How bad before intolerable?

I am a frequent attender at the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge.  It has an audience that seems to book the majority of seats in advance online – the Box Office is rarely staffed and the few people on the door buy tickets from the bar or merchandise counters.  That audience takes advantage of reserved numbered seats and the ability to take drinks into the auditoria in glasses (not plastic).  There is also a very successful membership scheme which eliminates booking fees, gives some free seats and discounts on tickets, and there are wine and snack packages.

Until 2014 the Arts Picturehouses chain was independent, but was then taken over by CineWorld.  At first we saw little change in Cambridge, except that operation became somewhat more chaotic and staff less informed – especially if asked about the many live relay streamings.  Not knowing the actual performance time or interval details is unhelpful to audiences attending a screening due to take nearly 5 hours.

the online booking service seriously deteriorated

However, in February 2015, the online booking service seriously deteriorated.  With failing bookings online, beleaguered staff when phoned said it was due to the introduction of a new website, and later that it was a change in the ticketing system.  Arts Picturehouses were apparently migrating from their Newman system which had fully met their needs, to Vista, used by Cineworld, which plainly didn’t.

Now, changing systems and the likelihood of some short term disruption is possible, and this runs the risk of upsetting some customers, but surely five months is too long a time to not get it right?  Especially for members.  For a period, advance booked screenings of streamings could not be accessed, and tickets weren’t accessible for many events.  The basics can be frustrating.  Are the seating plans accurate in layout and in showing availability – apparently booked seats remain empty through a screening.  And increasingly they offer only “General Admission” screenings, removing one of their core USPs.  Membership numbers are repeatedly not recognised , denying access to discounts.  QR codes to validate tickets have mostly disappeared.  Often the purchaser will see an error message that their transaction was successful but they can’t send the tickets through.  We now have to phone very often to complete/check our transaction.

I hope they didn’t think we were just “bums on seats”

The staff on the phone acknowledge the difficulties – it is as bad for them as for the public – and are endlessly patient in resolving the issues, usually satisfactorily. But the core of the business has been disrupted, and relations with customers badly damaged.  Arts Picturehouse customers are not just consumers of movies, and the chain markets itself as a different and more engaged experience.  So why risk alienating the audience with apparently bad technology?  I hope they didn’t think we were just “bums on seats”.

What do we put customers through when we give them an unsatisfactory purchase experience?  Andrew Thomas and I will be reviewing how you can use Google Analytics to help optimise the purchase experience in the Digital Hub at the AMA Conference in Birmingham, or visit us at Consultants Corner on Tuesday afternoon 21st 2-5pm at the Rep – you don’t have to be attending the conference:

Roger Tomlinson

Karl Vosper: UK Champion of SRO

Karl Vosper is inextricably linked to SRO as its champion in the UK since 2002. That will confuse some people from the start. SRO, from Standing Room Only, is developed by TopTix in Israel, but was originally distributed in the UK from 2002 as Artifax Ticketing under that name. Then distribution was transferred to Blackbaud, and, aligning the product name with others in their portfolio, became The Patron Edge. It was not until May 2010 that TopTix UK was formed, with Karl as managing director and SRO, now in Version 4, became the recognised name.

The route to now is interesting. Karl started out in the box office at the Central Theatre in Chatham in 1993, who were to be the first arts venue to take Venuemaster from Synchro Systems in Newcastle under Lyme. At 19 he had to go out and buy his own computer to learn about what he would have to deal with at work. This was the time of the big move from DOS to Windows in 1997 and Synchro quickly decided they needed him on their team and he joined their staff, in charge of arts venues in the south with a 360 degree role from sales to implementation and support. After migrating the Royal Opera House to Venuemaster in 1999, ROH decided they wanted him on the inside instead of working for their supplier.

Artifax brought SRO into UK

At Artifax the enterprising Timothy Nathan wanted to add an integrated ticketing product to his suite of tools for arts venue planning, scheduling and operation, and chose SRO from TopTix in Israel whose SRO Version 3 was then cutting edge leader in terms of much functionality. Karl joined the team there and they were quickly successful, securing the South Bank Centre as a user. They became a by-word, reflecting the Artifax approach, for hands on help and support.

Blackbaud wanted a ticketing system too

At this time Blackbaud in the US and the UK was looking for a ticketing system after an unsatisfactory acquisition of Intellitix, in a plan to expand its portfolio of solutions to combat the rise of Tessitura in the US. The hope was an integrated ticketing, marketing, CRM, and fund raising suite of tools would help arts organisations work smarter. They decided they wanted the distribution license for SRO and the team from Artifax was TUPed across to Blackbaud.

Karl is unwilling to talk about this period, but I know personally from my own experience and a visit to the Blackbaud HQ in Charleston that senior management were concerned about the level of hands on help and support they needed to supply for ticketing, and the continuous user’ demands for better interfaces and deeper integration. When some users in the UK asked me to help arbitrate on their behalf, I was concerned to discover that ”billable time” was a key target for Blackbaud services management, responsible for support, on which bonuses were dependent. A big change in culture from Artifax.

I knew that Karl had acquired something of a reputation as the users’ champion at this time, with a friendly approach which often meant things got fixed on-the-fly instead of at the billable rates. I was once in a meeting at which his senior managers tried to persuade me there was not a serious problem in relation to credit card processing, when Karl simply confirmed that there was. This was doomed, and in 2007 he offered his resignation. Blackbaud insisted he stay on and he became the global product manager for ticketing within Blackbaud, liaising with TopTix in the development of SRO and the new Version 4. Then Blackbaud proposed at the end of 2008 he lead on the development and release of a new ‘general admission’ (GA) alternative product called Altru, now Blackbaud’s primary ticketing product. After Blackbaud decided they would not run a pilot project to introduce SRO Version 4 to the arts marketplace, Karl resigned in 2009, required to have six months “gardening leave”.

 TopTix UK launched in May 2010

John Pinchbeck had been freelancing for TopTix in the UK in the commercial entertainment sector and sport, since the distribution license for SRO held by Blackbaud was for the not-for-profit sector. So in May 2010 they formed TopTix UK led by Karl. At this time they had to work in parallel with Blackbaud, but their exclusivity for the not-for-profit sector ended and Blackbaud finally withdrew from supplying and supporting SRO in 2014. In the period before this many users realised they could switch their support to TopTix directly and many did so, with many ex-Blackbaud staff joining Toptix as a result.

I have detected here a “part of the problem, or part of the solution” dilemma for some users. Karl and some of his colleagues were seen as initially helpful, but unfortunately problems seemed to mount up during the Blackbaud years. Ironically, switching to TopTix direct support and finding these could be quickly fixed did not prove satisfactory to some people.

 “part of the problem, or part of the solution”

This situation was amplified in 2014 with Blackbaud withdrawing, users wanting to migrate to SRO Version 4, and Blackbaud’s credit card processing solution Logic TPS also being withdrawn at, interestingly, exactly the same time as Blackbaud’s withdrawal.  TopTix had used the YesPay credit card processing solution but unfortunately this had run into problems of PCI DSS compliance and in June 2014, YesPay could take no new customers, with 40 Blackbaud users due to lose their service in August.

By any standards that is an emergency, with just two months to find an alternative gateway supplier, to build and test interfaces, obtain approvals, and set up and test 40 separate users. For those two months Toptix staff were entirely on the road, already in the middle of a sequence of 9 go-lives for new users and migrations for existing users, and inevitably there were ”dropped balls” on the way.

SRO: “Best Kept Secret”

Where to go from here? My colleague Andrew @TicketTattle Thomas and I have thought in the past that TopTix could be described as “the ticketing industry’s Best Kept Secret”. There are now 250 users of SRO Version 4 around the world and over 40 in the UK, Including the Buckingham Palace operation for the Royal Palaces with 3.5 million tickets sold per annum through 80 points of sale. One of the advantages of Version 4 is that it is architected for large-scale, multi-user, multi-venue setups. The “Rules Engine” combined with the middleware capability gives it exceptional tools, helping provide City-wide solutions, such as adopted in Leicester. That means it can be the right system for people wanting an “enterprise solution”, providing an application that can integrate and interface with all their other software and solutions, and provide the ”database of truth” for the 360° view of the customer. If you can get your head round it, the Rules Engine delivers an astonishing configurability of functions and processing.

‘annus horribilis’

But that “annus horribilis” in 2014 has dented their reputation in the sector, and quite a few users still can’t make up their mind on the “part of the problem, or part of the solution” dilemma. Karl has taken a lot of steps to address this. They have stopped working virtually and opened a new office in Clapham with a new staff structure and expanded staff. In the restructuring, two people were made redundant, some left, but more have been taken on in new roles. Industry stalwarts Pete I’anson (ex The Lowry and AudienceView) and Ken Paul (ex Delfont Mackintosh, NIMAX and ENTA) have joined. In addition to their 9am to 9pm office-based support, there is a user forum and a dedicated website that is helping users to network together and share solutions on a ‘self-help’ basis. Karl worries that while many venues have got 5 or 6 users logged onto this, there are still users who do not engage, and often these are the ones who have problems that could be easily solved.

Karl says the need is for more organisations to understand that ticketing is no longer just a sales operation and, in a sense, “the system does not stop when the box office closes”. He sees the need for users to understand the up-selling and extended sales and customer service opportunities of SRO, and take advantage of the Rules Engine. Instead of just talking about making tickets available through more channels, selling tickets in the bars and cafes in venues, plugging SRO4 into facebook, recognising members, subscribers and offering them additional benefits, he wants to see more organisations adopting this philosophy with the tools that they already have available. He remains convinced that SRO is a tool to empower organisations and he wants to help them to challenge the people who interface with the customers to make a real difference.

 users have to become the champions now

Karl acknowledges that TopTix had to address their relationship with their users following the events of last summer, so they come to see again that SRO is championing meeting their needs every day. I wonder if that means the users have to become the champions of SRO now?


Roger Tomlinson

June 2015

No 2015 Ticketing Institute Pop up at AMA Conference

It is with great regret that we have to inform you that we will not be running a pop-up at this years’ Arts Marketing Conference in Birmingham.

We had been working on a comprehensive program with some fantastic speakers, but were unable to find a venue that could provide affordable costs for our event, despite the superb support and sponsorship by Tessitura Network who were the sole sponsors of the event.

In previous years, we have been able to find a no or very low cost venue happy to host us, along , of course, with the customary drinks afterwards. Running the event as a free to attend session, we just could not find venues to host us without significant financial exposure, being so close to the conference we had to take the hard decision not to run an event for the first time in five years.

However, Roger and Andrew are working  on an informal event to allow some one-to-one sessions with consultants as well as general networking for those interested in ticketing as part of the greater marketing puzzle. This will be in central Birmingham on the Tuesday afternoon before the conference.

Both Roger and Andrew, as well as the Ticketing Institute’s US partner, Ron Evans from Group of Minds will be running sessions at the main conference, so will be around for discussion and networking throughout the three days.






How dynamic is your Box office?

We hear the word “dynamic” bandied about in regard to tickets and pricing.  But it struck me, working on the UK Theatre mini-conference Cultivating Group Sales on 18 March 2015, that we could apply that word across many functions of the Box Office.  Ironically, is it less “dynamic” today?

Let me be clear: the Box Office is in what customer-care people call the front-line of customer engagement.  Those behind the counter or on the phone spend all day every working day talking to the customers.  Are they simply responding to customer requests/orders or are they up-selling, encouraging customers, adding value, closing the sale?  Do they understand that when selling tickets to someone now, the most important visit is the next one after that?

are they up-selling, encouraging customers, adding value, closing the sale?

Actually the important question is whether they are empowered to up-sell, to add value, if necessary to negotiate with a customer?  Monitoring sales all the time, are they able to dynamically modify prices, moving price bands and breaks according to demand?  If we want them to be dynamic in their engagement with customers, we need to enable, motivate and empower them to optimise for revenue and customer satisfaction.

In North America, you will see in organisations with subscription schemes that dedicated staff are often available to “help” these customers, recognising their value and the need for satisfaction and renewals.  Increasingly in the UK we now see “fund-raising” and “development” staff who pay close attention to the needs of the donors and sponsors, and sometimes of their Members and ‘Friends’, almost providing a concierge service.  Should not we extend this approach to more of the ticket purchasers, and give them the benefit of more dynamic attention?

Should not we extend the benefit of more dynamic attention?

In the Cultivating Group Sales discussions we heard that sales staff sometimes negotiate with group organisers on the ticket price, help arrange coach travel, offer pre-booked programmes, ice creams, interval drinks, perhaps pre or post-show food.  The group organisers think this is great added value, but the sales staff find themselves working with restrictive software and sometimes a management willing to heavily discount a poorly selling show to everybody but reluctant to give an extra 50p off to a group bringing 40 people.

Various Box Offices now have staff whose job description includes tweeting about shows and related activity, and ticket availability.  Places like the New Wolsey in Ipswich and the Lowry in Salford – @NewWolsey, @The_Lowry – seem to me to get this just right: no hard sell, just positive information.  Sometimes they tweet about returns for sell-out houses or last minute availability; could they be also dynamically setting ticket prices for these limited offers with limited exposure?

tweet about returns for sell-out houses or last minute availability

The irony I see is that as ticket sales traffic moves steadily on-line, we ought to see that the people who contact the staff to talk to a real person give us a greater opportunity for engagement, and the staff themselves are our great opportunity to be dynamic in satisfying customers and bringing in the revenue.  Anybody who has heard Victoria Willingale talking about the Cambridge Arts Theatre ‘Panto Wheels’ scheme for which she personally raises money will see that Box Office staff can go a long way to help customers, and in the process the venue they work for.  The Box Office can be much more dynamic in achieving success than it is often allowed to be.

P.S. The UK Theatre Mini-Conference on Cultivating Friends and Fans – about membership and loyalty schemes –  is on Wednesday 22 April 2015 in Covent Garden, London.  More details and bookings:  You get a 20% discount if you or a colleague attended Cultivating Group Sales

PatronBase ‘does it different’

Apologies to English grammar and the original Apple ad, but in the same way that Apple intended, I think PatronBase defies convention, and ‘does it different’. A string of new developments prove that to me, being no way conventional.  I acknowledge that other system suppliers defy convention to a degree – Tessitura and Spektrix are examples – but the particular emphasis of PatronBase is intriguing.

 chief evangelist

I first saw the PatronBase system at the Fortune Theatre in Dunedin, New Zealand a decade ago, asked by Creative New Zealand to informally evaluate the system. I was on a speakers’ tour of the major cities with Tim Roberts. John Caldwell, the proprietor and “chief evangelist” of PatronBase, turned up at every one, not only taking notes but talking to us about how he could further develop his software. At the time I dubbed it as “the Databox of the Southern Hemisphere” because it reminded me of the refreshing innovative approach of Jonathan Hyams – always exceeding expectations – and his commitment to empowering arts organisations at an affordable cost.

Clearly proprietors/founders have a significant influence on the businesses they set up, not just Jonathan Hyams, but Richard Leggatt at BOCS then Galathea STS creating ENTA, and more recently Michael Nabarro at Spektrix, and in a different way Jack Rubin at Tessitura.  So when John Caldwell decided to introduce PatronBase into the UK, encouraged by Stuart Nicolle at Purple Seven and myself, this was a welcome addition to the available ticketing, marketing and CRM solutions, meeting a need from those arts organisations who simply could not afford many of the systems on the market. He said recently “the system does not have a higher price, perhaps commensurate with its features and its competition, because that would take the system outside of the price bracket of the very customers that we are committed to serve”. But PatronBase goes further in defying convention.

 published tariff

First PatronBase surprises people by having a published tariff, which is inclusive of upgrades and “continuous improvement”, supplied at relatively very low cost, without any fees or charges, just a modest annual software support and maintenance charge. Second PatronBase selects who should be customers, preferring to work with creative, usually producing, arts organisations that share their philosophical commitment to delivering the arts effectively and to developing audiences. Third it goes an ‘extra mile’ in implementation in making sure users can fully utilise all the opportunities of the system, without charging extra.

In September 2013, PatronBase was celebrating over 100 users in New Zealand, Australia, UK, Ireland and Spain (more than 160 now), and I was invited to meet their development team, drawn together from around the world to Christchurch, NZ, to talk about the future. I saw some exciting ideas being brainstormed, and, as ever, had my views on what the next generation systems should offer. So in February 2015 I was looking forward to seeing the outcome being presented to users in Auckland and Christchurch.

 what constitutes a “new” system

Afterwards, I found myself debating with David Martin, an experienced and knowledgeable ticketing consultant in NZ, exactly what constituted a new iteration of a system, or a new version, or a completely new product. Because what we had seen confounded our expectations, by defying the conventions.

For a start, we had seen a new browser-based “front-end” to the system – called the Web Hub – which offered a completely different ‘look and feel’ and user experience, with specific functionality, with touch screen capability and a breath-taking ease of use. Yet this was additional – the whole of the existing system with all its functionality and screens was still there to be accessed – this was almost as an alternative to the core offering, with a focused set of tasks. On top of the dashboard for senior management, running on Macs as well as PCs, and a ‘chat’ solution available locally or across a community of users, this felt like a new system.

 ship in a bottle

This was the core of what John Caldwell presented as his “ship in a bottle” upgrade, as in drawing together a large number of parts all working together to create the finished item, and he quoted Buckminster Fuller: “You can’t change the way people think, all you can do is give them a tool, the use of which will change their thinking”. The focus of this release was entirely on “the patron” and their interface with users’ organisations, and the means to reach them based on deeper knowledge and understanding of their behaviours, and to make sure for example that the loyalty points scheme was part of all the customer’s spending and purchases.

Back in 2013, John Caldwell had been keen on the next generation of integrated CRM functionality, going beyond what in practice many venues use, and accommodating the demanding needs of audience and fund-raising development, multiple ways of segmenting and profiling customers, with as much customisable functionality as possible, so venues could manage their specific needs. The emerging Patron Attributes tools, not quite complete because of the decision to incorporate Culture Segments natively into the application and not just for individual users who signed up, extends the suite of tools and the content of customer records to combine/create that 360 degree view of customer relationships from all their inter-actions, recording all the factors relevant to their record. There are then great tools to deploy, manipulate and utilise the results.

Combined with significant additional functionality for memberships, to track multiple memberships, people can also be linked together in groups, if necessary making group membership visible on customer records.  This is ideal for family or workplace groupings and greatly adds to the potential for what I call ‘US-style ‘task-based’ CRM’.  My late colleague Tim Roberts, who always questioned whether ticketing systems were true CRM, would have been impressed.

Also back in 2013, John Caldwell had referred to developing a “merchandise module” to extend the PatronBase ability to manage inventory and sell items other than tickets, part of a strategy discussed with Chapter in Cardiff and ONFife in Scotland to provide a “one-stop-shop” solution for customer-facing inter-actions such as purchases of food and drink, ice creams, programmes, merchandise, etc., helping join up the thinking by “following the patron” through all their F-o-H and purchase experiences.

Having evaluated epos, retail and catering systems for venues, where the software costs are significant factors, I was well aware of the wrinkles that make such solutions challenging, and too many fall short. So it seemed realistic to expect a cut down simplified solution. No, that is not what was revealed, but a full stock control inventory management solution, right down to handling items bought in larger units and dispensed in smaller ones such as bottles and glasses of wine, coping with stock and re-ordering, and deliveries and stock in multiple locations. And of course this functionality surfaces soon in the Web Hub and the Internet Ticketing engine for customer pre-orders with advance payment, all in the one shopping cart. What is there now is a QuickPOS front-end with catalogue, size, style and colour options, all reconciled back to both the customer and the stock control, right down to refunds and exchanges, optimised for various screens. What’s not to like?

 tools to ‘join-up thinking’

There were general managers, producers and directors as well as marketing and ticketing staff in these user sessions, and I was struck by the strong reaction of those senior managers to the tools to  “join-up thinking” that they were seeing. Some updates for the Venue Manager module nearly got a round of applause, since they confirmed that this was not some cut-down tool as a bolt-on, but a key co-ordinated module enabling them to manage resources and usage, room bookings and events across multiple spaces, completely integrated into the ticketing system.

I was surprised to hear John Caldwell talking about the “steady stream” of customers signing up to the “hosted version” of PatronBase in New Zealand, with existing customers migrating to the hosted solution, since this was news to me. Yes this is in the Cloud, but not a SaaS (Software as a Service) model, in this case with PatronBase handling the server hardware, inter-connectivity and software management for the users for a set annual charge. This is already an option in the UK. Once again PatronBase are offering this for a much lower cost to venues.

It was this that ultimately reminded me that ‘PatronBase does it different’. The PatronBase commitment to supplying low cost fully fledged solutions to arts organisations, joining up their tools and saving on having multiple software solutions for different functions, not charging for upgrades as such, and genuinely delivering continuous improvement, is remarkable.

the M.E.A.T. principle

I know some people in venues in the UK struggle to understand how such a highly developed system could be a modest cost, and effectively ask why doesn’t it cost more? It almost seems some people don’t want to be thought they are buying a low cost solution – “Cheap?”.   Clearly, it is the PatronBase philosophy to ensure the cost is modest.  Charity Finance Consultant Steve Mahon pointed out to me that Finance Directors of charities are supposed to follow the M.E.A.T. principle – the Most Economically Advantageous Tender – and secure certainty with containment of costs. Perhaps we need to remind cash-strapped arts organisations of this principle?

not just for profit

The philosophy of the company is part of the product: not just for profit say PatronBase.  Has PatronBase delivered a new version of their system, or just confounded us all by doing something different, which ironically presses the very buttons that many arts organisations want?

Handling group sales

Andrew Thomas neatly showed that the handling of group sales by ticketing systems does not get high priority, by pointing out that it does not even have a section on the Functionality Builder. At present the functionality is buried on other sections.

He was speaking at UK Theatre’s mini-conference on Cultivating Group Sales on 18 March 2015 and had heard that for many venues the value of group sales was more than 10% of their annual sales, for some heading for 25%+.  Even if you remove panto sales from the figures, over a third of venues say groups are more than 10% of their sales.  This certainly makes it a valuable activity for venues to cultivate groups, help group organisers, and have various schemes to encourage group bookings.

Typically more than 10% of sales by value

The day had a debate early on about exactly what constituted a group, with many agreed it started beyond a car full, so 5+. The key question for some was whether there was an incentive aimed at the people carriers, so generally 7 people, with the caveat being that they did not want to offer reduced prices, which might make it cheaper per head for a smaller group. Later in the day, David Reece from Baker Richards emphasised that benefits to groups could be added value instead of reduced prices. Though many venues do not advertise the fact, groups can pre-order programmes, interval drinks, ice creams and, in some venues, food, and groups see this as real added value to improve their experience.

 real added value improves their night out

But the implications for software were soon emerging from the case histories. The need to lasso/select a large group of seats across aisles and price breaks to accommodate a large party. The need to allocate a single ticket price across such a booking, perhaps even having the sales person negotiate and set the price. The need to accommodate commonly offered incentives, such as 1 free seat in 10 or alternatively a reduced price applied to all seats. The need to be able to allocate a date to receive payment, and not just have a default payment date. The need to be able to help group organisers with payment mechanisms. The ability to issue invoices to schools and many social clubs and organisations, and to ensure that payments synchronise with accounting as well as ticketing systems.

Andrew had surveyed a number of ticketing systems and more than one effectively said they did not do things especially for groups, while they did in practice have functionality that met their needs, with some work-arounds. Yet there were group sales staff at the mini-conference who did not know about such tools and relied heavily on manual methods and much cross-communication between Finance Departments and ticket sales. Clearly there is considerable room for improvement here.

 new generation of self-formed groups

Interestingly, there was reference to a new generation of ‘groups’ emerging, largely self-formed over social media, around like-minded people, and these needed the so-called Swedish tools to handle their TeaterOmbud-type group sales schemes and what AudienceView has offered in AV Tiki: the ability to reserve a block of seats and have group members follow a link and pay for their individual tickets.  But the mini-conference emphasised the people factors and here we are talking about US-style ‘task-based’ inter-actions, where sales staff need to track their relationship with group organisers, their conversations, what they agree to, and when to follow up.

Looks as if we are to take group sales as seriously as their value to the venues, we need some innovative software development – and at least better presentation of how systems can meet their needs.  And we’ll make a specific section on the Functionality Builder.

P.S. The UK Theatre Mini-Conference on Cultivating Friends and Fans – about membership and loyalty schemes –  is on Wednesday 22 April 2015 in Covent Garden, London.  More details and bookings:  You get a 20% discount if you or a colleague attended Cultivating Group Sales

Cart Before Horse for CRM?

‘Cart before the Horse’ Syndrome Prevails!

I’m constantly surprised by how many organisations, when thinking and talking about CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and their CRM Strategy focus on the IT implementation that is the customer database technology.  True it’s important but if technology is applied to a faulty business strategy all that will happen is the organisation becomes more efficient at doing the wrong things!   The main goal is to have a 360° view of your customer because CRM is a strategy not a process, tactic or just a marketing function.

Keep these 5 things in mind and you can’t go far wrong:

  • CRM isn’t CRM unless it affects the customer’s experience
  • CRM is a strategy, not a project
  • CRM should improve ROI
  • Technology is a means, not an end
  • You want a 360 degree view of your customer

That said IT and/or software are vital to its success. CRM software collects data on consumers and their transactions.  And the point of a system is to find a repository to hold your valuable data on your customers and stakeholders. Key to this is centralising your data and business operations so that it’s all in one place, making sure that it’s relevant and contacts are still ‘live’ and being talked to by you.

And here are the steps you might take in your CRM Strategy, notice that Get the Right System for your Organisation is right at the bottom of the list – that’s not about importance but the journey:


Understand your customers and customer journeys

You must have a clear vision of what good CRM looks like across the organisation, including understanding customer journeys. A customer journey is how your customer interacts with your organisation across multiple touch-points, such as purchasing a ticket, attending an event, and providing feedback. Align your internal business processes with these journeys and it will help you determine if you’re easy or difficult to do business with.


Differentiate your customer segments, and understand and agree behaviours, whether you segment by high value, frequency of attendance, potential attendance, participation, etc.


Create communication and implementation plan

Create a communication plan to allow you to share actionable items within the strategy, and progress charts that show what has been implemented and where. Create an implementation plan, and include a feedback loop that allows everyone to highlight problems with implementation or execution. Ideally, with clear leadership in place most senior managers will have responsibility for managing CRM strategy at an operational level.


Be a customer focussed organisation

Your organisational culture needs to be ready to adopt a customer-centric approach. Set up a CRM team with representatives from each department or area so that colleagues’ needs and concerns are addressed. Consider creating an education programme for the entire staff, including third parties who may have involvement in interactions with the organisation’s customers. Put in place clear measures that show everyone the value of adopting and applying the strategic initiatives and don’t forget to celebrate excellence when it is achieved. You will know when you are at a point of excellence by setting KPIs at the outset.


Tidy up your data

Customer data is a critically important part of any CRM project, so it is important to ensure your data management is in good shape before strategy building begins in earnest.


Remember, the old adage: garbage in, garbage out.  Without having data on your customers, you can’t learn what does and doesn’t engage them, and what effect this engagement does or doesn’t have. So before you can do CRM, you need a decent data collection policy, and the means to analyse the data in the context of the CRM programme you envisage for them. And it should go without saying that it’s vital to make sure all data is accurate and up to date.


Get the right system for your organisation

Choosing the right system will help you achieve your business and CRM objectives, in developing all potential revenue streams and building a 360 degree view of your customer and their needs.   Choosing the wrong system could spell financial and customer relationship disaster!  It involves a five-step process and is something I and my colleagues at the Ticketing Institute can help you with:

  • Information Gathering
  • Specification
  • Priced Tenders
  • Evaluation, and implementation

©Helen Dunnett, HD Consulting

CR-Out-of the Box with Culture Republic

Join Culture Republic for an intensive full-day masterclass and workshop with Andrew Thomas of the Ticketing Institute in order to get serious about making the most of your CRM or ticketing system.

The day will be a mix of presentation, discussion and reflection. Don’t come to be talked at but be ready to roll your sleeves up and get serious about how your organisation is collecting, storing and using the data it holds on audiences.

It doesn’t matter what system you’re currently using because for this event it’s not the system but how you use it that counts. We’ll be getting under the skin of how to use what you’ve got better.

More Details on their website

or  head here to Book

What’s Coming in 2015?

2015 is already looking like another year of new or re-entrants to the technology market place.

I have been spending a lot of time in the last few weeks meeting with vendors and partner vendors discussing their own business objectives and development plans for the coming year.

Alas, I have been sworn to secrecy on a great many of these, so will have to talk around themes at this stage. Roger talked a few weeks ago about his 2015 trends, treat this as 2015 tattle!


Vendors who traditionally have been focused on the ticket are paying more attention and developing fund-raising. A number of systems have had this since their birth – Tessitura, PatronBase, SRO (various versions), three years ago we saw Spektrix debut their additional fundraising module, which I saw up close last week and was impressed with.

they have the chance to build the tools and the compliance that people want or need now

In the cultural sector fundraising is as integral to ticketing as printing the ticket, we expect it in the product. Of course, where do you draw the line? Should systems be looking to replicate Raiser’s Edge? No, they should be aiming at tools around cultivation and management of donors.

Those systems just addressing this are at a disadvantage you could say, but the flip side is they have the chance to build the tools and the compliance that people want or need now, as opposed to 5-10 years ago. As always, newer products have better chances of meeting today’s needs (eventually)

Going Mobile

It is not uncommon for technology vendors to talk about how front of house could use an iPad to look up customer seating issues. I find this a quite boring use of technology as all we are doing is swapping paper for an AMOLED screen. Yes, there can be real time data pushed to it, but often seems to be technology for technologies sake.

What I am paying attention to for one supplier, is the decoupling of box office / static eCommerce and into the world of roaming revenues.

the goal for this year is to take the Office from Box Office

This is using the iPad or similar sized technologies to be able to transact with patrons around the campus or building. Restaurants now take drinks orders on technology, but solving the credit / debit card part of the equation means donations, subscriptions and memberships can all be done wherever the customer is, or wants to.  I remember seeing Tickethour demonstrate early workings of this at the Art’s Marketing Conference in Brighton in 2012 focused just on tickets, the goal for this year is to take the Office from Box Office, or just ditch the phrase Box Office altogether!

 More (or less) Patents

We are aware of some patents currently being filed with regard to ticketing systems and have been promised a sneak peak of the technology and its use in one of them once the legalities are completed. All I can say it that on my call this week I heard some BIG claims, claims that we have all heard before, so I await with anticipation my chance to see for myself and share with you.

I had some interesting conversations this week around the on-going bar-coded ticket patent infringement saga, let’s hope whatever the outcome, we can put this one to bed this year, either way, it is after all something most people having been doing for years, that way we can spend our efforts on NEW technology and solutions.


Trends in 2015?

Making predictions for the future is not reliable forecasting.  Trying to assess where developments are leading and what developments will emerge and achieve traction and adoption is remarkably similar to guess-work.  But some commentators think it has a useful and helpful role if it focusses thinking on what ought to be seen as key issues.  So here goes:

1.  Focus on the Ticket Purchasers experience

If you spend any time on-line seeking out and buying tickets, you will find it can be a soul-destroying experience.  How often do suppliers and venues really look from the customer’s point of view?  Too many web pages are just not thought-through, with too many circular links, poorly designed, with key information and navigation not obvious (or below the fold).  Registration and log-in mechanisms are badly designed and illogical – and very annoying if they fail to recognise the pre-registered but then claim the new registrant’s email address is already registered.  Try browsing on-line from a smartphone or tablet and still many web pages are not mobile friendly, sometimes adopting the right format and size on the corporate website then going to the wrong size for the ticketing pages.

At Europe Talks Tickets in Amsterdam we were told it is usual in our sector to see an 85%+ failure rate of uncompleted on-line transactions.  Yet many venues (and presumably their suppliers) are complacent about this because the 10%+ who do complete often constitute over 50% of purchasers through all sales channels.  But how many of that 85% constitute lost sales, missed opportunities?  My colleague Ron @GroupOfMinds Evans makes the point that we don’t pay enough attention to the psychology of the customer during the sales process.  Damage your relationship with them at the very point they are committing to buy your product and you have already started to disappoint them.

The good news is that more and more people are focussing on the ticket purchasers experience, wanting to make sure their web pages and processes work on all the devices, minimise that drop-out rate, and make buying the tickets a successful part of the relationship.  Suppliers as well as venues need to make this a No.1 issue in 2015.  And see No.4

2.  It is about inter-facing

We’ve talked a few times at TheTicketingInstitute about ‘platforms’ and the systems that see themselves as providing what I have called the “beating heart of marketing” and that “database of truth” about customer relationships of all kinds, driving every ‘touch-point’ and inter-action.  Tessitura is of course, with its not-for-profit, network-owned, model, the exemplar here, actively helping venues integrate and interface with numerous software tools and solutions, relying on that single “database of truth”.  But equally PatronBase, in the UK, Spain as well as New Zealand and Australia, has made it a priority to ensure that venues can interface their system with the other software they use.  As John Caldwell of PatronBase has said, it is not rocket science, but neither is it always easy, so more suppliers need to understand that venues expect support in making the connections.  TopTix have intentionally built this into their SROv4 software, to make developing interfaces easier for third parties.  Perhaps it is not about ‘platforms’ but about attitudes – the venue is not being awkward when it wants to interface.

3.  Reducing the costs for payment gateways and payment mechanisms

The ticketing industry sufferers bad service from a number of the payment gateway providers.  “Don’t worry, they are low value transactions” is not a helpful response when hundreds of transactions have gone wrong, with the potential of customers turning up to find no seats booked for them.  Sadly this fits into a ‘rip-off’ attitude to ticket purchasers – “they have decided to buy a ticket, how much can we get off them” – that extends to venues as well, with multiple charges as well as commissions for the payment gateway service; and to that tendency to see if costs can be added on above the price – now thankfully illegal in the EU.  At priced tender stage during procurement, it is intriguing to see the difference in charges for the same gateway through different suppliers.  Do venues realise there are thousands of pounds/dollars to be saved in this?

Ironically there is a sector creeping up on ticketing where the competitive marketplace is driving down costs instead of ‘ripping-off”.  So-called micro-payments and mobile payment gateway providers are finding fierce competition to shave the margins as they seek to dominate the market and introduce near-field “swipe to pay” and other solutions.  Even Apple is vulnerable when chains the like of Starbucks with their huge international user base make decisions on points of cents and are not willing to pass costs on.  Will venues wake up to optimising for mobiles and tablets when they realise transactions are cheaper using these new payment mechanisms?  Suppliers may need to lead the way in adopting these new payment mechanisms.

4.  Talk to me

Voice activated ticket purchase, asking people to speak key information, proved a hazardous interface when first introduced for phone bookings, relying on speech recognition in answer to very limited options.  The software has moved on and opened out, with the various ‘robots’ on our smartphones that we can now ask questions of and give instructions to.  Of course, the smartphones have the key advantage of already knowing who the customer is, reducing the need for customer input.

The pundits say this technology and the related speech to text recognition is only two years from widespread adoption, likely to be led by who provides the most useful and helpful solutions.  So instead of all that difficult navigation to find What’s On and choose a performance and seat availability, let us reverse the process and let the customer ask the questions.  I suspect that a question-based approach may well be better for the customer than any process which requires them to know what they want before they start.

5.  Browser-based, Internet access systems

Thank goodness for terminal services and those “thin-client” solutions, since some older systems would not be meeting the specification for ticketing tenders where the venue is looking to what it thinks is the future, today.  But “browser-basesd” front-ends is the recurring mantra from venues for systems intended to be served up on multiple devices to everyone who might use the system, and in new ways of presenting the Box Office to the public.

Ben Curthoys of Monad Ticketing was the first person I heard arguing that the same design rules should be applied for the staff in the Box Office and the back-end as the public accessing the front-end of ticketing systems.  That goes farther than most systems, but the principle of user-friendly screens in multiple formats is a new given. Michael Nabarro and his colleagues at Spektrix got an early edge from this and are now taking their approach into the US.  I had a preview of the first steps toward the new PatronBase front end in October 2013 in New Zealand and due to see the progress there this February.  The systems that pre-date this fundamental change need to catch up.  Ironically, I don’t think this means systems such as AudienceView who pioneered this innovation can sit on their laurels, since now they need to match the ‘state-of-the-art’ out of the box.

6.  Solving the cost issues of ‘the Cloud’

I have never forgotten Fujitsu giving me a detailed presentation on why Cloud-based ‘software as a service’ (SaaS) was “always lower cost than locally hosted or managed services”.  I spent some time explaining that in the ticketing sector, all the SaaS Cloud solutions were more expensive, quoting details anonymously from various tenders.  They were at first incredulous, then confused, because of course the real question is why the cost savings were not passed on to the venues using solutions delivered from The Cloud.

They pointed out that generally in the IT sector, procurement was by people who were able to compare prices and costs and who genuinely understood how the cost savings could be made compared with locally served software.  In the ticketing sector, procurement was less well -informed, and you also needed to factor in people making comparison with Ticketmaster and other service providers, so the real cost comparisons were not being made, not helped by disinformation from some sales people.

Can that position hold?  The pundits say the Cloud wars will escalate in 2015, in terms of lowering costs and improving security and services as Google, Microsoft, etc. go into competitive battle with Amazon to get costs down.  We know The Cloud is where we should be going, so are the SaaS ticketing suppliers going to deliver the benefits to the venues in terms of costs in 2015?  I suspect we are going to see some serious changes in approach.

7.  Re-thinking the physical Box Office

Places like the new ‘Home’ in Manchester, due to replace the old Cornerhouse and Library Theatre in Manchester this spring, are re-thinking the physical Box Office.  Tablets have untethered the Box Office sales person from the counter, able to serve customers where they are standing – Apple store style – as Nimax Theatres have demonstrated in London using ENTA, and we are getting closer to the Citizen M type attended self-check-in where staff hover to help customers complete their transaction.  Home will have six cinemas for its film programme and there is no reason why “door sales” cannot be genuinely at the door of each screen.  At the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge the Box Office is almost never physically open, because people buy tickets at the bar or confectionary counter if they arrive at the cinema without a ticket, though the majority have pre-bought on-line and got numbered seats.  Expect to see more innovation in how the physical Box Office functions in 2015.

That’s my views for now – interested to read what yours are.  Best wishes