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Choosing a pre-order solution for your theatre.
Finding the right platform to take orders for drinks and merchandise ahead of shows to maximise revenues and overcome limited buying windows is easier said than done. Whether it be for drinks when guests arrive, for the interval, grabbing a programme or some merchandise, or even booking a pre-show dinner table, the variety of ways in which theatregoers are offered the chance to add more to their experience has grown significantly in recent times.
From simple solutions that email orders to the theatre, to tickets that masquerade as merchandise in booking flows, even traditional order and pay apps that have been adopted from the take-away industry and bent into shape to work as best they can for theatres, there are many options.
But how well are the solutions on offer serving your guests, and what are the operational advantages for you? This article walks through the key areas that potential adopters of pre-show, pre-order or up-sell solutions might wish to consider before spending what has recently been very hard to come by cash. It also aims to help those trail-blazers who have adopted something already to evaluate their chosen solution.
What are the key benefits for you?
With a lot of general solutions and some very focused ones on the market it is key that you understand your requirements. What are you looking to achieve by working with a pre-show / pre-order engagement platform?
What measurable outcomes such as a revenue growth figure over time, an increase in customer satisfaction scores, or a reduced wastage figure are you looking for? What customer experience and ways-of-working will help make those happen? From knowing what customer experience you want to deliver and how you want to work within the theatre you can derive the list of features you believe will achieve those things. Because you started out with measurable outcomes, you are already set-up for creating the business case too.
You will have your own specific concerns, but hopefully the topics below will aid you in developing your requirements and help you find the most suitable solution for your theatre.
Does it integrate with your ticket system?
Without integration with your ticketing software there will likely be a lot of setting up and re-keying. It won't make for a great customer experience either, because for each order the customer will be asked for information they expect you to know already. I would expect the theatre to know who I am, when I am coming and where I am sitting. Having to re-enter this is inconvenient at best. At worst it is open to me making mistakes and me not getting my order.
A key benefit that you and your guests get from ticket system integration is communication and timing. The platform should be automatically connecting with your guests at the optimal time, i.e. when they are most likely to make positive buying decisions. Whilst certain up-sells are very likely to convert during the booking flow, the food and beverage campaigns are unlikely to be one of them. These are best done using the pre-show platform. Having recently purchased tickets to see one of my favourite musicals in three months time, I can honestly say I have no idea yet what I might want to order from the bar.
Does it integrate with your POS?
A significant feature of any pre-order platform is the potential for it to integrate with your existing POS. Being able to offer menus directly from your POS and for it to send orders so that they appear on your kitchen screens and bar printers brings many operational advantages. For example, Paul Gallagher at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith, who use the Visit pre-show platform, says that fewer mistakes are made at the bar. Read the case study here.
A pre-order solution that has an extensive list of existing integrations is more likely to integrate with your POS. If it doesn't integrate with yours now, then given it is one with a number of integrations already then it is likely to be able to integrate with yours with little or no effort and cost. One that has no integrations or very few, or even just one, may not have the flexibility to integrate with you quickly enough and may even charge for the privilege.
Is it secure?
Using a pre-show platform for issuing digital tickets as well as capturing pre-orders is the perfect opportunity to deliver a great customer experience. This means customers have their tickets to hand, and they can order drinks and merchandise on the way to the show, all in the one place. But if unauthorised distribution or resale of tickets is a major concern then consider looking into how the pre-order platform does its part to protect your ticket distribution. Do you even want to include digital tickets in your pre-order offering for customers? Can the platform you are considering turn that feature off?
Is it an app and will it work off-line?
The thing about apps is they have to be installed from an app store. Some customers don't mind that, but for others it's a real pain because they often only realise they need to install something at a very inconvenient time. That might be when there is no internet connection.
Apps are not always so convenient or "sticky" for you as a venue or your customers. Installing an app can be a blocker to the up-sell revenue that you are trying to achieve. That said, for venues with very high volumes of repeat customers, an app might be just the ticket (pun intended). But if your customers are attending different venues throughout the year, how excited will they be to install yet another app that only works at your venue? Would it be better if your customers were sent a secure link that takes them right to the pre-show / pre-order experience with no fuss and nothing to install?
If the no fuss option sounds attractive, you will want to check if the solutions you are considering will still work without an internet connection. Imagine the operational challenges with a queue of people trying to collect orders or enter the auditorium using your chosen solution, but everyone's screen is showing the wheel of doom. Awkward to say the least.
How flexible is it?
Every venue is different, and you will have your own unique approach to delighting guests and customers. How well do the platforms on offer cater for your unique set-up? What if you want to create specific offers for certain customers such as members, or only offer seat delivery to your boxes with its own special menu, or serve interval drinks in a different location than pre-show drinks? The ability for the platform to fit-in with you versus you having to fit-in with it will affect it's ability to support you in creating your perfect customer experience.
What other opportunities does it offer?
Implementing a pre-show platform means you have the chance to connect directly with your customers at a time when they are likely to make positive buying decisions. It's like a direct line to each one. Or is it really to each one?
Some pre-order platforms obtain information from your ticket system. That most likely means being connected to the person who made the booking. Connecting with attendees is a hot topic right now and is worth thinking about when looking at your pre-show partner options. Does the solution that you are considering enable the transfer of tickets, securely, from the booker to the people actually attending? Even it can, what benefit does that offer to you as a venue? The answer depends on what the solution can do thereafter. Can it, for example, collect the recipients details, allow them to do all the things the booker can do like ordering drinks and merchandise, and will it send those details back to your CRM or ticket system? If it can do that, you are on the way to collecting gold-dust.
Being connected to each booker and attendee whilst they are at their most engaged has huge potential for delivering personalised and targeted campaigns. Being able to promote the next event in a series of related performances, or deliver a campaign to attendees who have been so many times in the last six months but are not yet members is very powerful. If your chosen solution can do that, and even track the click through, you are onto a winner.
About the Author
Phillip is the founder of Visit Software. He has over 30 years of experience working with ticketing systems, digital and technology. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org