This year, I’m speaking at Digital Marketing Boot Camp for the Arts on how to get direct feedback from your customers about their experience on your website – by running your own user tests.
In addition to good old-fashioned surveys and Google Analytics, there’s another way arts marketers can solicit feedback – walking up and talking to patrons!
While box office staffers are regularly hearing from customers, it’s easy for marketers to get lost in data and never come face-to-face with our customers. A multi-channel approach to learning about your customers' experience is critical.
A few years ago, our friends at The Pricing Institute, now known as JCA Arts Marketing, conducted a marketing audit for us. Among several topics investigated, we learned that the value of Seattle Opera subscribers is monumental.
They represent 35% of our customers but provide 80% of Seattle Opera’s ticket revenue and 90% of all individual contributions. In order to grow our contributed and ticket revenue, the retention of subscribers is critical. So we started several programs to focus on subscriber retention.
One of those was our Hall Ambassador Program (thanks Chicago Symphony Orchestra – we stole this idea from their YouTube video). In the 2013/14 season, we started greeting our 1-3 year subscribers at their seat before each performance. The purpose was simply to thank them for subscribing and to see if they had any questions about their subscription tickets, benefits, or anything else Seattle Opera related.
Here are a few bullets on how the program works:
- Hall Ambassadors are made up of marketing and PR staff, as well as a few ticket agents and members of other departments. We aim to have 7 Hall Ambassadors per performance. This is a great way for people outside of marketing and development to talk to customers, as well.
- Each Hall Ambassador has a list of “prospects” for the evening. Ambassadors average around 10 subscribers per night to ensure it’s a quality conversation.
- They only have a small bit of information about each person. How long they’ve subscribed, whether they are back after a long break, etc.
- We never sell anything during this visit. This is strictly a “thank you.”
- We give a free gift. A voucher to use at concessions or free CD’s as examples.
- It’s important to note that patrons who are already part of our personalized donor portfolios are not included. These customers are already receiving personal visits throughout the year from our development officers.
We are now talking to more than 1,000 subscriber households per season through this program. I can’t say enough about how this has changed what we do for our subscribers.
What We’ve Learned
It became apparent from the very first day of running this program that our subscribers didn’t know what their benefits were or how to use them. They didn’t know they could exchange tickets or how to do it. They also didn’t know about free ticket upgrades or how to request replacement tickets if they miss their show. Even though we cover these points in our materials, we are now more aggressive about pushing this information out to our subscribers regularly.
- Instead of relying on subscribers to use their one-time-per-season free upgrade, we remind them to take advantage of this via regular emails.
- The results? Subscribers who use their free upgrade have a renewal rate that is 8% higher than subscribers who do not use their upgrade.
- We utilize ticket scanning at our venue so we know immediately when someone doesn’t use his or her ticket. We send them an email with a link to request free tickets to another performance. We even do this during top selling shows like Tosca.
- Why? Our data shows that subscribers who miss their show but get return later to use their ticket value have a renewal rate that is 14% points higher than subscribers that miss a performance and don’t get back in.
- We were able to directly talk to people that might have emailed us with questions or comments about the season. If we start seeing a downward trend with a specific audience segment, we can target them through a visit to see what we can learn.
- Did it work? I have personally saved several subscribers from dropping their subscriptions because of a Hall Ambassador visit – including a couple that had a planned gift, which we did not know of prior to my visit!
One year after implementing this program, we’ve been able to measure how it impacts our renewal rate. First year subscribers who were visited by a Hall Ambassador have a renewal rate that is 10% higher than other first year subscribers that did not get a visit.
This program has been so successful with subscribers that we started including new single ticket buyers in the 2015/16 Season. We often hear feedback from our ushers that patrons are surprised when they leave to use the restroom and we don’t let them back into the theater (a common opera practice). Additionally, we have long concession lines and an underutilized pre-ordering option.
While those were our talking point goals, we learned something new from these customers – challenges with our online select-a-seat maps.
First and foremost, we tried to fix this on the spot for these customers. Then we went back to our online seating maps to figure out what in the world was going on and fix it! I’m not sure we would have heard about this problem if we didn’t talk to the patrons face-to-face. The people we talked to were a bit sheepish and embarrassed because they thought they were stupid for ordering in the wrong row. In reality, our online tool was not customer friendly.
Continuing the Conversation
Prior to starting our Hall Ambassador program, we were running a robust survey program with both post-performance surveys and regular full audience surveys, as well as talking to ticket agents, and using Google Analytics to understand website behavior. But we never heard about any of these examples until we got out there and talked to people. Imagine what you can learn about your customers from simply talking to them!
Kristina Murti is the Associate Director of Marketing at Seattle Opera. She will be speaking at this year’s Digital Marketing Boot Camp for the Arts on User Testing: Your Coworkers are Not a Valid Test Market.