Ideas from the team


7 Simple Steps to Growing Your Audiences

As a regular theatre booker, I have a few opinions about what venues could be doing to engage me more. I go to the theatre often but I’m selective in what I like to see and where I want to see it. When it comes to CRM, it’s a question of adding value to my experience, using what you know about me to inform the relationship moving forward. It most definitely isn’t about sending me emails that encourage me to go to things I’ll have no interest in.

CRM can sound quite technical and system focused, but many of you will already have a CRM tool. Box Office data is the natural starting point as it contains all your customer records and gives you some insights into their purchase behavior. It will give you a whole host of information at your fingertips, ready to inform your approach to building a meaningful relationship with your customers.

Having said that, it’s important to remember that your box office system isn’t the be all and end all of your CRM approach. Personally, I think we need to stop thinking about customers as data points and start thinking about them as people who think and feel and respond. We need to be stop thinking about “managing” our relationships with customers, after all, who wants to be managed? So perhaps, instead of it being customer relationship management, it needs to be customer experience management.

7 Steps for Customer Experience Management

How do we do it? The good news is it’s not rocket science. I think there are 7 key steps to be a successful approach to customer experience management. It doesn’t matter whether you’re large or small, there are a number of steps every organisation should go through when it comes to engaging and managing their patrons.

1.Get buy-in from the top

One of the biggest differentiators in organizations who create a great customer experience versus ones who don’t is leadership. In a number of the organizations we work with, we see the CEOs really dedicate time to thinking about customer experience, both from a data perspective but also from the customer journey. If your CEO is on board with making customer experience a priority across the whole organization, then the likelihood is everyone else will be and it will become a priority across the entire company. The outcome of this is that everyone, not just the marketing team or the box office team, will be thinking customer first, and as a result it will be easier to challenge the silos in which departments tend to operate.

Tip: When was the last time your CEO booked a ticket on your own website? A simple tip to get your CEO thinking about the customer journey is to ask them to book a ticket and make a donation on your own website.

2. Establish a customer experience team and ways of working to support that.

There are some arts organizations who are stuck in an outdated and siloed model which is hugely inefficient. They have conflicting departmental goals, where the sales team is focused on ticket sales as their number one goal, the marketing team is focused on click-throughs and writing good copy, and the fundraising team is focused on protecting their donors from the wider organization.  This means that no one is really taking point to focus on what the customer feels and thinks, what their overall experience of the business is and what all of the data across the organization is telling us. Remember that customers don’t think of our organizations as various departments; they think of us as one united organization.

That’s exactly what The New Wolsey Theatre in the UK has done. They’ve created a dedicated customer experience team whose job is to oversee all customer interactions to maintain quality and consistency of experience. No longer working in siloed departments, the team works to ensure their customers have a great time, feel valued and looked after, that their feedback is heard, and to ensure that the data and insights gathered are centrally managed to really maximize the use of the information.

Tip: Set up a monthly patron experience meeting with a representative from marketing, development, front of house, box office and the executive team. Use each meeting to discuss and plan one new initiative to improve the patron experience.

3. Put the tools you need in place.

Good customer experience management needs technology that allows you to keep on top of your data in a quick and easy way. It should be making your life easier not harder. You should be looking for a solution that can house all of your customer data. The natural starting point for this is box office data, so ticketing systems tend to be the right fit but whatever system you choose should also be housing your marketing and fundraising data, at bare minimum.

It’s all very well having a place to store all the data, but if it isn’t kept in a sustainable way, it’s of no use. It needs to be clean and to keep it clean takes ongoing work. If half your database are duplicates or have passed away, that’s half your marketing spend wasted. If a chunk of them are incomplete customer records, that’s another missed opportunity for engagement.

There are some useful practices you can put in place to keep on top of maintaining it as well, for example, applying tags regularly to your data so that anyone coming into contact with that customer record can easily identify the gaps and help clean it up. It’s a question of embedding the right behaviors into the organization and making it a daily routine.

Tip: Set up a weekly (or daily) report to go to your box office team that shows newly created customer records. They can then check the quality of the data, contacting customers to fill in the blanks as needed.

4. Identify and segment your customers.

We know that nowadays customers expect far more personalization from marketing communications and that they expect best practice whether you’re a small arts organization or a global brand. But don’t feel intimidated by that, as it doesn’t have to be hard. It just requires time spent dedicated to thinking about best way to categorize your customers in a way that’s sustainable. Identify a smart segmentation strategy that makes your audience and donors feel like you know them and feel valued.

Segmenting your audience is about more than just marketing communications. In doing so, their experience of their interaction with you as an organization, whether that’s opening a targeted email or being welcomed in a personal way by front of house, will ultimately be more positive. The better their overall experience of interacting with you, the more likely they are to be loyal to your organization and to be an advocate for you to their friends. Segmentations can be like finding a needle in a haystack but some useful starting points are looking for frequent attenders, recent attenders, local customers, lapsed attenders and everyone else. These groups should filter all your clients into at least one group and help you make better decisions on what communications they should be receiving from you.

Tip: Identify the top three segments that will most impact your audience development - these might be big spenders, first timers and patrons who come more than twice a year - then brainstorm ideas around how you can enhance their experience with you.

5. Establish a customer experience strategy.

The best way to think about your customer experience or how your customers perceive their interactions with you is to think about what you want. What would you expect as a customer? Easy to find tickets? A straightforward website? A welcoming front of house team? Understanding what kind of experience you want to deliver helps you figure out what your brand stands for and how that comes across.

Delivering on-brand promise, expressing your brand personality, and bringing the brand attributes to life should be your key focus when designing the customer experience.

Tip: Map out the customer journey with you - from awareness through to coming in to see the show through to giving a donation afterwards - and map against that what the customer is trying to achieve. Do a quick audit of all those touch points, do they feel consistent? Do they represent how you want your organization to be perceived? Do they make it easy for the patron to engage with you, to find what they’re looking for, to book tickets or make a donation? Where you find it’s not consistent, or isn’t meeting the customers needs, build a plan to make adjustments so that you can deliver a consistent, helpful customer experience.

6. Learn and adapt as you go.

Customer experience isn’t fixed and permanent. It needs to be revised, tweaked, and adapted as you go. Listen to your customers and constantly review who they are and what they want. Against a background of constantly shifting priorities, your organization needs to evolve over time to reflect the requirements of your artistic program and the expectations of your customer.

Tip: Every time you try something new, set-up an hour long review session a month or so afterwards. Use this session to think about what worked, what didn’t work, what you might have done differently.

7. Surprise and delight.

I’ve saved the best step for last. Think about the small flourishes you can do to surprise and delight your customers. If customer experience is about the quality of the interactions your patrons have with you as they come into contact with your organization, then there’s nothing better to be thinking about than going the extra mile for them in a way that’s genuine and unexpected. If you make them feel special and valued, you can build a really strong bond with them.

Tip: In quiet periods, ask your box office team to phone the top three segments I referenced in step 4 to thank them for coming to see a show with you and for their loyalty. If the conversation is going well ask them what they thought of the show and what feedback they have for the organization in general.


It’s as simple as this - we know that if you treat customers really well, they’re going to be more loyal, and so their lifetime value goes up. So it’s critical that you go back and really holistically think about your customer experience strategy. The improvements you make now will drive value for your company, even if you don’t collect cash for that until sometime in the future.