More Customer Service Thoughts

I came across some articles with relevance to ideas I expressed in earlier posts. Before I get into them though, I wanted to add a quick aside and direct people to an additional article I came across on the increasing influence power of blogs.
The first article I came across in an old issue of Fast Company is actually a review of Taking Care of eBusiness, by Thomas Siebel that makes a number of good points that are applicable to arts organizations. The first is in regard to knowing the different channels through which your patrons want to communicate with you.

“Customers with an order or a complaint don’t just call a toll-free number or wait for their district sales representative to arrive. They may turn to email, a Web site, or a host of other channels to do business. If companies can’t make each of those channels work well or can’t integrate information throughout each piece of their sales, marketing, and service systems, well, it’s never been easier for customers to say good-bye and take their business elsewhere.”

The article goes on to say:

“The lesson is clear: Smart businesses coordinate their sales and service efforts across multiple channels, moving information around so that customers’ preferences and history are accessible no matter whether the next interaction is online, in a store, or via a call center. That’s not an easy task, but Siebel argues that the payoff is immense.”

If you have read any of my earlier posts or speech on Arts Management in an Age of Technology, it probably comes as no surprise that I should zero in on this article. The importance of making it easy for people to make a decision to visit your organization and deliver the information they want in the manner they want it is pretty much my mantra these days.

The article continues in the same theme–noting customer preferences and taking the initiative to act upon them and anticipate a patron’s desires. (“Ah yes Mr. Smith, I got your voice mail message. Even though it was garbled as you drove through a tunnel, I saw you usually like seats in row G around 15 &16 so I placed you there before the show sold out.”)

It also talks about having all relevant data available to your front line people. Many a performing arts organization probably knows the value of this since inevitably your newest ticket office attendant will take a call from the biggest donor and tell them there is absolutely no way they can get into the show. Having a field from the donor database that feeds into the box office database noting that the person in question falls into the Super Angel category can avoid such embarrassment.

A few other articles I read reminded me of a Harvard Business Review article on the perfect one question customer survey. The perfect question was how likely you would be to refer the business to someone else. I found a couple more articles that discussed it in theory and practice.

The more theoretical talked about establishing referral programs. It put me in mind of a blog on orchestra marketing in which the author, Drew McManus suggested a adaptation of the Amazon referral program using discount vouchers. Mr. McManus’ suggestion is just one option of the many ways to execute this concept to help increase attendance.

The article that showed someone putting the referral idea into practice illustrated how Stoneyfield Farms got their yogurt promoted by word of mouth. What they did was allow people to adopt the cows who provided the milk for the yogurt after they bought a certain amount of Stoneyfield’s products. This not only increased sales but also gave them the publicity and demand they needed to get placement in supermarkets.

I have seen acting conservatories do a similar thing where people donate money to provide a scholarship for a specific student or just simply choose to adopt a student or two without any monetary commitment. The only bad side of this program is that even though there are students studying design and management, everyone wants to adopt the actors because of their visibility and the other students feel slighted.

Still, this is a possible program for arts organizations allowing people to adopt actors, dancers and musicians across a season. Perhaps money is involved, perhaps not. Certainly a whole club or families might pool money to adopt a performer or director and would get to have dinner with them once during a season or a run depending on the adopted’s availability. (A starving artist is sure to have plenty of availability for free meals!) The larger the group adopting, the better of course because more people have a sense of pride and involvement with an organization and therefore are in a position to boast about their adoptees to others and have an incentive to continue to buy tickets.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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