The Total Customer Experience
In my visits to orchestras around the country, and my conversations with administrations and boards, I am sometimes struck by how orchestral organizations undervalue the importance of the total customer experience. There is no question that high-quality playing, committed performances, and vibrant programming are the most essential ingredients in an orchestra's success. But these things alone won't do it. An orchestral institution must examine every single aspect of the customer experience and raise it to the highest possible level.
Take acoustics. I find myself surprised at times by people, often on boards, who feel that only a small percentage of the audience can tell the difference between excellent and poor acoustics. Simply not true. Everyone can hear iteven if only some can describe the deficiencies with precision and accuracy. The comment "oh, I don't know, I just didn't find it all that exciting" is just as damning as "the reverberation time is too short, the bass is deficient, and there is too much direct sound and not enough reflected sound." Acoustics that provide orchestral sound that is well balanced, blended, warm, and that surrounds the listener rather than coming from a stage far away, will in fact be noticed by everyone in that audience, and will make a difference in the enthusiasm generated for the orchestra.
But the customer experience begins long before the concert, long before the arrival at the hall. How customer-friendly is the ticket-purchasing experience? How easy to use is the website? How helpful and warm is the box-office staff? What about the ushers? What is the parking situation? Are there sufficient restrooms? Is the hall comfortable? Are the seats comfortable? All of these issues, and others as well, are important ingredients in generating satisfied customers. Since you want satisfied customers who come more frequently, and you'd ideally like them to become donors at the highest level possible, paying attention to every single aspect of the experience is a very good idea.
Orchestras frequently feel that they have no control over many of those issues, particularly when they do not own or operate the hall. But aggressive negotiation, sometimes at the highest board level, can improve many of those areas. Even, in some cases, the parking situation. If the orchestra is a true asset to downtownand if the city leaders, including the mayor, recognize that or can be made to recognize thatit is sometimes possible, particularly when there are changes to the downtown area, to push hard for parking that will benefit the orchestra. I'm not naïve enough to think this is always possible. But I do know that there are times when the important issue of how the customer gets from home to the concert and back again is not even thought about by the orchestra. And sometimes, in the right situation, that can be addressed. Board members with strong city connections can be a huge asset here. The ability to have a good meal before or after the concert is yet another factor that becomes part of that total experience. Board members often tend to think that whatever time they like to attend concerts is the time everyone finds most convenient. But boards may not be typical of the audience. Real market analysis and study should be doneand not only of the current audience, but of that potential audience who isn't coming.
Not every orchestra can find an ideal solution for every component of the customer experience. The point is that thinking about and discussing all aspects of that experience, and ascertaining which ones you can affect, is an important component of success.