So okay, the frisson subsided quickly when I realised the message itself was in fact my e-ticket, but it did stop and make me think. Could theatre, and arts venues in general, be a new frontier when it comes to digital ticketing?
Whilst my experiences are only personal, (so I may be blissfully ignorant of some great digital arts examples), it’s curious that I have yet to see any real advancement in digitizing the customer experience when it comes to the arts. We’ve been used to printing our airline tickets for more than a decade (United Airlines first offered e-tickets as far back as 1994), and we are more than happy to download an app to have a digital ticket or barcode sent to our phones for any number of services, but it’s yet to happen in the arts. Or at least not in any widespread or consistent way.
Arts organisations around the country are undoubtedly struggling with stringent cuts in government grants and local government funding, so the idea that money could or should be invested into new technology to improve ticketing is not going to be an easy decision to make. And clearly the arts need to appeal to the widest possible audience, and not create a digital divide. But this doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be investigated and the pros and cons weighed up.
The downside will be related to the costs and complexities of implementing a new or alternative system for getting unique ticket, and, where relevant, seat, information into the digital hands of the customer. And I don’t doubt that these might throw up significant barriers of cost and integration with legacy technology. The upside though starts to become quite a fertile ground for providing positive customer experiences, and to encourage deeper and longer-term relationships.
Firstly there is the convenience. As with airline tickets, there is a sliding scale of digitisation, from printing your own ticket at home, to having a boarding pass (or in this case theatre ticket) on the home screen of your phone. Then, for the company or arts institution itself, there is the removal of several steps of the booking process – the printing, dispatch and timely delivery of the ticket to the customer. Many arts organisations already offer the customer the option to pick up tickets at the venue, rather than have them posted. Moving to paperless tickets is the next logical step, reducing paper and printing costs. Then there is the opportunity to use e-ticketing as a springboard for digital integration with marketing: alerts before the event, pre-sales of programmes, pre-ordering interval drinks and so avoiding the bar crush, post show feedback, offers to download the play text as an ebook, etc, etc – all over the customer’s digital device of choice. And finally, all the measurement, tracking and reporting that comes with digital integration of a customer’s interaction with the organisation will help to refine and improve the offering to all.
Going back then to my original theatre booking experience last week, I should perhaps be a little bit more generous. The theatre in question is the Park Theatre near Finsbury Park in London. A relatively new theatre, it opened in May 2013 and is a registered charity, so any expectation that I should be getting tickets through to my Passbook on my phone is perhaps a little high. And to give them due credit, there is no reason why my confirmation email shouldn’t double as my ticket, and I can’t think of any theatre recently offering me this as an option. What I liked though was that I was encouraged not to print this out but to present this email ticket to an usher on my phone or tablet: a simple yet effective way of keeping down ticket printing costs, and removing hassle for the customer.
The opportunities then for theatres, museums and galleries is a rich and exciting one for both the institutions themselves and for their visitors. E-ticketing should just be the start, a prologue if you will, of a fascinating digital story that is yet to unfold.