November 11, 2015

(Not) Just the ticket for a virtuoso performance

By Gerry Brown

In this post on “A Virtuoso Customer Experience Performance”, our guest blogger Gerry Brown shares insights from his experience at the Royal Albert Hall.

Elgar’s iconic Pomp and Circumstance March is one of the high points of the Last Night of the Proms.

It celebrates a triumphal end to the Promenade Concerts in London for another year. The dictionary definition for Pomp and Circumstance is “a splendid celebration with ceremony and fuss”, but the original concept of the concerts themselves was far from that. In 1893, Robert Newman, manager of the Queen’s Hall in London, organized a series of concerts in which the audience could walk about and listen to music – “Promenade Concerts.”  

Newman wanted people to get to know good music, to make the tickets affordable and for the audience to have a genuinely different and valuable experience. Newman thought that Henry Wood was the right conductor and asked him to conduct these concerts. When the Queen’s Hall was destroyed by a German bomb in 1941, the “Proms” moved to the Royal Albert Hall (RAH), where they have been held ever since.

It has long been one of my dreams to attend “The Last Night” and this year it became a reality. While the concert itself was as enjoyable, emotional and spiritually uplifting as I had hoped, it was the complete experience of being at the RAH that made it even more memorable and, I believe, was true to Newman and Wood’s original vision.

As a great (or even just a good) customer experience is often never far from my thoughts, I dream of finding this in my daily life, but that more often than not turns into a nightmare. My experience at the RAH demonstrated that when an organization is truly tuned in to customers and all of the customer facing people are playing with sensibility, sensitivity and creativity, the resulting experience is truly a great and memorable performance. While the musical metaphor may seem a simple one, delivering that performance on a nightly basis does take practice, dedication and skill. The team at the RAH hit the right notes on all of these attributes.

It’s not just the ticket

If this was just about buying tickets for an event then most of us have a number of choices, including ticketing agencies, both official and otherwise, as well as the venue itself. Perhaps the former works well for events driven by celebrity hysteria, unbridled fan adoration and where the only objective is to be there. But the best recipe for a complete and truly great concert or entertainment experience is crafted and delivered by the people at the venue itself. And the actual purchase of the ticket, albeit sometimes an expensive exercise, is only a small part of the overall experience.

The RAH is an iconic venue that is visually, culturally and reputationally identifiable as a major entertainment destination in the UK and overseas, and has been for over 140 years. But this doesn’t mean they’re stuck in the past. As I’ve been to a number of events there I’ve experienced both on-line and assisted service through their box office and call centre. Regardless of which option you may choose you can be assured of getting a valuable, virtual tour of the facilities via the web-site or by a helpful, knowledgeable agent who is well versed in the features, services and sometimes quirky delights of the Hall. You don’t get this from Ticket Master or Seat Wave!

It’ll be alright on the night

As any artist can be temperamental, mercurial, capricious and certainly unpredictable, there are no guarantees that the performance itself will please everyone.  So that’s why it’s vital that all other aspects of the concert going experience need to be in tune. As with a really great restaurant experience the diner will occasionally excuse food that is not quite up to par, but most will rail at bad service or an environment that is unwelcoming or lacking in atmosphere.

An excellent experience is best delivered by people who see the experience through a broader lens that not only covers the enjoyment of the performance, but where all aspects are memorable from the moment they first visit the venue, whether in person, on-line or via the call centre, to the moment they leave after the event. This also extends to the rest of the team who need to visualize their role and understand that they are a vital part of a performance. Yes, the concert goer should be excited and emotionally uplifted by the show, but they should also feel that it was the complete experience that touched their hearts and souls, and that they will remember and share with others.

What’s the recipe for success?

So what set this apart and made my experience at the Proms even more memorable? When I spoke to the agent on the phone they asked intelligent and relevant questions and clearly had a goal beyond just a ticket sale. Had I been to the hall before?  Was I driving and what plans did I have for parking? Was I aware of the catering facilities in the hall? Did I know that I could order my drinks from my seat?  I particularly liked that one. Because I had bought tickets there before they already knew something about me and used this information discretely and carefully but positively to provide a personalized, timely and mutually valuable service.

This isn’t selling; or rather it isn’t just selling a ticket. It’s about sharing knowledge, experience and an understanding of what makes an event truly memorable. And the upside is that this isn’t just good for the customer. Providing information such as this and getting an extra thank you, works wonders for the agent, and makes their job more satisfying.

It can work for any business

When I thought about this a little more and compared it with many of my other experiences, I realized that it isn’t just important in the entertainment world. It’s a formula that works for just about any business. I’d sum it up in four simple steps.

  1. Everyone in your organization needs to understand what goes into the complete customer experience; how they affect it and role they can play in it.
  2. They have access to data and insight about the customer, that allows them to personalize and customize each event or each interaction for every customer
  3. They share that knowledge gladly and enthusiastically to enhance and enrich the experience, but don’t barter their souls for the sake of a “sale.”
  4. The rest of the team is in on the program and completes the experience regardless of their role or how and when they interact with the customer.

While organizations often put customer experience in the “it’s too hard or too expensive” drawer, none of these ideas are prohibitively expensive nor time-consuming.  The answer lies in incorporating fundamental principles that govern human effectiveness and conscious thought and addresses how most of us would like to treated.  As I’m a pretty simple guy at heart, I’ve consistently sought to define this approach with four principles that are vital to the development and sustainability of a Customer Experience program and that I captured in a recent whitepaper; Culture, Commitment, Community and Communication.

Thinking back on my RAH experience all these principles were in evidence and used with vigour and virtuosity by everyone that night. When it all works, this truly is a green and pleasant land.