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How to Build Theatre Accessibility into Your CRM Strategy

Photo of pink sign in grass that has a wheelchair icon and says

Customer relationship management is a crucial, yet sometimes overlooked, piece of creating an accessible experience for audience members. Even if an organization offers a variety of access programs, they need to be able to leverage data from their database. CRM data can help them understand which patrons want to take part in their access programs, reach them at the right time, and meet their needs when they attend. Just as a CRM system serves as the backbone for any marketing or fundraising campaign, a clean and strategically set-up customer database can help organizations streamline how they communicate with patrons about their accessibility offerings.

Having accurate data and a detailed customer database can ensure organizations are asking for the correct information about their access bookers, collecting it efficiently and ethically and leveraging that information to reach patrons effectively. Whether an organization is setting up a new customer database or optimizing it to better serve its overarching accessibility strategy, there are three main components to focus on to build access into their CRM strategy: 

How to Build Theatre Accessibility into Your CRM Strategy

Determine what data points to collect and why

When approaching access, it can become common practice to collect data points on whether an individual uses a wheelchair, an assistive listening device, or a service animal. But to better tailor their access CRM strategy to their missions, organizations should make sure they understand why they are collecting each data point before they go about collecting it. Having every data point an organization collects trace back to a goal will help ensure that the data stays contextual, consistent and reflective of the community it serves. 

Organizations should ask: what is the goal of collecting accessibility information in the first place? How does collecting this information help them achieve their mission, serve their community and meet their business objectives? An organization might determine, for example, that collecting accessibility information helps them achieve the goal of bringing intergenerational works of art to all generations of theatregoers. Having that goal in mind would then inform them on how to ask for accessibility information from their patrons, and what other customer information is key to giving them a full picture of their access work. In this case, customer age would be an especially important part of that picture. Likewise, the mobility devices they use may figure more into the picture than it would at other organizations. 

Knowing the age range of their most frequent access bookers could help them tailor their communications. Following the above example, if the audience tended to skew older, then direct mail might be a really useful way to send information about accessible programs. Likewise, being equipped with this information would help them serve these patrons at the venue. Having an accurate view of who is coming to their access programming could also help them secure funding to bolster accessible programs. 

Examine the process and ethics for collecting access information

Once an organization has determined what data points to collect and why they help further their access work, the next step is sourcing that data. While some customer information might automatically get recorded on their record as part of the CRM system’s function — such as what access programs they have booked tickets for — collecting other customer information relies on the organization to establish a process for tracking it. When setting that process up, organizations should create an efficient and accurate method for entering access information into their CRM records.

When collecting accessibility information from individuals, organizations should always allow patrons to self-identify. When patrons make requests for access accommodations or create their online profile, arts organizations should give patrons an opportunity to communicate their own needs and be honest about how the organization uses that information. Properly asking for and tracking ability demographics can be major assets in ensuring an excellent experience for patrons. Knowing ahead of time about any requests for an assistive listening device, braille program, large-print program, seat removal, smart live caption glasses, or alerts to a service animal can help the ground floor customer service team create a smooth and exceptional experience.

Screenshot of an accessibility questionnaire in the booking journey.

Without a clear process for collecting customer information in place, some organizations have reverted to having staff members provide their own estimate of the demographics of individuals in the audience. This practice is both ethically questionable and increases the likelihood of inaccurate data. Reporting on demographics that are not self-identified can expose unconscious biases that skew data and present an inaccurate picture of the audience.

Craft a strategy for analyzing and leveraging accessibility data

Once the data is efficiently structured and ethically collected, it’s time to report on the findings. Organizations should map out how they are going to share access data among their teams and how their teams will use it to make their programming and booking process accessible to all patrons. From there, they can plan out which reports to pull and how to repeatedly share insights between their team members. 

To do this, organizations should ask themselves what information their customer-facing teams need to prepare before the performance to give patrons the best possible experience.

  • Could scheduling a front-of-house report to appear in the house manager’s inbox three hours before a performance allow them to inform their staff about which patron accommodations to plan for?
  • Likewise, how could disseminating this information to administrative teams help them better communicate with patrons?

Leveraging the right accessibility information at the right time can give customer-facing teams the agency and adaptability to provide the best experience possible at the event. It also provides invaluable information to programming administrative teams, helping them better understand the patrons they are working to communicate with, tell stories to, market to and cultivate.

Creating a truly accessible patron experience also means building an accessible CRM strategy. Arts administrators can do this by understanding the goals that their data ties back to, collecting that information ethically and effectively, and then leveraging that information to anticipate patrons’ needs and give them a pleasant and equitable experience. With these approaches in hand, organizations can use their CRM to help their teams serve all of their patrons consistently and over time.

For a complete look at creating an accessible experience for performing arts patrons, see the complete guide to approaching access via ADA guidelines and beyond