Developing an Enhanced Customer Experience in the New Normal
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.
In our first interview with Robert Fitzpatrick, CEO of The Odyssey Trust we talked about the actual situation facing the live events industry and how venues must prepare for the challenges ahead. In this, our second interview, we examine how venues can develop a strategy to support opening initiatives.
In the previous interview we established that venues would face a host of mandatory requirements. We know that live event industry bodies are communicating with respective governing bodies in order to ensure that new rules on requirements align directly with the reality of compliance. In this interview we examine how individual Arenas can start to shape their own strategies.
Last time we talked, we discussed how the return to the much needed discretionary spend would be dependent on a venue’s ability to trigger impulse spend through the provision of an enhanced Customer Experience – what in your opinion should venues be considering in order to do this?
“To start with, it must be said that any conventional wisdom that would have existed around the customer before the pandemic has gone. As we face living with Covid-19, customer intelligence will be at the forefront of decisions made which will principally be underpinned by safety considerations. The least intrusive and seamless process that can be adopted will be the most attractive for returning customers”.
“Arenas are going to have to go beyond a performative compliance as it is only a matter of time before the potential for litigation arises with claims that an Arena has been negligent in the provision of safety protocols”.
“New safety protocols must become ingrained into daily operations without eroding value from the experience”.
“Notwithstanding new safety protocols, nothing will actually change in terms of customer expectations of value for money spent, even more so as increased pressures on discretionary spend make the insistence of value much more pertinent. It will therefore be necessary to develop a new customer playbook both in terms of content and delivery, and the norms will likely be set by demand. Successful Arenas will be those that can embrace the expectation demand and deliver seamlessly on that demand”.
In your view what business competency is needed to facilitate the ability to embrace the new demand?
“Over the past two years agility has been talked about as a byword for enhancing experience. In the new diaspora, Arenas will not be able to pay lip service to agility but rather agility will be the currency by which their offer is judged. In the case of Belfast, we have an anchor sports team along with 120 to 130 mixed live events per year. Our agility is not simply about how quickly we turn the venue around from a concert to ice hockey, our agility is more about how we can service and elevate the spend of two completely different audiences while, at the same time, maintaining the best experience for both employees and customers”.
“We have made important investments in the development of our Customer Experience strategy and have paid particular attention to cultivating a strong customer-centric mindset in our employees across all our business divisions. Our employees have been given the communication and training resources they need to ensure delivery of a consistent, high quality experience”.
What role does digital convergence play?
“One of the central planks of the CX strategy has been our ability to communicate and subsequently learn from the habits of our customers and fans. It follows that the elevation of digital activity as part of a new customer playbook is now essential if Arenas wish to compete with all of the other offers for discretionary spend”.
“Furthermore, big data will increasingly play a part in being able to convince bands, promoters and fans alike that you have the ability to sell tickets for their show. Data is also central to predicting secondary spend across all of the platforms and last, but most importantly, it is critical to building a personal, online relationship with the customer”.
“If a customer’s new expectation is to not have to carry cash, then a cashless or possibly prepay opportunity will have to be provided. It is logical that, if you are taking someone’s payment details, clever digital communication strategies can assist with targeting the customer towards specific events. This will be vital when bidding for shows or considering any investment on your venue which you hope will improve your income return”.
“We were one of the first UK Arenas to have a fully dedicated App which has allowed us to converge the physical and digital journeys in a seamless fashion. Customers can carry out a large part of their concert or game night experience on their phones from buying tickets to pre-purchase and prepay for F&B and Merch, in addition to a host of fan engagement activities and entertainment”.
What can venues who have not invested so far in digital start to do?
“In the first instance we are all definitely moving towards a cashless environment and this might be a good place to start an early data collection process”.
“Regardless of an Arena’s readiness to absorb the expectation of a digital upsurge, there is no escaping the fact that tickets will be bought and distributed on phones, pre-purchases will be made before arriving at the Arena and AI will start to play a much bigger role in the provision of services”.
You mentioned in the previous interview that although ‘safety first’ will be the critical factor in Arena Customer Experience with mandatory safety being the first priority, the creation of a boutique service would follow and that this would be the new norm for attracting the much needed discretionary spend. How should Arenas approach this?
“This will be achieved through customer categorisation. You need to be much more aware of the segmentation of your customer base and digital platform and the CX strategy must embrace that segmentation”.
“This will lead to boutique experiences being created especially when affordability is a secondary issue. Arenas will have to be very clever in the presentation of their offer to those customers who are more discerning in their expectations”.
“This does not mean that the GA customers are ignored. I would argue that in the ‘new normal’, GA segmentation will be eradicated. It is all very well providing premium service to a limited number of visitors but GA customers, numbering in their thousands, will have the loudest voice. There needs to be mindset change in not grouping all GA ticket holders into one category. We must remember that every customer has their own perception of what the Arena’s value is and that this value must be met every time for every visitor”.
Do you think that current business models should change in order to adapt to the new expectations and requirements?
“The ability of any Arena to radically redefine the business model, where you are starting to talk to staff about the singularity of the customer/fan journey, will be the first step in starting to operationalise agility as the currency to help them deliver on their goals”.
“The reality is that all the businesses involved in the live event experience must develop new operating models. If we are looking at an Arena with a sports anchor tenant for example, the sports anchor can no longer be considered as a guaranteed, easy revenue tenant that can be messed about with on scheduling changes. As Arenas start to re-open it could well be that sport makes a faster recovery than live music and that the sports anchor tenant is the Arena’s first opportunity to start to generate income. These issues need to be addressed and redefined in terms of what must become the new way of doing business”.
If you had just one piece of advice in these complex times what would it be?
“Redefine your staff as your most important asset and invest in cultivating their understanding of the importance of every step of the customer journey. You might be surprised at what they tell you as listening can be a very valuable way of understanding what needs to be done”.
Victoria Matthews, Principal
SEMA 4 Consulting Ltd.