This is a co-authored piece by TRG Arts and Spektrix. TRG Arts is a consulting firm with a focus on getting results for clients in the non-profit arts industry. Today, TRG helps clients grow revenue and patronage in the United States, Canada and the UK. TRG works with dance, opera and theatre companies, museums, performing arts centers, orchestras, festivals and commercial entertainment organisations. Want a free 30-minute consultation with TRG? Sign up here.
Does your organisation need a box office anymore?
Well, yes. But the question is understandable.
Certainly the roles and responsibilities of box office staff have changed. As more patrons elect to buy online, the box office has evolved. Staff are no longer just order takers, but frontline for fundraising, marketing, sales and customer experience.
This shift has come at a time when there’s more data than ever about customers and their activities. Organisations are using data about customers to provide personalized service and more patrons hold this as an expectation. Some organisations (Seattle Repertory Theatre and Phoenix Theatre, for example) have even embraced patron services office models, where staff manage portfolios of customers, giving everyone a personal concierge experience.
Regardless of model or tactic, the strategy is the same: make the relationship between patron and organisation more personal, increasing average spend and retention. It’s a more efficient and sustainable business model.
In this series of two blog posts by TRG Arts and Spektrix, we’ll examine the role that box office staff play in retaining patrons and providing great service, in the following areas: data capture, experience, retention, and upgrading. In this first post we’ll cover the strategies that are easier to implement for most organisations, and in the second post we’ll cover more complex strategies.
The first step to any good data collection strategy concerns its scalability. You’ll want to make sure it is easy and quick to gather customer data, logging it in your database. With that in mind, you should be relying on your website to do most of the data collection for you such as collecting basic contact information (name, address, phone, email, etc.) and additional information about programming preferences or newsletter opt-ins. From there here’s how the box office can propel efforts even further:
- Your box office team should be asking the same questions you ask online when they interact with a patron over the phone or in person. This will ensure that your dataset is consistent and accurately portrays your whole audience. A good rule of thumb for planning your strategy: if it’s too long to ask over the phone, then it’s too long to ask online as well! Stick to only a few key pieces of extra data.
- If you haven’t had a consistent strategy for collecting customer info, or have imported some incomplete information from other databases the best thing your box office staff can do is clean things up. It can be tedious work, but if broken up into chunks it can be manageable. Run a report that identifies potential duplicate accounts in the system and have your staff merge them together as needed. If each box office staff member does 10 per shift as a part of their daily routine you’ll start to notice that the amount of dupes will dwindle. Take a similar approach to accounts with missing emails or phone numbers and flag those accounts in the system. That way when someone calls or visits the box office your staff will easily be able to prompt the customer for more info.
Your organisation offers audiences more than just a ticket to a show, you’re offering an entire experience to customers. That experience starts way before they arrive at your venue, and continues after they see a show. Your box office is the face of your venue in many ways as they are on the front lines interacting with your customers directly, so here’s how to make the most out of that relationship:
- Proactively introduce yourself to patrons. Personalize the experience by sending communication to first time patrons welcoming them to your organisation and letting them know who you are, why you’re so great, and how they can contact you if they need anything. Use your ticketing system to automate these messages.
- Log the most common questions customers have about your organisation. Is a part of the website confusing? Do customers always call up about where to park? Do your current discount policies seem to be causing a string of befuddled emails from customers? Your box office staff are the ones fielding these questions so make a plan to involve them in recording these topics in a data driven way. Then try to use that data you've collected to stem the issues before they can start. A quick pre-show email explaining where to park, pick up tickets, or how to dress can often drastically decrease the number of calls and emails your box office gets, and improves the patron experience by properly preparing audiences on how to enjoy their time with you.
- Record accessibility needs of a customer against their account. If you have customers who need assisted hearing devices, or will need a chair removed to accommodate their mobility needs, create a field in your database to record that information. That way you can be prepared with a report that identifies if you need to remove a seat in advance, or put an assisted hearing device with a patron’s tickets.
In a desire to attract new audience members, many organisations lose focus on those who are already buying tickets. It’s much easier and more cost effective to re-engage a patron than to acquire a new one. So, what can the box office do?
- Luckily, what enhances the patron’s experience also goes a long way in improving retention. Some of the “experience” points above, like sending pre-show emails to customers, ensure that the experience is a good one. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that the patron will return.
- The experience can’t do all the work for you, though. Marketing and the box office should work together on ways to invite patrons back after they have that good experience with your organisation. First-time patrons are the hardest to keep; focus your efforts there with follow-up messaging and incentives to return. The box office should welcome customers who are attending for the first time and encourage them to come back.
- If you have a membership or subscription package offering, have your box office identify and follow up with patrons who haven’t been showing up or booking. These patrons are often at the most at risk of not renewing.
Attracting and retaining patrons is not enough. You also want them to engage more deeply over time. When a patron takes the next step in their relationship with you, they’re “upgrading” their relationship. Here are some ways to incorporate upgrade campaigns into your box office’s daily work:
- Have your box office ask for an add-on gift from people who call the box office. It’s the one place where asking a single ticket buyer for a donation makes sense. While this group doesn’t tend to respond to outbound asks, adding on a gift or “rounding up” is an in-the-moment appeal that tends to get a high response rate.
- Master the art of the up-sell. Box office staff should learn to deepen the relationship with every interaction, by making a specific ask. Here are some things to consider when thinking about what might be the right next step be for each patron:
- Timing. You don’t necessarily want to make more than one or two asks in a single conversation so think about subscription deadlines or year-end donation deadlines and determine what the most effective ask is for that time of the year.
- If you have a highly anticipated event driving lots of sales use that customer interest to cross-sell other shows that may have less demand, but are artistically similar.
- There’s a personality aspect to think about too. Your staff should talk about the event they’re are most excited about if they are cross selling to another event. If your staff are truly excited about the experience they are selling the customer will feel that sincerity as well and the ask will be more effective.
- Make an official upgrade matrix. Marketing, development, and box office should work together to determine the right next step for groups of patrons with different histories when they call the box office. If possible, you should use your CRM to automate this and flag customer accounts with the appropriate ask based on their past behavior in the system. That way whether your team speaks with a patron who is a multi-buyer, subscriber, or donor the correct ask is already clearly displayed on the customer account for the box office to easily act on.