Great Customer Service; Building Real Relationships

Dear friends,

Much that is being written about arts marketing concerns topics like leveraging social media, “tweet seats;” and dynamic pricing which has become the “hot” topic of recent years. I am concerned that while caught up in efforts to stay on top of these good trends, many managers and marketers are ignoring two critical factors that underlie all of our marketing: great customer service and building relationships.

I’d like to share a couple of personal anecdotes with you to make my point. (When my comments are critical, as they are in this blog, I will refrain from identifying the organization by name).

Last month, I awoke one morning with a low grade fever and a persistent loud cough. My husband and I had tickets to see an opera that evening. We are full season subscribers and I was particularly looking forward to seeing this production. I knew that there was no way I could or should go to the opera in my condition; I was feeling ill, I was probably contagious, and furthermore, my uncontrollable cough was certain to be disruptive during the performance. I phoned the box office as soon as it opened, explained my situation, and asked to change my tickets for another performance of the same opera. I was informed in response that exchanges could only be made 72 hours or more in advance, but I was welcome to donate my tickets back to the opera. I replied that I did not know 72 hours in advance that I would be sick, that I wanted very much to see this opera, and I definitely did not want to give up the value of those tickets, which were quite costly. After going back and forth several times on the same theme, the ticketing representative excused herself to speak with someone else. When she returned, she said she would make an exception this one time, but only if I took tickets for a performance the following Wednesday, the only day that seats were available. I told her that I would be out of town the following Wednesday, so that was impossible for me. Again, I faced resistance. But I wouldn’t take no for an answer. Finally, after more haggling, she offered me seats for my requested date, and they were in an excellent location; in fact they were better than my subscription seats.

I understand that arts organizations create rules – usually for a good reason. In this case, I assume the rule was created because organizations often get stuck with tickets that are exchanged on short notice. But how much of an upside is there to enforcing this rule when there are so many downsides? What if I had gone that evening while feeling ill? That would have been a negative experience for me and for other people whose experience would have been disrupted by my presence. What if I had turned back the tickets to be resold? I would have lost out on seeing the fabulous opera and would have lost a lot of money in the process. Would I have been likely to make a much-needed contribution the next time the opera company came calling? (You can answer this one.) Would I have had good feelings going forward about this company and its policies, even if I love the artistic product?

We talk a lot about relationship building with our patrons. Those are not just empty words. A relationship is personal. Being personal requires breaking rules when it makes sense to do so. It also demands that we reach out to our customers according to the point of their involvement with our organization. Consider these two examples of other situations I faced in 2014.

I purchased two tickets to a theater four days in advance of the performance I was attending. The day following my purchase, I received an email offering 30 percent off the ticket price for upcoming performances, but the offer excluded previous purchases. I understand that the theater uses strategies such as this to stimulate last minute ticket sales, but in this case, the offer served to make me feel I had overpaid. The most powerful tool arts marketers have is the database. Can’t patron information be programmed so that people who have already purchased tickets will be exempt from receiving such messages?

Similarly, after purchasing tickets at another theater for the first time, I received seemingly every email message sent out by the marketing department, which included daily reminders to buy tickets for this show. After many days of this, I called the marketing manager to ask if they could segment their lists and not send such messages to ticket holders. I was thanked for my input, but then I was removed from all their mailings, which is a shame because I like to stay informed about what they are doing. Obviously this theater is not set up for anything other than an eblast to everyone on its list.

I request that you arts marketers and managers reading this blog respond to me about your policies on these matters and your database capabilities for segmenting email lists. I look forward to hearing from you.

Happy New Year!


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