Why I Changed Ticketing Systems – A Consultant’s View

Many of you reading this will be responsible for hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of tickets per annum, perhaps realising ten of millions of pounds in revenue. You sell theatre shows, sports events and much much more.

 I wanted to share a story of changing ticketing systems on a MUCH smaller scale.

 We recently migrated ticketing platform, I say platform, should be more like plug in, for the Ticketing Professionals Conference registration.

“your website is broken” – sound familiar?

 Sounds easy doesn’t it? 400 places, two price codes, a few promotions and one general admission event.

 Embarrassing

It was embarrassing, that as a conference for Ticketing Professionals we had a system so prone to, how shall I put it, moments of……er……. oddness. I remember receiving an email from Liz Baird of Wales Millennium Centre in early 2016 struggling to book her place. When I looked into the issue, she had attempted on less than 5 or 6 times to register. No payment, just register.

 It’s embarrassing we can’t get ticketing right isn’t it?”

We sorted her registration and I emailed an apology and said “It’s embarrassing we can’t get ticketing right isn’t it?”

“Yes, a bit” she replied.

 We carried on for 2016 and ran the system through the 2017 conference booking process, but it became clear as we entered our busiest period, things would have to change, both for our own sanity, but also our image.

 

Support for $139 / Annum?

Away from the public facing issues we experienced, we also had some real back end issues. Really basic things, like wanting to clearly and efficiently show VAT (UK sales tax) in our pricing structure and to calculate and present it properly during the transaction.

 We were using a simple annual licence of a WordPress plug in, we are still using a plug in, just a different one, as part of that there are support strands, normally by forum. I don’t think, for the price you can expect much more now can you?

 I got constantly frustrated by what seem as apparent answers being vague or pushing the issue to another forum, product or issue. Something as basic and making sure a customer got a confirmation email became a long and drawn out affair.

 Whatever platform you use, for whatever genre, there are some things that it should just DO. Printing a ticket? Sales Summary Report? Client Record? ( the list goes on here )

 

Business being held back

So we had the public facing issues, the back end issues, which, to a certain extent we could manage, but we began to feel we were missing out on functions or rather business benefit from functions.

 What do you mean by that? Well here’s a perfect example – our old system supported promotion codes (for a extra fee) but they were for all price codes in one event.

 So when we want to do a special promotion for venue, but not for vendor registrations we could not do that. Again it sounds small, but it was holding us back, we either had to apply the promotion code to everything and try and plaster advertising that it was only valid on a certain ticket and check every booking or not run the promo. Either way it was holding us back.

 

Greener Grass?

Unlike a lot of you, there was no complex data migration or mass staff training, but there were still some key tasks to undertake.

One of the key ones was to integrate with our (yet constructed) website. We eventually chose a theme that was designed for conferences and optimised to work with our new platform. I guess many of you may have done the same – ‘what other orgs have you worked with / have you experience of integrating with XYZ Ticket system?’

The great advantage of this step to bring things together is that we can easily drop widgets throughout the site, something we often see in AudienceView sites, and one of my stand out favourite advantages of that system.

Easy to Add Widgets – A Great Feature

We have lost features though, some we did not realise that were really useful to us. We used to have a great API to Mailchimp to add new delegates to our mailing list and flag their attendance. This allowed for segmented mailing to target or exclude booked attendees, we have had to resort to a manual process.

 This highlights that any change will see advantages, but likely loss of a feature or business benefit

 

Worth It?

Heh, we still have some back end lifting to do with our new platform. The number one issue we wanted to resolve was a tighter web integration, better online customer experience and fewer “your website is broken calls” – sound familiar?

 As a venue operator I changed system four times, all with net positives, I did 60+ transformations as a vendor and around 25 as a consultant, so I can say I have experience of it!

 It was a great experience to go back to the coal face and experience the frustrations or users, agony of research and the pain of implementation. On the back end of the project, I can’t imagine using anything else, I am thoroughly happy. Now, back to the business of using it to sell tickets………. While your here, have you booked for #TPC2018 yet?

 Check out our engine and get your place here (shameless plug over)

 

 

Audiences’ ‘experience’ crucial in engagement?

Most arts and entertainment organisations target previous attenders to persuade them to attend a new event by selecting people on their ticketing system database who had attended events of a similar character in the past. Fairly obviously this is done by either the title of the event e.g. a play, or for a concert perhaps the repertoire, or simply “comedy” or “dance”. This is a common practice, notwithstanding the fact that human happiness comes from someone being persuaded to attend something new, different, that they then enjoyed. Perhaps we should be targeting them on opposites?
‘high definition performance’
But my point is that if we are targeting people based on what they have attended before, we need to understand the ‘experience’ they had, and use it as part of our strategy to engage people. The Observer theatre critic in the 1960s Kenneth Tynan wrote about what he called ‘high definition performance’ as transcending an audience’s usual experience. Perhaps the ‘experience’ experienced needs to be at the heart of ticketing and marketing? Bear with me:
I like a wide range of music, especially live, and while I like going to symphony orchestra concerts, chamber music and recitals, I often find the presentation of classical music in concert “dull”. The ‘no announcements, no introductions, keep the house lights up, don’t clap between movements, earnest faced musicians ignore the audience except when it claps’ presentation style, I find drains the energy out of the event. I can still sometimes really appreciate the music and the performance, but something is definitely missing. I would be worried about trying to persuade an audience to attend another “dull’ concert just because they had already attended one, though for some the music to be played is their key deciding factor.
playing from memory
This was spectacularly brought home to me when the Cambridge Summer Music Festival announced the Aurora Orchestra performing Beethoven’s Symphony No.3 in Eb major known as ‘Eroica’,to be played from memory at the West Road Concert Hall in Cambridge on 21 July. I didn’t know that playing from memory like this is rare for orchestras, and it is not known in ‘living memory’ when last it was done in the modern era. We might expect it of chamber ensembles such as string quartets and even some choirs, but not orchestras.
West Road is a modern unassuming concert hall, part of the university though out of term time, with a bright clear acoustic, a single rake of seats and open end concert platform. As the audience gathered, the stage had a handful of music stands and small platforms, no instruments, and the musicians did not appear on stage to prepare for the appointed start.
clearly choreographed
Instead Tom Service, BBC Radio 3 presenter bounded across the stage, microphone in hand, talking rapidly about the concert to come, quickly followed by conductor Nicholas Collon and the musicians carrying their instruments, though not heading for any obvious playing positions. Instead , in a double act, Tom and Nicholas, talked about how the symphony came to be written, its’ structure and themes, with the musicians moving to form groups and playing extracts, mostly staying standing up.
This was clearly choreographed, at one stage the musicians forming a semi-circle around the platform and Nicholas “surfing” the tune around the different instruments. This was clearly also immensely entertaining to audience and musicians, with some participation as we were asked to help sing a tune, and at another point the players stamped out the rhythm. The energy and enjoyment was palpable.
the physicality of playing standing
First the Aurora Orchestra was to play Richard Strauss’ Metamorphosen (which includes a quote of a theme in the Erocia), for 21 string soloists, so the musicians left the stage and two stage crew rapidly set up, including music stands, before they returned, the majority standing, to play. This in itself was an astonishing experience, the orchestra exciting the emotions from the work, delivering the vigour and the elegies of the piece, definitely gaining from being mostly standing, and the physicality of playing standing, knees bending to the rhythms, heads bobbing, arms vigorously sawing bows. The inter-action with the conductor, between the players, with us, was tangible. This got loud long applause.
After the interval, the orchestra returned, again mostly standing, no music stands, and great smiles of anticipation – that can’t be faked. They then played the Eroica, the music soaring and roaring, suddenly the themes and tunes, identified in the introduction, excitingly audible, and somehow visible in the performance of the players. The sheer energy yet control of the performance was remarkable, and the orchestra as a living breathing whole, inter-acting together, smiling and nodding at each other, and sharing with us, quite remarkable to witness. This enriched the performance and made it palpably tangible and visceral, a shared experience of the music. Actually, it is almost impossible to describe.
As the last note hung in the air, the audience now roared and stood as one for the loudest standing ovation I have witnessed (remember this is Cambridge, university town in England). After the applause died down and Nicholas Collon eventually left the stage, the musicians hugged and kissed each other!
what has it to do with ticketing?
Now dear reader, why have I explained all that and what has it to do with ticketing? Because it is not about what that audience attended, but about their experience of it, which in my own lifetime’s experience was unique and exceptional. And the ticketing database needs to be able to record for those attenders that this was an exceptional experience.
take the audiences experiences into account
Sometimes it is easy to connect what was seen with the detail of the experience – some musicals for example – but sometimes it is now and again in the run of a play or an opera, or dance, and certainly so with music. It may be exceptional to that audience in that venue, but it needs a flag and a narrative description in the attenders’ records. And when thinking about targeting, we should start taking the audiences experiences into account.
When an audience has had such an experience, it is my view that we are definitely further down the road to engaging with them, and we can quietly remind them that they shared a remarkable experience when persuading them to attend something else.
The Aurora Orchestra played the same concert for the BBC Proms on Saturday 22nd July 2017 broadcast on Radio 3, so catch it on iPlayer (but radio remember), and the Aurora make their Concertgebouw debut with this in Amsterdam on Friday 4 August 2017 at 8.00pm: http://www.auroraorchestra.com/event/eroica-from-memory/ 

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?

_clerk

 

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.

Experimentation

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.

Equality

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.