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ArtsProfessional in partnership with Spektrix

Sheffield Theatres was part of a regional consortium of box offices until it decided its audience development activities would benefit from going it alone. Libby Penn describes the painless uncoupling.

Photo of Sheffield's Crucible theatre

Home to the world-famous Crucible, the Lyceum and the multi-format Studio, Sheffield Theatres produces a diverse programme of work, spanning classical revivals, new work, large-scale musicals and immersive theatre experiences. It presents some of the best shows on tour and works with theatre artists locally and nationally to nurture and develop new creative talent.

Like all UK arts organisations it has had to fine-tune its approach to marketing and fundraising in recent years. This is partly in response to rising consumer expectations for marketing communications and e-commerce, and partly in response to austerity and the changed arts funding environment.

“It was time to take back ownership of audience development and improve our understanding of customer behaviour”

In particular, the theatre’s website needed a simpler customer journey to drive more online sales. In addition, an understanding of customer preferences and buying habits needed to improve. Existing box office and marketing systems would have to support a shift towards data-led decisions about everything from programming to fundraising, and provide a unified view of the sales, development and audience trends to the whole organisation.

Despite being one of the founding members of a regional box office software consortium, late last year Sheffield Theatres decided it was time to go it alone. Claire Murray, Communications and Fundraising Director, said: “We needed to focus on ourselves. Our organisation wasn’t getting quite the emphasis we felt was required within the group.

“The specific needs of our theatres, programmes and audience were sometimes set aside in favour of the broader regional needs of the consortium. With all the changes to the UK arts industry in recent years we simply felt it was time to take back ownership of audience development and improve our understanding of customer behaviour.”

A conscious uncoupling

In January Sheffield Theatres implemented Spektrix as its ticketing and CRM system. Based in the cloud and needing only an internet connection, it is designed to be quick and intuitive for end-users, be they box office staff or customers on their desktop or mobile.

The system’s application programming interface (API) makes integration with venue websites a straightforward technical proposition, while at the back end it captures and correlates sales and charitable-giving data from all customer touchpoints with the organisation.

Marketing and fundraising teams can use that information to analyse trends and segment audiences for more appropriate and bespoke communications campaigns that take individual preferences and interests into account.

Extracting the theatre’s own data from the consortium’s regional database, though complex, was ultimately successful. There were technical challenges in identifying and separating the decades worth of data points that naturally belonged to Sheffield Theatres, but our support team was able to suggest fixes and workarounds.

With the key audience data for marketing and fundraising purposes secured, the box office team then integrated our ticketing and e-commerce functionality within its own website. They then prepared for the annual World Snooker Championships, which represents only 17 days of programming but accounts for the theatre’s biggest on-sale (the start of ticket sales for a run of performances) of the year.

Snooker sales

The on-sale for the snooker championships typically involves selling about 42,000 tickets across the tournament. In the past, the online selling process in the opening days of the on-sale has suffered occasional slowdowns, resulting in frozen screens and incomplete transactions. There were also too many steps to complete the purchase and limited options for the theatre to suggest appropriate cross-sells or up-sells.

This year the on-sale sold nearly 24,000 tickets on the first day – more than half the inventory for the entire tournament. “In years past we’ve had a burst of negative feedback around the start,” said Claire Murray. “People would contact us to say the website was slow or that their screens had frozen mid-purchase. This year we haven’t had any such comments which is a great sign of improved customer experience. It also makes a difference to staff time and energy levels.”

Since moving to Spektrix, the proportion of online bookings overall has increased from 43% to 54%. With the system’s flexibility for adding supplementary offers, offers for dinner and show packages have been extended from selected in-house performances on Friday evenings only to the majority of performances through the whole week, in-house and touring.

Point-of-sale donations have also improved, growing by 119% since implementing the system in January. The biggest daily total of nearly £1,000 happened on the first day of the snooker championships on-sale.

Thinking differently

Claire Murray added: “Spektrix is delivering value for us in multiple ways. The system is easy to use for customers and box office staff, and the analytics really helps us understand what’s happening in terms of sales trends for individual performances.

“It’s much simpler to make the ask around donations. And during the snooker on-sale I could actually log on and see the traffic hitting the website in real time and watch it build.

“Spektrix is really good at challenging us to think differently and find ways to make things better for customers. I really value the support and input they give us.”

Libby Penn is Group Managing Director of Spektrix.

This article is part of a series, sponsored and contributed by Spektrix, aiming to provoke new thinking in how we use ticketing and CRM systems to maximise revenue and grow audiences.

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Photo of Libby Penn