In my last post I took issue with the troubled Washington Ballet for their narcissistic marketing content.
Today I’d like to point out another sign of nonprofit foolishness in DC.
On the Washington Ballet’s website, in the section promoting Nutcracker party packages for groups of 20 to 200, you’ll find this little gem:
“Please complete the form and a member of our ticket services office will contact you within two business days to assist you with your event.”
I want to buy 200 tickets to your most profitable annual event and you don’t have time to pick up the phone? And you want to take two days to respond to my request? Are you fuckin’ kidding me?
If I want 2 of the cheapest balcony seats, I can go online and get instant satisfaction, but if I want 200 orchestra seats, I have to sit on my ass and wait for your organization to dig up some low-level staffer who may or may not have the time to call me back?
How dare you?
Here’s a little bit of basic math for the folks at Washington Ballet: The customer who books 20 seats is ten times more important than the customer who books 2 seats. And the one who books 200 is one hundred times more important. These volume ticket buyers are among Washington Ballet’s most valuable patrons, but the folks who run the company are just fine with making them fill out a form and wait for two days to get basic customer service.
And then these leaders have the audacity to complain in public about empty seats!
I’m sorry, but if you can’t pick up the phone and talk to someone who wants to buy 200 tickets – or even 20 tickets – you don’t deserve to be in business.
If you don’t understand why this is true – for the Washington Ballet or any other arts organization that squanders this type of demand – consider these facts about volume ticket-buying clientele:
1. People who buy tickets in volume have numerous options. Every restaurant, party venue, attraction and entertainment provider in the area is competing for their business, and the smart ones employ commissioned sales professionals who know that if they don’t pick up the phone when it rings, somebody else will.
2. Volume buyers who get the service they deserve become repeat buyers. Volume buyers who don’t get the service they deserve go someplace else.
3. Volume buyers resell your tickets to people your marketing doesn’t necessarily reach. In other words, they’re out there doing your job for you – at no cost!
4. Volume buyers are among your most vital links to new customers. The people these buyers bring with them are the new audiences that you and your peers have been whining about not being able to reach for the last 20 years.
5. Volume ticket buyers comprise one of the few remaining under-developed markets that arts organizations have yet to explore. Many of these folks are business people who’d be happy to patronize your organization, but who have no interest in being treated like your least important customers.
Here’s some serious sales advice for the Washington Ballet:
- Cut that horrible “fill out the form” line and replace it with this: “Call our VIP Party Sales Line to reserve the best seats and begin planning your event.”
- Make sure a sales professional who can go into the system and reserve seats out of live inventory picks up this line every time it rings.*
- Forward the line to a dedicated salesperson’s cell phone after hours.
- If the call can’t be answered immediately, make sure the client gets a call back ASAP.
- Take the credit card and sell the seats on the spot if the customer is ready to buy. Otherwise, hold the seats and offer terms designed to help the client follow through on the purchase (not terms designed to uphold box office traditions).
- Offer a web-based form if you like, but make sure somebody responds to inquiries regularly throughout the day.
Getting into the holiday party business without offering professional customer service is foolish and counterproductive. Offering lousy customer service to the people who buy the most tickets is unprofessional and, well, just plain stupid.
If you’re an arts leader who thinks your organization has too many empty seats, rather than talk about it with your daily newspaper, why not wander down to the group sales office, pick up the phone for a change, and talk about it with someone who wants to buy a lot of tickets?
*Some organizations have ticketing infrastructures that prevent their outside sales personnel from reserving seats out of live ticket inventory for their clients. If this is true in your organization, change the system now, even if it means renegotiating venue contracts or facing down an entrenched box office union. There is absolutely no legitimate excuse for withholding open ticket inventory from a willing volume buyer when single-ticket buyers get instant access. None.