Revenue / 06.03.19
7 Steps to Seamless Onsales
Think back to the biggest customer service days of the last couple of seasons.
Did any of them involve major onsales?
Really big onsales?
Few things will test your team like a big onsale, whether it’s for Hamilton, an event-packed festival or an exciting season launch.
Every onsale has its own personality, but there are several common elements. To help you plan your next big onsale, we talked to two experts who both participated in “Tales from the Trenches,” an INTIX 2019 panel discussion on the topic: Kay Burnham, Vice President of Guest Services at the Segerstrom Center, and Denise Smithson Green, Director of Ticketing for Des Moines Performing Arts.
1. Establish your goals.
“First and foremost,” says Smithson Green, “know what you will call a sellout.” She advises speaking with senior leaders to ensure everyone is on the same page. “For us, it was not completely clean, as we knew the show would have holds being released later. Our terminology was, ‘we are out of available inventory at this time.’”
2. Plan your setup.
When you anticipate a high-demand event, start by convening an internal planning meeting to make sure you understand all the requirements. Set up a test scenario in your system to start working out the details. What aspects of your system will you be using? Think through the use of tools like ticket limits, discount codes and rank-driven access.
One of the most important aspects of the onsale will be your online sales. Prepare for heavy traffic.
Smithson Green advises reaching out to your technology partner early. Des Moines Performing Arts started those conversations about six months before their Hamilton onsale to make sure they covered all the details.
3. Communicate early.
“You cannot overcommunicate,” says Burnham. “Even if you think you have communicated enough, keep communicating.”
Reflecting on the Segerstrom Center’s Hamilton onsale, she recalls: “We communicated via mail, email, our website, social media, our queueing system and in person. We sent multiple reminders and updates leading up to the onsale.” The most important aspect of this, she says, is to set and manage expectations for how the onsale will work. When the day arrives, you want people to understand where to go and what to do.
While planning your communications, also consider that your messaging and timing can have a significant impact on web traffic. A well-planned approach can prevent customer confusion and keep your site running smoothly. Consider staging your announcements in waves to drive people to your site in strategic traffic patterns. For example, send email announcements to smaller list segments scheduled several minutes apart.
4. Review pressure points.
We’ve already talked about your e-commerce path. But you also need to think about your marketing website, phone system and lobby space for the in-person queue. Think about each way your patrons may try to access tickets and information. Then plan the flow of each of those channels and spaces.
“We expected 600-800 people to show up in person and planned for 1,000,” Burnham says. In reality, though, 1,400 people came. Luckily, Segerstrom had a contingency plan in case they’d underestimated the turnout. “We learned that no matter how crazy you think it is going to be, always have a contingency plan for more craziness,” she says.
To handle the in-person crowds, the Segerstrom Center distributed randomized wristbands two hours before the onsale, then called up groups of numbers to get in line throughout the day. “This way patrons could relax on our plaza, grab a cup of coffee or something to eat at the onsite café and generally relax until it was their turn,” Burnham says. They also had games — giant checkers, giant Jenga and cornhole — for patrons to play while they waited. “Keeping them entertained and with access to food and drink made the stress of the day much more bearable,” she advises.
At Des Moines Performing Arts, Smithson Green says, “We had our line in our theater lobbies and only allowed about eight to 10 people in the ticket office lobby at one time.” This alleviated pressure on the window employees. “We got a lot of accolades from the team for doing this,” she recalls.
Both venues engaged additional staff for their onsales. Smithson Green trained non-ticketing staff to help out, and “trained them the day prior with answers to questions they may get,” she explains.
Segerstrom brought in additional staff from other Tessitura venues in the area and set up additional ticket sales locations in the lobby. To speed up transaction time, staff went outside to help new customers create their accounts before they reached the windows.
And don’t forget that many of the people who stand in line at your box office will also be joining your online queue from their mobile devices. “Because people were trying to get tickets via multiple sales channels while waiting in person,” Burnham says, “we were able to help every person on site that stuck around long enough to make it to a window.”
5. Proof and test everything. Repeat.
All the work you put into your setup and configuration can be undone by a simple typo, misunderstanding or testing gap. Invite people less familiar with your website and your system to test and provide feedback. Can they do everything they need to? Can they find the information they need?
“All the time spent planning and testing was well worth it,” Burnham says.
6. Engage the right partners.
What partners do you want to work with to maximize your system performance? If your ticketing provider offers onsale monitoring, consider engaging them well in advance. Set up a planning call with your key staff and any outside vendors who will be involved. This real-time communication is vital for stemming off potential issues and providing real-time troubleshooting if needed.
During the Des Moines Performing Arts onsale, “A lot of the Tessitura employees were on a conference call with us for the entire six to eight hours,” says Smithson Green. “They were seeing things in our system before we would see them.” In the end, she says: “We had no crashes, everything worked, we sold in record time. It was a record show for us to sell that many tickets on our own, that fast and at that dollar amount. We could not have been more pleased.”
If you don’t already have an online waiting room, now may be the time to start. You’ll also want to plan for bot control.
“We used a combination of Queue-it and Distil to help control traffic and eliminate bots,” says Burnham. “Both systems, working with our in-house Tessitura installation, made the online portion of the onsale flow very smoothly.”
“Using those tools, we were able to really keep out the people who were up to no good, and communicate better with the people who we truly wanted to connect with, and ensure that they were having a good experience while they waited. That was really possible just because of the ecosystem we live in and the partnerships that Tessitura has created.”
7. Be transparent with your customers.
During a high-volume onsale, your customers have expectations of a “reasonable” time to wait. They’ll often turn quickly to social media to share their experiences, whether positive or negative. So it’s important to manage those channels carefully.
Make sure your main website homepage provides clear messaging about the onsale including eligibility, ticket limits and purchase policies. And make sure you’re not burying info about your onsale. The longer customers spend on your site during an onsale, the slower your event can sell out.
Use real-time messaging to post information about inventory, delays, and any performances that have sold out. This minimizes social media speculation and helps you remain the customer’s key source of information. Even when wait times are longer, customers tend to respond positively if they feel well informed and that they are progressing in line in a fair way. Des Moines Performing Arts used screens near the lines to post real-time availability, in addition to their other communication channels.
Consider having a dedicated social media team for the onsale. You will need to field any questions and complaints immediately to keep the conversation positive. Provide them with pre-written responses to questions that you anticipate. And make sure that if technical issues arise, your staff can escalate quickly to the relevant team. Des Moines Performing Arts did this, Smithson Green says, with social media managers monitoring their platforms and providing immediate feedback “so we could check any complaints.”
During the Segerstrom Center onsale, Burnham says: “We had one central point that disseminated updated information” to the people staffing each communication channel. That helped ensure that the same message, including the specific wording, was the same everywhere.
Our final advice?
“Reach out soon and start having those conversations,” says Smithson Green. “Make sure that you are taking care of all of the things that need to be done to have that successful onsale.” Read more about how Des Moines Performing Arts pulled off a record onsale for Hamilton.
This article was sponsored by Tessitura Network.
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Tags: Theater , Musicals , INTIX 2019 , Leadership