Sunday, September 07, 2008

Remember the entire experience

Recently Arena Stage held a couple of focus groups about membership programs at Shugoll Research in Bethesda, MD. While I was there trying to figure out whether or not a membership program could supplement our subscription options, I learned another lesson entirely.

Our first group was with recent lapsed subscribers, and we asked them why they decided not to renew their subscription. We got several answers that we anticipated--our move to temporary venues while our new building is being built, the selection of shows, not enough time, don't want to commit, etc. And I got some answers that I completely wasn't expecting:
--"I love the productions, but I was having a tough time getting a cab after the performance, even though I asked house management prior to the show. I don't want to stand around for a half hour waiting on one."
--"I understand your move to Crystal City, but do you really have to charge $5 for a cup of coffee at concessions."
--"Parking is going to be difficult at the Lincoln Theatre. I know you have valet parking, but at such a large venue, it is going to take forever to get our vehicle."

These issues had nothing to do with the product, the sales vehicles, the messaging, or anything else that a marketer normally thinks about. They have to do with the entire experience. Reflecting on these comments, I have made it my number one commitment that we will provide the best overall experience of any theater in the metro area. To do this, we have changed the way we do business, and are looking for more opportunities everyday.

We now:
1. Offer free coffee and cookies at every performance, and for every patron. Our customer service mission includes positioning ourself as "warm and friendly." What is more warm and friendly then free coffee and cookies.
2. We are working with our valet company to get the timing of every vehicle return down to 10 minutes, which is quite an accomplishment in DC on a Friday evening. We are using shuttles to shuttle valet drivers back and forth so they don't have to run to vehicles, and therefore don't get fatigued or winded. I literally have stood at the front of the theater with our Director of Audience Services and have timed the delivery of cars. We still have a little way to go, but are making headway.
3. We now require our ushers to wear black and white, and have brand new name badges. They are trained to welcome each guest at the door, route them to the free cookie and coffee bar, and then thank them when they leave. We actively seek ways in which we can go out of our way to help people (i.e. loaning an arm to an elderly patron to assist in getting out of a vehicle, walking people to a nearby restaurant, etc.)
4. We have opened our house to both food and drink. I initially thought this was going to be a disaster and we would have to increase our cleaning staff, but our audiences are very respectful of the space and there haven't been any issues. And our patrons love taking food and drink into the space.
5. We started a Money Back Guarantee for our subscribers. If they don't like the first show, we will refund their subscription. This puts the pressure on us to solve every problem they have, and to provide the best service.
6. I moved a significant amount of funds into a "customer service" allocation. If we make a mistake, or it is perceived that we made a mistake, not only will we fix it, but we will make sure our customers leave happy. If this means buying them drinks, giving them a restaurant gift certificate, a free CD, or something else, we have funds for this purpose.

These are just a couple of things off the top of my head. I am very lucky in that I have a Director of Audience Services who is phenomenal, and is just as committed to this as I am. If you have any great ideas, please share...


Anonymous said...

Really great post! I think we so often forget that it's not necessarily the product, but the service that can make patrons return. I think all of these ideas are great. I wish all performing arts organizations would pay a little more attention to the experience and not just the performance!

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes! Marketing and branding does not stop at unique messaging for a great product. Strong organizational identity also includes consistent and thoughtful customer service, which contribute to the patron's entire experience -- particularly during shifts in typical business (i.e. venue changes). Bravo!

Unknown said...

Excellent! I am a firm proponent of market research and in today's times, marketers have to be armed with as much knowledge to serve our customers. Bravo to you for not just asking the questions, but taking swift and positive action.

Donna Walker-Kuhne

tbradley said...

Great changes, Chad! I wish that I lived in DC so that I could get the "Arena Stage" experience up close!