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The Watermill Theatre’s new box office management system has increased ticket sales and donations, and encouraged customers to book earlier, says Libby Penn.

Photo of the exterior of Watermill Theatre

The Watermill Theatre, located in west Berkshire near Newbury, produces eight main house shows a year, a biennial touring production, plus many events and activities.

The earlier the team can spot sales patterns, the better they can plan ahead and ensure they are only pushing events and investing budget where it is required

The theatre generates an impressive 80% of its income independently – 46% from ticket sales alone. To sustain profitability it needs to hit 80% capacity for each performance. With the bar set so high, systems must be in place that will reliably maximise ticket sales and customer engagement.

A complete overhaul

At the start of 2014 those systems were in need of a complete overhaul. As a small organisation with just two members of staff in each team, resources were stretched. The role of de-duping customer data (deleting duplicate records) was regularly undertaken and very time-consuming. There were also questions about the accuracy of information in the system. The original system was not sophisticated enough to support the organisations’ marketing and fundraising demands.

So the marketing and development team decided to seek a new box office management system. In addition to easy data cleaning, a new system would need to support fundraising and provide a full view of customer and donor activity. Reporting and analytics tools that would help identify opportunities to increase philanthropic income were also high on the list.

The new system would need to make this easier through transparent pricing for after-sale services, and provide a user-friendly interface that would simplify staff training.

To hit all of these requirements the theatre opted for the Spektrix box office management system. Based in the cloud and needing only a fast internet connection to use, Spektrix is designed to be quick and intuitive for end-users, be they staff in the box office or customers making a ticket purchase from a desktop or mobile.

The system’s application program 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.

Increased donations

After a brief implementation period, the new system demonstrated its value on several fronts.

By highlighting an option to donate as part of the ticket-buying process, the new system helped increase the level of online donations. By using the ticket purchase journey to push the case for charitable support, the theatre hit a peak in 2014/15 of 2,682 individuals making a donation.

That translated to a total of £5,130 in online donations, which grew to £5,970 in 2015/16 at an average online donation of £3.27. Over 300 people made donations in both consecutive years.

The development team in particular now has a full view of the theatre’s customers and donors and a better understanding of their level of engagement with the organisation. Jo Bycroft, Development Director, said: “We now know our donors better and the reporting system is hugely beneficial. The ability to look at a customer’s detailed donor history is very useful. Understanding donor-giving preferences and what shows our donors like gives us increased opportunities for creating bespoke campaigns.”

Operational improvements

An informal staff survey indicates that one of the biggest benefits to having a cloud-based box office system is the time saved from not having to manage and maintain software. Fast access to trustworthy data also shortens the planning and execution time for campaigns.

Cross-department collaboration has improved, with the catering, front of house, box office, marketing, development and finance teams all reporting improvements due to shared access to the same information.

The marketing team has also capitalised on the improved website booking experience. Campaigns encouraging Friends of The Watermill Theatre and regular bookers to book online have had a significant impact on customer behaviour. The proportion of tickets sold online annually now averages about 55%. The average online spend per customer has increased from £36.06 to £49.40, proving customers are happy to book online more often and spend more in the process.

As the ticket-buying process has become easier, customers have also started booking earlier. Currently, around 55% of ticket income is generated eight weeks or more in advance of an event taking place, a rise of 15%. This gives the box office team the information it needs to really focus time and resources. If an event is falling short of these metrics they know there’s work to be done.

The earlier the team can spot sales patterns, the better they can plan ahead and ensure they are only pushing events and investing budget where it is required. For the organisation as a whole, early sales provide guaranteed income earlier and insights into expected audiences which inform staffing levels.

Targeted marketing campaigns

The segmentation tools in Spektrix have allowed the theatre to build targeted marketing campaigns that encourage re-attendance, re-engage lapsed attenders, and welcome new sign-ups to the opt-in mailing list. By refining its segmentation scheme regularly, the marketing team has increased the number of first-time visitors as well as the retention rate.

Investing in a cloud-based box office system has given the box office, marketing and development teams a powerful platform for data-driven decision-making. Sharing CRM capability across the organisation is providing an insight into every aspect of customer and donor relationships. With so much solid, reliable data to hand, the theatre has also undertaken a benchmarking exercise to help set targets for next year – and beyond.

Libby Penn is Chief Operating Officer of Spektrix.

This article is an advertising feature sponsored and contributed by Spektrix.

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Infographic of Watermill case study

Click to view an infographic of the Watermill Theatre case study


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Photo of Libby Penn