When Andrew @TicketTattle Thomas, Ron @GroupofMinds Evans and I compare notes from our experiences with TheTicketingInstitute.com, we are always surprised about how easily, sometimes how quickly, users of ticketing systems become disenchanted with their suppliers. It can sometimes seem that it is not what their system can do that pleases users, but entirely the service they get from their supplier and, fundamentally, the relationship with them.  Genuine communications seem to break down so easily and people can feel neglected and taken for granted when what they are receiving is “normal service”.

Is their current system a ‘match’?

One particularly concerning dimension of this is when users complain of the inadequacy of their system, when in fact it can already do what they want, usually because of upgrades. This is not when users have failed to upgrade to the latest version, but simply because they are not keeping themselves up-to-date with the functionality being delivered to them. Ron Evans therefore offers venues the opportunity to put their needs profile on the Functionality Builder and simply for him to report whether their current system is a ‘match’ that meets their needs: http://groupofminds.com/choosing-a-ticketing-and-crm-system/. Quite often it is, and the users have then to either tackle their relationship with their supplier or still decide to change.

Oh, but it does!

I recently found myself meeting a number of users of one system and hearing their feedback about the software. Unfortunately this was “the system doesn’t” with the repeated refrain “Oh, but it does” routine. But what I also heard was users who assumed it was the responsibility of their supplier to keep them up-to-date with the knowledge about their system’s capabilities.  If necessary they expected the supplier to be returning to give them the training their staff needed to ‘work smarter’ and get the most out of the system. Their expectations went way beyond release notes with a new software version.  They were surprised to be told this was unrealistic.

Staff churn defeating continuity

Not much dialogue was needed to find that any supplier’s communications strategy to convey knowledge about the system capabilities is quickly going to be undermined by staff churn in their users, people changing jobs so core expertise leaves the user’s organisation with them, no handover – often significant gaps before the new person arrives – completely defeating continuity. I can recall Select Ticketing (before they merged into Tickets.com) expressing concern about the impact this had on PASS users, at a time when systems were less intuitive in their interface than today. Select managers wanted to make it a condition that, to obtain support, at least one person at a user had to have been fully trained by Select, and if that member of staff left, the user organisation was to be immediately informed of their need to get someone new trained – at a cost.

Charles Shatzkin (now fronting PatronBase in the US) tells me Select never actually removed support, but their “PASS University” did inculcate a culture of being a trained and knowledgeable user, and, like Tessitura today, the network of users was able to deliver much training on new initiatives and share case histories at their user conferences, to “raise the game” of system users.

Too low a common denominator

But there is another and equally concerning dimension to this. It appears to me that too often the staff, as everyone says, “in the front-line” using these ticketing systems, are not given enough training to be able to properly do their job.  Their supervising managers are often not fully versed in the latest marketing and sales promotion techniques (and are often the ones with unrealistic expectations of suppliers).

Talking to one system supporter, the challenge is that sophisticated systems require intelligent users with knowledge of CRM, direct marketing and related functions and strategies. If the users do not know what they should want to use a system for, and how to carry out advanced ticketing, marketing or CRM tasks, then they may find themselves in a Catch 22 before they even look at the software. Setting up a membership scheme, configuring a subscription package, sorting out the rules for a fund-raising campaign, are not tasks to be tackled without prior knowledge.  This rapidly translates into managers who don’t know what they could use their system for, and sales staff who can’t do much more than sell a ticket. That is one big gap for any supplier to close. It is to be hoped that the new ticketing staff qualifications being proposed in the UK (details at the Ticketing Professionals Conference: http://ticketingprofessionals.co.uk/sessions/concurrent-session-4c/) might start to challenge that issue. More than one international supplier is discussing providing “foundation” training in ticket sales to help close this skills gap.

Users need to get real

But more attention needs to be paid by users to this issue. We have seen the way Select in the past, now Tessitura, has managed to get on the agenda of the senior managers in arts organisations, and therefore get the attention and resources that ticketing and marketing needs if it is going to deliver the CRM and fund-raising benefits most organisations want. It does seem to me that senior managers need to get real about their responsibility for ensuring staff are knowledgeable and trained up-to-date.

Perhaps I can make a simple comparison: most venues today have sophisticated computer controlled lighting systems for their stages, which require training on what you can do with the system and how you do it. I don’t know a single venue that puts an untrained member of staff to drive the system during a live performance with the audience. Why, if that is the case back stage, do we it allow untrained staff front-of-house in daily live interaction with our audiences?

Roger Tomlinson

February 2016