Two Conferences, One Big Theme

Today’s blog post is written by Kevin Patterson, Senior Account Executive, PatronManager.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend two conferences: the 2019 Art House Convergence Annual Conference, and the INTIX (International Ticketing Association) Annual Conference and Exhibition. While Art House Convergence focuses primarily on film, and INTIX on the broader ticketing industry, there are always crossover issues that resonate between the two.

This year, I found both conferences were more centered around the idea of “connecting with audiences” than I have ever seen in past years. Previous iterations of these same conferences were often focused on the idea of just making the transaction process as frictionless as possible. Now more cultural leaders and their teams are interested in making deeper connections with the patrons who walk through their doors.

I found that two questions came up repeatedly during conference sessions and networking discussions:

  1. How can we move beyond the transactional and engage with audiences to improve their overall experience and increase retention?
  2. What role is technology playing to connect us with our audiences?

Moving Beyond the Transactional

The concept of the customer journey is finally taking root in the conversations of cultural organizations. For years the goal was customer acquisition for the sake of just getting people in the door. If you were an art house cinema, you were trying to compete against the megaplex down the street. If you were a performing arts center, you were looking for a mix of programming that would maximize your ticket revenue for your promoters. Each year you just reinvented the wheel looking for easier ways to sell tickets to your audience.

Friction became an evil word. How do you remove the friction in the ticket purchasing process? Can you take your website from 6 clicks to 4 clicks to 3 clicks to complete a ticket purchase? Does your site look good on a tablet or mobile smartphone? The bottom line was to get the customer to say yes quickly, and effortlessly sell them a ticket!

Cultural organizations became so good at acquisition that they lost sight of a larger goal, that is, engaging and retaining those audiences they worked so hard to acquire in the first place. Customer buying habits have changed too. No longer content to simply consume, customers are redefining the cultural experience. They want to be engaged.

Both conferences featured multiple sessions on using the customer journey as a means to engage, retain, and upgrade their audiences. For cultural organizations the key takeaways were:

  • Not every customer is the right fit for your organization. Too often organizations get caught up in serving the entire community. It is impossible to do so. Choosing the customers that you won’t serve is as important as choosing the customers you will serve.
  • Understand your customer segment. Whether it is your first-time ticket buyer, multi-ticket buyer, member, subscriber or donor, each segment is made of up customers with unique behaviors and attitudes. Understanding what motivates and engages each segment is key to developing a successful customer journey.
  • Outline a strategy that takes the customer on a journey from awareness of the organization, to consideration, to purchase, to retention, and advocacy. The organization is the guide on the journey. The customer is the hero. You want to define success in a way that will make them feel good about their experience with your organization.

The Role of Technology

With each passing year, technology is having a greater and greater impact on us. When you attend conferences like Art House Convergence and INTIX, the technology comes at you like a tsunami. From advanced ticketing platforms and CRM, mobile applications, dynamic pricing software, and new email tools, there are more ways to identify and engage with customers than ever before. The question being asked at both conferences was: has technology gone too far?

Technology will always have a place in how we communicate with our audience. I believe the technology itself hasn’t gone too far, if anything, cultural organizations have chosen to isolate themselves through the exclusive use of technology at the expense of their customers. Personalized customer engagement is being done without being personal. Some examples are:

  • Email is being substituted for a hand-written note.
  • Pre-recorded voice messages substituted for a phone call.
  • Text messages for an old fashioned birthday card with a stamp.
  • Automated telephone prompts for a customer service representative.

The takeaway for cultural organizations is to think about how best to use the technology to bring the customer closer. Customers crave connection. The next time you want to write to a customer ask yourself if your email would be better as a phone call? If your communication isn’t especially time-sensitive think about a handwritten note. Send that snail mail birthday card. Walk up to the customer in the lobby of your theater and connect with them.

Remember that your customers are not transactions. They are living, breathing human beings that want to be engaged. Think about their journey with your organization. Be their guide. Let them be the hero. Let technology augment the customer experience, don’t let it replace opportunities for making a connection. You and your organization will be better off for it!

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