Using Data to Create a Better Patron Experience (And Maybe Even a Better World)
Today’s guest blog post is written by Jess Hutchinson, Client Administrator, Patron Technology.
The data we gather about our patrons is powerful. It allows us to segment, target, retain, even regain an audience, which for arts organizations, is more than business critical – it’s the whole reason we do what we do. If a great show happens in our theatre, but no one is there to see it, does it make an impact? So that begs the question: is our data even more powerful than we’ve given it credit for?
I used to think that collecting and utilizing patron data was something that happened separately from my art. But the more deeply I’ve come to understand how good, well-organized data can paint a remarkably full picture of each patron I encounter, I’ve found it’s quite the opposite. I’ve started to see the siloing of data as a missed opportunity to truly connect with our patrons and extend the efficacy of the art we are passionately driven to create.
So what if we rethought every potential communication with our patrons as a chance to not just sell tickets, but to increase the reach of our art? Think about the intrinsic impact art has in our society: in addition to entertaining, diverting, or providing a joyful escape (all of which are valuable services) artists have an unparalleled ability to build our collective capacity for empathy, which is like a primer coat for creating lasting social change.
There are myriad ways for us to build empathy and connection every time we interact with our patrons. These connections are most effective when they’re customized, and that’s where our data comes in: take the notes on seats Gene talked about in August or the list segmentation that Elise showed us in October. These require some strategic thinking and planning, but they utilize data you likely already have. You can also use the absence of data to welcome patrons you don’t yet know. What if your door list alerted you when someone was visiting your organization for the first time so that you could more personally greet and thank them for coming?
We can also model authenticity and empathy in how we’re collecting data in the first place. Think about how your data is structured right now: do your practices for creating Household Accounts assume both partners will share the same last name? Do you have protocols in place for cases where that isn’t true? What about salutations: have all your patrons told you whether they prefer Mr., Mrs., Ms., or to omit this part of a formal greeting? Have you considered adding a custom field for Preferred Pronouns to ensure that you and your staff address your patrons in the way they wish to be addressed? If you must collect your patrons’ gender, consider making this a text field where they can write in their own definition, rather than offering checkboxes with just two options. Simple changes can go a long way toward your patrons feeling seen, heard, and welcome. And when patrons feel welcome, isn’t it likely that they will feel more ready to engage with the art you’ve made for them?
It’s an ambitious goal to make every patron interaction more personal – but what a worthy challenge. If we can amplify the potential the work on our stages, in our galleries, our museums, and music halls has to positively impact each patron we encounter, why not give it a try? And if slight adjustments to the systems we use can make a significant difference in how welcome every member of our community feels, aren’t those adjustments well worth the effort? Art is important, even vital; how we invite patrons to participate can similarly have a lasting, positive impact of which we can all be proud.