Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Patron Experience and the New Customer Service

By virtue of the way technology has changed our world, people have come to expect an ever more personalized customer experience. Retailers like Amazon and Netflix use sophisticated technology to recommend more products, remembering buying history and order information, and tailoring the experience to each customer’s preferences. Customers now expect products and the customer service surrounding those products to fulfill their specific needs.

What about the arts? In the arts, the experience is the product. The words we use to describe our product, our art, and the action of coming to the theatre or exhibit hall often include “experience”. It’s a critical part of our vernacular. Smart arts managers know that the arts experience starts from the time a patron picks up the phone or goes online to order a ticket and ends when he/she arrives home after the event. TRG’s decades of client experience and patron behavior research shows that patron loyalty is a process that grows with accumulated experiences with the organization.

Customer service supports loyalty development at every step of the way. TRG’s counsel on patron-centric management and customer service is built around the concept of patron loyalty. Think of patron loyalty as a ladder. Patrons start at the bottom rung as a “tryer” when they have their first interaction or transaction with the organization. Patrons who come back again as a repeat buyer, multi-buyer, subscriber or member-based frequent attendee are what we call “buyers”. With good customer care, an organization can retain buyers and cultivate them into an ongoing, engaged investor—an “advocate.”

A patron’s experience, then, is a set of related interactions that, together, determine future buying and donating behavior. Viewing customer service the way a patron sees the experience is the very definition of patron-centric customer service. The experience arts patrons have unfolds in a variety of ways--the marketing materials they see advertising an event, the interactions they have with box office staff or online ticketing, the ease or difficulty of parking, the way they pick up tickets at the venue, the manner in which they are seated by the ushers, and, of course, the artistic experience.
But it’s not over yet--they’ll also remember how crowded the bathrooms were at intermission, the interactions they had with staff or other patrons in the lobby, and how the traffic was on the way home, whenor whetherthe organization thanks or even acknowledges them for coming. They remember these aspects of the experience time after time, for every event they attend.

Customer service is everyone’s job. Good experiences and connection with the organization at every stage of the game helps cultivate patron loyalty, and that loyalty sustains organizations. Each department – not just the box office or front of house staffhas a role in fulfilling patrons’ needs. Departments working together provide the kind of service and experience that move patrons up the ladder.

What customer service means in the digital age. Since ticketing technology allows patrons to order online, fewer patrons are choosing an interaction with a live person.  As TRG consultant and resident customer service expert Todd Scarce says, “Why would you call the box office when you can order online at 3 a.m. in your boxer shorts?” Those who call nowadays have a reason to pick up the phone—they are looking for someone to listen and help.  That’s why arts organizations’ staffthe box office in particular needs to be more customer service saavy than ever before.  Best practice customer service requires the ability to offer service that’s tailored to the patron’s expressed needs and past experience with the organization.

TRG research consistently corroborates one fact:  It’s critical to keep arts patrons coming back for more. A big contributing factor is patron-centric service. Customer service can no longer be about meeting expectations, but, as Todd Scarce counsels, we must exceed them.

How are you making your organization more patron-centric? Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Twitter under the hashtag #newCS.


  1. That was awesome! Probably one of the more interesting reads in awhile.Customer Service Cashier CV

  2. The ladder is a great way to demonstrate the positive results of effective customer service. In this digital age, customer service is aided with tools that can facilitate the accomplishment of efficient customer care service.