This article was commissioned by Musical America and published in October 2014

When you are thinking about your customers, the potential ticket purchasers, what’s your perspective? Are you standing inside your venue looking out at them? Or are you standing out there with them, where they live, understanding their circumstances, and looking at your organisation from their perspective? Standing with them, what do you see in terms of the communications and messages coming at you through all the different media, all the different channels, the print and the advertising?

That perspective is important, because a huge proportion of the potential audience is now receiving your communications on very personal devices, directly related to them, such as smartphones and tablets. They don’t share these devices with other people and this is your opportunity to communicate with them in a personal, tailored, specific way, exclusively relevant to them.

Interactive chart of Smartphone usage to access the Internet:

http://thenextweb.com/shareables/2014/08/19/watch-world-move-towards-smartphones-one-simple-chart/

 Mobile phone usage in the US:

http://heidicohen.com/67-mobile-facts-from-2013-research-charts/

It is a moot question as to how ‘virtual’ marketing and sales for the performing arts has become? You may be maintaining all your traditional print and advertising methods, and these are very important in communicating brand values, but the data suggests that a majority of customers are now relying on smartphones and tablets for your e-mails, social media, and indeed, for ticket purchases.

The debate amongst marketers and in the software industry is how much this affects the way we do business with our customers, and the way we relate to our repeat attenders. It is an old argument that most companies accommodated to the Internet by designing software interfaces that reflected how they did business off-line. That process is reflected today in many Internet ticketing engines, where customers click through a multi-stage step process to make a purchase. Data entry is required from them at various stages, especially at the point of payment. On the desktop computer it can be clunky, on the laptop it can be awkward if key information and navigation is “below the fold”, so off the screen, and, if there is no adaptation for smartphones, It can be a near impossible process. While smartphone suppliers have innovated, For example, how many venues have ticketing systems which accommodate Apple’s Passbook and now their one-click Apple payment method?

Some audience members have always complained that the Box Office is home to ”Control Freaks”. See that page in the season brochure that says ”it’s so easy to book” and then has a whole side of details and conditions in small print that suggests it is more complicated than at first glance. But if we change our vantage point, and look at it from the point of view of the customer with a Smartphone in their hand, or on the sofa at home with their Tablet and the family around them, what should we be seeing on the screen?

For a start, we have to get the ‘form’ factors right. Exactly which device are they looking at, what size of screen, portrait or landscape?

Of course,  Internet Browsers can recognise form factors; some operating systems are now restricting views to specific formats e.g. only Portrait on larger screens; the display of key information and importantly, navigation, needs to be optimised to the form

After ‘form’ comes content, itself relevant to the recipient and the device. Have we just e-mailed them about a particular event with a deep link in the message that identified them, so when they clicked through they were recognised and their data input hugely reduced. Or did they click through from a post on Facebook? In these cases we can be absolutely specific to them. There is clearly the option of one click purchase for them to complete their transaction using stored encrypted card numbers.

Of course they might have clicked through from a deep link in a Tweet and, though we cannot recognise them immediately, we can at least ensure they land on the right information, especially if that is a specific offer or sales promotion. In this case, ”cookies” can be valuable because a ‘returning’ smartphone or tablet can be recognised and it is simple to quote the customer name and ask them to confirm it is them at the start of the process. It certainly works for Amazon.

Cookie Cutters

Cookies can manage basic profiling of your customers, remembered in each step:

Previous web visitor

Known single ticket-buyer

Member or Friend

Subscriber

Donor

Sponsor

Supporter

Volunteer

In both advertising and software development, they now talk about this enabling us to put a ”code halo” around this specific customer. From now on, we know who they are, the past purchases that they have made, whether they are a single ticket buyer or a subscriber, how many tickets they buy for their family, whether they are a donor or a sponsor, if they are a supporter or a volunteer. At every step of the way we can communicate with them based on their personal profile and their ticketing history, and we can remember their status in any transactions with them, giving them say their membership or subscriber benefits or acknowledging the value of their donations. At every step, the functionality we offer can be appropriate to what the customer wants to do and our offers and promotions.

And of course that functionality can be about canvassing their opinions, polling them, and seeking their responses as well as helping them buy. It can also ensure that they pay by the most convenient methods to them, ideally one-click, and their tickets are provided in the most convenient way with least effort.

That’s a lot to re-think, but the customers have already made the leap into this new environment and know what information they want to pull out of organisations they relate to. And whether those organisations are treating them as individuals with specific needs and interests? How many of our customer service procedures are designed for our convenience instead of for the customer and what they want to do when they want to do it?

This won’t make the Box Office redundant (See post on the future of the Box Office) but it does transform how customers relate to us and therefore how we need to think and behave towards them. And maybe when the customers are looking at us from their perspective, they won’t like everything they see about our ways of doing business and welcoming them. Can we change to be more open to them?