Since the advent of the contract culture, the reduction in museum budgets, and the implementation of performance measures based on customer satisfaction management, museums have faced increasing pressure to attract wider audiences. This requires an understanding of visitor expectations, and experiences, of visiting a museum. However, for the most part, public museums have concentrated their research efforts into obtaining statistical data which measure through‐put and provide demographic profiles, ignoring in the process the nature of the experience itself. This paper looks at research derived primarily from academics working in the field of visitor studies. It outlines three approaches; the social, the cognitive, and the environmental perspective, which have been applied to studies of museum visitor behaviour. The paper then presents the findings from an observational study of visitors to a city museum. These findings are recast in the light of the three approaches described, in order to offer an integrated framework of customer behaviour which has implications for the management of the service encounter in museums.
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