Commentary: Customer service as a competitive advantage

Chad Bauman, Arts Marketing blog, 11/20/11

In this new environment of reduced resources, the ability for an organization to identify its competitive advantages is vital. Some of which marketers have no responsibilities for. Others we lead. In listening to Scott Stratten's opening keynote address at the [National Arts Marketing Project conference,] I was reminded that the general woeful state of customer service provides a prime opportunity for arts organizations to distinguish themselves. In short, Scott reminded us that we should always look for "opportunities to be awesome." Some thoughts on how we can achieve awesomeness...

Awesomeness comes from humanness. We have to encourage front line brand ambassadors to use their judgment. Empower them to solve problems. Why hire smart and caring people if those attributes don't influence operations? If we all treated customers like we would our mothers, our spouses, our best friends, that we might have lifelong relationships with them as well.
Awesomeness is unexpected. In the spirit of a random act of kindness, what if we asked our brand ambassadors to perform one act of unexpected awesomeness each day? Even an understated, thoughtful gesture can make someone's day. Imagine a man calls to get tickets for his wife to celebrate their anniversary, and the box office associate makes a note and leaves a few chocolates and an anniversary card waiting in their seats when they arrive. Don't you think they would remember that for years to come?
Awesomeness doesn't wait for approval. If corporate policy dictates that brand ambassadors need to get approval to provide extraordinary customer service, then the window of opportunity to be awesome disappears. Great customer service comes from authentic responses. Don't lose an opportunity to be awesome because you have to send it up the ladder for approval.
Awesomeness often results from a mistake. We all make mistakes, even the best of us. What really matters is how we respond to our mistakes. The moment immediately following a significant mistake is crucial. Don't hesitate. Own the mistake, and resolve it above and beyond a customer's expectations.

Arts organizations are charged with building communities. Communities are centered around relationships. As such, we should approach each patron interaction from a position of "yes" rather than "no." Policies and procedures should be built with a focus on deepening our relationships within our communities. And each day as we go into work, we should look for opportunities to be awesome.


Commentary: Customer service is not just the job of the box office and house staff

Amelia Northrup, TRG Arts blog, 11/16/11

By virtue of the way technology has changed our world, people have come to expect an ever more personalized customer experience. Retailers like Amazon and Netflix use sophisticated technology to recommend more products, remembering buying history and order information, and tailoring the experience to each customer's preferences. Customers now expect products and the customer service surrounding those products to fulfill their specific needs. In the arts, the experience is the product. The experience arts patrons have unfolds in a variety of ways -- the marketing materials they see, the interactions they have with box office staff or online ticketing, the ease or difficulty of parking, the way they pick up tickets at the venue, the manner in which they are seated by the ushers, and, of course, the artistic experience. But it's not over yet -- they'll also remember how crowded the bathrooms were at intermission, the interactions they had with staff or other patrons in the lobby, and how the traffic was on the way home, when -- or whether -- the organization thanks or even acknowledges them for coming. Customer service is everyone's job. Good experiences and connection with the organization at every stage of the game helps cultivate patron loyalty, and that loyalty sustains organizations. Each department -- not just the box office or front of house staff -- has a role in fulfilling patrons' needs. Departments working together provide the kind of service and experience that move patrons up the ladder.


UK theatre helps a hotel's staff develop customer service skills

Learn Direct website, 4/6/11

A training partnership in Manchester [England] has won a prize for its innovative approach to providing training for employees. The partnership, between the Mint Hotel and the Royal Exchange Theatre, incorporated theatre in a staff training scheme. The project won the People Development prize at the Arts and Business North Awards, which recognises projects that use the arts and culture in the delivery of training. The Royal Exchange Theatre provided arts-based training to the 120 staff at the Mint Hotel by using the techniques adopted by actors to help them develop their workplace skills. Courses focus on body language, speech and breathing exercises, as well techniques that allow staff to view themselves as others would in a workplace situation. This kind of training has been particularly successful in helping staff to develop customer service skills. The skills taught by the theatre company also helped the hotel staff to improve their confidence, their communication skills and their ability to work in teams. The General Manager at Mint Hotel, Stewart Davies said, "The training our staff received from the Royal Exchange has had a huge positive impact on our service delivery and communication and confidence between departments and managers has grown. It has also been a brilliant opportunity for staff to attend theatre performances and special behind the scenes events." In exchange for the training, Mint sponsored a free event hosted by the theatre.

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