I have finally a new ‘most hated’ phrase in our industry:

What Customers Need to Understand is . . .

So hate is a pretty strong word, so perhaps I should use most disliked, dangerous, disrespectful or disengaging?

I heard the phrase in connection with many of the the core themes at Europe Talks Tickets (ETT) in Amsterdam last week, in relation to a whole host of topics, including Dynamic Pricing, CRM, and new Technology, in many discussions, in the seminar rooms, the breakouts, and even over a Heineken as people discussed the changes we face as venues, vendors and others in the industry.

I am worried by this phrase and how prevalent it seems to be becoming.

Let’s start with dynamic pricing, a pretty simple one, yes?

The price was X and now is X+10%, tomorrow it’s (X+10%)+15%.  For the customer there is something happening here that they don’t understand, can’t understand, when you look at how some houses are repriced, perhaps because they were under-priced in the first place?  If we bring in the arch enemy of cultural dynamic pricing here, “The Airlines” (Booo! Hisssss!), a great many customers DO understand airline pricing, commit early, pay less, the price you get quoted today may not be the price tomorrow, it is more expensive to fly during school holidays, public holidays, weekends to city break destinations, trans-Atlantic without a Saturday stay, at last minute, or a route with restricted inventory, with exceptional demand, in the best seats. When I hear about the movement of prices in the cultural sector, as I did last week, I hear about it being due to the same factors.

customers DO understand airline pricing, commit early, pay less, the price you get quoted today may not be the price tomorrow, it is more expensive to fly during school holidays, public holidays, weekends to city break destinations, trans-Atlantic without a Saturday stay, at last minute, or a route with restricted inventory, with exceptional demand, in the best seats.

Whereas I do understand that an airline is a slightly different sale than a seat in a theatre . . . . . . oh hang on it’s not, not for everyone is it?  If I am in Leicester Square this weekend as a pass through tourist and want to see a show, I will most likely choose it based on factors including, price, value, content, time of performance, my personal tastes, how I ‘feel’.  If I choose a city break this weekend it will be based on, guess: price, value, destination, flight time, carrier, recommendations, the same basic consumer drivers of price, value, availability and demand.

Many people talk about rewarding early bookers, not penalising them by dropping prices, true, but many now talk about how customers need to understand about our market.  They do need to , if they are to get the ‘cheapest tickets’ – but what we need to be careful about is that we don’t create rules or act in a way that confuses or frustrates consumers.  Just because we may consider a ticket to Jersey Boys to be very different to a ticket to Jersey with the Boys, doesn’t mean our customer do.

What we need is to understand our customers and their needs

I am not against Dynamic Pricing, since we should be earning as much as we can for our theatres, orchestras, sports teams and  promoters.  I don’t think there is anything different than we have seen in retail or travel for many years, in terms of maximizing income, based on a great many factors.

I don’t get annoyed when I find out the woman next to me paid £100 less for her air ticket, I don’t talk about the the price, I talk about the experience, the enjoyment, the value, after all, which two people on a plane ever pay exactly the same price?

The panel at ETT raised very interesting functionality questions regarding online sales.  The Royal Opera House in London uses a slider to help people find inventory based on price, dates, content and other criteria.  See below a screenshot of that tool and then the one that we have always seen with airlines and holiday companies.

British Airways Holiday Finder

British Airways Holiday Finder

Royal Opera House Ticket Finder Tool

Royal Opera House Ticket Finder Tool

 

So if we are not selling seats in the same way as airlines, why are we seeing venues start to give tools based on price, dates and availability?  Simple, they are there (well ticket sales departments are) to ‘help customers buy’ – if we can understand that, perhaps we can understand our customers?  After all, as people, all we really want are our needs to be understood isn’t it?