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: http://tinyurl.com/oowd7nr  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: http://tinyurl.com/oowd7nr  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!

Fundraising

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

Roger

Meeting needs – localisation, customisation (and versions)

Having recently debated exactly what defines a ticketing system – and these days one that needs to drive marketing, CRM and fund-raising for many organisations – the next question was about what constitutes “fitness-for-purpose” in terms of meeting the needs of arts and entertainment organisations?  One venue manager, wanting to change from a long established but also long-time legacy solution, was surprised to find how many systems could not match what their “old” system had done for years, especially what Andrew often calls the “bells and whistles”.

Fitness-forPurpose

Managing tender processes in multiple countries to procure ticketing solutions, the names of major international suppliers recur fairly often.  Of course there are some decidedly European focused and some North American, and some from ‘down under’.  But what do we get in terms of localisation to meet the needs of individual countries?

Some say it starts at the level of languages.  Some systems to our surprise have the language used in field names hard-coded, whereas others have a table where multi-lingual field names can be added.  The ones where each operator can choose the language for their terminal are preferred by those in bilingual countries.  There are those, including me, that argue there is psychological disruption if we expect an operator to talk in one language while reading another.

But the biggest challenge comes on customer-facing web pages.  We see the repeated problem that field names on web forms are not carrying the local language but are using the system core language.  That can mean a system running in English but in Sweden for example, puts up English terms on a web page otherwise in Swedish.  More difficult, for those systems with customers speaking more than one language, when no matter what the browser language the customer has chosen, the field names appear in a different one.  The “fixes” we have seen to these difficulties are sticking plaster patches and not solutions: editing the registry seems high risk and won’t survive upgrades without causing pain; creating single multi-lingual field names strains the length of fields when presented on-line, especially in forms, and is not user-friendly.  Just how far do we need to go to make systems “international”?  What do we expect in localisation and if necessary, customisation?

Localisation

I have recently been surprised to see responses to our Functionality Builder which indicate that some suppliers could not provide integrated ‘chip and pin’.  Why?  Well of course in their home country this is not needed so they expect venues to use a Work-Around to cope.  Is this reasonable?  Another supplier says VAT – an EU-wide requirement which must be accommodated inside the price and extracted separately – is also a Work-Around.  Most European countries have multiple rates of VAT, often different rates for tickets than merchandise, so systems need to accommodate more than one VAT rate, but quite a few don’t.  Another says it cannot do US Sales Tax – the opposite of VAT and outside the price.  How is this ‘fit-for-purpose’?

Another says it cannot do US Sales Tax….  How is this ‘fit-for-purpose’?

I remember from my days at Tickets.com, working with Vicki Allpress-Hill on researching the payment methods and banking practices for each European country.  The one common factor was that they were not the same.  Only in Germany could you have your payment charged to your mobile phone provider account if you wished; the Benelux countries had a variety of Giro payment mechanisms – based on authorising payment from the customer’s bank account – but similar looking solutions in Scandinavia turned out to be different in detail.  Payment gateway providers would all say they could accommodate different country needs, but in fact failed to understand the nuances to ensure connectivity, reliability, and successful transactions.  Let us add Direct Debits as a payment method say venues.  Who knew this term describes a quite different method in Canada from the one in the UK?

Customisation

Well I can tell you that venues in these different countries expect their potential suppliers to meet their needs with full local conformity.  Some suppliers talk about using “customisations” to meet those needs.  Now I understand that in these days of sophisticated report writers and business intelligence analytical tools, that systems can be set up to deliver reports based on complex/complicated routines.  Not sure how the UK’s HMRC would accept these for VAT, when they used to check on what basis the rounding had been calculated in separating the tax from the price!  But customisations are intended to be venue specific, rather than country-wide.  And many customisations are venue (and version) specific and don’t survive upgrades unscathed.

many customisations are venue (and version) specific and don’t survive upgrades unscathed.

You have to acknowledge that those single iteration web-based systems have an advantage if everything they do goes into the core product and there is only one version in use, though I imagine meeting every venue’s needs in separate countries strains the ingenuity to keep one configurable solution.

Version Control

Distressingly for those systems where there are local servers or externally hosted separate solutions, there is an increasing issue of ‘version control‘ and ensuring most users are on the same (and current version).  We find too often venues criticising their system when if they were running the latest version their complaint would be invalid, with issues fixed and huge amounts of functionality added.  But the common refrain is cost, fear of disruption, bad past experiences, and insufficient attention to their specific needs, whether in terms of hand-holding through the upgrade process or understanding all the localisations and customisations involved.  And of course, many venues do decide to change their system because of not being up-to-date and feeling neglected by their supplier.

many venues do decide to change their system because of not being up-to-date and feeling neglected by their supplier.

Cost is an interesting issue for upgrades.  Many suppliers assure their users the upgrades are free – and get cross with those Cloud-based suppliers who guarantee there are no costs for upgrading and criticise the alternative model – but the training and professional services, and sometimes even data migration requirements, can soon add up to significant sums beyond the reach for hard-pressed arts organisations, with grants being cut.  And it can seem a cost too far to be charged for testing the localisations and/or customisations, and to then update them.

There is not an easy answer to these challenges, but if there is a shift in the balance in the relationship with suppliers/vendors, it is that venues want their needs more clearly met, with no hidden costs.  And do we need to re-define what it means to be an international supplier?

What IS a ticketing system?

Roger and I have been updating our list of ticketing systems recently. Looking at North America and Western Europe we assembled a list of just over 300 systems currently in use and being ‘sold’.

What we were amazed by is the sheer variation in so many things: technical proposition, cost, functionality, UX, suitability to different environments, and many more factors that start to separate the ‘good’ from the ‘not so good’.

Read more

Prawn Mayonnaise = Big Data?

OK, so this may meander a little, but stick with me.

Ten Sandwich Data Truths and Trends About me.

  1. My favourite sandwich is a Prawn Mayonnaise (P&M) on Malted Brown Bread
  2. I buy it, preferably, from Marks and Spencers (M&S) Supermarket.
  3. There are some other supermarkets’ Prawn Mayonnaise sandwiches I also like – bread and sauce consistency are important.
  4. I occasionally cannot find a P&M in M&S that I like the look of.
  5. Sometimes M&S looks too busy and I am in too much of a rush to enter
  6. If I am SUPER hungry I may buy the triple pack that includes one P&M, a BLT and Ham and Mustard.
  7. I rarely buy anything else, drinks or crisps with a P&M, but will with a BLT
  8. I also like M&S BLT on it’s own and is my fall back to a P&M
  9. If I am buying more than a sandwich I fancy a Tesco Supermarket over M&S
  10. On a journey I would have a P&M if my train company or airline had it and I could see it, but they don’t and I can’t, so I won’t

So it’s quite simple, but actually quite complex, hard to understand, constantly changing, with my choices and preferences deriving from my locations, behaviors, feelings and motives.  In short my sandwich preferences are BIG DATA.

Big Data is widely acknowledged about being based on Volume, Velocity and Variety.

Bread based snacks aside, I am serious.  Big Data is widely acknowledged about being based on Volume, Velocity and Variety.

So big in size it could take up petabytes or exabytes of storage, happening so fast it is hard to understand, with analytic tools to dissect and tag it, and its sheer variety in format, structuring, sources and quality.

When looking at our use of data as the ticketing industry, we have got to be aware that we cannot assume it is big simply because just one of those V’s is being met.

Volume. My venue has 80,000 seats, sold 30 times a year, yours has 54 seats sold 15 times a year.  Is my sales data BIG? Comparing in our industry yes, but looking at British Airways, they transported 39.8 millions passengers in 2013, that’s a lot bigger isn’t it? Yes, but what about velocity? If each one of those passengers bought through BA.com individual tickets for each passenger, evenly, the volumes of transactions would look like this?

Time frame Transactions
Year 39800000.00
Per Week 765384.62
Per Day 109340.66
Per Hour 4555.86
Per Minute 75.93
Per Second 1.27

 

Most ticketing systems can complete a transaction this quickly.  Google Analytics can examine the checkout value, product make up, and we could understand the trends of the day just using GA, couldn’t we?  So what can? Let’s look at TripAdvisor.  I found unverified claims of 280 Millions reviews per month, so they have volume, what about velocity ?

 

Time frame Transactions
Per Month 280,000,000.00
Per Week 64,615,384.62
Per Day 9,230,769.23
Per Hour 384,615.38
Per Minute 6,410.26
Per Second 106.84

 it is the words that really make the data BIG.

Over 100 reviews PER SECOND – so we could use some basic tools to look at the Stars being awarded, the type of product (hotel, restaurant), the location being reviewed, and start to draw some conclusions on trends  – are reviews generally lower in December than in July for Beach holidays taken in Spain?  Reviews are quite simple to understand on Trip Advisor aren’t they? 0-5 stars are quite easy, but it is the words are what really make the data big.

Let’s look at These Two Reviews

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor Review – Big Data?

 

Ron M will not affect my decisions to visit here

These two reviewers are talking about the same hotel, staying at almost the same time, yet one gives 1 Star, the other 5 stars. Who do you believe? Let’s dig deeper, is this the Hilton? No. If the Hilton smelled of cooking oil we would be worried, but this is a small country pub with a very busy kitchen, the check in point is right next to the kitchen. So me, and now you, understand the subject of the review, the likely price paid (£24) we can understand that 1 star is perhaps unfair; who knows, we may now decide that based on the other very positive reviews we will book here.

Now, TripAdvisor has been criticized for some of their reviews.  In the time it took me to read these two reviews (55 seconds)  and decide that Ron M will not affect my decision to visit here, there would have been almost 6,000 other reviews posted to TripAdvisor.  Wow, now with multiple pictures of dirty carpets, we have volume, and with 106 bookings per second we certainly have velocity, plus with Ron’s dislike of skittles and knowing that ‘The Family T” love an inclusive breakfast tariff, we can agree there is variety to interpret in just two reviews. So TripAdvisor in isolation can be considered big, and its effect on booking patterns on BA.com even bigger, so just thinking about how you could map it, build it, analyse it, discuss it, monetise it, makes your head hurt. Now THAT’S big data.

So perhaps the way I choose my daily lunch is not truly big, but certainly it’s more complex than sending a targeted email campaign based on what I have bought in the past and what others have bought from your venue,  isn’t it?

We need to understand that we need to get data to work for us, not the other way round.  Let us not forget that information overload has been estimated to cost the US economy over $900 billion in lost innovation, or that 40% of the world’s marketing spend is wasted each year, because of the inadequate use of Big Data.

Big Data is here, it affects us, our customers and almost everything around us.  Before we embrace it we need to understand what it is, whether we like it and where we are going to get it.  A bit like my sandwiches, you see, we got there in the end, I did say we would !

 

BIG DATA INFO-GRAPHIC – HAVE A PEEK! 

Source : Trip Advisor Reviews

Source : British Airways Passenger Numbers