Point Man

Clive Stephens, CEO of The View from The Shard, looks back at the last three years

By Juliana Gilling

Clive Stephens took charge at The View from The Shard, London’s highest viewing gallery, four months after its successful launch. He has since used his experience across the leisure, parks and attractions industry—notably as head of the 2012 Olympic Park—to steer London’s most striking start-up. He talks to Funworld Extra about how the business is striving to make as much of an impression on the marketplace as on the city’s skyline.

The Shard1

What kind of shape was The View from The Shard in when you inherited it?

It was in great shape. It had come from a very successful opening in February 2013. It traded at virtually 100 percent capacity for the first two months, which was remarkable for a viewing gallery at that time of year. Capacity-wise, it was starting to come off the back peak and to find a level that would take it through the remainder of 2013 into 2014.

I anticipated having to do a little restructuring. I expected to find a couple of challenges as the organisation adjusted to the pressures of being a live business. I wanted to give the business a good foundation, establishing clear lines of responsibility and accountability, to take it into its second year of operation.

What did the business have going for it?

It provides the only place in London where you can truly see the whole of London. There are high-rise buildings and attractions around town, but nothing that compares to the 1,000 feet of The Shard. It has positioned itself as a premium product. As well as the unique view and perspective of London, it offers a queueless system, a beautifully fitted-out space that mirrors the building’s brand, and a quality of overall service that is as personal as possible.

The Shard 2

What were your priorities?

I wanted to look at the customer journey from the first point of contact to the last. We still need to keep doing that today. The first point of contact is our advertising, the majority of which is focused on a call to action: go to our website, find out more and book. People go through an information process prior to their arrival, then there’s the actual arrival, the visit, departure, and follow-up communications. There’s a big focus on our website right now. Technology is changing fast and you have to keep trying to get a step in front of it.

We continually review the customer journey via other key performance indicators, which run throughout our business, from service delivery to the value our guests believe they’ve had.

Engagement was a word we made central to our vocabulary 12 months ago. It isn’t just about staff engagement with our guests, it’s about management engagement with our staff. We measure and report on engagement on a quarterly basis and use that information to improve our service delivery and our management delivery. It lines us up so that we’re all pointing in the same direction, pursuing the same vision and goals.

Can you give us an example of an improvement you’ve made?

We use one company to do our customer service research and our internal employee climate survey. Joining up those two bits of research has been absolutely fantastic. It has provided consistency of language, consistency of purpose and openness. It’s been very useful for us and it’s something that I would advocate.

The Shard 3

What’s your vision for The View from The Shard?

To become an iconic building and a must-see destination in London. It’s so interesting being up there, listening to people talk. We get Londoners telling their grandchildren, “That’s where we were born, that’s where your mum was born.” They’ll walk around the viewing gallery, telling the story of their life. You’ll also see international tourists using the space to plan their visit, talking about where they went yesterday and where they’re going tomorrow.

We’re still a young business. Getting a new attraction, even though we’re pretty big and pretty visual, on visitors’ must-see lists—between the likes of Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral and Oxford Street—is a challenge. I want to gradually move us up that list so we become a recognisable, iconic part of the London landscape.

How is the business doing?

Shortly after the first full operating year we saw 1 million people through the doors. That has dropped off over the last two years, as you would expect after the launch phase. But it’s not just about visitor numbers, it’s about managing our yield position. We’ve maintained our presence and our volumes in an extremely competitive marketplace, and we haven’t sacrificed our yield to maintain those volumes. My aim is to maintain and maybe improve by 5 percent the visitor numbers we did last year, which will give me leverage going into 2017, 2018 and beyond.

We’re good at creatively marketing our product and we’re becoming well known as an event destination. We started to drive our events business at the back end of 2014 and it’s showing fantastic signs of growth. We had a superb event with the NFL who used the viewing gallery to celebrate Super Bowl 50. They also used The Shard building, which is a similar shape to the Vince Lombardi Trophy, in a Super Bowl 50 trailer. We’ve had the England cricket team up here and we do a lot of sporting stuff.

The Shard 4

As well as sustaining guests during peak times of the season, we are creating other memorable times of the year. Initially, we focused on Valentine’s Day; couples got engaged here on average every 30 minutes last Valentine’s Day. The Shard has become a romantic place for couples to visit, like London’s answer to the Eiffel Tower or Empire State Building.

We’ve introduced some food and beverage into the mix, which has shown a great return. We don’t have a lot of space for a food and beverage offering, but consumers asked for it and we found ways of delivering it.

This year is going to be challenging. What’s going on in the world markets and across the world in general, will always have a knock-on effect on major cities and attractions. London visitor numbers were slightly up last year, but the amount of money people spent dropped off a little, which suggests that it will continue to be a testing time for premium-priced attractions like ours.

How do you stand out in such a competitive market?

Continuing to create a cut-through message about The View from The Shard when competition in London is intense is a challenge. Last summer we decided to open a quintessentially English country garden 800 feet above London. We shipped up 10,000 litres of soil, 2,000 shrubs and flowers and built a beautiful garden on our open-air deck. We sold picnics from Fortnum & Mason so people could enjoy afternoon tea. It gave us some extraordinary cut-through last year and kept people talking about the viewing gallery. Then we did a winter-themed experience with Bompas and Parr (http://bompasandparr.com/news/view/height-of-winter/). We’re already talking to partners about pushing out summer and winter activities again. We’re creating a voice for ourselves in London by being innovative.

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What’s your favourite Shard memory?

The one that immediately springs to mind is when we had the honour and the privilege of entertaining Her Majesty the Queen about 18 months ago. I genuinely believe she and the Duke of Edinburgh found it fascinating to survey the city from that height.

Looking ahead, what are your ambitions?

It’s taken years for major towers like the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower to develop their brand and must-see status. We’re going to try and accelerate that process as quickly as we can. We want to make sure that The View from The Shard is on international tourists’ must-see lists before they come to London.

We’ll continue to improve our service delivery, our value levels and engagement, because the better we get at those, the better the word of mouth. We’ll focus on further improving the quality of our team. We’ve just converted the majority of our staff into tour guides, so they can tell you the story about London you want to hear. For a small piece of real estate at the top of London, it’s a fascinating place to work.


Shard facts

  1. The Shard is 309.6 metres tall (1,016 ft).
  2. Architect Renzo Piano designed the skyscraper to be a “vertical city”.
  3. It has an equivalent floor space of 31.4 acres.
  4. There are 87 levels. The public can enjoy 360-degree views on floors 68, 69 and 72.
  5. The Shard is at the heart of the London Bridge Quarter, the £2 billion regeneration project developed by Sellar Property in association with LBQ Ltd.

Funworld’s February 2016 edition has further insights on how operators are building strong teams to deliver better guest experiences: bit.ly/1S0BJa0

Juliana Gilling is a contributing editor for IAAPA’s Funworld magazine, covering the EMEA attractions industry. Contact her at julianagilling@gmail.com.