What Do High-Stakes Poker and the Arts Have in Common?

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

Recently, I watched the film Molly’s Game, an American crime drama, based on the memoir of the same name by Molly Bloom. Molly was an Olympic ski moguls hopeful who did not end up qualifying for the Winter Games after suffering an injury during trials. Leaving her sports career behind, she went on to run one of the biggest and most successful high-stakes poker games for the rich and famous in Los Angeles and New York. But, as a novice in one of the most exclusive markets in the world, how did she become so successful, so fast?

When she was first tasked with setting up a game, Molly didn’t know anything about poker or the people playing. In fact, in interviews about those early days, she said that she would show up to host a game with a cheese tray from a local grocery store and an equally cheesy mix-tape of gambling-themed songs. Fortunately, for Molly, she spent the next several months paying careful attention to everything that was said or done by the players. As she began to understand exactly who she was catering to (her audience, if you will), she was able to carefully craft every aspect of the environment to ensure a unique experience that kept players happy and returning week after week.

Remember, these players were the likes of Tobey Maguire, Leonardo DiCaprio, Alex Rodriguez, and other Hollywood and sports celebrities. They didn’t need money. They could purchase anything they wanted at the drop of a hat. So Molly had to curate a truly unrivaled event to keep them coming back time and time again.

In a recent Business 101 article entitled, “How to Create An Authentic Customer Experience, According to Poker Entrepreneur Molly Bloom,” Molly outlined what she considers to be the three golden rules to crafting the ultimate customer experience. And yes, you guessed it — these rules have a direct application to crafting superior arts experiences for your patrons.

Do Customer Research

Molly went into every game knowing who would be at the table, what the table dynamics would be (i.e., who should sit next to who), and what the players personally liked and disliked. Through research, she shaped the environment down to the smallest details, which made for an unrivaled experience in the world of poker.

In the performing arts world, we can also curate a unique experience for our patrons by doing audience research. On a most basic level, we use audience research to assist us in setting ticket prices. Your audience self-selects their level of experience based upon their perceived value of what they will get out of it. Beyond pricing, we can shape our seasons and special events by paying close attention to the likes and dislikes that our patrons convey to us. By continually gathering research, analyzing our data, and surveying our patrons, we can better construct an environment that will keep them wanting to come back for more.

Say Yes All The Time

Too often, we forget the adage, “The customer is always right.” In Molly’s case, every wish that a player had was fulfilled. Why? Because this made her players feel taken care of and in turn, they rewarded her with trust and extreme loyalty.

Some of the earliest research on “the customer experience” was done by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore of Horizons LLP, an Ohio-based think studio. In their seminal book, The Experience Economy, Roger boldly states that customer loyalty is gone. Businesses that just deliver the same experience time after time will get beaten down on price. Customers demand a superior experience.

If your organizational culture is built on rigid and inflexible policies that protect your business instead of serving your customers, they will eventually go somewhere else. Think about every interaction you have with your patrons. If a patron is unhappy, identify the opportunity to solve the problem and turn that customer into a loyal patron.

Make the Fun Effortless

We all have had those unique experiences where when an event is over we just can’t believe how easy it was to have that much fun. Molly’s meticulous preparation behind the scenes meant that the players could focus on the game. Her players weren’t wondering where to hang up their coats, where to get a drink, or what to eat. She thought and took care of every aspect, no matter how trivial, so that the players could concentrate on what they were there to do.

Before your next event, spend the time to think through every possible facet of the evening before your patrons walk through the door. Why are they attending? What is the most important point of the event? What are the potential roadblocks that could prevent a fully enjoyable experience? Solve for all of the little distractions, things like your will call line, parking, bar service, coat check, ushers, seating preferences, etc… Your patrons’ experience should feel effortless and it’s your job to do the thinking beforehand to make sure it does.

Molly made millions of dollars by hosting high-stakes poker games. For most of her years, she made her money through tips, as charging for betting games was illegal. Think about that for a moment. By creating the ultimate experience, her players tipped her millions of dollars just for the opportunity to keep their seat at the table. Now that’s loyalty!

So the next time you are planning your season of events think very carefully about what experience you intend to deliver to your patrons. Script out every aspect in your control, and don’t forget to observe their reactions and, most importantly, ask for feedback! Doing so will ensure a superior experience for your patrons that will leave them with no option but to come back time and time again.

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