Making predictions for the future is not reliable forecasting.  Trying to assess where developments are leading and what developments will emerge and achieve traction and adoption is remarkably similar to guess-work.  But some commentators think it has a useful and helpful role if it focusses thinking on what ought to be seen as key issues.  So here goes:

1.  Focus on the Ticket Purchasers experience

If you spend any time on-line seeking out and buying tickets, you will find it can be a soul-destroying experience.  How often do suppliers and venues really look from the customer’s point of view?  Too many web pages are just not thought-through, with too many circular links, poorly designed, with key information and navigation not obvious (or below the fold).  Registration and log-in mechanisms are badly designed and illogical – and very annoying if they fail to recognise the pre-registered but then claim the new registrant’s email address is already registered.  Try browsing on-line from a smartphone or tablet and still many web pages are not mobile friendly, sometimes adopting the right format and size on the corporate website then going to the wrong size for the ticketing pages.

At Europe Talks Tickets in Amsterdam we were told it is usual in our sector to see an 85%+ failure rate of uncompleted on-line transactions.  Yet many venues (and presumably their suppliers) are complacent about this because the 10%+ who do complete often constitute over 50% of purchasers through all sales channels.  But how many of that 85% constitute lost sales, missed opportunities?  My colleague Ron @GroupOfMinds Evans makes the point that we don’t pay enough attention to the psychology of the customer during the sales process.  Damage your relationship with them at the very point they are committing to buy your product and you have already started to disappoint them.

The good news is that more and more people are focussing on the ticket purchasers experience, wanting to make sure their web pages and processes work on all the devices, minimise that drop-out rate, and make buying the tickets a successful part of the relationship.  Suppliers as well as venues need to make this a No.1 issue in 2015.  And see No.4

2.  It is about inter-facing

We’ve talked a few times at TheTicketingInstitute about ‘platforms’ and the systems that see themselves as providing what I have called the “beating heart of marketing” and that “database of truth” about customer relationships of all kinds, driving every ‘touch-point’ and inter-action.  Tessitura is of course, with its not-for-profit, network-owned, model, the exemplar here, actively helping venues integrate and interface with numerous software tools and solutions, relying on that single “database of truth”.  But equally PatronBase, in the UK, Spain as well as New Zealand and Australia, has made it a priority to ensure that venues can interface their system with the other software they use.  As John Caldwell of PatronBase has said, it is not rocket science, but neither is it always easy, so more suppliers need to understand that venues expect support in making the connections.  TopTix have intentionally built this into their SROv4 software, to make developing interfaces easier for third parties.  Perhaps it is not about ‘platforms’ but about attitudes – the venue is not being awkward when it wants to interface.

3.  Reducing the costs for payment gateways and payment mechanisms

The ticketing industry sufferers bad service from a number of the payment gateway providers.  “Don’t worry, they are low value transactions” is not a helpful response when hundreds of transactions have gone wrong, with the potential of customers turning up to find no seats booked for them.  Sadly this fits into a ‘rip-off’ attitude to ticket purchasers – “they have decided to buy a ticket, how much can we get off them” – that extends to venues as well, with multiple charges as well as commissions for the payment gateway service; and to that tendency to see if costs can be added on above the price – now thankfully illegal in the EU.  At priced tender stage during procurement, it is intriguing to see the difference in charges for the same gateway through different suppliers.  Do venues realise there are thousands of pounds/dollars to be saved in this?

Ironically there is a sector creeping up on ticketing where the competitive marketplace is driving down costs instead of ‘ripping-off”.  So-called micro-payments and mobile payment gateway providers are finding fierce competition to shave the margins as they seek to dominate the market and introduce near-field “swipe to pay” and other solutions.  Even Apple is vulnerable when chains the like of Starbucks with their huge international user base make decisions on points of cents and are not willing to pass costs on.  Will venues wake up to optimising for mobiles and tablets when they realise transactions are cheaper using these new payment mechanisms?  Suppliers may need to lead the way in adopting these new payment mechanisms.

4.  Talk to me

Voice activated ticket purchase, asking people to speak key information, proved a hazardous interface when first introduced for phone bookings, relying on speech recognition in answer to very limited options.  The software has moved on and opened out, with the various ‘robots’ on our smartphones that we can now ask questions of and give instructions to.  Of course, the smartphones have the key advantage of already knowing who the customer is, reducing the need for customer input.

The pundits say this technology and the related speech to text recognition is only two years from widespread adoption, likely to be led by who provides the most useful and helpful solutions.  So instead of all that difficult navigation to find What’s On and choose a performance and seat availability, let us reverse the process and let the customer ask the questions.  I suspect that a question-based approach may well be better for the customer than any process which requires them to know what they want before they start.

5.  Browser-based, Internet access systems

Thank goodness for terminal services and those “thin-client” solutions, since some older systems would not be meeting the specification for ticketing tenders where the venue is looking to what it thinks is the future, today.  But “browser-basesd” front-ends is the recurring mantra from venues for systems intended to be served up on multiple devices to everyone who might use the system, and in new ways of presenting the Box Office to the public.

Ben Curthoys of Monad Ticketing was the first person I heard arguing that the same design rules should be applied for the staff in the Box Office and the back-end as the public accessing the front-end of ticketing systems.  That goes farther than most systems, but the principle of user-friendly screens in multiple formats is a new given. Michael Nabarro and his colleagues at Spektrix got an early edge from this and are now taking their approach into the US.  I had a preview of the first steps toward the new PatronBase front end in October 2013 in New Zealand and due to see the progress there this February.  The systems that pre-date this fundamental change need to catch up.  Ironically, I don’t think this means systems such as AudienceView who pioneered this innovation can sit on their laurels, since now they need to match the ‘state-of-the-art’ out of the box.

6.  Solving the cost issues of ‘the Cloud’

I have never forgotten Fujitsu giving me a detailed presentation on why Cloud-based ‘software as a service’ (SaaS) was “always lower cost than locally hosted or managed services”.  I spent some time explaining that in the ticketing sector, all the SaaS Cloud solutions were more expensive, quoting details anonymously from various tenders.  They were at first incredulous, then confused, because of course the real question is why the cost savings were not passed on to the venues using solutions delivered from The Cloud.

They pointed out that generally in the IT sector, procurement was by people who were able to compare prices and costs and who genuinely understood how the cost savings could be made compared with locally served software.  In the ticketing sector, procurement was less well -informed, and you also needed to factor in people making comparison with Ticketmaster and other service providers, so the real cost comparisons were not being made, not helped by disinformation from some sales people.

Can that position hold?  The pundits say the Cloud wars will escalate in 2015, in terms of lowering costs and improving security and services as Google, Microsoft, etc. go into competitive battle with Amazon to get costs down.  We know The Cloud is where we should be going, so are the SaaS ticketing suppliers going to deliver the benefits to the venues in terms of costs in 2015?  I suspect we are going to see some serious changes in approach.

7.  Re-thinking the physical Box Office

Places like the new ‘Home’ in Manchester, due to replace the old Cornerhouse and Library Theatre in Manchester this spring, are re-thinking the physical Box Office.  Tablets have untethered the Box Office sales person from the counter, able to serve customers where they are standing – Apple store style – as Nimax Theatres have demonstrated in London using ENTA, and we are getting closer to the Citizen M type attended self-check-in where staff hover to help customers complete their transaction.  Home will have six cinemas for its film programme and there is no reason why “door sales” cannot be genuinely at the door of each screen.  At the Arts Picturehouse in Cambridge the Box Office is almost never physically open, because people buy tickets at the bar or confectionary counter if they arrive at the cinema without a ticket, though the majority have pre-bought on-line and got numbered seats.  Expect to see more innovation in how the physical Box Office functions in 2015.

That’s my views for now – interested to read what yours are.  Best wishes

Roger