Strokes. You can connect with him on LinkedIn as well.
Take Away Messages for the Audience
- Samir’s journey from leading experience at one museum to leading it across the entire museum enterprise
- How he used a very simple journey map to present to the board of regents who needed to approve his plan
- The rigorous journey map building session and the unique stages of the Smithsonian Journey
- How the Smithsonian built out the “Trip Planner” tool
How Samir Was Awarded His Role
Samir shared with us the robust engagement approach that he used to meet with the leaders of every museum to build his proposed approach. He used these insights, paired with a simple draft of the Smithsonian visitor journey at the time to convince the most senior board of regents (including multiple senators and the vice president) why the work was necessary and how he would proceed.
Building the First Journey Map for the Smithsonian
Then we talked about exactly how Samir worked to build the first journey map for the Smithsonian which has established the blueprint for countless innovations in the visitor experience, as well as many basic experiences that needed to be consistent from one part of the museum to the other. Finally Samir walked us through a groundbreaking trip planning tool which Conde Nast called a game changer, which is the Smithsonian’s “Trip Planner.”
Here’s a look at the journey map:
And here’s a look at the Trip Planner:
We’ll provide some additional context on these in a LinkedIn post this summer. For now, visit the Smithsonian’s website for more information.
“What I Know Now That I Wish I Knew Then”
We end every podcast show asking what I call the “pay it forward” question: a piece of advice these seasoned leaders can share to help others also walking in their shoes. Samir passed along three pieces of wisdom:
- Slow down: Listen to others, don’t rush projects (“I’ve learned the use of ‘Let me get back to you,'” he says)
- It’s OK to say “I don’t know”
- Take more time hiring: this goes for selecting vendors as well as colleagues