Last weekend, I visited (for the first time) New York City. I’m passionate about history and the highlight was going to the Statue of Liberty and the historical immigration center on Ellis Island.
At the historical immigration center on Ellis Island, my wife and I took a guided tour offered by the National Park Service. Our guide was an old gentleman (in his late 60s – early 70s). He explained the history of the place and tried to give us a glimpse on how the immigrants who passed through Ellis Island felt during the process of entering / immigrating to the US.
Throughout this exercise of empathizing with the people who passed through that immigration center 100 years ago, the guide referred several times to a 17-year-old girl who came from (what is today) Slovakia and came on board a steamer that left from Germany.
In my mind, this was a typical example of using a persona to make the image more vivid. It also reminded me of the identifiable victim effect – where people are more likely to engage in charitable donations when they are presented with the image of only one “victim” than when presented with hard-numbers on the thousands of “victims”.
Simply put, I believed that the guide was using some well-established tools of creating emotional engagement.
The tour ended with the guide reading out the manifesto (paper-work) of the 17-year-old girl from Slovakia and giving some additional information on the last steps immigrants had to take before entering the USA.
At the very end, the guide gave us some additional information that girl’s life after immigrating to the US. She married her childhood best friend (who already was in the US at the time she came). They had two daughters and one of them married a (another) Slovak immigrant. Our guide was their son.
Throughout the tour, the old gentleman guide told us the story of his grandmother’s immigration to the US through Ellis Island.
Now, that’s a different kind of personal touch in service design!
The guide told us that the other guides at Ellis Island are descendants of people who immigrated through the same immigration center. Each of the guides uses their ancestor’s real story to illustrate their tours.
This different kind of personal touch in service design makes sense for the clients, as well. It is said that 1 in 4 Americans living today is related to someone who came in the US through Ellis Island. Some of the tourists who visit Ellis Island do so in an endeavor of tracking their ancestors’ paths. – actually, the guide asked the group: “who has ancestors who came in through Ellis Island?” and approx. 25-30% of people raised their hands.
The main learning is that, when designing a service, a personal touch from the service provider adds to the authenticity of the service. This is equally valuable as tailoring a service to clients’ needs and wants.
Ellis Island Immigration Center.