The age old debate transcends more than just the performing arts sector. But obviously I am going to focus on theatre. Any negative customer service experience I have causes me to long for the days when we were publicly assured “the customer is always right”. But then I have moments of lucidity when I remember being a starbuck barista dealing with a ruthless customer who purposely dumps their latte all over the counter because it had 2 bubbles in it and they asked for no foam (This where I earned the nickname “Rage” at the Toronto exchange tower). So where do we draw the line between making a better customer experience and ensuring our business is operational to its highest standards and staff are safe.
Ticket refunds. Generally speaking the box office is full of policy, fees and straight up “no’s” to help the business have a clear sense of data, house counts, financial reconciliation and marketing tactics. All these rules and policies were put in place historically for good reason. And some are tough to budge on. For example, no refunds. Refunds in the theatre ticket world are tricky. No one offers them simply for this reason; the house needs to have an accurate count of people well before the performance for marketing reasons and for staffing (ushers etc). Think about it. How annoying as a producer or marketing director would it be to think you have a sold out house and the day before the house drops to less 50% due to easy refunds because it just so happens the Canucks made it to game 7 of the playoffs which becomes priority over seeing Elphaba take on the Wizard at the Queen E. And what about those people who actually wanted to go to Wicked despite sports and couldn’t get tickets and don’t know there are actually loads of tickets suddenly available? Annoying right? No refunds makes sense here. However, what about the customer who genuinely wanted to see the show and something comes up which causes this person to not be able to attend (usually sickness, death, accidents, traffic, aliens) and there are no other tickets available on any other night? Then wouldn’t a refund be reasonable for this particular customer? BUT; what if everyone just lies about sickness, death, accidents, traffic and aliens just to get a refund because they are a bunch of flakes and at the last minute decide they’d rather stay home and watch reruns of Big Bang Theory. You can see the difficulty here and why the majority say no refunds. For those of us who have worked in a box office, you know there are always exceptions with extraordinary cases. (Shh. if you tell to many people, too many refunds will be given). We’re all human and most of us are empathetic.
I am starting to feel in the performing arts world a lot of rules and policies to help protect staff and operations are blinding the main goal of a positive customer experience. I would like to take a step back and ensure what we’re doing (for example in the box office) is still happening for valid reasons which the customer understands and can also be empathetic.
This brings me to ticketing fees. WE ALL HATE when we buy a ticket which starts out to be $25 and in the end is $40 PLUS tax. What the fuck you guys? There is no reason fees need to be tacked on at the end of my purchase. NONE. If you’re working with a ticketing company which charges fees, fine. I get it. Bills need to be paid. But for the love of god stop making me feel like (as a customer) I’m paying for a show, a staff person, and some other fee usually involving printing or mailing. I assume my ticket pays for all these things in the first place. SO INCLUDE YOUR DAMN FEES IN YOUR ADVERTISED AND FINAL PRICE. Then, after, remove your cut from their cut and whatever other line item you need to pay for behind the scenes. Don’t make it a customers problem. And I know for a FACT, the ticketing software you’re either using or operate, can do this for you. If for some weird reason you’re using a software out there that doesn’t have this function, DON’T USE IT, IT’S STUPID AND POINTLESS AND NEEDS TO DIE.
A few years ago I went to see Book of Mormon in Seattle. At intermission I went to line up for the ladies washroom. Of course the line up was a mile long but to my surprise the line moved incredibly fast. Finally I was inside the washroom with stalls in sight when I saw and heard an usher standing in the middle of the washroom, directing all the women when a stall became available. To me, this was innovative, simple and amazing. Seeing an usher directing the crowd with a dominance which everyone appreciated was magic and still lives with me now.
These are just a couple examples of where in performing arts we sometimes forget the customer experience over the operations. There are lots more examples but they all come down to this: if, in your business practice, customers are always mad and upset about a specific practice and your staff have a hard time explaining why this practice is the way it is, take a step back and decide if it is relevant, worth it, or even valid anymore.
And don’t get me started on airlines.