Is Safety the New Norm for Customer Experience?
Robert Fitzpatrick is the CEO of The Odyssey Trust, owners and managers of Northern Ireland’s premier live entertainment venue, the SSE Arena, Belfast and home to the Belfast Giants Ice Hockey team.
The Odyssey Trust firmly recognises the importance of customers and fans as key assets to business growth. The organisation is committed to defining “the best experience every time” for all visitors and over the past three years they have been investing in staff training, upgrades in infrastructure and digital technology. They were one of the first UK Arenas to operate a dedicated App and are leading the way in digital convergence of their site to enhance, measure and drive the customer experience.
The Live Events Industry has been one of the most negatively affected throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with all live event venues being forced to close their doors. As we enter the management phase of the pandemic and venues are beginning to develop their re-opening strategies, we asked Robert to give his views on how Arenas should face the challenges ahead.
Do you see a timeframe for Arenas to re-open?
“The live event industry has been designated as a level 5 risk and as such will be the last industry to be permitted to begin trading again. This timeline varies from country to country and given the reliance and participation of so many different support and ancillary industries it is likely it will be a considerable time before it is deemed safe to re-open. If and when the industry does return there are many fundamental changes that will have to be enforced, embraced and employed before any relevant number of customers and fans can return. The live world we left in March 20202 is not the live world we will be returning to in 2021”.
What measures should large capacity venues be adopting?
“Live event “Experience Management” will no longer be about inviting customers to make the best choice but rather on offering an experience that anticipates and responds to a new customer mindset. We must remember that many people may be afraid of going to large scale social gatherings”.
“The need for safety will impact all areas of our operating models but before putting measures in to place, we have to define what needs to be done and group that into areas of responsibility. Operations in the “new norm” will be divided into mandatory requirements for health and safety compliance and the creation of a compelling value proposition that will encourage audiences back to our venues”.
“In terms of mandatory expectation, at the moment we don’t know what we are dealing with and in the absence of a vaccine it is hard to know how many people will actually be able to attend an event. Initial research on potential measure focuses on hand sanitising, segmentation and temperature checking, but we still have no indication as to how we are expected to embrace social distancing inside an arena. As the virus seems to be here to stay there is a journey for all of us to go on in order to understand how business volume is going to be serviced to make large events viable”.
How will this impact your existing Customer Experience strategy?
“Research has already proven that CX expectation had heightened significantly in the past three years as people started to demand a better class of experience much of which has been enhanced by new opportunities from digital activity such as pre-purchase, customer understanding and personalised communications. In the light of the current crisis, we have an even greater obligation to our customers and fans to provide them with they experience they both want and expect”.
“In my view safety first will be the critical factor in Arena Customer Experience with mandatory safety being the first priority followed by the creation of a boutique service as the new norm for attracting the much needed discretionary spend”.
“All aspects of the experience journey will have to respond to and anticipate customer needs which will mean more investment in customer relationship management systems and traditional and predictive voice of customer programs”.
“In the “new expectation” where safety becomes a fundamental piece of the experience management beyond the traditional basic requirement Experience Safety will become the key to providing the best experience”.
Over the past three years you have invested in employee experience, how will this be affected by the current situation?
“Of course, employee safety is of the utmost importance. Staff levels will have to be elevated to meet safety requirements and frontline staff will need constant and updated training to ensure they are kept safe and that they are able to deliver safety standards to our customers, fans, players and performers”.
You mentioned discretionary spend, what do you think will trigger its return?
“Before the pandemic, discretionary spend could be broken down into three areas: actual spend which is the money that needed to be spent in order to attend the event; assumed per cap spend that could be safely forecasted from customers once inside the venue and accelerated spend which is the emotionally-driven spend provoked by the venue experience”.
“Now we must assume that fewer people with less money will be attending a more expensive event which will make forecasting assumed spend very difficult if not impossible. I would argue that under the new conditions any spend above what is essential to attend the event, will now become impulse spend which will be driven by the emotional response to the customer experience”.
“The level of discretionary or impulse spend will therefore be in direct correlation to the experience provided and CX success will now be able to be measured by a venue’s capacity to capture and manage the impulse spend”.
What in your opinion will be the greatest lasting change?
“Experience management will no longer be a choice in order to gain marginal revenue increases but rather a fundamental business competency essential to long-term survival”.
“In order to secure the future, there are likely to be many structural changes to the industry which are yet to be tried and tested but it is clear that arenas preparing to re-open must face a set of mandatory changes and also adapt their event experience in order to deliver new safety protocols, foster a safeguarding culture and secure revenue streams”.
In the second part of this interview series, which will follow shortly, we look at some of the specific areas that will need to be addressed in order to develop and initiate a return to business.
Victoria Matthews, Principal, SEMA4 Consulting