End of Road for the Box Office ‘Clerk’?

It’s an odd job title, which you hear less and less these days.  In fact this blog post only came to mind as I saw  in one of my feeds today a job advert for a “clerk” at a London theatre

Usually I hear this from either West-end box office types or those box office people of a (cough) certain age.

Has the clerk had their day and is it time for another title for those people?



The usual Google search turned up the definition of clerk above. Well in Box Office we (or we used to) handle cash, we keep records in terms of who is sat in what seat (or which agent has sold which seat through the API to an unknown customer) and we have some routine admin tasks.

…doing a few hours on the counter until their next “proper” job

Surely though, with a few exceptions the people in our box offices are more than a clerk aren’t they? Even when you take into account the out-of-work theatre professional doing a few hours on the counter until their next “proper” job comes in, these people are doing more than basic admin.

What else have we called the clerk in the box office?

I remember the 90’s saw us use “Operators” as the moniker because we were all running call centres swamped with CIQ and DND issues with certain staff. As we were in the era of call centres being the place we gave sales advice, closed orders or ran out-bound campaigns “operators” fitted nicely, but was still was just a clerk with a phone and a sales or call-answering target.

meeting our targets, maximising revenues, filling those premium seats, up-selling the packages, offering lounge access…don’t forget the customary event insurance!

Of course that target or quota we assigned to operators was the start of a shift in the focus of “the people of box office” (TPOBO from now on). As we started to give TPOBO clear targets, they became sales people. Roger has the greatest phrase on this for both system vendors and TPOBO – “don’t sell, help people buy” – which I think sums up the role perfectly. Agreed, to all those Sales and Marketing Directors reading, we still need ‘bums-on-seats’ (sorry Roger, hearts and minds!) we need to meet our targets, maximise revenues, fill those premium seats, up-sell the packages, offer lounge access and of course sell the customary event insurance.

Don’t sell, help people buy!

The 00’s saw TPOBO start to become ‘agents’, an extension of operators, as they dealt with more electronic enquiries, keeping up to date with Twitter and Facebook comments and emails too, but still a base admin task title like clerk for the modern era. Some organisations started to append sales to the front, not just for outbound callers but inbound and in person staff too.

……sales, servicing multi-channel, multi-product consumer enquiries

Just doing a scan of the job ad sites and theatres I have turned up mutations of these with Sales advisor, customer service representative, box office assistant and many more.

So what, you ask,  does it matter what we call TPOBO? Well it is simple: If we don’t assign the right title, how will we attract people into this career, not just those wanting some money until something “decent” comes around. We need our front line customer facing staff to be knowlegable, helpful, caring, focused on matching people with product, price sensitive. They need to be commercially minded, used to dealing with technology and multiple communication methods. That’s quite a mix and way more than clerk.

What is the correct title? Goodness knows, something more than ‘assistant’, how about “Live Entertainment Omni-channel Revenue Realisation and Product Fulfillment Specialist”? – Yeah bit of a mouthful, but anything but clerk: c’mon we (and TPOBO) are better than that aren’t we? 



You are NOT using the “best”, there is no such thing!

It’s one of the questions I get asked the most, what’s the best system. Don’t worry this piece is not about that, although during the Olympics, possibly, it should be.

There are a lot of rivalries, claim and counter claim, we see just in the world of mobile telephony.  Are you an Apple or Android user? Do you still perhaps have a BlackBerry or even one of the few people who read this site on a Windows Phone ( Here in case anyone is wondering what that is ).  I’m going to use Windows and ex CEO Steve Ballmer to demonstrate the odd behaviour demonstrated by people so blinded by their own product or choice of product.

Now we hear several different levels of these rivalries.  We hear the CEO or Senior Executives laugh off competition, price or feature sets ( The best ever one ), the law suits that seem to go back and forth, and then the users.

It’s odd, with phones, I have gone around the houses, currently use an Android device, love it, used an iPhone, loved it, ditto BlackBerry and even old Windows Mobile, Symbian and just the good old Nokia 3310, but never feel the need to whoop, holler and cheer about it every five minutes, or conference time. I cover conferences and I see innovation, like I did at ProVenue Exchange, by the bucket-load, in Phoenix this year, but I also see “meh” functionality, like I saw at {Blank}.  Because I see the range, I appreciate true quality.

Each phone, or OS, did or does a job, the same but different. Each has a killer feature edge or Achilles’ heel.

……and we’re still in the ******* box office!

It is human nature that we love to think or believe we have chosen, use or own the ‘best’ – phone, car, breed of dog – so we go to great lengths to find more and more ways to convince our colleagues that we have done just that.

This is particularly true in the world of ticketing systems, but can be found in choice of web CMS (WordPress, Drupal, custom build), Payment Gateway, Ticket Printer, Stock provider . . . . . and we’re still in the ******* box office!

During conference season this is particularly true. Take these fictitious, but commonly themed tweets about technology vendors.

  • Got to love {BLANK}, only they provide such great swag.
  • So amazing to be part of {BLANK}, the only innovators in the Arts

In NO particular order . . . . Toptix has superb hip flasks , Spektrix water bottles, Tessitura power blocks and AudienceView sunglasses. All of these make my fishing trips much more comfortable, but they ALL do it, they all have swag, just as they all have conferences.

Innovation and features become more difficult: there are some clear differences between systems and this is where there start to become subtle variations.

This leads in turn to drinking the Kool-aid.

Of course, not all vendors understand that, as a collective or as individuals. This can often lead to wild (but they think truthful) comments. If these are not checked or challenged people actually believe them. This leads in turn to drinking the Kool-aid. I regularly have to challenge vendors who claimed everything from their system was the “only one with a single database for customers and donors” to another one who claimed their system prevented ALL fraud in the box office.

The trouble with these misconceptions is that over time they build up and give you the impression that you have the best solution, that nothing else compares, that there can be no cost-saving, better online or other efficiency, by looking or going else-where.

Soon enough you become Steve Ballmer and actually believe you have the best, but unless you look around and continually compare, how do you know?









No! Theatre NEEDS to be MORE like Ryanair!

In my twitter timeline I have seen tweets from BONCulture and Theatre2016 advertising the report of their conference, along with a headline of Samuel West “Theatre is not Ryanair”.  Today I gave it a read.

The “Ryanair” part is actually a very small part, and talks of drinks and programmes at high prices in theatres. Of course, I agree with this. The headline is very weighted to one part and, actually, I firmly believe theatre NEEDS to be more like Ryanair – whoa! I can already hear teeth grinding, so just give me a chance on this one…….

For all that is sometimes portrayed to be bad about Ryanair, some fairly, some unfairly, “Rip off Fees” “Pay-per-use Toilets” “That DAMN Bugle” it has achieved many things that need to be applauded and that theatre could to well to at least strive for.

Price and Location Accessibility

Not twenty years ago, if you wanted to travel to Bucharest, for whatever reason, your choice was not really a choice. It probably started with “Drive to London” – your choice was then Gatwick or Heathrow and a choice of BA or Lufthansa / KLM via Munich or Amsterdam. All for the “bargain” price of perhaps £300 per person.

It’s great you can see them, folks living in London

So for those of you in the deep South-west, North-east England or Scotland, you were basically excluded from easy access for a weekend break by your geographical location. You would have to leave late Thursday/early Friday and and return early Sunday, and you’d spend more time travelling than enjoying the break.

The same is true of many shows that perhaps are born, live and die in London. It’s great you can see them, folks living in London, but those outside the South-east cannot see them, without an overnight and travel, yet more expense on top of a ticket, without even counting another day away from work.

Queue all day schemes are great, but again, if you have time or are geographically advantaged.

Price is a fun subject to talk about in ticketing or theatre. Let’s also face facts that not all, or perhaps ANY seats on Ryanair on FR2005 (yes Stansted is a London Airport!) – actually sell for £4.99 – but there are now examples of at least SOME seats being readily and fairly available to flyers around the country at this price. Theatre ‘queue all day’ schemes are great, but again, if you have time and/or are geographically advantaged.

So, making a range of accessible prices to people at locations across the UK (not just the South East) is a trait of Ryanair I would welcome in Theatre.


I have taken a fair few ‘punts’ on shows before. We all have, most likely at things like the Fringe. I have seen some from the awful, painful to the down right embarrassing. There have been some superb shows, though, not just at festivals. A trip last year to Welsh National Opera kicked me back into seeing Opera and also Symphony Orchestras. Not as a subscriber, but just enough to be engaged.

Looking back at that Bucharest trip – didn’t a lot of us get our first taste of European city breaks from Ryanair, Easyjet, Go!(remember them?) or BMI-Baby? For sure, now we are older, and, hopefully, with a better income, we can spend four days in Rome, then go onto Pisa and Milan.  But in the past, unless you went Inter-railing (or lived in the South-east), it was budget airlines that opened up your mind to travel, to new ideas, architecture, food, drink or fashion.

New audiences come from experimentation

Without that £9.99 fare would we have been willing to experiment with a weekend away? It may seem like I am repeating myself here, but it’s not so much about the price but about the opportunity to experiment.

“Pay what you like”/”what it was worth” or ‘no-quibble’ refunds can be very risky, but the value conscious consumer likes service providers putting their money where their mouths are.

This is not the solution to all of the problems though. I remember talking to my bank manager about WNO and their “£5 Under 25” tickets (yes he was only 23) and he said he was not sure whether he would “risk it” – as it “wasn’t for him”.

New audiences come from experimentation or through recommendations after experimentation, so we need to help people broaden their consumption to new arts forms, just like Ryanair did with getting us to a weekend in Stavanger.


In the past I have blogged on airline loyalty. I love it and have recently ascended to another tier on my current programme. Board first, extra bag, upgrade, lounge – I’m sure many of you are familiar with the perks; these don’t really have a place in theatre, although some chains have their lounge programmes.

There is a snobbery with loyalty, or even among  regular flyers – looking down on those who are in economy from their lie flat beds, or a snigger at someone not understanding a closed luggage bin means it’s full.

We must make all customers feel equally welcome

Let’s not forget that theatre – or let’s widen the definition to “buildings that show performances” – have rules, ettiquette as well as names and sounds that people don’t understand or appreciate exist.

Budget airlines stepped forward and wiped away a large amount of exclusivity or elitism.  Yes there is “Speedy Boarding” (first to board the bus to the aircraft), but that was mainly used for you to be able to sit together. On board, there is no little curtain  to separate rows 5 and 6, no different toilet etc., etc.

If you’ve flown in the past four years, you’ll be familiar with the announcement “we know many of you have heard this before, but please spare us a few minutes of your time” – frequent flyers may tut, but it is yet another inclusive, welcoming policy or wording that explains things.

We must make all customers feel equally welcome, that they are just as valued in the £15 seat as the £100 ones, just like Ryanair.

Becoming a Common Thing to Do

A week or two ago, I got chatting to a guy who I was fishing next to. He told me he was taking his first flight in September. (he is in his early 50’s).  I was actually shocked, as I have chatted to him before and he did not strike me as a flight virgin. He asked me if I had flown before, so I replied “yes, 43 times this year”; he was equally shocked by my binge flying.

His is perhaps now becoming a harder to find story, just one of not getting round to an experience or wishing to do it.  I am guessing, outside of medical or psychological issues, most of us, our family and friends have flown. A great many people’s first flight  is on budget airlines (or only flights), because of price and accessibility issues.

Theatre must reach out to those who don’t feel this way about going to the theatre.

This has led to flying being a normal thing to do: most people fly, have flown, have views on flying, airlines to compare, stories about great flights they have been on, as well as the odd unhappy ones or plain awful ones. In short, reviews, sharing, recommendations, talking about experiences, what we ALL want people to do about theatre. Share, recommend, encourage, organise group trips and bookings.

For sure Ryanair don’t make people share stories, but by breaking down barriers, they have, along with other airlines, made air travel more and more popular and something we regard as normal activity. Theatre must reach out to those who don’t feel this way about going to the theatre.

Yes on Ryanair the drinks are overpriced and £20 EACH WAY for a suitcase may sound extreme, but this is just like the booking fees of some theatres.  So we need to look at the overall contribution and barriers we need to remove.

Looking for what WORKS

No, we don’t want a bugle for another “On-time curtain up” for sure. It’s not that I am against Samuel West’s comments, but more the headline.  Let’s look at what we can GAIN from other sectors to help ours succeed.

There are enough challenges for us right now, we should all be looking at opportunities.


Packed Programme for First Ticketing Professionals Conference


It was great to see the first programme for the upcoming Ticketing Professionals Conference released last week.

Both Roger and I have been actively involved in organising the conference, to kick start learning in our profession, there is a real lack of formal training and development, something Ticketing Professionals are fully behind.

You can read the full programme here  but some key sessions that are eye are :

Read more

Facebook Ad Manager [PART 2]

What everybody ought to know about Facebook Ad Manager [PART 2]

This is the second of four articles that looks at the Facebook Ad manager tools and how they can be used to improve your paid (and in some cases non-paid) activity on Facebook.

This post will focus on conversion pixels.

What is a conversion pixel?

In the last post I talked about Website Custom Audiences (WCA) which use a pixel to gather information about visitors from across your website. WCA uses a snippet of code that is installed across all pages on your site (or all pages you want to track), much like Google Analytics.

A conversion pixel, on the other hand, is installed on just one page that represents a conversion. This could be a confirmation page on a form submission or newsletter sign up, or on the confirmation page for a ticket purchase.

Once the user lands on that page, the pixel is ‘fired’ and the conversion is tracked.

How to create a Conversion Pixel

Conversion pixels are created in the Ad Manager.

In the Ad Manager select Tools and then Conversion Tracking. All your existing pixels will be listed along with their current status. To create a new one, hit the Create Pixel button in the top right corner.

Give your pixel a name and assign it a category.

Once it’s been created you’ll be provided with the code along with instructions on how to install it on your site.

For full instructions on creating traxel pixels, check out the Facebook for Business website [https://www.facebook.com/business/a/online-sales/conversion-tracking].

Putting it into action

Unlike WCA, the conversion pixel requires a bit more planning and strategy as you have to decide where you want to use it before implementing it.

You can create as many pixels as you want, but you can only assign one per ad set when setting up a campaign. Even if you’re not using pixels in ads, however, you can still collect data against them, so it’s worth setting one up for every conversion you want to track. I’ll explain why shortly…

The conventional use for a tracking pixel is to assign it to an ad set as part of a campaign where the objective is website conversions. So if, for example, you’re running a campaign to drive ticket sales, you would use a pixel on your checkout page as set this as the main objective. Facebook would then optimise your campaign and charge based on conversions. You can still use demographic and interest targeting as you would normally. The benefit of using conversions in this way is that you pay for actual sales, rather than wesbie clicks that won’t necessarily convert.

As I mentioned above, you don’t need to have a conversion pixel attached to a campaign to collect data against it. So if you have a conversion pixel on your checkout page, you can gather information about your website visitors who are purchasing with you, even if they’re not purchasing as a result of a campaign. This is useful data which you can use in a number of ways. One way I’d recommend using this is to build a lookalike audience. These are people who are have a similar profile to your actual ticket buyers, but who aren’t… yet. You can this audience in a campaign, with exclusions for your existing fans, to then generate new customer sales by matching this audience with interest types relevant to the event or product you are promoting.

How else could you use this? You could create a conversion pixel and put this on your membership page to build a member profile type. Again, creating a lookalike audience will produce a profiled group of people for you similar to those who are already interested in (or already signed up to) your membership scheme. If you’re marketing a premium product or targeting potential donors, you can use Facebook’s demographic tools to target people based on income threshold.

In summary, conversion pixels require a little more planning to implement than WCAs, but are a great way to create conversion based adverts, as well as building lookalike audiences based on people that do convert, so that you can target other Facebook users who are more likely to convert.

How BAD is your online ticketing experience.

Roger and I are running a repeating  20 minute session at the Arts Marketing Association conference in Birmingham later this July.  It’s a brief introduction on how to use Google Analytics to dissect your customers’ online ticketing journey.

As part of our session we will look at how to identify the pinch points, drop outs and stall sections of the journey.

If it annoys you, it annoys customers, and annoyed customers can easily become just annoyed and not really customers.

As data drugs go, Google Analytics can be pretty addictive and there is nothing more satisfying than watching real time goal conversions and e-Commerce scripts firing in front of your monitor screen.

I spent last night doing just this, whilst logged into a large entertainment venue’s Google Analytics account to configure some new settings in order to collate some data.

To be honest, this session has crept up on me, so I decided to see what Google themselves have to say about online basket abandonment, when I came across this fantastic video.

As much as we can all laugh and appreciate the stupidity, we probably all recognize the symptoms here, and have probably all experienced them, buying anything from an airline ticket to that Christmas gift for Auntie Pat!

find out where and when people dropped out or walked away, even where they went to; what it will not do though is to definitively tell you WHY

The analytics approach is a great method to find out where and when people dropped out or walked away, even where they went to; what it will not do though is to definitively tell you WHY.

So, without naming venues or system providers here’s a quick 5 things to look through on your own journey before settling down to some Analytics.

1. No Seats or Limited Seats

It is amazing how few venues (or systems) actually allow and publish the fact that inventory is running low. There is nothing worse than navigating into a seating plan to find only two seats remain ( one in the stalls and one in the dress circle). With a high demand show, perhaps the potential booker will leave if they cannot purchase a specific performance, but, for trying to find ANY seats in a four week run, basic availability details per perfromances help customers find tickets and avoid frustration or walking away.

Whereas some systems can go down to exact inventory being held, AudienceView for example have a great traffic light system available as part of their standard package.

Simple Traffic Lights Help Customers Avoid Sold Out Performances

Simple Traffic Lights Help Customers Avoid Sold Out Performances


2. Ridiculous Data Collection

This is one that does seem to end sessions, not just in ticketing but anything on line: the over zealous data collection.

When does it become intrusive to ask all of this? When does the customer just walk away?

When does it become intrusive to ask all of this? When does the customer just walk away?

Name, Address, Email, Phone Number, Privacy Options – the famous five of online ticketing.

Whereas the example above is not actually a ticketing transaction, it often can be. We all know the power of data, but really, what do we want to do with a customer with tickets in the basket? That’s right, close the sale and take the funds. Data collection needs to be limited to what is required and what will help us stay in touch with and nurture the customer.  How much of this could be obtained much earlier, especially by recognising returning customers through registration.  Data Protection guidance in the UK is that we must recognise the returning customer and not repeat data collection and permissions.

Name, Address, Email, Phone Number, Privacy Options – everything else will only push the customer further away. If you need to ask / collect anything else, explain it and make it easy to do!  We used to send follow-on “preference questionnaires” so we could tailor communications: definitely a better way to engage customers.

3. Payment Worries

So you have your tickets, you’ve selected your delivery, you’ve logged in and you press the pay button – Boom! You are transported to a new site, a new domain, a new ‘look and feel’ that is asking for Credit Card and address details.

I am not against third party payment screens, since a great many ticketing systems and e-commerce providers have to use them. We are all familiar with PayPal, being used to process eBay transactions or groceries from an online store, sometimes, they even have the logo in the corner!  There are a great many on-line payment gateway providers, most of which, give the ticketing system company the chance to customise the page and ensure it is seamless in ‘look and feel’ to maintain the venue’s branding and identity through the purchase process.

But look at this example below: Now, should I be worried? Well I know that Theatre A uses System B and Payment Processor C so when I see the screen below I think I understand who I am dealing with, but what for the general public – jittery? Will they close the browser and plan to call tomorrow?

ACTUAL payment page for a theatre. Only the PSP Brand is blacked out. Note : ZERO Theatre branding or reference.

ACTUAL payment page for a theatre. Only the PSP Brand is blacked out. Note : ZERO Theatre branding or reference.

4. HTTPS Warnings

As per the last point really. You have a great new website where FINALLY you can deep link shows, up-sell, have rich media, and  integrated credit card functionality. Then someone goes and adds unsecured links or resources to your transaction pages. The result? As below

Does this put off worried / vigilant consumers?

Does this put off worried / vigilant consumers?

5. Fees at the ‘Last’ Chance

So despite the changes in legislation (in Europe and the UK) surrounding the presentation of fees PRE-CONTRACT (law since June 2014), there are still organisations who seem insistent on hiding fees from the the consumer until the last possible moment, in the shopping basket.

We would hope that those that are legally bound to show fees will do so, or Trading Standards or the Advertising Standards Authority will be after them.  However, if your venue does not have to comply with such legislation, perhaps you should try?   All fees clearly upfront – “the price you see is the price you pay” – allows customers to have no nasty surprises in their basket.

Removing ‘price shock’ from the basket can allow you to focus on why there are people ditching their basket and try to resolve these issues as opposed to relying on a ‘hunch’ that the fees could have put them off.

What you could be doing today 

Take time to go through and navigate your site, from start to end, from selecting some shows, registering a new account and even getting through to a payment screen.

I challenge anyone not to find ONE thing they could improve: it could be a typo, a font, a colour or layout or something aesthetic. It could be a circular process where you keep being referred back to where you came from – surprisingly common.  Or a Continue button “below the fold” on tablets and laptops.  Perhaps it is a mandatory field that’s not marked as such or not clear, meaning you have to keep putting your credit card and/or CVV number in over and over again.  So there are issues for the web team or system provider to correct.

If it annoys you, it annoys customers, and annoyed customers can easily become just annoyed and not really customers.

I will be around with Roger at Consultant’s Corner on the 21st July in Birmingham at the Rep if you want to discuss your own web ticketing issues.







Unsubscribe – A Difficult Link?

Occasionally I get angry, don’t we all? Unlike most people the big stuff does not anger me, it disappoints or confuses me, but my anger is reserved for the small stuff. This may seem petty, but the anger comes from the fact that being so small, it’s easy to fix, so why is it still the way it is (wrong, that is) and not just simpler, easier, more friendly, after all shouldn’t that be the objective for everything?

Having been away from a week, I came back to a overflowing personal email account, one or two important emails in there, but the rest was trash, so I decided to have a clear up which led me to my first frustration;

Four (yes 4!) step unsubscribes

I mean, really? FOUR Steps. Now those of us who work with data, website sign ups or email confirmations, depending on where we live in the World, and our interpretation of local data protection and privacy laws can argue over single or double opt in procedures. I understand why double opt in – ( give your email address, they email you to confirm the owner of that address actually wants to get those emails) – but for a lot of the time, like us here at The Ticketing Institute are happy with a policy of single opt in.

I was amazed by the differences in the opt out procedure operated by some brands. Now the unsubscribe link in the email sent to me can and often is personalized to me. So surely, if I click “UNSUBSCRIBE FROM THESE EMAILS” the website owner knows who I am and what I want to happen, right?

Trip Advisor Simple Unsubscribe Screen Shot

One Click Unsubscribe from TripAdvisor – it’s not that hard, but top marks!


I do object, but understand the safety net many sites use, there are the ones where you land on a site that says “are you sure you wanted to do that?” with a simple YES – unsubscribe me or NO – I clicked by accident” but it starts to get a bit tedious when instead of giving you this simple two stage affair.

YPlan simple unsubscribe journey

Y-Plan don’t make you fill in your email, as they know it! Just one more click to an easy and friendly disconnect

King of this must be my attempt to dewiggle from Wiggle, who email me every day, despite never really opening them they continue to fill my inbox.

So, on clicking the unsubscribe button I get sent to a page that asks for my email address. Really? Ok, so with auto-complete, I can just type the first character and Chrome does the rest. Then I land on a page asking me all sorts of information, just take a look.

Wiggle Unsubscribe Process

Overloaded inbox, having to re-enter email address and then scroll through pages of details to, somewhere find the next part of unsubscribe – Painful!

Now, admittedly I am doing this on a mobile device, but isn’t that par for the course now? On the bus / train, it’s a great time to clean up your inbox, but I had three full screens to scroll through with confusing options on what I did or did not want to subscribe to. At last! Unsubscribe from all emails, there it is, and I am done, so am I!

my attempt to dewiggle from Wiggle

What the flump! You now what me to give me the email address again? But I did, you used it to produce the first of the last four screens, I know it seems long ago, but I did!

More Wiggle Pain

After navigating through more useless screens, input your email, AGAIN and you can finally unsubscribe

So Chrome to the rescue and UNSUBSCRIBE and we’re done.

I am not sure if this journey, which I experienced regularly on my 20+ unsubscribes yesterday is deliberate as a method of catch net retention or hoping people will just give up or get confused, but it is far from clear or simple, which clicking a link marked unsubscribe should be, shouldn’t it? Or is that me just being grumpy? Answers on a postcard to . . . .


Update: Is Amazon About To Launch Event Ticketing?

Today, Amazon launched its new Amazon Home Services product, with a huge banner placement and video on its homepage. Amazon Home Services allows people to enter their zip code, and search for service providers such as electricians, home theater installers, or just “odd jobs” around the house (all in direct competition with Yelp, and somewhat in competition with listing services such as Angie’s List). All quite uninteresting to the arts, until a deeper search of the offerings reveals arts-based services such as voice lessons, violin lessons, and guitar lessons. There are also options to “Hire A Singer,” as well as the strangely specific “Hire a Silk Aerialist“. While the former are educational experiences, the latter are clearly performances.

Once you pick the service, you are asked to select from vendors for, say, TV installation, based on price and star rating. I loaded that link into three browsers, two logged into Amazon, and one not, and got prices for the same service as the first choice ranging from $145 to $199. Amazon seems to be experimenting with dynamic pricing as it does on its books and other products, selling it via algorithm to optimize the price. (You can see this by using a service such as thetracktor.com to track Amazon prices as they fluctuate on products. For example, this toy plane).

Amazon has already become involved with other arts-based services, such as its Amazon Artists Stores, and this strange page that mentions that concert tickets can be bought via Amazon’s partner, RazorGator (but the link doesn’t work). As of mid-2013, Amazon’s Internet Movie Database (IMDB) app also allows people to purchase tickets to movies through a partnership with Fandango. While these purchasing options are mostly via partners, Amazon sells just about everything else, and the launch of Amazon Home Services moves it one step closer to full-on event ticketing.

So, let’s explore what an Amazon-based ticketing service might look like.

  • Users would be buying tickets from a system they know and trust. That’s a benefit for everybody.
  • Amazon Prime members would likely be able to purchase tickets with no service fees, or have them physically mailed for no service fees.
  • Amazon already sells deals and items locally via Amazon Local.
  • Amazon would likely provide an app for service providers (cultural organizations) to check people into the venue.
  • Amazon already has an incredible review system that would easily accommodate a theater or dance performance review.
  • Cultural organizations would benefit from Amazon’s built-in dynamic-pricing algorithm, selling the ticket for the most it could get for it based on demand.
  • Amazon would provide visibility and exposure to cultural events to Amazon customers — a valuable marketing benefit.

Tickets are emotional purchases, and Amazon is an expert selling platform. Based on these points, I believe it is only a matter of time until Amazon disrupts ticketing by applying its selling system to cultural experiences. How would you feel about Amazon getting into the ticketing business and selling tickets for your cultural organization?

UPDATE — We have now confirmed that Amazon Local has begun selling tickets to West End shows. A sample of an Amazon Local ticket purchase page for “The Commitments” shows an interesting feature gathering preference data, asking the user to click either “like”, “neutral”, or “dislike” and then storing these data along with the user’s record on Amazon. Amazon claims that all West End shows are available on Amazon Local, and we have put the word out to see if we can get more information from show producers or an attendee to the service. Given the launch of Amazon Local arts ticketing in the U.K., a U.S. launch for Broadway seems inevitable.

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?

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