Customer Relationship Management: Pulling the wool over our own eyes

12 Apr 2012

I was chatting with the Marketing Manager of a regional producing theatre the other day. The subject of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) came up. When I asked what they were doing to develop relationships with their first-time bookers, this was the answer (I’ve captured the spirit of what was said here, not the actual words):

“When they book a ticket [an advance ticket] we contact them to say thank you and tell them about our gallery, shop, bar and restaurant facilities … and then after the show, we send them a questionnaire about their first impressions of the visit … later, we contact them about other relevant shows that are coming up.”

Now, this might sound like ‘building bridges’ from a marketer’s perspective. But, and with no disrespect intended to this rather wonderful Marketing Manager, what this CRM gem actually represents is a predatory attempt to:

a) coax ancillary spend from the customer,

b) extract information about them and,

c) second guess what they might want to see next when all that is known is they booked a particular show.

The first is up-selling thinly-veiled as friendly information giving … ‘sharing’. The second is research thinly-veiled as ‘caring’. The third is blind optimism!

Let’s not kid ourselves about how caring and sharing we are with our customers. We’re not pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes except ourselves because our canny customers will see right through it, and that’s no way to start a relationship.

I think the root of the problem might be that arts marketers have been hardwired to ‘extract’ rather than ‘give’, to ‘sell’ rather than ‘connect’, and measure success in terms of short-term gains rather than long-term, genuine relationship building.

Does this resonate with you?

I’m going to write further about this in subsequent blogs, but here are some alternative suggestions to the insincere sharing and caring that passes for CRM in some arts organisations today:

GRATITUDE: Thank first-time bookers promptly. Tell them you’ll provide more information on how to get there nearer the time. Provide a contact in case their plans change or they need further information. That’s all.

HELPFULNESS & EMPATHY: Nearer the time of the show, when they are in planning mode, acknowledge the challenges of their first visit by providing useful ‘insider information’ on how to make their journey easier, timely, safer, cheaper.

INFORM: Where possible, provide interesting snippets of information on rehearsals, reviews etc to build expectation and excitement.

DELIGHT: Find ways of making their first ever visit really special. Exceed their expectations by, for example, offering a voucher for a free drink and/or programme. Install a Welcome Table FOH for first time bookers where they can meet a friendly face and be oriented around the building. Chat with them and make them feel at home. Share your passion. Show genuine interest: find out how their journey went, why they came etc.

CONNECT and VALUE: Invite them to take their first steps into ‘friendship’ by subscribing to a mailing list based on their preferences (not your assumptions). Seek permission to include them in customer research … because their views are important to you. Gift first-time bookers with a discount voucher for a subsequent ticket purchase ... because you'd love them to come back.

Just some initial thoughts … I’m sure there are lots of other, better ideas and practices out there.

In my mind’s eye, I can see some of you throwing your hands up in horror at the additional work this will entail – for no measurable, immediate return …. but the returns will come. Given that customer retention beats customer acquisition hands down in the economic arena, it makes sense to invest in retention as assiduously as we seem to churn out sales messages to the faceless would-be attenders.

Now … how might you design a super welcome area that gives your first-timers a symbolic hug when they cross the threshold into your world?